Wednesday 13 September 2017

Sumo Tournaments and Tokyo's Kokugikan Sumo Hall

Statue showing two sumo wrestlers at the entrance to Ryogoku Station
Sumo statue outside Ryogoku Station
Walking out of Ryogoku Station in Sumida, Tokyo, you get an immediate hint as to what the main attraction of the area is in the form of the statue on the right: the plaque reads chikara-zumō (力相撲) - literally "power sumo," meaning sumo wrestling using strength instead of technique. Close by is the Ryogoku Kokugikan (国技館) Sumo Stadium/Hall (pictured below) which hosts three of six annual professional sumo tournaments known as honbasho (本場所) in January, May, and, September (the latter starting just a few days ago on Sunday 10th). It will also host the boxing at the 2020 Olympics apparently!

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Sumo went through something of a slump a few years back, due to a series of scandals, but has definitely bounced back today and advanced tickets were completely sold out this time round, something my sumo-loving friends tell me hasn't happened in quite a while. The presence of "once in a lifetime" grand champion yokozuna (横綱), Mongolian Hakuho, who recently broke the all-time wins record, is certainly a key factor. Unfortunately, Hakuho has skipped this tournament - together with two other yokozuna - due to injury, leaving only one grand champion.

The stairs leading up to the green-roofed Kokugikan sumo hall with the Skytree visible far left
Kokugikan (r): Skytree is visible far left

Kokugikan starting to fill up with the ring (dohyō) centre
With regard to tickets, even if you couldn't get an advanced ticket, some tickets are also available on the day - though you will have to queue up very early to have a chance to get one. General admission tickets are available at ¥2,200 in this way but the way to really see sumo is to get a box-seat (masu-seki) - an enclosed tatami square with zabuton cushions to sit on - with three or five of your friends (don't forget to take your shoes off!). Plan on spending the whole day there (bring lunch) - doors open at 8:00am and you can enjoy all sorts of entertainment and see the wrestlers up close; main matches start from 2:00-ish leading up to the key bouts later in the afternoon. The fun finishes at 6:00pm. For more details see the excellent English site here. I couldn't make it this time round - I'm keeping my fingers crossed for January - but here's a couple of pictures from one of my friends who attended on Tuesday. Very jealous (urayamashii = 羨ましい)!