Sumo isn’t just a battle between two BIG men in a ring. Japan’s national sport was historically a performance to entertain the Shinto deities, and these days it still manages to pull in the crowds from all over Japan.
And you’ll most certainly want to join these crowds on your next visit to the Land of the Rising Sun if you want to have one of those quintessential Japanese experiences.
But before you go, you may want to know what sumo is all about.
Here’s a guide to understanding all the ins and outs of this professional full-contact sport.
WHERE DID SUMO ORIGINATE?
As mentioned in the introduction, sumo has a long and cherished history in Japan, and it is deeply entwined with Japan’s native Shinto religion. In fact, many of the rituals you’ll see in a modern-day match actually stem from ancient times, such as the symbolic purification of the ring with salt.
Historians agree that sumo goes back at least 2,000 years, but it never really took off as a spectator sport until the 16th century.
WHAT ARE THE RULES?
In a sumo match, the first person to exit the ring or touch the ground with any part of their body (besides the soles of their feet) loses. Each wrestler (rikishi) tries to do this to their opponent by applying extreme amounts of force with their body (and yes, keeping with tradition, only men can be a sumo wrestler in Japan). Indeed, the Japanese characters for sumo roughly translate as “striking one another”.
Matches usually only last about a few seconds, but some can take over a minute, and as there are no weight restrictions or classes in the sport, the bigger you are, the better your chances of defeating your opponent (FYI: weight gain is an essential part of sumo training).
Finally, sumo matches take place in a dohyo, which is basically an elevated circular ring made of clay and covered in sand.
WHEN ARE SUMO MATCHES HELD?
There are six annual sumo tournaments held every year in Japan.
The tournaments – which are held in Tokyo in January, May and September; in Osaka in March; in Nagoya in July; and in Fukuoka in November – last 15 days, and each wrestler fights just one time per day. Tickets are sold for each day of the 15-day tournament.
WHAT KIND OF SEATS CAN YOU BUY?
There are basically three types of seats you can buy at a sumo match.
The most expensive (and hard to get) are ringside seats. These seats will place you close to the action, where you’ll sit on cushions placed on the floor.
The next seat category are box seats which generally seat four people and are located on the first floor. Shoes must be removed to sit in these sections, and tickets are sold for entire boxes regardless of whether you have a party of two or four.
The last seat category are balcony seats, which are located on the second floor and feature western-style cushioned seats. The price of a balcony seat depends on how far you are from the ring.