I have a new favourite sport, you guys: sumo wrestling. I got tickets to the Tokyo Basho (tournament) at the famous Ryogoku Kokugikan in May when my family was visiting, and it was an amazing way to spend an afternoon!
Tournaments are held six times a year around Japan: Tokyo in January, May, and September, Osaka in March, Nagoya in July, and Fukuoka in November. Each tournament lasts 15 days, beginning and ending on a Sunday, and bouts begin as early in the morning as 8:30, and continue until around 6pm. There are six levels of sum wrestlers, divided based on skill, and the bouts begin in the morning with the lowest-ranked wrestlers, and end with the top-tier wrestlers. The stands are generally pretty empty for most of the day, and hardcore fans will begin to pack the stadium around 3:30 or 4pm to see the best and most popular wrestlers.
Since you can only re-enter the stadium once, we decided against going first thing in the morning and instead spent a few hours next door at the Edo-Tokyo Museum. Around lunch time we stopped by the food stands set up outside the stadium and picked up some snacks, and then proceeded inside. None of us knew too much about sumo, other than it is a competition between two enormous men trying to push the other outside the ring; the first one to step outside the ring or to touch the mound with any body part other than the soles of his feet is the loser. We were surprised at how quickly the bouts would be over - most of them last only a few seconds! We picked up more of the rules just from watching as the bouts progressed, and were eventually able to rent a radio from the stadium that was broadcasting the NHK English commentary and really helped us understand the intricacies of the sport.
Unlike at any sporting event I'd been to anywhere else, spectators in Japan are generally allowed to bring their own food and drinks in from outside. Many groups of people arrived at the stadium with full meals they'd prepared at home! We eventually decided to grab some bento boxes and beers from the concession stands inside the arena, which weren't as expensive as we were expecting, and tasted fantastic! There were also girls from various Japanese beer companies wearing backpacks holding tiny kegs and running up and down the stairs in the stands selling draft beer, which was both convenient and awe-inspiring. Kegs of beer are no joke!
Tickets are available for in a wide range of prices, starting at ¥3800 for cheap seats near the rafters, and can run into the tens of thousands of yen for box seats close to the mound. Once they go on sale they go pretty fast; most days have sold out crowds, so you will have to act quickly. Tickets are available online, and the English site is easy to navigate. If you are unable to get tickets to the tournament, some stables (where sumo wrestlers train and live) open their morning practices to the public, which is a great secondary (and free) option.
My whole family enjoyed sumo so much we continued to watch it on TV in the late afternoons for the duration of the tournament, and I watched some of the Nagoya tournament on TV at home while working the past couple weeks. A Canadian wrestler entered professional sumo wrestling in time for the Nagoya tournament, and it will be exciting to see how he progresses in future tournaments!