Japan's national sport is sumo. It's a popular sport, and there are foreign visitors that come to Japan expressly to watch sumo matches. If you don't know much about sumo, here are some of its charms and how to watch a match while you're in Japan.
The impressive bodies of sumo wrestlers, their loincloths called "mawashi," the ring-entering ceremony, the stately atmosphere of the venue...sumo has lots of charms that are embedded in Japanese aesthetics. Many foreign tourists appreciate that and find its foreignness very interesting.
Of course, the fact that the rules of the sport are simple helps it to be so popular. There are only 3 rules in place in deciding a winner. 1. If a wrestler steps out of the ring, he loses. 2. If any part of the wrestler except his feet touches the ground within the ring, he loses. 3. It's an automatic loss if there is any foul play. That's it. It's a sport that even utter beginners can enjoy watching.
Unlike other sports where there are points, once a loss is decided it's over. The match is decided with techniques used in just a moment, so being able to catch that fleeting moment is very exciting.
Also, since there's no weight limit, sumo can be extremely exciting. For example seeing two wrestlers that weigh over 200kg running into each other, or watching a wrestler much smaller than his opponent use his skill to send the bigger man flying - you won't be able to stop yourself from hollering. The atmosphere invites calls and clapping to celebrate amazing techniques and skills, and it's one that you can only enjoy in person.
How to attend a sumo match
Here is how to attend a sumo match in Japan.
About the sumo tournament schedule, and how to buy a ticket
Sumo matches occur for about two weeks every odd-numbered month. In Tokyo it's January, May, and September. Osaka is March, Aichi is July, and Fukuoka is November. The price for seats differ depending on seat, but usually seats on the second floor and above are about 2,000 - 3,000 JPY, while seats closer to the ring are around 10,000 JPY or above. It might be good to buy a cheaper ticket your first time, and if you want to further experience it buy a closer ticket your second time.
You can usually buy tickets from travel agencies or online, but sometimes you can buy tickets at the venue day-of, so please check the website first.
How the day goes
Sumo matches are usually from around 9:00 am to 6:00 pm. Bouts between young wrestlers in the lower divisions like jonokuchi, makushita, and juryo, are held from the morning to around 3:30 pm. Finally, around 3:55 pm, the bouts between the top five division classes from makuuchi to yokozuna (grand champions) begin. For people who don't have much time it might be good to come in around this time.
When the ring entrance ceremony ends, it's finally time for the highest-ranking wrestlers to have their bout. The matches between popular wrestlers and veteran wrestlers are extremely impressive, and finally you won't be able to tear your eyes away from the bouts between yokozuna champions.
Etiquette while watching the match
There are a few points to keep in mind. 1. Don't move from your seat during a bout. 2. Don't wear hats or headpieces that might block the view of other attendees. 3. Don't throw the cushions marking your seat. 4. Don't use negative speech against the wrestler you don't support.
Since it's a national sport that has history, tradition, and dignity, please keep your manners in mind when you attend a match.
How to enjoy sumo even when matches aren't being held during your trip
Unfortunately, tournaments aren't being held while you're in Japan...but don't worry. There are still ways to enjoy sumo when it isn't tournament season. Here are two.
Attend early morning practice at a sumobeya
A "sumobeya" is a stable to which the sumo wrestlers belong, and in the morning they always practice. Most sumobeya are in Tokyo, so it's a great place for people who want to see sumo. While the hours where you can watch practice change depending on which sumobeya, usually it's from 6:00 am - 9:00 am. If there's a wrestler that you want to see more than anything it would be good to contact his sumobeya directly, but if you just want to see morning practice, there are a number of sumobeya where this is easily achieved, including Takasagobeya, Hakkakubeya, Azumazekibeya, Chiganourabeya, Arashiobeya, Shikoroyamabeya, and more. Please look up whether you can make reservations and the times on each sumobeya's homepage.
Tour around the countryside
When there aren't tournaments, sumo wrestlers go out of the major cities to hold open practices, handshake events, and events that have everything from the ring entrance ceremony to the matches. Generally, in spring they're in Kansai, Tokai, and Kanto, in summer they're in Tohoku and Hokkaido, in the autumn they're in western Japan (mostly Kanto and Hokuriku), and in the winter they're in Kyushu and Okinawa. The schedule is available on the Nihon Sumo Kyokai's (Japanese Sumo Association) website so please check it.
If you watch sumo in person, you should be excited and moved by the sounds of the wrestlers crashing into each other and the amazing techniques they all use. It's definitely something you should consider adding to your list. If you think you'd like it, please create a sumo-watching schedule.
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.