Sumo in Japan 2020: How to Watch Sumo in Tokyo, Osaka & More

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Let’s talk about sumo in Japan. Want to know how to watch sumo in Tokyo or other Japanese cities? You’re in the right place. I’ve been to the Ryogoku Kokugikan (Tokyo’s main sumo stadium) half a dozen times for matches — usually with one or both of my kids. Watching sumo in Tokyo is a blast, and it doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive to go. The same can be said for sumo in Osaka, Fukuoka, and Nagoya. 

Sumo in Japan - where to see sumo in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya & Fukuoka cover

How to Watch Sumo in Japan 2020

Do you want to go to a sumo tournament? Seeing sumo wrestling in Tokyo at the Ryogoku Kokugikan is the best way to see sumo in Japan, but not the only way. There are multiple tournaments each year, and while the traditional Japanese sport is centered around the capital, you can also see sumo in Osaka, Nagoya, and Fukuoka. What’s more, sumo wrestlers train year-round, and it’s also possible to watch sumo practice. We’ll cover all of this and more here. 

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Sumo in Japan Tickets & Schedule: 2020 & 2021

sumo tickets tokyo

There are six major sumo basho (tournaments) every year — one every other month. Half of those happen in Tokyo. The Tokyo sumo tournaments usually take place in January, May, and September. Each tournament is around two weeks long. That gives you a nice window of opportunity to get sumo tickets, especially if you go on a weekday in the middle of the tournament. It’s much less crowded then. That’s how to watch sumo in Japan: go when the crowds aren’t around.

2020 Sumo in Japan: Sumo Tickets, Seats & Venues

Sumo tickets go on sale five to six weeks ahead of each tournament. You can go to official sumo wrestling tournaments in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, and Fukuoka. 

Sumo in Tokyo VS Seeing it Elsewhere

If possible, I recommend you watch sumo in Tokyo. Why? Well, the Tokyo sumo venue, the Ryogoku Kokugikan, is a stadium dedicated to sumo and that’s all that happens there. All the trophies are here, and there’s a small sumo museum, too. In addition, the sumo wrestlers themselves live and train in the area so you might actually see some of them walking around. Ryogoku is a cool area, too. More on that later. 

As for sumo in Osaka, Fukuoka, and Nagoya, it’s the same wrestlers so the action in the ring is the same. However, these tournaments happen in gymnasiums and stadiums that are retrofitted for sumo. Same wrestlers, but a different atmosphere. 

Sumo Seating: Masu, Isu, and Jiyuseki

There are three main seating options for sumo in Japan: masu, isu, and jiyuseki.

Masu Sumo Tickets

The masu sumo tickets are the closest to the ring. These seat four people on a tatami-mat square. In general, masu A, masu B, and masu C are closest to the ring, and in that order.

Isu Sumo Tickets

The isu seats are behind the masu seats. The masu-type seats are on tatamis with no back support. The isu-type seats are stadium-style chairs with a place to lean back. Isu-type seats are on the second floor looking down at the sumo ring. There are usually three grades of isu-type seats: A, B, and C, getting further from the 2nd-floor balcony. 

Jiyuseki Sumo Tickets

The third type of Japanese sumo tickets is jiyuseki (自由席), or “free seating.” These are the cheapest sumo tickets you can buy: seats are ¥2,100 for adults, ¥200 for kids and under 4 are free. However, they are the very back row and don’t go on sale for that day until 8 am that morning. If you want jiyuseki tickets, then I suggest lining up very early. I wrote about this type of sumo ticket for the Japan Times a while back.

I’ve used them several times but got tired of the early morning lines. It used to be easier to get these sumo tickets, but now with so many travelers visiting Japan, it’s harder. Sometimes I showed up early and waited for an hour…only for them to sell out. Another disadvantage is that these are general seating. That means if you get up or want to leave and come back later, your seat may be gone.

How to Watch Sumo in Tokyo with Kids — Japan Family Travel Tips

The pic above? This is what the line looked like when I showed up at 7:30 am on a Friday. Bad idea. I lived 20 minutes away at the time, so this was a mild inconvenience for me. Not so for you if you’re only in town for a few days. 

The Best Sumo Seats?

Personally, for non-Japanese people, I always recommend the isu-style seats. It’s more comfortable to sit that long with something to lean on. You’re not as close, but to be honest it’s not a big stadium. Every seat is a good one. I’ve sat in the very back row and I can still hear their colossal bodies crash into each other. 

March 2020: Sumo in Osaka

  • Location: EDION Arena (Namba, Osaka)
  • Dates: March 8 > March 22, 2020
  • Tickets go on sale February 2, 2020

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May 2020: Sumo in Tokyo

  • Location: Kokugikan (Ryogoku, Tokyo)
  • Dates: May 10 >May 24, 2020
  • Tickets go on sale April 4, 2020

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July 2020: Sumo in Nagoya

  • Dolphins Arena (Nagoya)
  • Dates: July 5 > July 19, 2020
  • Tickets go on sale May 23, 2020

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September 2020: Sumo in Tokyo

  • Location: Kokugikan (Ryogoku, Tokyo)
  • Dates: September 13 > September 27, 2020
  • Tickets go on sale August 1, 2020

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November 2020: Sumo in Fukuoka

  • Fukuoka Kokusai Center (Fukuoka)
  • Dates: November 8 > November 22, 2020
  • Tickets go on sale September 19, 2020

Voyagin: November 2020 Sumo in Fukuoka

2021 Sumo in Japan

rikishi - sumo wrestlers in dohyo - sumo wrestling japan

The sumo schedule for 20201 is already our for those of you who plan far, far ahead. 

January 2021: Sumo in Tokyo

  • Location: Kokugikan (Ryogoku, Tokyo)
  • Dates: January 10 > January 24, 2021
  • Tickets go on sale December 5, 2020

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March 2021: Sumo in Osaka

  • EDION Arena (Namba, Osaka)
  • Dates: March 14 > March 28, 2021
  • Tickets go on sale February 7, 2021

Voyagin: March 2021 Sumo in Osaka

May 2021: Sumo in Tokyo

  • Location: Kokugikan (Ryogoku, Tokyo)
  • Dates: May 9 > May 23, 2021
  • Tickets go on sale April 10, 2021

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July 2021: Sumo in Nagoya

  • Dolphins Arena (Nagoya)
  • Dates: July 11 > July 25, 2021
  • Tickets go on sale May 22, 2021

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September 2021: Sumo in Tokyo

  • Location: Kokugikan (Ryogoku, Tokyo)
  • Dates: September 12 > September 26, 2021
  • Tickets go on sale August 7, 2021

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November 2021: Sumo in Fukuoka

  • Fukuoka Kokusai Center (Fukuoka)
  • Dates: November 14 > November 28, 2021
  • Tickets go on sale September 18, 2021

Voyagin: November 2021 Sumo in Fukuoka

Sumo Rules & History

Ryogoku Kokogikan sumo in Tokyo

Before we cover where to see sumo in Japan, here’s a little primer on the most famous Japanese sport of all time. 

Rules of Sumo Wrestling in Japan

The rules of sumo in Japan are fairly easy to follow. Two wrestlers enter the ring. Each sumo wrestler is trying to push the other out of the ring or throw them to the ground. If any part of a wrestler’s body touches the ground, they lose. There are a few things that are not allowed, such as choking, pulling hair and aiming for the eyes or crotch. Also no punching, but open-hand slapping is ok. It seems simple, but these are skilled wrestlers who use much more than weight and strength to conquer opponents. 

The History of Sumo in Japan

Sumo wrestling in its earliest forms may go back further than 200 years, but its present form traces its roots back to the late 19th century. Formalized sumo tournaments had a further boost in 1926 and grew from there. 

Sumo Vocabulary

  • Basho: a sumo tournament
  • Dohyō: the ring in which the sumo wrestlers grapple
  • Rikishi: a sumo wrestler
  • Ozeki: the second-highest rank of a sumo wrestler
  • Yokozuna: a sumo “grand champion.” Yokozuna always wrestle last.
  • Chonmage: the hairstyle you see on sumo wrestlers
  • Fundoshi: the loincloth that sumo wrestlers wear

Sumo in Tokyo

The Kokugikan is just a few subway stations north of my old neighborhood on Tokyo’s east side. There are lots of fun things to do in Ryogoku — with or without kids. 

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Sumo in Osaka

The sumo in Osaka takes place near the Namba neighborhood, which is one of the most vibrant areas of the city. You’ll easily find plenty to do in Namba before or after the sumo. 

Voyagin: Sumo Tickets in Osaka

Sumo in Nagoya

The sumo tournament in Nagoya happens once a year and takes place very close to Nagoya Castle and several parks and gardens. It’s easy to make sumo in Nagoya into a full day experience. 

Voyagin: Sumo Tickets in Nagoya

Sumo in Fukuoka

Japanese sumo tournaments happen in Fukuoka once a year near Hakata Station. There are a number of temples, shrines and shopping centers in the area, as well. 

Voyagin: Sumo Tickets in Fukuoka

Things to Do in Kokugikan in Tokyo

kokugikan in Ryogoku - sumo in tokyo

The matches move quite fast. There’s one after another roughly every 5-10 minutes. This can be exciting, but for some, this pattern might get monotonous after a while, so get up and walk around. Check out the building and the surrounding grounds. There are a shrine and a small sumo museum. The sumo museum gets mentioned a lot as something to do here, but in my opinion, it’s not that impressive or anything that will keep your attention for long.

Other Sumo Wrestling Japan Experiences

how to watch sumo in tokyo with kids

Going to a tournament isn’t the only sumo-related activities in Japan. After all, you might not be able to visit during one of the grand tournaments. What then? If that’s the case, then consider some of these tours. The next-best experience after going to a sumo match in Tokyo is watching sumo morning practice, but that’s not the only sumo-related activities you can do. There are other tours and experiences. Most of them involve actual sumo wrestlers, but don’t expect superstars here. Most sumo wrestlers you meet are either retired or young wrestlers who haven’t made a name for themselves yet.

Asageiko: How to Watch Sumo Practice in Tokyo

morning sumo practice in tokyo

A number of sumo stables allow visitors to observe their workouts but under certain conditions. The training sessions usually start at 5 or 6 am, depending on the stable that you visit. It’s best to have a Japanese speaker with you, or at least to call ahead and make sure training is happening that day (there are a variety of reasons why it may not). There are a number of tour outfitters that can take you to morning practice and provide the local insight to make it more meaningful. PLEASE NOTE: Some tours and some stable require participants to be 13 or older.

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Before Your Go to Morning Sumo Training

If you really want to watch the wrestlers up close, then you need to know how to act. With this in mind, consider the rules. For example, there are strict guidelines to honor if you want to witness this, and you need to make sure that you are ready.

Rules for Watching Sumo Morning Practice
  • Bow when you enter and bow when you leave. If you come face-to-face with a wrestler or trainer perhaps, a small bow wouldn’t hurt then, either.
  • You must be ready to sit still and quiet for several hours, possibly on the floor, without pointing your feet toward the wrestlers or trainers.
  • No talking, no food, drink or gum, and no smoking. Some of the trainers may smoke or take a drink of water. That doesn’t mean you can.
  • Don’t touch the dohyō (ring). At all. That’s sacred ground for these guys.
  • Be ready to take off your shoes at the entrance. Slip-off shoes are essential in Japan, really. Avoid an awkward moment unlacing hiking boots at the door.
  • No hats, sunglasses or headphones
  • No flash photography.
  • Turn all devices off before you enter. Make sure your watch doesn’t beep.

Sumo Training Experience

Very few people get to stand in the dohyō aside from the wrestlers themselves. If you try the sumo training, you get to experience a little of what that’s like.

Voyagin: Tokyo Sumo Training Experience

Tour with a Sumo Wrestler

Walk the streets where the wrestlers call home. Your guide will be an actual wrestler, but if you come during a tournament you will be guided by a retired grappler. Most sumo wrestlers don’t speak English so you will be accompanied by an interpreter. 

Voyagin: Ryogoku & Asakusa Tour with a Sumo Wrestler

Sumo Demo and Lunch

Okay, so this one’s a little cheesy but it can be fun. This afternoon excursion includes lunch. Choose the Ryogoku dates so you can try chanko-nabe, the typical sumo wrestler meal. Here a few lucky souls will get to actually challenge the wrestlers in the ring. 

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Sumo Wrestling Japan: Have You Been?

What was your sumo Japan experience like? Where did you eat in the area? Are you looking for more to do in Ryogoku? We want to add all the info possible on watching sumo in Japan here, so if you have tips, please let us know!

Beyond Sumo Wrestling Japan – Further Reading

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Disclosure: some of my posts have affiliate links, but they cost you nothing and help us travel and share our tips with you. My opinions are my own and this post is only to help you learn how to watch sumo in Tokyo. If you have tips on how to watch sumo in Tokyo that are not listed here, please let us know.

Photo Credits via Creative Commons CC BY, Public Domain Mark 1.0, or other Royalty-free image sites. Some images may have been altered slightly via cropping or color enhancement: #3, #4, #6, #10, #12, #14

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