There are several unique sports that originated in Japan such as Sumo, Karate, Aikido, Judo, Kendo (Japanese fencing), Kyudo (Japanese archery) etc. In this article I would like to introduce you to sumo, the sport of Japanese wrestling.
相撲（すもう）- Sumo is one of the simple rules and each game is short (at longest 4 minutes), so it is easy to understand and enjoyable for many people.
The basic rule in sumo is: the competitor who is forced out of the ring first, or who touches any body parts besides feet on the ground first is the loser. Sumo techniques include, Oshi-dashi (push to the outside), Uwate-nage (grab the mawashi, or loincloth belt, from the top and throw), Hataki-komi (push down the oppornent’s shoulder or back when he approaches in the low position) and many more. There are fouls like punching with a fist, grabbing hair on purpose, poking eyes, kicking chest or stomach, etc. It’s very rare but if the sumo wrestler’s mawashi falls off, it is considered a foul and results in an automatic match loss for him.
Sumo tournaments are held in Japan every odd month: January, March, May, July, September, and November, and each lasts for approximately 15 days. Tournaments are held in Tokyo every other time, and the other locations which host tournaments are Osaka, Nagoya, and Fukuoka. When it is in Tokyo, they have the tournament at Kokugikan (a.k.a. Ryogoku-Kokugikan). Kokugikan is an arena specifically made only for sumo tournaments, so I recommend going to a match at Kokugikan if you can. For the people who cannot go see the matches live, the matches are also broadcasted for free on TV on the NHK channel (usually the channel 1) from 3:15 to 6pm.
Check out the finals from the most recent 2011 July Sumo wrestling tournament here.
Sumo matches start early in the morning. Depending on the day, the tournament usually starts from either 8 or 10am and finishes around 6pm. The order of matches are based on individual sumo wrestler’s ranking and scores. The more advanced and stronger sumo wrestlers’ matches usually start later in the day from around 3:30 to 4 in the afternoon. There are places to buy food and eat in the sumo arenas, or you can even bring your own food/drink from outside. The food available inside is mostly Japanese food, so if you’d like something different, it is better to buy beforehand. Your ticket is good for the entire day, so you may leave and come back at any time you please. Make sure to have your tickets stamped for re-entry at the exit before you leave.
If you leave the stadium, you may bump into sumo wrestlers who are coming to the games or going home after their match. If you like to take a picture with them, simply ask them friendly. Most sumo wrestlers are willing to take a picture with you, unless they are in a hurry. Make sure to thank them if they are generous to spare their time for you. Seeing a sumo wrestler in real life if a unique and fun experience.
Tickets – You can purchase tickets before or on the day of the game. The ticket prices vary depending on the seats. The closest section is called “Tamari” seat, and one seat costs 14,300 yen (as of September, 2011). The cheapest ticket is 2,100 yen. All the seats are assigned, and you are supposed to sit at your assigned place. However, if you go early enough before a lot people come in, it is possible to go closer to the ring and watch or take pictures of the games. You should stay in the area with the seat cusions (zabuton) and stay clear of designated areas for officials or judges.
You can reserve most the types of the seats online or buy tickets at convenience stores in advance. You can also buy tickets on the day of the match at the ticket counter of the site. The cheapest tickets can ONLY be purchased the day of the match and are only good for that day. If you are planning to go on weekends or in the final days of the tournament, buy your tickets in advance because there is a good chance that all tickets could be sold out. Especially during the final days of the tournament, the best remaining sumo wrestlers will be trying to win and be crowned the champion so tickets on these days are usually the hardest to get. You should go early in the morning to reserve seats. If you purchase tickets in advance at a convenience store, you will need to use a computerized ticket machine (e.g., Loppi at Lawson). You may need to ask assistance on how to buy tickets from the workers, but they are usually very helpful.
Sumo is a very unique and traditional sport in Japan. I recommend you go to a live match once and watch the matches as close to the ring as you can. Sometimes the sumo wrestlers come right at you when pushed out of the ring and being so close to the action is very exciting. If you have the opportunity to see a sumo match while in Japan, make sure to bring your camera and some of your favorite snacks to enjoy the matches!