Going to a sumo tournament

Here is a list of things you need to know when going to see a sumo tournament

1. The lowest ranked wrestlers go first, early in the day. I’ve heard rumors that the first bouts start at about 8am (I don’t believe it), but certainly the lowest ranks are already duking it out at 11am. If you arrive early enough, you can move around and sit where you like until most of the people arrive, and then you’ll eventually have to retreat to your own seat.

2. Lunch is available there. There are announcements that say you should not bring in any food, and only purchase food there at the venue, for health reasons (I don’t believe it). The food available is perfect for traditional Japanese palates, and are expensive. Range of alcoholic beverages is also limited. I hope you love Asahi Super Dry.

3. Even though tickets are for all day, most people arrive start to after 2pm, and often the whole crowd is there by 5.30pm. The final bout is at about 5.50pm.

4. Between each division of wrestlers, there is a brief pause, where the ring is cleaned, and umpires take a break. The upper ranks are introduced by some sort of ceremony that announces their turn. See the upper ranked ceremony photo here: http://www.westheimphoto.com/lightbox/index/detail/45094 the upper division is also marked by the ‘dance of the Yokuzuna’, performed by a Yokuzuna-ranked wrestler (the highest rank). The final ceremony is after 6pm, and it’s the bow (as in ‘bow & arrow’) twirling ceremony, see photo: http://www.westheimphoto.com/lightbox/index/detail/45099

5. The lower ranked division bouts are marked by unfancy mawashi’s (underwear / belts) and the referee is barefoot.

6. Throwing salt into the ring is done only by the upper category wrestlers. It is used to purify the ring ahead of each bout. Wrestlers may do this once, twice, or thrice ahead of a bout. Photo: http://www.westheimphoto.com/lightbox/index/detail/45101 Women are not allowed to set foot in the ring under any circumstances either before or during any point of a tournament.

Sumo wrestlers of the Minezaki Stable practicing ahead of the summer Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament

Early morning practice session

7. I’m not entirely sure if they are successful in psyching each other out, but they do attempt to intimidate, delay, call the shots on each other ahead of each bout, even the lowest ranked dudes. Menacing photo: http://www.westheimphoto.com/lightbox/index/detail/45097

8. Key vocabulary: “dohyo” is the ring and mound; “oshi-dashi” is push-out; “makuuchi” is the highest division; “juryo” is the second highest division (see Wikipedia for more info); “basho” is tournament.

9. Ranks of the upper division (the “makuuchi” division):

  • Yokuzuna (highest)
  • Ozeki (2nd highest)
  • Sekiwaki (3rd highest)

10. Wrestlers get quite low salaries, but the upper division wrestlers can  occasionally win a bit extra. Each time banners are paraded around the ring ahead of a bout, these show the sponsors of that particular bout. It is advertising. To sponsor or show an advertisement banner, sponsors need to pay about ¥60,000 (USD$700, GBP£450) per banner. The final bout can have upto or over 20 banners. Wrestlers can also supplement their incomes with advertising contracts. The Bulgarian wrestler Koto Ooshu has been sponsored by the Japanese company that produce the “Bulgarian Yoghurt” line of products. I have no idea why they have a Bulgarian yoghurt, but the product line precedes Koto Ooshu’s involvement in Sumo.

11. Sumo tournaments are fifteen days long, usually beginning on the second Sunday of the month. Tickets go on sale about a month before the tournament begins. There are three main types of tickets: Box (expensive, and good for small parties with your buddies, but very cramped); Seats (good for those with long legs, but uncomfortable on an unpadded tush); ultra cheap seats (byo telescope). See the official Sumo website for prices and availabilities, but purchase the tickets online and pick them up at a convenience store. The annual tournament schedule is:

  • January – Tokyo
  • March – Osaka
  • May – Tokyo
  • July – Nagoya
  • September – Tokyo
  • November – Fukuoka

12. You can tell if it’s a full house and they sold all the tickets if a small white banner is lowered above the roof of the ring. It basically says thanks for the sell-out day.

13. The sumo will be on TV from 4pm to 6pm (Tokyo time), and you can push the ‘language button’ to hear the English commentators say their bit. The sumo is also currently available (in only Japanese) on the web at: http://sumo.goo.ne.jp/hon_basho/torikumi/eizo_haishin/asx/sumolive.asx (opens your media player for live streaming)

14. You can see the sumo for free… well sort of. At various places around Osaka, Nagoya, and Fukuoka cities in the early mornings from about 7-9am they train from about two weeks before the tournament begins (see pic above). They often do little to no training on the first day of the tournament, and less toward the end. You can find the various stables at local temples, schools, at the grounds of a restaurant, or any place that fanatically supports the sumo more than I. If you ever see an unusual very tall, vertical banner, usually on bamboo poles, then that’s probably the name of the stable training there, and you should get yourself out of bed early to see if it is indeed a stable training there.

15. Useful links:

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