Spectacular Sumo Show in Ryogoku

Ever wonder what it’s like to watch a sumo match? We’ll show you the ins and outs of the sensational sumo world in Ryogoku Kokugikan Sumo Hall!


Although it was not sumo grand tournament season, we had the rare opportunity to witness a sumo cultural demonstration through Japan Sumo Association‘s “SUMO Beyond 2020 Exhibition / 大相撲 beyond 2020場所”, held in Ryogoku Kokugikan Sumo Hall in October.

So… What is ‘sumo’?

Sumo is considered a sacred sport that is only practiced professionally in Japan. The sport is heavily dictated by rituals and routine, requiring professional and aspiring-professional sumo wrestlers to reside in sumo stables and only wear traditional Japanese clothing. Sumo wrestlers start their training early in the morning and normally eat chanko-nabe to get bigger in size.

Nowadays, the sumo ring is primarily dominated by foreign wrestlers, especially Mongolians. There hasn’t been a Japanese grand champion in around ten years. Nevertheless, this sport is extremely popular among Japanese people, with tickets to grand tournaments selling out quickly.

And for around two centuries, Ryogoku has been the centre of the sumo universe. Six grand tournaments are held in Japan annually, and half of these tournaments are held in Ryogoku Kokugikan Sumo Hall. The remaining three tournaments are held in Osaka, Aichi, and Fukuoka.

Little Kids vs. The Big Guys

We started off the day with energetic children nervously lining up to go against professional wrestlers. But unfortunately for the kids, the professional wrestlers defeated each and everyone of them as they charged with full force.

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Kids try to bulldoze the heavy wrestlers. It didn’t work.

Some kids even received a nasty looking wedgie during the match… Ouch.

Doing up the Sumo Hair-do

Professional sumo have their hair specially prepared and cut by Tokoyama. Tokoyama are specialist hairdressers employed by the Japan Sumo Association and it takes around ten years to train to become one.

Tokoyama prepare in a chonmage style (word by samurai to hold their helmets securely), and we saw the tokoyama make the yokozuna topknot – featuring a topknot in the shape of Tokyo’s symbolic leaf, the ginkgo leaf.

Just by looking at the hairstyle that a sumo wrestler is sporting, you may be able to recognise if he is a higher ranked wrestler or not.

This sumo wrestler is proudly sponsored by…

Before the start of each tournament, the rikishi (professional wrestler) come out from odorned with their unique keshō-mawashi. Keshō-mawashi consists of a silk belt and apron with the wrestler’s brand sponsor or support group. We saw a rikishi wear a Kumamon (Kumamoto’s cute bear mascot) apron! Usually a keshō-mawashi costs between 400,000 to 500,000 yen.

And the tournament starts…

The preparations that the sumo wrestlers make before the start of the wrestling match will, almost always, take longer than the actual match itself. Wrestlers stamp their feet and make quick stretches.

The ring (dohyou) is considered to be a sacred ground, so the wrestlers also purify the ring with salt in accordance with Shinto tradition. Women cannot enter the ring as it is seen to be impure to do so.

Once the ring has been sufficiently salty, the match starts.

Boom! Within a matter of seconds, it ends. That was fast.

However, even though the preparations take so long to do, it’s what makes sumo wrestling so enjoyable to watch. Having to wait so long for each match to start adds to the suspense of it all. And once it finally begins, everyone’s hearts skip a beat.

The tournament continues on from there. The winner of the match stays on for the next match, whilst the loser sadly leaves the stage.

TV broadcasts of sumo tournaments cannot compare with seeing it personally. If you are in Japan during sumo grand tournament season (see here for tournament schedule), we highly suggest trying to fit in a day or so to watch the big-gun sumo wrestle.

Even if you aren’t in Japan during the right time for sumo tournaments, there are many opportunities to interact with sumo and explore the sumo realm. Head to Ryogoku – Tokyo’s sumo district – and visit the sumo-dedicated museum (first floor of Ryogoku Kokugikan Sumo Hall), or even watch sumo train early in the morning (more details below).

See you next time!

Want to see sumo in action in Tokyo? We have some must-do sumo activities on hisgo:

Get up super early in the morning to see sumo wrestlers train at their stable.

Book here: Watch Sumo Morning Training Session

Meet retired sumo wrestlers in-person and dine with them for a traditional sumo lunch – chanko nabe!

Book here: Sumo Experience and Chanko Lunch

Related Articles:

Earlier this year, we wrote an article about the sumo world as well. Check it out – Fascinated by the real sumo performance!

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