Sumo-spotting in Tokyo
The best area to experience authentic sumo culture is Ryogoku, located east of Sumida River. You can still see relics of its glorious past while strolling in this vicinity, which flourished as an entertainment centre during the Edo period. Don’t forget to stroll down Kokugikan Street, where a variety of posing rikishi (sumo wrestler) statues can be found along the sidewalk. It’s the perfect start to a sumo adventure and, if you’re lucky, some giant men in traditional garments might just walk alongside you.
The Kokugikan sumo hall is the spiritual and physical heart of Japan’s national sport. The advance ticket sale starts one month before each tournament, but if you can’t get hold of a ticket, line up in the morning on the day (ticketing office opens at 8am) and try to bag some unreserved, back-row balcony seats at a reasonable price.
During the tournament, the adjoining museum and the souvenir shop inside Kokugikan are only accessible to ticket holders, but in the off-season you can freely enter both facilities. The shop sells a range of limited goods only available here.
The museum, which introduces you to the world of sumo through memorabilia and woodblock prints, is free, but to get the most of it, non-Japanese speakers are advised to purchase an English guidebook for ¥100 at the entrance. Special exhibitions are held six times a year. End your visit with a funny photo shoot with the panel cutouts of famous sumo stars located at the entrance.
This shopping and entertainment centre, which aims to recreate the atmosphere of the Edo period, was built inside the former JR Ryogoku Station building. It offers visitors a variety of Japanese restaurants and, best of all, a sumo ring. Keep your eyes open for the Edo-related events which are held from time to time. The tourist information centre of Ryogoku is also located in the mall.
Chanko nabe is a protein-rich stew eaten by sumo wrestlers and, unsurprisingly, is easy to find near the Kokugikan sumo hall. One such eatery is the hugely popular Tomoegata, which was built by a master of the Tomozuna sumo stable and is located on the stable premises. Order their signature dish, Kunimiyama Chanko, which is prepared in a lightly salted chicken broth and includes fresh sardines that are brought in daily from Tsukiji and minced for the hot pot. In addition, they also serve chanko with beef, chicken, salmon and scallops – all in portion sizes to satisfy those on a wrestler’s calorie-heavy diet.
In search of the ultimate sumo-themed souvenir? Asakusa Manekiya, located at the end of Kaminarimon Street, welcomes you with a huge sumo wrestler figure placed above the entrance. This shop sells a wide range of sumo-themed goods, from mugs and sake cups to chopsticks, stationary and postcards, calendars, fans and charms – it’s the number one shopping spot for wrestling fans.
If you weren’t able to get your hands on some tickets at the Kokugikan, don’t worry. Head over to the Arashio-beya sumo stable in Nihonbashi and watch the giants in action during their asageiko (morning practice) for free. Through large streetside windows, you can observe the battling, grappling wrestlers daily from around 7.30am to 10am. Afterwards they come out to greet their fans and you’ll have the chance to take a picture with your favourite wrestler.