Help us see Tokyo Sumo in January and other travel tips
November 29, 2017 4:19 PM   Subscribe

We are travelling to Japan and will be in Tokyo during the January 2018 Sumo Tournament. What is the best way to get tickets?

We are experienced Japan travellers with enough basic Japanese language skill to negotiate their systems (but not enough to book tickets in Japanese language, or read Japanese thoroughly).

We are also travelling north through the Tohoku region and ending the trip in Sapporo. Any tips, must dos, etc?
We are interested in arts, culture, fashion, food, quirky shopping. Not so much long hikes, skiing, etc.

We understand the fundamentals of Japanese culture and travel like the JR pass, onsen etiquette, etc
posted by MT to Travel & Transportation (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Try this, no Japanese needed:

I attended a Tokyo Basho about a decade ago (friends got tickets so I just had to show up). We were in the cheap seats but that was good enough for me. There was an upset in the final match so everyone threw their zabuton which was pretty neat to see.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 5:50 PM on November 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

We got tickets through a tour group. We typically RUN AWAY from this sort of stuff but it was great because the guide explained to us what the heck was going on as well as showed us through the museum on the side of the stadium.
posted by floweredfish at 6:41 PM on November 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Just go to the Kokugikan, earlier in the day, when plenty of general admission seats are available. I've done this twice, one of my favorite things in Tokyo. Buy the cheapest ticket, I think they're ¥2000, which lets you into the upper section but you can move down and sit in any unoccupied seat until its rightful occupant shows up. Don't stay in one place, keep moving around, it's a real scene, especially after 4PM when the lights get brighter and the TV cameras in the corners get cranked up.
posted by Rash at 7:01 PM on November 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

I used for tickets to the Fukuoka tournament in 2016 and it worked pretty seamlessly. The only issue was that the tickets were in a block with all the other gaijin so I was stuck in small seats between several drunk Australians. We ended up just moving back to an empty row. It seemed that some other people were also moving to empty box seats without being challenged.

Apparently 2017 sumo tickets were selling out within hours due to the first Japanese yokuzuna in 10 years, not sure if that will still impact sales in 2018 but may be worth trying a service like BuySumoTickets which takes advance orders.
posted by Gortuk at 7:11 AM on November 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

I had exactly the same experience as Gortuk when I attended the Osaka basho earlier this year. BuySumoTickets worked perfectly and they were really helpful and responsive; I had them mail the tickets to my first hotel in Japan and everything worked fine. We were seated next to some Australians that had approximately one One Cup Ozeki each per bout, though.

Since you mentioned Tohoku, I want to recommend Tsurunoyu Onsen. It was really one of the highlights of our whole trip. It was magical to soak in an outdoor, mixed gender onsen in the middle of the snow and it's so remote and so old and picturesque. Food is also great. Very, very highly recommended. We booked through Japanese Guest Houses who do the reservation call for you but if you can speak Japanese you may be able to just call yourself. As far as I remember, there is no price difference or anything (and it's all paid in cash when you get there anyway--remember to bring that with you, there are definitely no ATMs within miles and miles).
posted by acroyear2 at 9:21 AM on November 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

Just in case, NHK World puts up videos of sumo match highlights and some educational shorts here on the GRAND SUMO page. There's a Sumopedia video about the daily general admission tickets or going to the english site for the venue.

I hope that by January some of the yokuzuna / ozeki have healed up because the last two tournaments have been a bit lame with everybody out from injuries. There was only one yokozuna the last tourney, and the one before was so short on rikishi that they had to bring in a bunch of the lower ranks to get enough people.

If you're going in not knowing anything about sumo, the Sumopedia videos are a pretty good introduction.
posted by zengargoyle at 11:55 AM on November 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

We used Buy Sumo Tickets (linked above) for the January tournament a few years ago. Very convenient!

I strongly agree with Zengargoyle about watching the NHK Sumopedia and Grand Sumo Highlights shows before you go — having watched a bit of sumo with English commentary will make your experience on the day a lot more enjoyable as you will have a better understanding of what is going on.

I would also recommend Sumo Stories, an excellent book about the cultural and ceremonial aspects of sumo. This will help you follow what's happening between the matches.

And you should also check out the Tachiai blog and the Grand Sumo Breakdown podcast, particularly for their basho previews so you'll know which rikishi and matches to pay attention to.
posted by robcorr at 2:38 PM on November 30, 2017

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