Ryogoku Kokugikan is a venue for contests in Japan’s national sport, sumo. Three of the six official sumo tournaments that take place nationwide each year are held here, in January, May, and September. The hall can hold a total of 11,098 people. The ring, or “dohyo”, is located in the middle of the hall, with the spectators’ seats arranged all around. As well as chair seats, there are ringside seats called “suna-aburi-seki”, which are so close to the “dohyo” that spectators get sprayed with the sand from it during the bouts, and “masu-seki,” which are four-person boxes with wooden boards to sit on. The ringside seats are close to the action, so eating and drinking is forbidden, but you may eat and drink freely in the boxes. Cheering on your favorite wrestler while eating a “bento” lunchbox or “yakitori” chicken skewers is one of the true pleasures of watching a sumo tournament. Tickets for the ringside seats and boxes are more expensive than those for the ordinary chair seats, but they are so popular that it is hard to obtain them.
Then, how about watching one of these tournaments in person? The first step is to book your seats in advance. If you want to feel the dynamic bang of the rikishi up close, a masu-seki box seat close to the ringside is the best choice. Each box is sectioned off in a square that accommodates four spectators. This is the traditional seating assignment in Japanese entertainment.
Upon arriving at the Kokugikan Hall on the day of the match, the fun starts at the entrance, where oyakata stablemasters, who were once rikishi themselves, tear your ticket in half and give you the stub. This is the perfect chance to meet some of the most famous sumo wrestlers.
In the hall’s first floor is a Sumo Museum, which displays items linked to sumo like nishiki-e colored woodblock prints, banzuke tournament record books, and kesho-mawashi belts worn for ceremony only by top-ranked rikishi. A visit to the museum is a must between sumo bouts.
The tournament itself kicks off around 9 in the morning with bouts between the youngest rikishi, from jonokuchi, or the lowest-ranking division, to maezumo, a rank below that for new wrestlers. This is a great opportunity to see whether you can spot yokozuna champions of the future, and is recommended if you have the time to devote to the event for cheering on up-and-comers. When the tournament concludes in the evening, relive the excitement with dinner at one of Ryogoku’s numerous chankonabe eateries, and relish in the one-pot stew dish that is the very source of the powerful bang between the rikishi.
Has this inspired you to spend a day in Ryogoku and experiencing the joy of watching a Grand Sumo Tournament?
Name: Ryogoku Kokugikan Sumo Hall
Address:1-3-28 Yokoduna, Sumida-ku, Tokyo
Open day: Sun.–Sun., September 9–23
Web site: http://www.sumo.or.jp/
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