Experience a few hours in the life of a sumo wrestler

Playing a hefty counterpoint to the ephemeral geisha, another famous iconic Japanese figure is the sumo wrestler, strictly trained from as young as fifteen in specialist heya (usually translated as ‘stable’, if that gives an indication of the training regimen). Unlike our samurai masterclass, your sumo experience will not - you might be relieved to know - involve trying out this historic martial art. Instead, you’ll visit a heya in the traditional sumo district of Ryogoku, Tokyo, to watch the wrestlers train, culminating in a gruelling trial where one fighter faces a stream of others in the ring with no rest, until he’s defeated.

What to expect from your sumo experience...

Sumo has its roots in Japan’s Shinto religion, with many of its more esoteric rituals dating back centuries to when the fights were more of a ceremonial dance, performed to encourage a good harvest. The dohyō (fighting ring) is still considered a sacred area that’s blessed before fights, but these days sumo is also a feted national sport - like many pro sports, it’s been marred by controversy, but its stars earn big bucks, and fight nights attract crowds of thousands.

The aim of the game is simply to either force your opponent out of the ring, or make him touch the ground with any body part other than his feet, although there are other rules that would disqualify a fighter - certain illegal moves, for example, or if his belt comes completely undone. There are no weight divisions - it’s down to body mass and strength - and there’s no transfer system either, so the sumo must stay loyal to the same training stable ('heya') until he retires.

Your guide will collect you early in the morning and take you to Ryogoku, a historic district of Tokyo on the bank of the Sumida River. Ryogoku is the home of professional sumo - most of the heya are here, along with the arena used for sumo tournaments. Here, you’ll enter a heya, where the big-boned wrestlers will be training. ‘Big-boned’ isn’t a euphemism, by the way - although sumo are often perceived as obese, they are by no means 100% podge - only large boned strong physiques are suited to carrying the extra mass.

Junior wrestlers rise at 5am and train before getting on with the cleaning, while the high ranks start training at 7am, so they’ll be well underway by the time you arrive. Training consists of drills and workout routines, including an impressive ‘king of the castle’ trial by combat, which sees the strongest fighter staying in the ring to take on a string of opponents, until he is exhausted and defeated.

Training is followed by a bath and an ample protein-rich lunch, which is accompanied by beer for the extra calories (a sumo’s lifestyle typically shortens his life expectancy by 10 years). 

After lunch, the wrestlers have a siesta, and then the juniors attend to chores while the seniors reply to their fan mail, or prepare mementos such as their handprints, and names written in traditional calligraphy.

Location: Ryogoku, Tokyo

Duration: 3 hours

Accommodation: your choice of Tokyo hotel

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We say...

'A fascinating insight into the world of sumo. If you would like to see a professional sumo match during your stay, let us know and we can arrange tickets where available.'

Important to note...

Western style chairs will not be available and you will need to sit on tatami floor mats.

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