Japan With Kids: Go to a Japanese Sumo Wrestling Match

Jaf, my 6-year old, is a huge fan of sumo wrestling. You often find him watching it for an hour or more on TV Japan. So, it made sense that watching Japanese Sumo wrestling live was at the top of our to-do list during our trip to Japan.

During a brief stop-over in Osaka in March, we planned to go to the Sumo Grand Tournament that was taking place the same weekend we were in town.

Japanese Sumo Wrestling

Japanese Sumo wrestling

Japanese Sumo Wrestling Tournament Schedules

If you’re planning your visit to Japan, and want to check out a Sumo Grand Tournament, check the yearly schedule to see if your trip coincides with one of these events:

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

What we didn’t know is that you can’t just show up and buy tickets the day of the tournament. Tickets for Sumo Grand Tournaments get sold out months in advance…which is something we found out after making several inquiries.

We Got Tickets!

Unable to procure tickets online, we decided to make our way to the box office at 7:00am on the morning of the tournament to try and see if we could somehow get tickets. The line was already out the door when we got there and, of course, we got told the same thing:

It’s Sold Out!

Japanese sumo wrestling
Paparazzi and fans lining up to get a glimpse and photo of Japan’s Yokozuna.

However, the atmosphere at the complex was so exciting that we decided to hang out and soak up all the history and tradition we were surrounded by. We even noticed a few sumo wrestlers entering the complex. From what we gathered, they were not high ranking as they were not walking the long-red-carpet, swarming with paparazzi.

japanese sumo wrestling
Waiting patiently for wrestlers to arrive

We asked a nearby security guard if we could take photos of them and he said yes, as long as they agreed. So we kindly approached each wrestler for photographs. Only one of the three turned us down, but still we were excited, nonetheless.

Japanese sumo wrestling
Our photo with an amateur wrestler, we were so excited!
A few minutes later I heard my husband shouting, “I got us tickets! I got us tickets!”
Remarkably, within a half hour we were being seated in our own private box. (I later found out he bought them from a person who could not go, for $560…Yeah, I almost passed out!).

Sumo Wrestling History & Traditions

The sport of sumo started over 1,500 years ago and is significantly intertwined with Shinto, Japan’s native religion. Sumo was originally performed to entertain the gods during festivals, or as a form of prayer for plentiful harvest. Bouts then started being performed in front of the emperor, in the Imperial court.

Modern day sumo takes its roots during the Edo period. The dohyo, or Sumo ring was first created during a sumo tournament organized by Japan’s principal warlord and sumo fan, Oda Nobunaga. Matches were held to raise money from the wealthy to improve infrastructure and commission shrines, marking the conception of the professional sumo wrestler.

Attending A Grand Sumo Tournament in Osaka

japanese sumo wrestling
Entry of makuuchi wrestlers into the ring.

The kids and I took off our shoes and made ourselves comfortable in our small, private box that measured 2×2 meter 2 and contained4 pillow seats. Luckily, we were seated next to an English-speaking Japanese group and they happily updated us on what was going on throughout the entire event. From the religious rituals, rules of the match, Sumo life, traditional clothing, referees and sponsors, we learned it all.

japanese sumo wrestling
Entry of yokozuna into the ring.

We also learned that the first sumo wrestler from Egypt named Osunaarashi (in black) was about to start his bout. It was one of the most exciting matches;


What We Learned

Between the matches, conversations with strangers, cheering, and eating all the great food, attending a Sumo match was by far our favorite things to do in Japan! We left there wanting to know more and eventually did an entire book report on Sumo wrestling for our world-schooling project.

Check out this bento we bought from the concession!
Check out this bento we bought from the concession!
Japanese sumo wrestling
We learned that every banner belonged to a sponsor. Some flags were worth $500 each. The more banners the more sponsors for that bout, one had over 20 sponsors!

This ancient sport dates back over 1,500 years, which we only learned after watching a live match. Sumo is a fascinating sport, and according to Japanese legend the very origin of the Japanese race depended on the outcome of a sumo match.

The lifestyle of Sumo wrestlers are harsh which makes it more and more difficult for the sport to attract new recruits. With Sumo facing an unknown future, you may never get the opportunity to see one in the future.

So if you’re visiting Japan in the near future, check out the Grand Sumo Tournament schedule to see if you’re trip coincides with one of these events:

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

How to Plan for Your Sumo Visit

Here are some suggestions on how to better plan for your Sumo visit (aka learn from our mistakes!):
  1. Coordinate your travel with the tournament schedule. If you are not able to watch a tournament, then make arrangements to see an amateur sumo tournament or visit a sumo stable to watch the wrestlers (rikishi) practice.
  2. Purchase your tickets in advance. We were incredibly lucky to get tickets the day of the tournament – apparently that is pretty unheard of. You can purchase tickets online usually a month in advance.
  3. If you are going as a family, the box seats are the best, though expensive. It comfortably fits 4 people (sitting cross-legged) and the cost is per box. There are also some box seats for 1-6 people as well.
  4. Chair seats are available and are assigned, though once inside your assigned floor, you are able to sit anywhere you want until the actual seat holder shows up.
  5. Timing is everything. Since we had kids we didn’t want to stay for full tournament, which starts at 8:00am and ends at 6:00pm. So, we went at 3:00pm, just before the Mankuuchi Entrance, which we were told we should not miss. It’s just before the top-division wrestlers begin their bouts. Here’s a mankitsu you could use to plan your visit.

If you are ever in Japan during a grand sumo tournament, we recommend you do your best to attend one. You may never have the opportunity to do so again.

More from our kid-friendly Japan series:

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