Sumo in Japan is to Japanese culture what boxing is to American culture. It is serious business, and not something to be trifled with. If you are heading to Japan anytime soon, you absolutely must take in a sumo wrestling match as part of your exploration of Japanese culture. Before you go, you should know all of the following about this major sport.
Sumo wrestlers intentionally eat tens of thousands of calories every day to gain a ton of weight. That is not to say that they do not work out or exercise; they do. They have to if they are going to maintain enough muscle mass underneath the layers of bulk they accumulate. (They also spend dozens of hours in practice in the sumo ring, practicing their moves and studying opponents to gain the upper hand).
The muscle is to help them have enough strength to push their opponent out of the ring, and the layers of fat are meant to help them overcome their opponents by making it impossible for their opponents to move them. The sumo wrestler that is able to repeatedly push his opponents out of the ring in each match can quickly gain celebrity level stardom and becomes a favorite in Japanese culture.
Sumo wrestling history
Sumo is ancient. It dates back many centuries, and was supposedly part of a ritualistic dance to encourage a good harvest under Japanese gods of the earliest periods. Sumo later became the means for men to argue for ownership of plots of land or islands conquered. The winning wrestler got to keep the land for himself, or the winning wrestler would be treated very well and rewarded by the person he fought for.
Eventually, the sport became both ritual and entertainment in the courts of the Japanese emperors. Then it was a form of military combat training for samurai and the daimyo. After the last Japanese emperor, the sport became a public form of entertainment so that sumo wrestlers could continue their careers and be able to maintain a lifestyle to which they were accustomed.
Where and when to see sumo
Sumo is held in four major Japanese cities; Osaka, Nagoya, Fukuoka, and Tokyo. Similar to most sports in other countries, each of these locations holds a fifteen-day tournament in a specific month, similar to play-offs and championships in other sports. Six tournaments in all are held, starting with a tournament in January, and continuing with tournaments in March, May, July, September and November. Three of these six tournaments are held in Tokyo. If you are headed for Tokyo, you can take in a sumo match in January, May, and September.
Sumo is extremely popular, and tickets are limited. Buy your tickets before you leave on a plane for Japan, or buy your tickets once you arrive. You can also risk buying tickets on the morning of a match day, but the lines are exceedingly long, and you may not get tickets at all.
Grand sumo tournament
Of course, if you want to see the biggest and best sumo wrestlers shove it out in a tournament in Tokyo, you have to go in one of the three previously mentioned months. In between those months, there are touring matches that help keep many wrestlers in shape for the big matches. A dozen-plus cities all over Japan feature these traveling sumo shows. Among those cities are Seto, Kariya, Hirakata, Kamagori, Saku, Nagano, Toshigi, Kashiwa, and many more.
If you know the cities in which you will be staying for your tour and travel in Japan, you can look up both the Grand Sumo Tournament dates as well as the touring dates. Then you can ask your travel agent to secure tickets, or plan in advance to buy them yourself. You can also buy your sumo tickets online, but it takes a long time to have the tickets mailed to you. Plan ahead if you are going to buy tickets and have the tickets mailed to your home so that your tickets arrive before your departure and are not lost and unavailable for you to see the match.