How to Watch a Real Sumo Match in Japan

By Annika Hotta
Updated: May 9, 2024

Interested in Japanese culture and want to know more about the origins of sumo? Or are you headed to Japan and want to watch a live sumo match while you’re here? In this article, we’ll tell you all about where sumo came from, how much sumo wrestlers make, what they eat, and how to have your own sumo experience. 

What is sumo? 

Two sumo wrestlers grappling in a sumo ring as a crowd watches.

Sumo is a national sport in Japan — basically heavyweight contact wrestling. With its passionate fans and high-stakes competitions, attending a sumo wrestling match is the ultimate bucket list activity for Japanese residents and tourists alike! 

What does ‘sumo’ mean in Japanese?

An ukiyo-e sumo wrestling print where two sumo wrestlers are in the ring.

The Japanese word “sumo” comes from the verb ‘sumau,’ or ‘to fight.’ Sumo started as a wrestling competition in the imperial court during the Heian Period (794-1185), then known as sumai no sechi (相撲の節).

Interestingly, the kanji for ‘sumo’ is 相撲, which depicts the characters for ‘each other’ and ‘to strike.’ Together, the kanji can be interpreted as ‘to strike at each other.’ Ah, kanji, literal as always! 

How much do sumo wrestlers make?

One sumo addressing a crowd of other wrestlers in the sumo stables.

A sumo wrestler’s earnings depend on his rank and his winnings. The Japanese Sumo Association finances the stables that provide housing and food for its athletes, so even the lowest-ranking rikishi, or sumo wrestlers, don’t have any expenses. 

To give you an idea of how much sumo wrestlers can make, yokozuna, or Grand Champions, made around ¥3,000,000 per month as of 2010, which would have amounted to around $33,000 at the time. Official (and more recent) resources regarding sumo wrestler incomes are scarce. 

While this may seem like a lot, sumo wrestlers actually make far less than other professional athletes in Japan. Intrigued? Read more information on the sumo salary system

In addition to the salary paid by the association, sumo wrestlers can also win prize money. Each banner represents ¥60,000. The winner will receive the total amount represented on the banners, but not before JSA takes out a chunk for stable maintenance. Here’s some insight into what each title might bring in for both the wrestlers and their supporters. 

As you can see, it’s a complicated system with various income streams, but it makes sense why so many sumo wrestlers seek to climb the ranks as quickly as possible! 

What do sumo wrestlers eat? 

Chanko nabe, with meats, tofu, and veggies bubbling away in a hot pot broth.

To maintain their staggering physique, it’s no surprise that sumo wrestlers need to eat a high-calorie diet — coming in at around 10,000 calories per day. 

One staple dish for sumo wrestlers is chanko nabe, a hotpot dish containing all kinds of meat, seafood, seasonal veggies, noodles, and a hearty broth for it all to simmer in. If you want to make the dish yourself, here’s a simple chanko nabe recipe that can be adapted for vegetarians. Optionally, you can eat the dish at any one of these chanko nabe restaurants in the Tokyo area. 

If you want to know what a sumo wrestler eats on an average day, watch this vlog filmed by sumo wrestlers at Futagoyama Stable! 

Where to watch a sumo wrestling match in Japan

The edges of a sumo wrestling ring. In the background, sumo wrestlers are squatting.

There are six major sumo wrestling tournaments throughout the year, each lasting 15 days. If you want to hit a certain city, check the dates and reserve tickets early. You can access a list of all the big sumo tournaments in both 2024 and 2025.

If you’re not in Japan during any of the Grand Tournaments, check if there are any amateur tournaments nearby. 

There are typically three tiers of seats, including stadium seats, box seats, and ringside seats. Our advice is to look at pictures of the venue online to determine which place will be the most comfortable for you to sit for a long duration.  

What to expect at a sumo wrestling match

An aerial shot of a sumo wrestling match, with a crowd surrounding the ring.

Although the daily matches begin around 8:30 am, the highest-ranking wrestlers don’t start competing until around 2 pm. The hours after 2 pm will be the most action-packed, and therefore the most crowded, so get there early to snag the seats with the best view. 

Before each match, there is an extensive ritual. This will include the announcement of each wrestler, shiko, or squats that are meant to intimidate their opponent, rinsing their mouths, more squats with their hands raised to show that they’re not carrying a weapon, the displaying of the banners with the prize money listed, a festive throwing of salt to purify the ring, more squats for good measure, and finally, the match will begin. 

All in all, this only takes a few minutes, but some wrestlers may repeat this sequence up to three times! 

As for the match itself, the winner will usually be obvious before it’s announced. The loser is either forced out of the ring or lands on anything except their feet. Matches rarely last more than a matter of seconds.

The powerful sumo wrestler squat, arms held up, meant to threaten your opponent.

If you want to get the best photos, you can sneak through the tunnels for a couple of ringside snapshots if you arrive early enough. When people start to fill up the ringside seats, however, it’s time to get back to your seats to watch the action! 

While you can get snacks and chanko nabe, or 'sumo stew,’ at the concession stand, it’s advised to eat a bigger meal beforehand, especially if you have kids. 

When it comes to clothing, make sure to wear breathable clothing as the stadium can get quite hot, even with the air conditioning. If you’re sitting in the box seats, wear shoes you can easily remove because you will be required to take them off. 

Lastly, sumo wrestlers hail from countries all across the world, so don’t worry if you don’t know all their names. Just get into it along with the crowd and you’ll have a great time! 

How to experience sumo

The sumo wrestling restaurant you'll go to on the Ryogoku Sumo Town: Walking Tour & Chanko Nabe Lunch experience.

Want to take the sumo experience to the next level? Check out these experiences where you can make chanko nabe, eat like a sumo wrestler at a Tokyo restaurant, dine and wrestle with the top sumo wrestlers, and walk through historical sumo stables!

Ryogoku sumo town: Walking tour and chanko nabe lunch

All the ingredients of chanko nabe, featuring broth, seasonal, and a bowl of meats and vegetables.

In this sumo-related walking tour and lunch experience, you’ll take a tour around the sumo landmarks of Ryogoku, a famous sumo town. This will include learning about the 1600-year-old history and development of sumo, the sumo training stables, a Q&A session with your expert host, and a hearty lunch of chanko nabe hot pot at a restaurant.

Book your sumo wrestling experience in Ryogoku!

Sumo wrestler challenge and lunch in Tokyo

You might not think you can find the sights of sumo in Tokyo, but you’d be wrong! In this sumo wrestler experience in Tokyo, you’ll take a seat at Yokozuna Tonkatsu Dosukoi Tanaka, a restaurant with a dohyo (sumo wrestling ring) and enjoy the sumo-favorite chanko nabe and tonkatsu while former sumo wrestlers battle it out in front of you. 

As an added bonus, you’ll also learn about the history of sumo, the daily lives of wrestlers, techniques, and ways of the sport. But don’t let your guard down — you’re jumping into the ring next, squaring up against these sumo wrestlers for some commemorative pictures and an exclusive Q&A session.

Save your seat around the sumo ring in this Tokyo food tour!

Someone relaxing at home, legs crossed, watching Netflix on the TV.

And if you’re looking for another form of sumo-related entertainment, the Japanese drama series, Sanctuary, depicts the exhilarating rise of fictionalized sumo underdog, Kiyoshi Oze, also known as Enno. The show is available on Japanese Netflix with both Japanese and English subtitles, so you can study Japanese and learn about the Japanese cultural institution of sumo at the same time! 

Whether you plan on attending a sumo match or participating in the sport yourself, we hope this article gave you some insight into sumo wrestling and its place in Japanese culture. 

Tempted to eat like a sumo? Visit a few chanko nabe restaurants in Tokyo or make chanko nabe yourself with this simple recipe!

We strive to be as accurate as possible and keep up with the changing landscape of Japan's food and travel industries. If you spot any inaccuracies, please send a report.
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Annika Hotta
After studying abroad in Shiga prefecture in 2019, Annika moved to Japan in 2021. In her writing, she highlights the best dishes and places to eat in Japan for both the picky and the adventurous.
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