Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Tokyo's Grand Sumo Tournaments

There are six grand sumo tournaments in Japan every year, and Tokyo hosts three of them. This year I got tickets for John's birthday, Raku got her husband tickets for Christmas, and we all went last Saturday.

John and I weren't sure if would actually be fun. I've never even watched sumo on TV before, and I had read there is lot of ceremony compared to the amount of time actually spent fighting, but we both had a great time. Tickets let you in for the whole day, and the matches get progressively better throughout the afternoon. We decided to arrive at 2:00pm, which would give us four hours. I wondered if that would be too long, but I could have easy watched more.

If you're thinking about attending a sumo tournament, after selecting a date you'll need to decide what type of seat you want. Ringside seats are the most expensive and hardest to get. You would be right up in the action, but there's also the risk that a sumo wrestler might go flying straight at you. We saw people forced to scramble out of the way several times. Behind the ringside seats are the box seats. Boxes can accommodate up to four people, and you must purchase the entire box. We were tempted by how close they were, but these seats are just tatami mats with small cushions. You'll essentially be sitting cross-legged on the floor for hours with no back support. Additionally, the space looks very cramped for four western sized people. We opted for the western style seats, which are on the second level. Although we were further away from the action, we were very comfortable, and the view wasn't bad from above at all. I would definitely recommend the western seats, but try to sit as close to the front as possible.

Tickets sell out quickly, so it's important to buy them early. Raku and I planned which we wanted in advance, and then bought them as soon as they went on sale. We used this website, which accepts US credit cards, and were very satisfied with it. They assign you the best available seats within the section you select, so be sure to look at a stadium map (available here) ahead of time. Because you don't select your specific seats it's important to purchase all your tickets together if you're going with a group. Our purchase went through eight minutes after sales went live and we got seats in the second row. If you use this website you'll receive a confirmation email that tells you which seats you've been assigned and allows you to pick up your tickets from a machine at the stadium on the day of. Both the website and the machines can be used in English.

Inside the stadium food and drinks are sold at fairly reasonable prices. They even have girls selling beer our of kegs on their backs like at baseball games. A draft beer from a girl cost 600 yen, you could get them for 500 yen if you waited in line at a counter yourself, or 380 yen for a can. Even better, you're allowed to bring in any food or drinks (including alcohol) that you want.

For a fee of 100 yen as well as a refundable 2000 yen deposit you can rent an fm headset that will have an English broadcast from 4:00 to 6:00. (You could also bring your own if you have a portable fm radio and headphones) We all rented them, but ultimately found them distracting. The hosts were a little too chatty and offered more information about the officials than the actual wrestlers.

But what about the actual matches?  They were really fun to watch. Each match is incredibly short lasting as little as a few seconds up to about a minute. Before the match starts wrestlers will stretch and show off, throw salt into the ring to purify it, and generally try to intimidate their opponents. As the matches get more competitive wrestlers will go to greater and greater lengths to psych their opponents out, lining up in the ring but then stepping back to stretch and throw more salt more than once. As this happens the energy in the crowd builds with people cheering for their favorite wrestlers. We found ourselves swept up in the fun, clapping cheering, and gasping along with the crowd.

At 2:00 the seats were only half full, but by 4:00 is was packed!

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