A Japanese cultural experience: Sumo Wrestling in Tokyo

Enjoying sumo wrestling in Tokyo is a fantastic cultural experience whilst in Japan. Sumo is considered a national sport and many follow the yearly professional sumo tournament (honbasho) very closely. There are six honbasho held each year, a system established as early as 1958.

You Could Travel Sumo Players Morning Practice

The history of sumo wrestling

Sumo is a Japanese style of wrestling and Japan’s national sport. Sumo wrestling originated in ancient times as a performance to entertain the Shinto deities. Know that only men practice sumo professionally in Japan.

The rules of sumo wrestling are simple: the wrestler who first exits the ring or touches the ground with any part of his body (apart from his soles) loses. The wrestling takes place on an elevated ring (dohyo), made of clay and covered in sand.

You might not want to follow the whole sumo tournament in Japan and that’s ok. There are around 45 stables (beya) in Tokyo which now allow tourists to partake in the morning sumo practice. In order to get entry into the privileged world of asageiko you need to be accompanied by a Japanese person and so the best way to see a training session is with a guide. We used Beauty of Japan and had Kota as our guide for the day.

Kota was incredibly knowledgeable. He told us he has a close relationship with the sumo wrestlers from the stable because he gets to see them twice a week. He answered all our questions and translated our conversation with the sumo wrestlers. We would definitely recommend the experience.

Tokyo Sumo Wrestling

How to enjoy sumo wrestling in Tokyo

Sumo wrestlers start their practice very early in the morning. Expect to be in front of the stable as early as 8 AM. Remember that it is respectful to arrive at the beginning of the practice. You should not leave before the practice ended as it is deemed to be rude. The sumo practice itself lasts for about 3 hours.

It is incredibly interesting so I see no reason why someone would leave early anyway.

Besides, there are fun exercises the sumo wrestlers do towards the end, which you definitely want to see that. At the very end, tourists are also invited to say hi to the sumo wrestlers, and you even get the opportunity to take some pictures.

The sumo wrestlers we got to see were super friendly and keen to get to know us too.

Tokyo Sumo Morning Practice

The etiquette for watching the sumo wrestling in Tokyo

We already discussed that you need to arrive towards the beginning of the sumo practice and stay put for the whole duration of the training. When entering, bow to the stable master or other seniors who are leading the practice. Bow when you leave the stable, as well as to the wrestlers.

Keep silent! Don’t talk to each other during the practice. The sumo wrestlers are not there to have fun but to train hard. Be respectful. Don’t use your phone, don’t text and don’t make phone calls. Do not take toilet breaks and do not eat or drink during the training.

Sit down on the floor, ideally with your legs folded. Do not point your feet towards the sumo wrestlers as it is considered rude and incredibly disrespectful.

If you can’t silence the shutter on your camera, refrain from taking too many pictures. Wait until the end of the practice.

At the end of the practice, you can offer the sumo wrestlers gifts if you wish to. Nicely wrapped food tends to be their favourite.

You can ask your guide any questions about the sumo wrestlers. Most sumo wrestlers won’t speak any English, another great reason why having a Japanese guide is a great idea.

Sumo Practice Tokyo Stable

What you need to know about sumo stables in Tokyo

Sumo wrestlers live in their own stables. That is their actual home as well as practice place. When they are young, sumo wrestlers are being paid very little, which means they cannot afford to rent their own home in the heart of Tokyo. Most of the money the sumo wrestler makes is spend on food and drinks. There are several sumo wrestlers which cannot afford to start a family due to their low income. Once they make it to a professional level, sumo wrestlers are more desired as their income increases significantly. That’s the time when they can afford to get their own place and get married.

Sumo Wrestling Stable

Accommodation Near Ryogoku Kokugikan National Sumo Stadium

Ryogoku Kokugikan National Sumo Stadium also known as Ryōgoku Sumo Hall is a large sumo stadium in the heart of Tokyo with the capacity of 11,098 people. There are four main sumo wrestling tournaments, one in each season, Hatsu (new year) in January, the Natsu (summer) in May, and the Aki (autumn) in September. The stadium is also home to a museum dedicated to sumo.

Below you will find accommodations which are close to the stadium so if you are attending an event, you won’t have to walk too far or take any public transport.

Ryogoku View Hotel
Mid-range Hotel 8.8

Conveniently located a 3-minute walk from Ryogoku Stadium., Ryogoku View Hotel offers rooms with a balcony and free WiFi. It features a restaurant, a café and drinks vending machines, and provides a 24-hour reception. The Edo Tokyo Museum is a 6-minute walk away.Rooms get plenty of daylight through floor-to-ceiling windows, and they all come with a small table and chairs. Amenities include a flat-screen TV, a fridge and an electric kettle.Restaurant Sakura-Tei serves Japanese cuisine, and warm drinks can be enjoyed at coffee house Saint-Marc. There are many shops and restaurants nearby, including restaurants specializing in chankonabe sumo wrestler dishes.

Click here for prices and book Ryogoku View Hotel

Dai-ichi Hotel Ryogoku
Mid-range Hotel 8.8

A 5-minute walk from the Ryogoku Kokugikan National Sumo Stadium, Dai-ichi Hotel Ryogoku offers a free shuttle to/from Tokyo Disney Resort. The hotel is connected to Ryogoku Subway Station, which offers a direct 20-minute ride to Roppongi. Most rooms have a view of Tokyo Sky Tree tower.The contemporary rooms at Hotel Dai-ichi Ryogoku come with free wired internet and a flat-screen TV with satellite channels. They are fitted with extra long beds and a fridge.

Click here for prices and book Dai-ichi Hotel Ryogoku

HOTEL MYSTAYS Asakusabashi
Mid-range Hotel 8.8

Hotel MyStays Asakusa-bashi is located just 1 train stop from Akihabara and 2 subway stops from Asakusa. The hotel is just a 3-minute walk from Asakusabashi Train/Subway Station. It features modern rooms with a flat-screen TV and a private bathroom. Free WiFi is accessible in rooms and at the lobby. A convenience store is featured on the ground floor. Certain rooms feature a kitchenette.

Click here for prices and book HOTEL MYSTAYS Asakusabashi

Sumo wrestler costume

The sumo wrestler costume is called mawashi. In sumo, a mawashi is the belt that a sumo wrestler wears during training or in a competition. Upper ranked professional wrestlers wear a keshō-mawashi as part of the ring entry ceremony or dohyō-iri.

Sumo Wrestling Practice Tokyo

Sumo wrestler diet

You can’t really gain a whole lot of weight on the traditional Japanese diet, so to bulk up, sumo wrestlers eat their own special type of food. It’s called chankonabe. Chankonabe is a type of stew served in a giant pot. A typical sumo wrestler eats a daily diet of 20,000 calories. That is almost 10 times the amount of calories recommended for a healthy male (2500 calories).

They skip breakfast and have only two meals of 10,000 calories each. We asked Kota how many sushi pieces can one sumo wrestler eat at one given time…he said he asked this question before and the answer was 200. That is simply crazy!

Sumo Wrestling Tokyo

Sumo wrestling games

Sumo wrestling has spiritual roots and that’s why both wrestlers throw salt in the air as they prepare for their round. This is meant to clear the ring as a sacred place. They also stamp the ring to squash the bad spirits and they sip water to clear their bodies. Each movement is a religious ritual.

End of Sumo Practice

Sumo stable Tokyo

There are over 40 stables in Tokyo and this is where the sumo wrestlers live and train. These are private establishments and only a handful accept visitors. It is imperative that the visitors speak perfect Japanese or are accompanied by a tour guide who understands the manners and rituals, as well as is able to translate. Most sumo wrestling stables are found in the Tokyo’s Ryogoku district.

You Could Travel Sumo Player

Are sumo wrestlers fat?

Sumo wrestlers have more muscle, less fat and quicker reflexes than non-wrestlers of the same weight. They are fit, but they are not healthy? The life expectancy of sumo wrestlers is much shorter than that of the spectators that watch them do battle.

The negative health effects of the sumo lifestyle can become apparent later in life. Sumo wrestlers have a life expectancy between 60 and 65, more than 10 years shorter than the average Japanese male, as the diet and sport take a toll on the wrestler’s body.

You Could Travel Sumo Players

Sumo museum

Hours: 10:00 to 16:30
Closed: Weekends, national holidays and in between exhibitions
Admission: Free

Ekoin Temple

Before the first sumo stadium was built in 1909, sumo tournaments were held outdoors at Ekoin Temple, just a short walk from Ryogoku Station.

Chanko Nabe Restaurants

There is a high concentration of chanko nabe restaurants in the Ryogoku area, many of which are managed by retired wrestlers.

Tomioka Hachimangu Shrine

Hours: Always open (Treasure House from 10:00 to 15:30)

Closed: No closing days (Treasure House on New Year holidays)

Admission: Free (Treasure House 1st floor: 200 yen)

You Could Travel Sumo Wrestling

Thank you, Beauty of Japan for guiding us and offering us such an amazing experience. We loved the sumo stable and we are incredibly grateful to have had the chance to photograph the sumo wrestlers and ask them so many questions. We couldn’t have done it without you.

Over to you now! Have you ever been to a sumo practice or a sumo wrestling game? Tell us about your experience in the comments section below.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can foreigners watch sumo?

Yes, foreigners can definitely watch sumo matches in Japan. Sumo tournaments, known as basho, are held throughout the year, and anyone can attend as a spectator.
The atmosphere inside the sumo arena is electric, filled with excitement and anticipation. If attending a sumo match is not possible, I suggest visiting a sumo stable to witness the morning practice session of the wrestlers. It’s important to note that you will need a tour guide to accompany you, as they must make a reservation in advance. It’s worth mentioning that not all sumo stables permit visitors, and you cannot enter the stables without prior notice or permission.

Where can I see sumo practice in Tokyo?

If you’re looking to witness sumo practice, known as “keiko,” in Tokyo, you’re in luck. One of the best places to catch a glimpse of this ancient tradition is at a sumo stable, also called a “heya.” These stables are the training grounds where sumo wrestlers live and train together under the guidance of their stablemaster. While some stables might not allow public access, there are a few stables in Tokyo that welcome visitors.
One notable stable is the famous Arashio-beya, located in the Ryogoku neighbourhood, which is known as the heartland of sumo. At Arashio-beya, you can observe the wrestlers’ intense training sessions and get a firsthand look at their rigorous routines. Another option is the Kokugikan Sumo Stadium in Ryogoku, where you can catch morning training sessions during specific periods throughout the year. Keep in mind that it’s always a good idea to check the schedule in advance, as the practice times and availability for visitors can vary.

Share this post
Cory from You Could Travel entering Senso-ji in Tokyo, Japan

Cory Varga – Cory is a published travel writer and award-winning photographer. She travels full time with her husband and is passionate about creating in-depth travel guides. Cory published her first book on Japanese customs and manners because she’s obsessed with everything Japan. She has visited hundreds of destinations and has lived in 7 different countries. Cory is multilingual and an alumna from The University of Manchester.


36 responses to “A Japanese cultural experience: Sumo Wrestling in Tokyo”

  1. I love when bloggers get down to the nitty gritty and talk about the rituals and culture of a place. It helps you get a feel for the situation. I quite literally felt like I was at the side of you as I read your post. Absolutely loved it and the photographs. Keep up the great work Cory.

    1. Thank you so much Penny x

  2. Kim-Ling Avatar

    This is such an awesome experience and great insight into sumo wrestling. I had no idea they live in their stables! And can you imagine eating 20,000 calories? I feel full just thinking about it.

    I’m sad we were in Tokyo in the off month where they didn’t have any matches. On the upside, we still got to try chankonabe and fight a sumo (and I use the term fight very loosely!).

    1. So curious about chankonabe. We actually didn’t try it and we regret it now. But yes, crazy amount of food!

  3. Kareemah Avatar

    Very interesting read on Sumo wrestling! It’s basically a lifestyle. I laughed out loud when I saw the funny poses of you and the wrestlers.

    1. Dude, these guys have skills! I am tiny in comparison and don’t have those stretching skills haha

  4. Kristine Li Avatar
    Kristine Li

    This was so interesting to read! I’ve never been to a sumo activity before despite being in Japan a few times. Such tough rules for the wrestlers, from the low income to the life-expectancy part, it was sad to read. I’ve gained a higher respect for this profession from the post, so thank you for sharing! And I must say they’re so flexible…. I’m still working on my splits via yoga, ha!

    1. I know what you mean. This really is a lifestyle. I can’t believe they actually really want this. Working on those splits too. I mean, come on! Their flexibility :O

  5. This was a really interesting read. I love learning the history behind cultural things. I also had no idea that they had a specific diet just for sumo wrestlers! Thanks for sharing!

    1. They just eat so much. And so many calories!

  6. Gabriela Avatar

    OMG this is really impressive. I feel I’ve been no where until now!

    1. Japan is a pretty interest place for sure

  7. I was in Tokyo couple of months back but i never felt like exploring Sumo and visiting some places mentioned here. Now that i have read it i feel i have missed it big time!

    1. You know, I went to Japan twice before and never got around to checking sumo. But I am so grateful I did. I learned so much, it was actually super interesting.

  8. That is fascinating to get a glimpse behind the scenes, I would love to do that to understood more about the rituals and practice. Great article!

    1. I would have never thought they have rituals for sumo. It was so cool to learn this.

  9. Wow this is really is an amazing experience ! Sumo wrestling is much more about than just throwing your opponent out of the ring, right ? There is a lengthy pre-competition ritual that is enacted every time two new wrestlers step into the ring.

    1. Yes! And so much dedication to even begin as a sumo player. It’s really mad the effort that goes in.

  10. I think part of traveling is learning the culture of the place . I would definitely want to witness this.

    1. I strongly recommend it. When in Japan, sumo is a must

  11. Kavey Favelle Avatar
    Kavey Favelle

    I’d really love to do this, what a great idea to learn more about this sport. We have been to Japan three times, but not managed to go to a sumo tournament yet. I’m bookmarking this for our fourth trip!

    1. You really should, Kavey. I reckon you are going to love the cultural experience. The guys at Beauty of Japan were fantastic. They taught me so much.

  12. Penny Sadler Avatar
    Penny Sadler

    Ditto what the other Penny said, great article, very informative and interesting. Must have been an amazing experience. Felt like it to me when I was reading it.

    1. Thank you, Penny. It really was an incredible experience and I am so glad I got to share it with you all. When in Japan, I strongly recommend checking a sumo practice.

  13. wanderlustvlog Avatar

    Loved reading your post! It’s a great article, and well written! Keep up the good work 🙂

    1. Thank you so much!

  14. This is such a fascinating post! I knew very little about sumo wrestling before reading this. Your summary of proper etiquette is very helpful. I sometimes avoid going to some cultural things because I’m worried I might unknowingly do something wrong. That’s so interesting that they eat their own special type of food. Wow, 10,000 calories in one meal!? Also, I didn’t realize how spiritual sumo wrestling is.

    1. Hi Erin, I know exactly what you mean. Especially in Japan, first time I went to a sushi restaurant I was worried I’m going to do something wrong. Turns out, the Japanese are actually quite keen to teach you things and tell you about their culture. I really recommend checking out a sumo practice. And yes, these guys eat 10k calories per meal. That’s the equivalent of 42 slices of cake or 31 slices of pizza…

  15. That is super interesting. I’m heading to Tokyo for the first time this fall, and this seems like something totally fun and unique to do. I will have to check out Beauty of Japan and see if I can arrange something. Thanks for sharing! Oh, and 20,000 calories a day? That’s crazy!

    1. Hi Drew, you must check it out. It was so great. I really recommend Beauty of Japan. These guys were great. I was just putting it into perspective…20k calories is literally…like 60 slices of pizza. Imagine that!

  16. This is for sure an interesting peek into behind the doors. I loved your detailed story on Sumo wrestlers. The life of Sumo wrestler looks really tough and dedicated and sad to know about their low-income. 200 Sushi pieces and 20,000 calories Wow! That is the reason for their built.

    1. So dedicated! It’s actually crazy if you think about it. When I asked why they do it, the answer was as simple as it gets: money and fame. I guess, in a sense, it’s similar to the dedication of a geisha. But yes…200 pieces of sushi in one go. I can barely finish 10 hehe.

  17. Who hasn’t heard about sumo wrestling, but I have to admit that I didn’t know much about it. The only fact that I was aware of is that sumo wrestlers are very quick and have superior reflexes. Hence, it was incredibly interesting to read your article: a glimpse into the world of dedicated professionals with their old cultural traditions and habits. Thank you for sharing!

  18. Wow! This is a great piece. I have always been fascinated about Sumo wrestlers and I wanted to know so many things about them. Good to know many of these now after reading a detailed insightful post!

  19. Kristen Iwashita Avatar
    Kristen Iwashita

    Would this experience be appropriate for a 10 and 12 year old? It seems so fascinating, but you mentioned it is 3 hours and talking is frowned upon. What are your thoughts

    1. Hi Kristen,
      Thank you for your message. I’d say it is suitable for a 10 and 12 year old, but indeed they need to be still and quiet. I appreciate kids can get a bit agitated if they are still for too long. I reckon it’s quite fascinating and they will like it. If they get really restless for some reason, you can leave the room. It’s not recommended, but ultimately, it’s better than disturb the practice.
      I’m sure you and your kids will have a lot of fun! xx

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *