Most visitors to Japan are keen to have a sumo wrestling experience, however the main sumo tournaments are only held six times per year. A great alternative option is to watch a sumo training session as it is a great way to learn more about this fascinating Japanese tradition, and you are also a lot closer to the action. We really enjoyed watching a sumo training session in Tokyo during our recent visit to Japan and would definitely recommend this experience for visitors.
Below you can read our detailed review about what to expect when you go on a sumo stable tour, as well as how to book your tour.
Note that our sumo training experience was part-sponsored by Voyagin but our opinions are our own.
- Join the Japan Travel Planning Facebook Group
- About Sumo Wrestling
- How to Book a Sumo Stable Tokyo Tour
- What to Expect Prior to Watching Sumo Practice Tokyo
- Etiquette While Watching Sumo Training Tokyo
- Our Experience Watching a Sumo Wrestler Workout
- How to Get to Ryogoku
- Join the Japan Travel Planning Facebook Group
Join the Japan Travel Planning Facebook Group
You are also welcome to join our Japan Travel Planning Facebook Group – it is a great resource to enable you be inspired and to ask questions about your upcoming trip to Japan!
Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links. If you book after clicking on one of these links then we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.
About Sumo Wrestling
Sumo is considered to be Japan’s national sport with a history dating back to the 1600s. It’s an amazing sport to watch. Sumo is also a fantastic insight into Japanese culture with many ancient customs and ritual elements, such as the use of salt from the Shinto ritual of purification, still part of the sport of sumo today.
Watching sumo wrestlers in action is one of the most fascinating activities you can take part in when you visit Japan. On our first trip to Japan, we timed our trip perfectly and were able to watch a day of sumo wrestling at Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo. It was a brilliant experience that I won’t soon forget. Unfortunately, sumo Grand Tournaments only run six times a year and only three of these tournaments are held in Tokyo during January, May and September. Check out our detailed Sumo Wrestling article to see the upcoming sumo wrestling tournament schedule.
So, what do you do if you are interested in Sumo but your planned trip doesn’t match up with the Sumo tournament schedule? The answer is to watch sumo training at a sumo stable. On our most recent visit to Japan, we had the opportunity to visit Oguruma Sumo Stable to watch their wrestlers train.
The wrestlers who participate in sumo tournaments live and participate in sumo training as part of a sumo stable. There are approximately forty sumo stables in Tokyo and are places where sumo wrestlers both live and train and are therefore private places. Only some sumo stables accept visitors.
Comparing watching a sumo tournament versus watching sumo training, both have their pros and cons. Sumo tournaments have an incredible atmosphere and offer a lot more pomp and ceremony compared to sumo training. At a sumo tournament, you will get to enjoy the elaborate ‘entering the ring’ ceremony, the colourful kimonos of the referees, and the theatre of two wrestlers waging psychological warfare before they launch into battle. However, when you get to watch sumo wrestler training, you will:
- Get much, much closer to the sumo stars than you will at tournaments.
- Gain a much deeper understanding of how sumo wrestlers train and gain a more thorough understanding of certain rituals.
- Get an exclusive photo opportunity with sumo wrestlers after they have finished training.
NOTE: Please be aware that there are strict requirements not to share photos of sumo wrestlers on websites or any social media. For this article, we were only given permission to share photos as long as we didn’t show faces or share any personal information online.
How to Book a Sumo Stable Tokyo Tour
We booked our Tokyo sumo tour tickets through Voyagin, a large and reputable online travel agency owned by Rakuten, the biggest e-commerce company in Japan. Voyagin offers a huge range of travel experiences in Japan. The booking process is quick and simple and if you are having any difficulties an online chat service is available.
Children under the age of two aren’t permitted to participate in the sumo stable tour, and 3 to 17 year olds must be under adult supervision. Parents are expected to be responsible for the behaviour of their children. Watching sumo wrestlers train can be a challenging activity for activity as they must stay quiet for the whole training session. From our experience, this activity is only suitable for older children who are able to sit still and quietly for a longer period of time. Children who don’t observe the rules of the sumo stable will be asked to leave.
Another thing to be aware of when making a booking is that you will be seated on a tatami or wooden floor for up to two hours while watching sumo practice. In our case, guests could sit on cushions, but sitting for this length of time on the floor can get quite uncomfortable.
If you have an infirmity or injury that makes it difficult to sit cross-legged for extended periods of time you can request a chair in the comments section of the booking page but chairs cannot always be guaranteed. Chair availability might not be confirmed until a few days before sumo practice and a lack of chairs is not grounds for a refund or cancellation.
What to Expect Prior to Watching Sumo Practice Tokyo
Various sumo stables are part of the sumo stable tour experience. This means that you will only find out a few days in advance which sumo stable you will be visiting.
In our case, our guide Yuko contacted us by email six days prior to our sumo stable visit. She let us know the name of the sumo stable we would be visiting, in our case Oguruma Sumo Stable and its address. In the email, she also told us the nearest train station, our meeting point and meeting time. Yuko even provided a suggested train schedule including track numbers so were very impressed with how thorough she was. She also let us know that if we were running late, that we should send her a message and she would come back and get us from the meeting point once other guests were seated. Yuko was also more than happy to answer any questions we had prior to our sumo stable tour.
Sometimes, arrangements can change or it’s not possible for the guide to confirm which stable is visited until the day before, so it’s important to check for emails from your guide right up until the tour commences.
If you have tattoos, try to cover up any visible tattoos before the tour. We along with the other participants assembled at 7:35 am. Usual start time is between 7 and 9 am.
Our group then walked the short distance together to Oguruma Sumo Stable. Before the meeting time, I would recommend going to the toilet first as the sumo stables do not always have restrooms available to the public.
While waiting to enter the sumo stable there was time to ask questions of the guide. People who required chairs were seated first followed by the rest of the tour group.
Etiquette While Watching Sumo Training Tokyo
Sumo wrestlers live in a communal environment and their lives follow strict traditions and etiquette. These traditions and etiquette must be respected by visitors to the stable. Our guide did a great job of making everyone aware of the behaviour that was expected of guests.
When we entered the stable, we had to take off our shoes and others in the group had to take off hats and sunglasses. Large bags or luggage aren’t allowed to be brought in to the stable.
Guests weren’t allowed to eat, drink or smoke inside the stable, but apparently on hot days drinks such as water, tea or sports drinks may be permitted. Although guests can’t smoke, a non-smoking environment cannot be guaranteed. This is because the stable stables are private places and the stable masters aren’t prohibited from smoking.
When taking our seats and also at the end of the tour, guests weren’t allowed to enter the sumo ring or the area around the ring as this area is considered a sacred place. We were expected to sit with our legs crossed on the floor. Guests were expected not to stretch their legs towards the ring as showing the soles of your feet is considered impolite. At one point, my wife started to stretch her legs and was quickly reminded of this point of etiquette. Once the sumo wrestlers had started their practice session, guests weren’t allowed to leave the stable and were expected to stay till the end.
Once training had started we weren’t allowed to speak as it could distract or disturb the wrestlers. This wasn’t a big deal because we were all given an information sheet at the start of the tour about the training exercises that we would see. In addition, our guide passed around information cards during training so at all times we knew what was happening.
We were allowed to take photos while the sumo wrestlers were training but this may not always be the case. Flash photography wasn’t permitted and we also made sure that the shutter sounds on our phones and cameras were turned so we didn’t distract the wrestlers while they were training.
Our Experience Watching a Sumo Wrestler Workout
Watching sumo wrestlers train is in no way a performance for tourists. It’s an authentic behind-the-scenes glimpse into sumo wrestling. Because the room was so quiet and everyone was focused on the training session, it almost felt like we were secretly watching a private experience between the sumo wrestlers, their coaches and the stable manager.
At the sumo stable, we were able to get so much closer to the action than we ever could at a sumo tournament. This made the experience so much more intimate and intense. Don’t ever be deceived by the impressive height, girth and body mass of a sumo wrestler because they are true athletes. The training session really showcased their fitness, speed, strength, flexibility and power.
The wrestlers performed four basic training exercises during their sumo practice session: leg stomps, spreading legs, shuffling walk and battering practice.
The leg stomps are called Shiko and originated as part of a Shinto ritual to ward off evil spirits hiding in the ring. Shiko are performed during both warm-up and at the end of the training session. It helps the wrestlers strengthen their lower body and improve their balance.
The spreading legs exercise is known as Matawari. The exercise is designed to improve flexibility and reduce the risk of groin injuries. During Matawari, a wrestler’s legs are spread out to the sides. Some of the wrestlers almost had their legs at 180 degrees to the side. While in this position, the wrestlers would twist their bodies to the left and right and also fold their torso forward with their chest and cheek touching the floor. This was one of the more impressive exercises to watch as it was truly amazing to witness the phenomenal flexibility of such massive athletes.
The shuffling walk is called Suriashi during which the wrestlers get their centre of gravity low and shuffle at speed across the ring while both feet are fully touching the ground. The purpose of the exercise is to improve a wrestler’s balance to reduce the risk of slipping or falling in a match.
Battering practice is known as Butsukari Geiko. In this exercise, two wrestlers lock their upper bodies and take turns pushing each other across the ring with the other wrestler acting as a deadweight. The exercise toughens a wrestler’s legs, hips, groin and abs.
On top of the exercises, there were also plenty of practice bouts. During the bouts, the wrestlers weren’t taking it easy. They would launch at each other with speed and power and the impact was like two freight trains colliding head-on.
When not in the ring, wrestlers weren’t just standing around. Instead, they were doing other training exercises such as smashing out push-ups and crunching their open palms against walls and posts.
The whole experience was a fascinating look into the rigorous and disciplined world of sumo wrestling. The training sessions clearly pushed the wrestlers’ bodies and minds to their absolute limits.
At times the wrestlers were absolutely exhausted and it was incredible to see how many sumo wrestlers were taped-up and strapped.
Partway through the session, the stable master (Kotokaze Koki) came out to watch the practice. Kotokaze founded the Oguruma stable in 1987. He was clearly treated with reverence and respect when he entered the stable.
Kotokaze wrestled in the 1970s and early 1980s and competed in the highest Makuuchi division and his highest rank reached was Ozeki. During his career, he won two tournaments and was runner-up in another two. The video below shows Kotokaze in action from 1981.
At the end, we were able to take photos with the sumo wrestlers and the stable master before saying our farewells. After we exited the stable, we then had a further question and answer session with our guide Yuko for another 15 minutes or so.
How to Book Tickets for Sumo Training Tokyo
Watching a sumo training session in Tokyo is a great alternative to attending a sumo tournament if there are no tournaments running when you are in Japan. However, it is definitely still worthwhile to watch a training session even if you are attending a tournament as it is a great complementary experience.
How to Get to Ryogoku
Most stables are in the Ryogokyu district which is located in the north-east of Tokyo, about a 10-12 minute train journey from Tokyo Station.
There are plenty of other sumo-related experiences to enjoy in the area. If you walk in the area around the Sumo Stadium area you will see statues and handprints of famous sumo wrestlers.
The size of some of their hands is phenomenal.
There are also various shops selling sumo-related souvenirs.
I would also highly recommend visiting a chanko nabe restaurant. Chanko Nabe (Sumo Stew) is a hot pot dish stacked with protein (such as chicken, tofu and fish) and all kinds of vegetables in a rich broth. Some chanko nabe restaurants even include a sumo show where you can duel with wrestlers.
There is also a free Sumo Museum attached to the Sumo Stadium. It’s a small, one-room museum with various pictures and some older artefacts such as scrolls. The museum is mostly in Japanese. If you are in the area, it’s worth a small detour to check it out, but don’t go out of your way to visit it.
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Join the Japan Travel Planning Facebook Group
You are also welcome to join our Japan Travel Planning Facebook Group – it is a great resource to enable you to be inspired and to ask questions about your upcoming trip to Japan!