When you think of sport in Japan, one that comes to mind must surely be Japan’s very own Sumo. With origins in Shintoism and dating back beyond the 8th century Sumo is not only intriguing, but also entertaining. There are 6 tournaments throughout the year as follows and each tournament lasts for 15 days.
Tokyo - January, May, September
Osaka - March
Nagoya - July
Fukuoka - November
If you are travelling at the time of a tournament, why not get a ticket and experience it for yourself? Here are 5 tips to help you enjoy the day.
1. Pre-purchase your tickets
Prepurchasing tickets not only gives you a choice of the type of seat you want to sit in but also means there is no need to enter the stadium when it opens in the morning. If you have limited time to spend in Japan, this allows you to sightsee in the morning and then arrive at the sumo around two, when the higher ranked Juryou and Makuuchi matches begin.
The easiest way to buy tickets for the sumo from overseas is through the official website. Here all the tournament information is listed including when the tickets will go on sale. Stick this date in your diary and don't forget! This year, the Nagoya tickets sold out on the day they were released so don't dawdle! For this already in Japan, tickets are available through Family Mart, Lawson, Circle K and 7/11. The final option is to request tickets through a third party site. In this case you tell them which days you could go and they arrange the tickets for one of those days. Buysumotickets.com seems to be the major player here. I have not personally used this method so I can't comment on the service.
2. Purchasing tickets on the day
If you've missed out on pre-purchased tickets (which can sell like hot cakes) or just made a last minute decision, never fear. This is an opportunity for another cultural experience, lining up for on the day ticket purchase! The on the day ticket office opens at 7:45am, I asked around a bit for advice about just how early we should line up and received answers ranging from 'really early' (true, but not specific enough to be helpful) to 'just go at 9:30 or so' (much too late in our case at least). In the end we placed our trust in the Nagoya Tourist Information Bureau who had told us that the first people had lined up around 5 last year and 7 would probably be too late. We set off from our accommodation at 5:30 and were in line by 5:45. There was already a significant line and in true Japanese style it was supervised and very orderly with a sign indicating the end of the line. We learnt from someone here that there were 240 something tickets available and so by 6:30 the line filled the allocated tickets. We were handed a seiriken, a numbered ticket indicating that we could purchase tickets when the office finally opened. The seiriken did not mean we could leave the line, it really just confirmed who had the opportunity to purchase. One important note is that if you are not in the line at the time of the seiriken handout, you can not get one. So definitely don't send one of your group expecting to be able to pick up tickets for the rest of you! The sign was changed to waiting for cancellations and anyone who arrived after that was either optimistic enough to wait or at least knew they could go back to bed! A few games of snap later and we purchased our tickets. This information is based on our experience on the first day of competition (a Sunday) in Nagoya, the situation will no doubt vary depending on the location, day of the week and stage of competition. Expect the more popular times to be weekends and the last couple of days of the tournament.
3. Arrive early, make use of your pass out
The stadium opened at 8:15 in Nagoya and the competition finishes at 6pm. That's quite a long day but luckily, the tickets allow one pass out so it is not necessary to stay for the entire day. While waiting for tickets, announcements had said that if you left belongings unattended on the seats they would be moved though the reality was that many spectators claimed seats and only came back to them later in the day. But why? And what were they doing? I imagine some people actually did leave but I recommend you don't and this is why. While the competition starts around 9am, the upper grades don't start until around 2pm and so people who have pre-purchased tickets don't arrive until later in the day. This is great for the early birds because it means that you can surreptitiously head down to the front rows for a closer view but not so close you are likely to get fallen on (remember to move between bouts not during and take off your shoes in the seating areas). It is a very different experience sitting close to the front. The sound and the facial expressions show just how much strength and effort is required to push over and not be pushed over by a 130kg+ opponent.
4. Watch the arrival and find the entry/exit spot for the sumo
A second use the pass out is to watch the wrestlers when they arrive at the arena. This can be quite an exciting part of the day, especially towards the end of the competition when people come to cheer their favourites as they head for the competition. Back inside, before the upper grades begin their bouts, there is an ‘entering the ring’ ceremony. Each sumo is announced and parades the ring in a ceremonial apron. By this stage the seating will be filling up so find where the sumo enter and exit the arena. Mill around the area and you'll likely to get a closer look at the stars of the show, the incredible ceremonial aprons(some worth upwards of Y400,000) plus a little buzz of excitement passed on from the adoring fans who know all the names and are hanging out for pictures.
5. Try Chanko Nabe and get yourself some fun Sumo omiyage
The hallways of the arenas are set up with bento and omiyage sellers. For a mere Y100 yen you can pick up a Sumo information booklet that will help you understand what is happening as the day unfolds. Be sure to also check out the other omiyage, from hand towels depicting the various sumo stretches to massive senbei printed with sumo faces you are sure to find something perfect for yourself, or someone back home! Apart from bento, there will also usually also be a Chanko Nabe stand so you can go and eat like a sumo while at the sumo, awesome!
The Nagoya Sumo tournament is on right now. Why not try your luck with an on the day ticket and see what Japan's oldest sport is all about?
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