Travel Report: Ryogoku Sumo District, Tokyo
February 2019. What better way to follow up an unforgettable Tokyo morning watching live Sumo than with a leisurely saunter around the city’s pretty Sumo district? Whether you’re a Sumo fanatic or just curious this is where your wanderings should start at Tokyo’s grand Sumo Stadium (Ryogoku Kokugikan). This is Japan’s premier Sumo event venue, which is sadly quite tough to get into outside scheduled tournament dates.
Built in 1985, Ryogoku Kokugikan hosts three of the country’s six biggest Sumo tournaments in the months of January, May and September. If you’re fortunate enough to time your visit here for Sumo season book your tickets well in advance, as the stadium is tight and compact with just ten thousand seats.
The stadium complex is also home to the understated but deliciously free to enter Sumo Museum. Open on weekdays from 10:00-16:30, the museum is a small but modern space featuring a cool wall of fame dedicated to the sport’s most celebrated wrestlers.
Poke around and you’ll also find plenty of antique artwork depicting ancient Sumo matches held in the city as far back as the 1840s. They also have a Banzuke, a baffling Japanese-symbol-laden Sumo wrestler ranking chart from the Edo Tournament of 1849.
The Sumo Museum houses a bunch of personal artifacts belonging to the legendary wrestler Hidenoyama Raigoro. Apparently thousands of Sumo obsessives flock here every year simply just to check out his grubby old sandals and the frayed yokozuna rope he wore to keep his waist belt in place.
Wanna pick up some cool Sumo souvenirs? Then look no further than Ryogoku Takahashi Sumo Store, just a nine-minute walk from The Sumo Museum. It was a little tricky to find, even with the aid of Apple Maps and my buddy Rich stopping to check with various locals with his excellent Japanese skills.
Don’t expect a grand superstore, Ryogoku Takahashi is a pocket-sized shop manned by a little old lady on the day of our visit. But the place was still brimming with Sumo stuff, from cheap and cheerful key rings and fridge magnets to T-shirts, models, dolls, cushion covers, umbrellas, mugs, table covers and pricy framed paintings. The store is open daily (except Sundays) between 09:00-19:30 and is just a 5-minute walk from JR Ryogoku Station.
While you’re in Tokyo’s Sumo district why not have a meal at one of the many, many Sumo restaurants run by retired Sumo wrestlers who cook up Chankonabe (Sumo Stew). Ryogoku is also where most of the city’s sumo wrestlers live in communal stables, so don’t be surprised if you pass a few of them on the street going about their daily business! For the ultimate Tokyo Sumo experience check out my article on Voyagin’s Live Sumo Performance & Duel.
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