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Ryogoku Kokugikan – One of the Home of Most Ancient Japanese Sport


At first I had this impression that Sumo Wrestling or just Sumo was kind of violent sport. Yes I am aware that it is the traditional and national sport of Japan, without really knowing stuff about it, I was curious how this sport is being played. I visited sumo site prior to traveling to Japan and found that during our travel in Japan there will be Grand Sumo Tournament. I saw in one site the Sumo ticket sale will be available soon. I booked the ticket at the 1st day of ticket sale. And to be honest booking the ticket was already an experience because the box seat tickets near the center for most of the 15 days tournament were immediately sold out in a matter of hours. And because of that I immediately bought 1 box seat (4 people) to make sure we have seats in one of the days that the sumo tournament is happening while we are in Japan. I was glad that even there’s not much festivals happening during our visit (September is low peak month of visitors) at least we can watch the most ancient Japanese sport – The Sumo.

We watched sumo on our 4th day in Japan and it was Monday. I planned that day to just watch Sumo as I wanted to balance the itinerary that we have for the consideration of my aged parents. That day, I allowed all of us to regain long rest as the main event of the Sumo was scheduled at 2PM in the afternoon that day.

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Rikishi (Wrestlers)

From hotel, we took train from Kayabacho Station and transferred to Akihabara Station and took Chuo Line going to Ryogoku Station and got off at the same station. From that station, we walked few minutes to Ryogoku Kokugikan. We found that a lot of people were at the front gate and noticed that people seems waiting for something or someone as people were lined-up to both sides like there some parade coming, until we realized that some of the Sumo Wrestlers are coming. We felt excited too when we saw them. I got excited because our activity that day is uniquely a Japan culture.

I brought the printed order ticket at Ryogoku. Before passing the entrance, we saw the booth beside it which designated for tickets bought online. And then, I requested for help from assistant which just standing by at the booth. With the printed document I have in my hand, we were able to retrieved the tickets after verifying the credit card I used to order the ticket online. Before entering the gate, there’s a big announcement that the ticket was sold out for that day. It was a good relief that I bought ticket online. It secured us that day for guaranteed seat to be able to watch Sumo comfortably.

When we entered The  Kokugikan Sumo Stadium, we felt good, we saw the human board of famous Rikishi (wrestler) at the entrance and even though we don’t know them, we stand beside them and took our photos. When we were inside the stadium before entering the sumo arenas, people are going back and forth and most of them are buying food in the surrounding stores inside the stadium. We did the same thing, we bought lunch boxes for all of us. When were done buying and looking around, we went to the door nearest to our seat.

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Riskishi (Wrestlers)

Sumo arena are divided into two, the lower ground is called box seats while the balcony or upper level are called arena seats. The ticket that we bought were in the box seats and the unique experience we had in box seats was were going to seat in the floor with cushion and we will sit in Lotus position where we cross our legs.

At the center of the stadium we found the Dohyo, a stage with circular ring on it and with suspended roof similar to the Shinto shrine with four giant tassels hanging to each corner that signifies the seasons of the year (information from Sumo official website).

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Rikishi’s (Wrestlers) Bouts (preparation time during warm-up period)

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Rikishi In Action

We waited for almost an hour before the tournament started. And then the sumo arena were filled with people. When we enter the stadium and went to our assigned box seats, there were some Rikishi that are fighting in the Dohyo. I got a paper for the Torikumi or Sumo Bouts for 2nd Day. From the paper that I got there were two bouts, one is Juryo and one is Makuuchi. Based on my understanding in Banzuke (Banzuke-hyo – offical document of rankings of professional sumo wrestlers) Sumo rankings, the upper division of Rikishi is called Maku-uchi which includes the five positions of Rikishi order from highest to lowest rank: Yokuzana, Ozeki, Sekiwake, Komusubi, and Maegashira. The lower division includes Juryo, Makushita, Sandame, Jonidan, and Jonokuchi. As per Sumo official site, below Makushita ranks does not get to wrestle on each day of tournament. The tournament for day actually started in the morning and low ranking Rikishi bouts happen on that time. The main event of bout starts in the afternoon which includes Juryo and Makuuchi bout.

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Juryo Dohyo-iri Ceremony

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Juryo Dohyo-iri Ceremony

Past 2PM that day, the main event started when Juryo Grade did their entrance both from East and West teams (please take note that Rikishi from different team does not fight for team, the fight does not have any relations which ever team the Rikishi belong) did their colorful dohyo-iri or “entering the ring” ceremony. I saw all Rikishi in queue wearing their kesho-mawashi (ceremonial aprons) and climbed to the dohyo. Each Rikishi, when they were all in the Dohyo did their short ritual ancient in sumo tradition wherein they raise their hands. That ritual is very unique which I really enjoyed watching.

After the Juryo Dohyo-iri ceremony, it followed by Juryo Bouts. We witness their bouts and my family enjoys the ancient sports of Japan.

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Juryo Grade In Action

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Dohyo Sweeping

I also observed that the Dohyo was frequently swept after the bouts and after Rikishi’s entrance ceremony, it was mentioned that Dohyo was made of special kind of clay and covers some think layer of sands, this is the reason why few people assigned to swept it.

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Shimpan (Judges)

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Gyoji (Referee) at the center

My curiosities were not only focus to the Rikishi who fough inside Dohyo. Other people were also noticeable such as the judges of sumo which called as Shimpan and the referee whose inside the sumo stables are called Gyoji. As I watch the fight of Rikishi, I learned that sumo is a sport where the wrestler aims their opponent to be out of the ring or their opponent parts of the body touch the ground aside their feet to be able to win the game.

After the Juryo Bouts, it followed the Makuuchi Dohyo-iri Ceremony. The whole stadium was jam pack of people which signifies that people are more curious of the Makuuchi’s fight as I understand that being included in Makuuchi ranking is really important in this sports.

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Makuuchi Dohyo-iri Ceremony

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Makuuchi Dohyo-iri Ceremony

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Yokuzana Dohyo-iri Ceremony

During the tournament, we were able to watch as well a Yokuzana which is the highest rank of grand sumo wrestlers and represent all sumo’s participants entered the Dohyo and did his Dohyo-iri ceremony with greatest dignity.

After the entrance of Yokuzana in Dohyo, it followed by Makuuchi Bouts. And we felt the heat of Makuuchi fight as people reacted more in every action seen inside the ring.

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Makuuchi Bout In Action

Before the tournament of the day ended, there was a bow dance which done by Makushita Rikishi, which shows the expression of satisfaction on behalf of the victorious Rikishi of the day.

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Bow Dance – A Makushita Rikishi performs Yumitori-Shiki

I observed the whole tournament while enjoying the Rikishi wrestled with their opponents. By watching the sumo, I learned that the sumo sport is not really violent sport, it’s very traditional and cultural sports which strictly following the sumo ancient rules. All my bad impressions regarding this sport was gone, it was replaced with utmost respect with this ancient sport and to all Rikishi.

I can truly say that we had a such great time discovering and watching sumo tournament.

About DBA Mountaineer (467 Articles)
An IT Professional who is in love to travel to learn more about our world, like natures a lot specially mountains.

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