Sumo

Sumo 101: Ryogoku

by John Gunning

Contributing Writer

Sumo is Japan’s national sport and can be seen from one end of the country to the other in both official tournaments as well as regional tours.

The birthplace of the sport is in modern day Nara Prefecture, and on that site now stands the prosaically-named “Sumo Shrine.”

While many of the most successful wrestlers have hailed from agricultural heartlands in Hokkaido and Kyushu, the real heart of the sport is the Ryogoku area of Tokyo.

The Kokugikan arena, situated just north of Ryogoku station, is the sport’s epicenter. In addition to hosting three of the six yearly tournaments, the building also houses the offices of the Japan Sumo Association, a training institute for new recruits to the sport, and a museum and gift shop which are popular among tourists.

Most sumo stables are located in Ryogoku and the surrounding areas. Area residents encounter wrestlers and stablemasters on a daily basis at local supermarkets, banks, and gyms.

The periods between tournaments are when things are at their most relaxed. Wrestlers rarely wear yukata and can be seen glued to their phones, hanging out in t-shirts and jeans like any other young person.

They don’t have to go far to find comfortable clothing, either. Several shops in the Ryogoku area carry sizes all the way up to 8XL.

The area boasts a number of sumo-themed businesses, including restaurants and shops hawking souvenirs and outsized traditional footwear. In fact, there is hardly a streetlight or manhole cover in the entire area that doesn’t have some kind of sumo logo or motif.

Ryogoku really is the ideal destination for hardcore sumo fans. Be careful, however: one who disappears down that rabbit hole may look up to find themselves 20 years in the future, writing daily columns for the Japan Times about the experience.