There might be a debate about what the most popular sport is in Japan (it's probably baseball, though soccer is catching up) but there is no doubt sumo wrestling is the one with the most history.
Visitors to Tokyo will have the chance to see a tournament at the Kokugikan Arena in Ryogoku.
They are held three times, January, May and September in a two week window.
If this timing does not work out, you still have a chance to get a close look at a morning practice held in one of the 45 sumo beyas (stables), the facility where a group of wrestlers live and train together. The rough dates of when this is possible is explained at the very bottom of this page.
There are two ways to watch the practice:
1) For free at a sumo stable that lets you view from the outside
2) Pay for a tour to enter a sumo stable and view the training up close
Either way, the practices start early in the morning (usually around 7:30-8am) and will continue for 1-2 hours, the duration depending on the condition of the wrestlers.
Normally the stables only have one ring so the lower ranked wrestlers practice first followed by the higher ranks. The intensity can vary according to how close the date is to the tournament. Some stables are known for having a more rigorous session than others.
The wrestlers will not be in Tokyo for all of March, July and November to compete in tournaments in other regions. Practices are also not held for about a week after the tournaments finish.
Some visitors may want to just take a quick peek, take a few photos and then move on.
The Arashio Beya sumo stable allows a viewing from the outside through a window. You cannot make any reservations or get a seat inside - you simply show up at the right time hoping it's a practice day and quietly watch the training from the street. Normally the training starts at 7:30 am and continues until 9:30.
During COVID, viewing was not allowed but since April 2023, the stable began to accept visitors again.
They will post the schedule for the next few days, so check the below site before you visit.
http://arashio.net/tour_e.html (External site)
The stable is located at 2-47-2 Nihonbashi Hamacho, Chuo-ku. It is about a minute away from the A2 Exit of the Hamacho Station on the Toei Shinjuku subway line. During the peak travel season (such as April), there can be rows of people watching so you need to arrive early.
Reminder: NEVER attempt to enter the building! If you see people inside, they are the sponsor of the stable that have made special arrangements.
The other option is to make a reservation to view the training from a up close distance. Only a few stables allow outside visitors to watch so securing a slot could be extremely difficult during the tourism peak season such as April and October.
RATE: Currently unavailable
Note on the pricing:
*The transportation fees to get from your hotel to the sumo stable not included.
*The exact location and meeting time can usually be confirmed about a week before your visit - expect an early start of around 7am.
*The guide can't talk during the practice. Any questions, will be happy to answer them after the training finishes!
Please ask me through the contact form if the availability is not clear.
Update Aug 2023/Due to scheduling conflicts, I am currently not offering this program. Viator, Rakuten Travel Experience and several other agencies will offer a tour, and often times guests will end up at the same location as only a few stables accept outside guests in any given day.
Rules of the visit:
Strictly NO talking, eating, drinking allowed during practice...
You will have to sit directly on the floors during practice with your legs crossed. Sumo is a sport that has close relations with the Shinto religion and the ring is considered a sacred place - do not show the soles of your feet to the ring or the wrestlers. Tattoos are seen with a very negative image in a traditional environment, so please cover them if possible.
The exact location of the practice will not be available until a few days before training. Usually the location is within the Asakusa/Ryogoku area in the downtown Tokyo but occasionally it is further out in the suburbs. You cannot request for a specific stable to visit.
Important : In a few occasions, the practices may be shortened due to the condition of the wrestlers.
Please acknowledge the sumo practice is not a show for tourists and understand this possibility when you book. The duration can vary from anywhere between 30 minutes - 2 hours.
Photography without flash is permitted, but videos are never allowed.
Just so you know - The photo shows the usual environment for watching the training...directly sitting on the floor with a thin cushion provided. While the Japanese are used to this kind of sitting style, obviously this will not be ideal for anyone with leg or back pain...
Some publications will mention the possibility of tourists calling the sumo stable directly to secure a visit. This indeed was possible until about 2015, when Japan did not have as much international visitors as now.
Now with more interest in the sumo training, many sumo stables have simply shut the doors to avoid any hassle so the athletes can concentrate on the training.
When is it possible to see the training in Tokyo?
When the two week tournament is held, it is not possible to view the practice. In addition, the wrestlers take 7-10 days off after each of the tournament finishes . The following is a month-by-month breakdown on whether practices can be viewed.
Jan: First few days will be off for New Years Holiday. Then training is held until the beginning of the January tournament.
Feb: Training held until about the 20th. Then the wrestlers move to Osaka for the March tournament.
Mar: For the entire month, all the wrestlers are in Osaka. No practices in Tokyo.
Apr: Practices will be held in Tokyo for the entire month.
May: Practices are held until the beginning of May tournament.
Jun: Training will be in Tokyo until about the 20th. Then the wrestlers move to Nagoya for the July tournament.
Jul: For the entire month, all the wrestlers are in Nagoya. No practices in Tokyo.
Aug: Practice resumes a week after the July tournament finishes and they will be in Tokyo for the entire month.
Sep: Practices are held until the beginning of September tournament (2023: starts on the 10th and through the 24th.)
Oct: Practice resumes sometime during the first week. Training held until about the 20th. Then the wrestlers move to Fukuoka for the November tournament.
Nov: For the entire month, all the wrestlers are in Fukuoka. No practices in Tokyo.
Dec: Practices will be held in Tokyo for the entire month but the year-end (usually 29th-31st) will be a time off.