The annual event at Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine is a great way to enjoy sumo without the cost of a ticket - entrance is free!
Like the other promotional tours called a jungyo, the competitions don't mean anything and the matches clearly lack any intensity.
But the wrestlers seem to be in a cheerful mood and they can be seen smiling even moments before their match is scheduled to begin - something that is unimaginable in a real tournament. In addition to the matches, the event features Sumo Jinku, the type of folk singing that is commonly featured in regional tours and also Shokkiri, a comical explanation of sumo rules.
Always held on a Monday, the event took place on April 17th for 2023. If the timing is right, you might even enjoy some cherry blossoms while watching the stars on the ring. Unfortunately, the blossoms were long gone for 2023.
The gates open at 8:30am and the event starts at 9am. While it is necessary to arrive by the start of the event to secure a place to sit, the top ranked wrestlers will not appear in the venue until around 2pm.
If you don't mind standing in the very back, you should be able to find some room for a few people even if you arrive in the afternoon. Note that entry will be restricted from around 1:00-1:30pm while the wrestlers do a roundtrip between the venue and the main shrine (more details below).
The event will still be held in the event of light rain. The sumo ring is located on the NW corner of the shrine, about 10-15 minutes from the Ichigaya or Kudanshita stations.
Information on seating
One side of the ring is reserved for those with special invitations only.
All other areas are non-reserved, and available on a first-come basis. The areas in the front consist of grass while the back features staged seating in concrete.
"Hanamichi" is the passageway for the wrestlers. Before or after the match, many of them will pause for photos or even sign autographs.
The area near the toilets will have some shades thanks to the trees in the back, but all other areas will be completely exposed to the sun.
There is some food and drinks sold inside but options were rather limited for the 2023 event. It is ok to bring in outside food.
Photo 1 was taken near the venue entrance. The area close to the Hanamichi (next to the white railing) get taken pretty quickly as it is the best spot to ask for autographs or photos.
The area on the right of this photo is reserved for those with special invitations.
Photo 2 was taken from the grass area (Covered by plastic sheets on the day of program).
Shoes need to be taken off to enter this area. While it is very close to the action, sitting can become difficult after a few hours. The lack of an angle makes it hard to catch the action happening on the far side of the ring.
Photo 3 If you don't mind standing, there should be empty space behind the last row of the concrete seats in this section even if you arrive in the afternoon. The higher vantage point allows for a clear view of everything happening on the ring. Only negative is that the sun will constantly be in the direction of the ring if it is sunny.
A rough timetable (2023 event)
8:30 gates open
9:00 event starts with a ring purification ceremony
9:30 practices start
11:00-12:00 no events
12:00-matches of the lower Sandanme category wrestlers start
13:30-the top Makuuchi division wrestlers visit the main area of the shrine...this is a time when you might want to venture out of the venue for a moment. You can see a "parade" of the top ranked wrestlers led by the shrine priest as they offer their respect to the spirits that are enshrined here.
13:45 top division wrestlers appear on the ring
15:00 event finishes.
For the 2023 event, there was a long interval of more than one hour after the morning practices finished. There appeared to be fewer wrestlers participating compared with the previous 2019 event, resulting in the longer pause.