Along with geisha, Mount Fuji, bullet trains and tentacle porn, nothing epitomizes the outside image of Japan quite like the ancient sport of sumo. If you’re living in Tokyo or you’re fortunate enough to be here when there is a sumo tournament on, then it’s well worth checking out. Here’s how to see sumo in Tokyo, for cheap(ish).
Sumo is a timeless sport and perfect for visitors, as while there are intricacies and foot-trickery that only experts will spot, there’s more than enough throwing, spinning and near-misses to keep the newest of newcomers interested. Despite its honored position as the national sport, in recent times Sumo has suffered from scandals and a dearth of Japanese wrestlers in the top ranks. This really only matters if you’re a hardcore fan, though – watching the frankly enormous players step into that ring and square up is seriously impressive.
Tokyo’s Sumo Tournaments
Official sumo tournaments are held six times a year, and three of those are held at the Ryoguku Kokugikan (Sumo Hall) in Tokyo. The capital’s share of the events are held in in January, May and September. These Grand Sumo Tournaments are spread over 15 days each, so there’s a total of 45 days of top-class sumo in Tokyo each year.
Tokyo Sumo Dates 2022
- January Tournament: Jan 8th – 22nd 2022 (Tickets from Dec 11th 2021)
- May Tournament: May 8th – 22nd (Tickets from April 9th 2022)
- September Tournament: Sept 11th – 25th (Tickets from Aug 6th 2022)
Tokyo Sumo Dates 2023
- January Tournament: Jan 8th – 22nd (Tickets from Dec 10th 2022)
- May Tournament: May 14th – 28th (Tickets from April 8th 2023)
- September Tournament: Sept 10th – 24th (Tickets from Aug 5th 2023)
The opening, closing and any weekend days are always the busiest. As you’ll know if you’ve been to Tokyo Cheapo before, it’s best to do things off peak. This means to see cheap sumo in Tokyo, your best bet is a weekday falling between days 3 to 6 and 10 to 12.
Pro Tip: Skip to the bottom for the dates and locations of Japan’s thee other sumo tournaments!
Sumo Seating Options: Box Seats vs. Arena Seats
There are many different types of seating available for sumo in Tokyo—and a range of prices. Until recently, the ringside tamari seats weren’t open for the general public to purchase; these were reserved for sumo association sponsors and members. Now (in theory anyway) you can get the chance to have a 180kg sumo wrestler plant his rear-end on your face as he hurtles from the dohyo—but tamari seats are still quite hard to come by.
The rest of the seats are divided into “box seats” and “arena seats”, and are fine for us cheapos.
Box seats: Good for groups
Box seats, or masu seki, are basically a (small) square of tatami mat into which 4 or 6 people fit—so you have to buy all 4 or 6 seats. Note that these are not spacious—they’d typically fit four small Japanese grannies or one sumo wrestler comfortably. Tatami has more give than wood or concrete, but most people bring their own cushions. The box seats are further divided into A, B and C—moving progressively further from the action.
Arena seats: Easier to get
The arena seats are on the second floor of the gymnasium and are similarly divided according to proximity to the dohyo. Since the box seats sell out fast, you’re most likely to score an arena seat.
Tokyo Sumo Tickets: How much do they cost?
Masu-seki box seats range in price from a conservative ¥38,000 to ¥47,000 or more (seating four people), while arena seats start from around ¥3,800 and go up from there. Expect to pay somewhere closer to ¥18,000 if you’re buying tickets close to the tournament dates.
Ordinarily, you can get tickets easily online through Viator, as well as Klook and other authorized resellers. However, due to the extraordinary circumstances caused by COVID-19, sumo tickets may not be available on partner sites. See the official sumo website for up-to-date information on buying tickets.
A dirt-cheap option is jiyu seki, or “free-seating tickets”, which aren’t available for pre-sale. You can (try) to buy these from the Kokugikan at 8am on each day of the sumo tournament but be warned – they sell out super fast (you may need to get queuing before dawn) and also are the worst seats in the house. Think far, far away, just underneath the ceiling. If you’re going in a group, these are not a good idea. For die-hard cheapos determined to try scoop the jiyu-seki bargain, our advice is to go on a weekday, on the “off-peak” days mentioned above. Here’s a decent write-up on what to expect if you go this route.
Pro tip: Whatever ticket you end up buying, it will give you all-day access to the tournament venue. Matches may start around 8:30am, but the biggest, best wrestlers are only rolled out in the late afternoon—so you can nip out for a bite to eat in between bouts. And, on that note …
Refreshment options at the Sumo in Tokyo
Although not completely over the top, you’re a captive audience at the sumo, so food and drinks are sold at a premium. Unlike sports events overseas however, you are permitted to bring whatever you like into the arena. When I went in, I took in a huge 2L cardboard carton of Japanese sake that sells for less than ¥1,000 at the supermarket. I was worried that they would search my bag and confiscate it, but it appears that they don’t search bags (or didn’t, anyway) and they’re not that fazed. Taking your own bento and snacks is also a good idea. Saving money on food can make watching sumo in Tokyo a bit cheaper.
What if I’m broke/not here when there’s a sumo tournament happening?
Alternatively, you can try the Sumo Tournaments that are taking place elsewhere in Japan – Tokyo only has half, remember! The March tournament is held in Osaka, The July tournament is in Nagoya and the November tournament in Fukuoka.
While we do our best to ensure it’s correct, information is subject to change. This post was originally published in December, 2014. Last update: May, 2022.