Ryogoku Sumo Tournament

Sumo @ Ryogoku, Tokyo, Japan

If it were possible to LARP an impending storm, a sumo tournament would be the closest analogue.

The expectations.

I honestly didn’t have any. That we were going to a sumo tournament at all was sprung on me as a surprise, part of the surprise graduation trip my darling wife planned behind my back.

But if I had to write something, I’d say my expectations on the way in were completely rooted in stereotypes. A succession of really fat men would attempt to fling each other out of an arbitrary ring. There would be a lot of back-and-forth, a lot of violence, and a lot of hundred-hand-slaps and flying headbutts. All in all not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

The reality.

Could not have been farther from what I was expecting.


We had box-style seating, which put us closer to the action. Box-style is basically a pad on the floor, spacious enough for four adults to be slightly cramped, or the perfect size for two adults to sprawl comfortably. Shoes are removed before entering your box.

Traditional arena-style seating is available too, but at that point you’re way up in the mezzanine. If you have a choice, pay the extra money and sit as close as possible. I don’t know if ring-side seats are available for purchase by the general public or if they are just for judges, family, sponsors or other VIPs, but on more than one occasion a sumo did get thrown into the crowd.



Sumo is less of a “fight” and more of a ritual. Everything about it follows a certain pattern.

To begin, the two contenders squat, poised to strike.

20130519032543-14414They stare each other down. Size each other up. Just when you think it’s going to happen, they break off the engagement.

As they retreat to their corners, you see the clouds on the horizon, but the storm’s not here yet.

They throw some rice. The waves crash in. You hear the thunder, but still the storm is coming.

20130519034713-14452The sumo resume their positions, prepared to strike once more. They’re going to do it this time, you just know it. You wait…and wait…and wait…but then they break it off again.

Back to their corners. More waves. Sometimes they’ll slap themselves, getting psyched up for the action to come, nobody really knowing when. The storm is still coming. You can feel it. There’s just no sign of it.

They assume their positions once more. Waiting. Ready to attack. Maybe they’ll break it off again. It’s what you start to expect.

But without warning, lightning strikes. The two titans spring at each other, colliding with an intensity that can only be measured on the Richter scale.

20130519034512-14439They briefly grapple, each trying to gain a hold on the other.

20130519043948-14588And in a flash, it is over. The simplest losses occur due to a misstep. The more spectacular failures end with one of the two being flung into the crowd, but more often than not it is a trip-up or having any appendage touch the ground that determines the winner.

All in all, it is about five to six minutes of posturing, rice throwing, and sizing up, followed by five to ten seconds of highly-intense action. Sumo train full-time for years for a chance to compete in the tournaments, and end up entirely disqualified from them in a matter of seconds.

The experience.

I was very impressed with the sumo tournament. It is not for everybody though– coming into it with the expectations that it is Japanese WWE will result in boredom and disappointment.

The thrill of it comes from the anticipation, since the action is so short-lived. You never know when the sumo will strike, but when they do, it is like watching two mountains collide.


Pro-family and anti-drug, when he's not too busy living with four beautiful ladies, he likes long walks on the beach and poking dead things with sticks.

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