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Ryogoku Kokugikan, Japan
Ryogoku Kokugikan, Japan

Ryogoku is known as the heartland of sumo, and rikishi wrestlers are a common sight in the neighborhood and around the train station. Of the six professional Grand Sumo Tournaments held every year, Ryogoku Kokugikan Sumo Hall stages three—in January, May, and September.

Then, how about watching one of these tournaments in person? The first step is to book your seats in advance. If you want to feel the dynamic bang of the rikishi up close, a masu-seki box seat close to the ringside is the best choice. Each box is sectioned off in a square that accommodates four spectators. This is the traditional seating assignment in Japanese entertainment.

Upon arriving at the Kokugikan Hall on the day of the match, the fun starts at the entrance, where oyakata stablemasters, who were once rikishi themselves, tear your ticket in half and give you the stub. This is the perfect chance to meet some of the most famous sumo wrestlers.

In the hall’s first floor is a Sumo Museum, which displays items linked to sumo like nishiki-e colored woodblock prints, banzuke tournament record books, and kesho-mawashi belts worn for ceremony only by top-ranked rikishi. A visit to the museum is a must between sumo bouts.

The tournament itself kicks off around 9 in the morning with bouts between the youngest rikishi, from jonokuchi, or the lowest-ranking division, to maezumo, a rank below that for new wrestlers. This is a great opportunity to see whether you can spot yokozuna champions of the future, and is recommended if you have the time to devote to the event for cheering on up-and-comers. When the tournament concludes in the evening, relive the excitement with dinner at one of Ryogoku’s numerous chankonabe eateries, and relish in the one-pot stew dish that is the very source of the powerful bang between the rikishi.

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