How to see Sumo in Japan

Hi friends! The latest Tokyo sumo tournament has now ended and we were able to get some tickets this time round. Tickets for sumo tournaments (especially in Tokyo) are notoriously difficult to get – tickets for January sold out within 4 minutes when they went on sale in December. Anyway, we had a total blast and I wanted to share how we got tickets, what to do on the day, how to get there and other inportant information. A minor caveat – I have only ever seen sumo in Tokyo so that’s where this post will focus (though much of the information will still apply to other cities).

Briefly, this is how the tournaments are structured for 2020. Most years will look very similar but you can double check here once the schedules for 2021 and beyond are released:

CityTournament DatesTicket Release Date
March 2020Osaka8 – 22 March2 February
May 2020Tokyo10 – 24 May4 April
July 2020Nagoya5 – 19 July23 May
September 2020Tokyo13 – 27 September1 August
November 2020Fukuoka8 – 22 November19 September

Seating options

The pricing structure can be a little complex – basically the arena in Tokyo is split into ringside seats, box seats and chair seats.

Ringside seats – you guessed it, these are the green cushions right next to the sumo ring. As such, they’re quite expensive and sell out much faster than any other seat – tickets are 14,800 yen per person and no children under 6 years old are allowed to sit there. It’s extremely common for wrestlers to fall out of the ring and they often fall on the people sat in the ringside seats. Additionally, food and drink is prohibited in these seats. However, in exchange for all this exciting danger, you’ll have an excellent view of the action.

Box seats – the second tier in the photo above, these traditionally accomodate 4 people (though there are boxes for 2 or 6 people available during 2020), you must remove your shoes before entering the box and you will be sat on cushions on the floor. If you can get ones near the front that would be perfect, however you may be struggling to see if you’re sat near the back! They’re an excellent way to make the tournament a social occasion though – you’re also allowed to consume food and drink in them – and are a quintessentially Japanese way to watch sumo.

Chair seats – the cheapest and easiest to get (though they do sell out within minutes), chair seats are the third tier of seating in the photo and on the balcony. There are three tiers to the chair seats – A, B and C – which are 8,500 yen, 5,100 yen and 3,800 yen respectively. The A seats, being the most expensive, get you closer to the action. We were in C seats and actually didn’t experience much trouble seeing the wrestling, but we got lucky with our row. There are a limited number of chair seats sold at 7:45am on the day of each tournament for 2,200 yen each but the queue for them often starts by 6am and earlier depending on weather, date and day, and some people will leave disappointed. I would recommend booking tickets in advance therefore but if this isn’t possible and you’ve got the time on your hands, you can try your luck queuing up in the morning.


Getting your tickets

For all purchases, I would recommend http://sumo.pia.jp/en/. It’s the only official ticket seller – there are sites like Voyagin and Viator which can source tickets for you (provided they’re fast enough on presale morning!) but this could come at a much higher cost. The English site is simple enough to use and I didn’t experience any problems using it in December. You just select which type of seat you want to buy tickets for, the date, and then the rest should be easy.

My top tip for making sure you get tickets – pick one date, one ticket type, and ganbatte! If you know excatly what you want and stick to it, you shold be able to bag your tickets. That said, I would also have a back-up date in mind and accept that you may need to sit whatever seats are available on your preferred dates

Now you’ve got your tickets booked – the tickets won’t be sent by email, instead you’ll be send an 8 or 10 digit code. There’s a machine at the entrance of the sumo hall where you enter your code and it’ll print the tickets for you. Your seat numbers and rows are on the tickets but will be in kanji – there are lots of super helpful staff members with great English who can help you find your seats if you get stuck. Basically the hall is split into 4 sections – main, East, opposite, and West – and your seat will be in a row in one of those sections. For example, ours were 2nd floor because they were chair seats in section B (in the main section).


Getting there

The venue: if you’re going to watch sumo in Tokyo, you’ll be headed to Ryōgoku Kokugikan. If you know where the Edo Museum is, the sumo hall is right infront of it – you can’t miss it! It’s a massive, fairly low building in the heart of Ryōgoku (両国). You can also find many sumo stables, chanko restaurants and other sumo related attractions in Ryōgoku. It is the heart of the sumo world and to my mind, the best place to watch sumo. 

Map courtesy of Japan Guide

On non-tournament days, a small sumo museum (free entry) and a shop selling sumo-themed goods are open to visitors at the stadium. During tournaments however, they are only accessible to ticket holders. There are, however, some stores selling limited merchandise in JR Ryōgoku station. Just head out of the station, turn right towards the stadium and there’s a collection of shops and restaurants on your right. To get to the station, you’ll want to use the Chuo-Sobu line. Ryōgoku is 2 stations away from Akihabara.


On the day

So, you’ve got tickets, (congratulations!), you’ve made your way to Ryōgoku and are ready to watch sumo. There are a lot of rules and rituals associated with sumo – too many to list them all here – so this Japanistry guide will make for an excellent read on your metro journey to Ryōgoku.

Generally the schedule of the day is as follows:

This schedule and lots more information about the venue can be found online here and hard copies are offered at the venue in multiple languages.

Sumo is an awesome spectacle, however you may get bored if you watch it all day! I think the perfect time to go is around 2:30pm. You must collect your pre-booked tickets by 3pm on the day of the tournament, and the highest ranking wrestlers fight from around 4pm onwards. There is a ceremonial entrance by those wrestlers at 3:45pm when they wear their decorated kesho-mawashi (belts), which I think is really good to watch.

If you’ve bought tickets in advance, you needn’t worry about your seats being lost if you don’t turn up until 2/3pm. They are allocated and are yours for the day. Fights wrap up by 6pm, at which point there is a bow-twirling ceremony and the day ends (with several thousand people then all heading to JR Ryōgoku station!).

Even in ignorance of most of the rules, I think the tension from the wrestlers as they engage in psychological warfare before each bout coupled with the buzz of the crowd are enough to make sumo matches one of the most thrilling sporting events to watch. We also tried quickly Googling who each fighter was – there is an information sheet provided with your tickets with the wrestlers’ names, ages, nationalities, hometowns, heights and weights if you’re interested, though naturally it’s mostly in kanji (including their names). There is an English list too in the tournament guide which we were using, so you can keep track using that. Additionally, the wresters’ names are lit up on the East and West sides (kind of like a digital scoreboard) and a red light signifies which wrestler has won.

You may also notice men with banners walking around the ring at the start of a match – these are actually sponsorships! You may spot familiar brands like Welcia and Yakult amongt them. A company pays 70,000 yen per flag, per match (a wrestler gets 30,000 yen of this and the rest goes to sumo associates), and often the more sponsorships paraded around the ring, the more succesful/notorious/famous the wrestlers in that fight are (as many companies want to be associated with that match).

To round off this post, an awesome friend of mine who works at Kokugikan was kind enough to provide me with this link to an excellent English brochure full of more information about sumo – you can get a hard copy for only 100 yen at Kokugikan! Definitely give it a read if you want to know more about this fascinating sport.

I would wholeheartedly recommend trying to catch a sumo tournament if you’re in a host city at the right time. It’s great fun, inexpensive (particlarly given how unique and awesome it is), and sumo is an extremely significant aspect of Japanese culture that anyone interested in this country must experience if they can.

I hope this has been helpful – if you’ve got any questions at all, let me know.

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