There are six honbasho (official tournaments) every year. They take place in the odd-numbered months, with half being hosted in Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan.
The remaining three are the spring tournament in Osaka in March, the July tournament in Nagoya and the November meet in Fukuoka.
While all six tournaments have equal value when it comes to deciding the rankings, each has its own unique flavor and quirks.
The Osaka Basho is renowned for throwing up unexpected champions and has earned the nickname “Stormy Spring Tournament” as a result. It’s a reputation that the March meet hasn’t lived up to in recent times, however, it’s almost two decades since the “Nation’s Kitchen” has crowned a genuinely surprising winner.
Nagoya in July is famous for heat and humidity and the most physically taxing of the regional tournaments.
It is cosponsored by the Chunichi Shimbun, making it the only tournament not organized solely by the Japan Sumo Association.
Tickets sales for Nagoya begin much earlier than the other tournaments, with sales starting in the middle of the May meet.
The Kyushu Basho, which is held in Fukuoka each November, is the favorite tournament of many rikishi. Pleasant weather, good food and a coastal setting that sees many of the stables located near a beach, making it very pleasant for all involved.
Each of the three non-Tokyo locations has its own unique prizes and trophies as well as traditions. In Nagoya, for example, fans have traditionally torn the ring to pieces after the final day’s action, carrying home bags of dirt and straw bales as souvenirs.
While Tokyo is undoubtedly the center of the sumo universe and a trip to the Kokugikan should be on every fan’s to-do list, taking in one or all of the three tournaments that take place outside the capital is also highly recommended for those want to gain a fuller understanding of the sport.