Discovering Sumo: The ultimate guide to watching, eating and meeting

The traditional Japanese sport of ‘Sumo’ is widely-known across the world, with the instantly-recognisable image of a Sumo wrestler now considered synonymous with the country’s global reputation. 

Yet despite Sumo’s global appeal, very few people outside of Japan have ever actually watched the sport, or know much about it. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to learn about (and experience) Sumo during your time in Japan – keep reading to find out more!

Sumo wrestler warming up (image: Photo-Ac)

Attend a tournament

One of the most obvious ways to enjoy Sumo is to attend and watch a tournament, although this can be difficult to arrange without assistance or prior preparation. Six Sumo tournaments are held throughout the year, with three of them taking place in Tokyo and the others held in Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuoka. Tournaments last for just 15 days, which means that including a match in your upcoming Japan tour itinerary will require some planning and that you may even need to travel across the country to do so. 

Getting your hands on tickets for a tournament can be difficult, and availability and price (additionally, seats prices differ according to where they are in the stadium) will change depending on how far into the tournament the date you’ve settled for is. Tickets can be purchased online through official English-language vendors or at convenience stores within Japan (a service usually only available in Japanese), but they can also be purchased at the stadium itself. Tickets usually sell out incredibly quickly, and keen fans will queue for hours in order to secure a ticket to the final rounds. 

Statue outside the Sumo stadium in Ryōgoku – Tokyo (image: Photo-Ac)

Some on-the-day tickets are usually available for purchase as well, but if you’re looking to collect one, you’ll need to get up pretty early in the morning to increase your chances. 

Watch a training session

If your trip won’t take place during tournament time or you aren’t able to get your hands on a golden tournament ticket, another option could be to attend a training session at a local Sumo stable. 

Sumo training sessions usually take place very early in the morning, and while visitors are welcome, the experience can be difficult to arrange and comes with a lot of rules. Speaking, eating, moving around or even going to the toilet can be considered distracting for the training wrestlers, so spectators are asked to sit quietly for the entire session – something that can take up to three hours on some days. Taking photography is usually also banned during training, but some stables will allow visitors to take pictures with the wrestlers and speak to them when the session is over.

Sumo ring set up in a local shrine (image: Photo-Ac)

If you’d be interested in attending a stable training session and don’t mind getting up early or long periods of quiet watching, then this could be a wonderful experience for you. It can be difficult for non-Japanese speakers to arrange a stable visit for themselves, but luckily Heartland Japan are always on hand to help.

Eat like a wrestler

In order to reach the right weight for competing, Sumo wrestlers can eat up to 20,000 calories a day. That doesn’t mean they’re bulking up on snacks, sweets and fast food, however – the diet of a wrestler contains a colourful balance of meat, vegetables, protein and starch and their nutrition usually comes in the form of the signature Sumo dish: chanko-nabe. 

There’s no lack of proteins in a “chanko-nabe” dish (image: Photo-Ac)

Chanko-nabe is a traditional hot-pot style stew that follows no particular recipe – the dish consists of a soup base and then whatever meats, vegetables and protein that the chef has available at the time. The dish is usually prepared by lower-ranking wrestlers for the senior professionals who live in their lodging, and the most high-ranking wrestlers and their guests will always be served first.

Upon retirement, it’s not unusual for some Sumo wrestlers to go on to start their own restaurant or establishment, selling the chanko-nabe that they learned to make during their time as a junior wrestler. A number of these restaurants exist across Japan, and some of them are very highly rated with reservation lists that can make it difficult to even step inside the door – this is where the help of a travel agency such as Heartland Japan can be especially useful. 

For those travellers with a keen interest in Sumo, a chance to feast on chanko-nabe after a morning of watching training at a stable can make for a great half-day activity. If you’d be interested in experiencing the world of Sumo for yourself, get in touch with us and let us help build the perfect schedule, just for you. 

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