2009 May Grand Sumo Tournament

Last weekend, I attended a honbasho (本場所), one of the six official professional sumo tournaments held each year in Japan (3 times in Tokyo, once in Osaka, Fukuoka and Aichi), at Ryogoku Kokugikan (next to the Tokyo-Edo Museum) in Tokyo, the 2009 May Grand Sumo Tournament.

As we entered the stadium, everyone had to clean their hands with anti-bacterial soap due to the H1N1 flu, although no cases have been confirmed in Tokyo.

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Inside the stadium, you will find ringside seats, box seats (tatami mats seating 2-6 people shown in the picture below) and arena seats (chairs) costing between 3,600 yen ($40) to 14,300 yen ($150) per person.

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Each honbasho last for 15 days.  Sumo wrestlers ranked in the top two divisions (called Makuuchi and Juryo) wrestle once each day, while those of the lower divisions wrestle once every alternate day.


Around 4 pm, all the rikishi competing in the top divisions participate in a ring entering ceremony, wearing a ceremonial apron.  The movements performed by the rikishi during their ring entering ceremony are a stylized version of the movements done by individual rikishi before they actually compete.


Next, the Yokozuna dohyo-iri or ring entering ceremony is performed with a combination of dignity and strength by each competing yokozuna (Grand Champion).  Flanked by his sword bearer on the right and his usher on the left, the yokozuna goes through a series of motions rich in both tradition and meaning.


The sumo’s elite compete in the Makuuchi Division for the sport’s ultimate prize and the symbol of a top division championship, The Emperor’s Cup.  The video below was the last match of that day, won by one of the yokozuna.

Following the last match of every day, a specially designated rikishi from the Makushita Division steps up onto the ring, receives a bow from a gyoji or referee and performs the colorful Bow Ceremony.  Several centuries old, this ceremony serves to symbolize the gratitude felt by the day’s victors.

Sumo matches are broadcast on Japanese TV, but it was quite an interesting experience watching it live.  Do you watch or follow Sumo?


11 thoughts on “2009 May Grand Sumo Tournament

  1. That’s very cool! It must be something to see live!

    Interesting, your videos dispelled a belief I had about sumos being simply obese. Obviously they are pretty heavy, but just as obviously, they are pretty strongly built as well. In hindsight, this shouldn’t be a surprise. but in the West, sumos are portrayed as simply fat, when they are more like very big NFL linebackers.

  2. Thanks for commenting. Yes, Sumo wrestlers are elite athletes and if you can believe it, can do the splits so they are very flexible indeed. The sport is also very traditional and ritualistic as you can see from the various ceremonial event held during the matches.

  3. Wow, looks just like it does on TV! 😉

    I do watch sumo from time to time, in the highlights section on the news. I’ve tried watching an entire day’s tournament, but it kind of drags on after a while, and you really have to know who the top wrestlers are for it to mean anything.

    Actually, I was just in Ryogoku today, for the Osamu Tezuka exhibit at the Edo museum behind the sumo building. Ended up taking a few pictures of the outside of the sumo building on my way past, and saw 3 wrestlers walking on the streets on my way back to Akihabara. It was my first time there, and I might consider actually watching a match some time, if I’m already in the area and don’t need to make a special 1.5 hour train ride for it.

    • I agree that watching it for the whole day may be too much – we actually arrived around 3 pm and stay until the end (around 6 pm) and just saw the top division matches – I think this is what most people do.

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