As Japan’s national sport, sumo wrestling is a major part of the country’s culture. The vast majority of Japan’s sumo wrestlers live in Tokyo’s Ryogoku district, which has served the sport’s hub for the past two centuries. With its heavyweight athletes, traditional mawashi stiff belt uniforms and long history, the sport remains a fascinating experience for spectators.
Sumo dates back to ancient times and still involves hints of the religious Shinto rituals it originally involved. Before a tournament begins, the ring is sprinkled with salt and the wrestlers stomp their feet in order to purify the ring and rid it of any evil. Once that’s done, the two male competitors face off in an attempt to knock the other over. The first wrestler to leave the ring or touch the ground with any body part other than their feet loses.
Seeing a sumo match is a quintessential Japanese experience, because while other countries have adopted the sport, Japan is the only one whose athletes compete professionally. Six 15-day tournaments are held throughout the year, and visitors can head to the Kokugikan (Sumo Amphitheater) to see a Dohyo-iri (entering the ring) ceremony and catch the action of a live match. The Sumo Museum is also a prime spot to see sumo-related artifacts, some dating as far back as 1600.
You can also experience sumo culture by visiting the training stables in Tokyo. Very few tourists have the chance to visit a sumo stable and experience the day-to-day life of a wrestler, as the primary (and often only) way to get inside is by tour. Small-group tours take visitors around a training site to see where athletes live year-round, taste the traditional and hearty food of sumo wrestlers and maybe even catch one of them preparing for battle.