The Sumo New Year Basho is as its name implies held in the New Year and is the first of six sumo events that are held annually across Japan that make up the Grand Tournaments of Sumo. Three of the six events are held in Tokyo. The New Year Basho is held at the Ryogoku Kokugikan Sumo Stadium with seating available for up to 13,000 people.

Every day of the tournament begins at 9am and continues until 5pm. It can be a long day so usually only the most dedicated of fans arrive to watch the lower ranked wrestlers that compete in the morning session. In 2019 the Sumo New Year Basho takes place from January 13th and lasts until the 27th of that month.

Where the Stadium is located

The Ryogoku Kokugikan Sumo Stadium is located close to Ryogoku Station making access very easy with it being just a two minute walk from the entrance. Other nearby stations includes the Toei Ryogoku Station, just a five minute walk away. Asakusabashi Station is just 10 minutes walking distance while the stadium is just a fifteen minute walk from Higashi-Nihombashi Station.

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An Explanation of Sumo Rankings

If you are going to watch a sumo event it helps to have an understanding of the rankings of the wrestlers. There are lots of matches held each day and usually progress with the lowest ranked wrestlers beginning their bouts in the morning.

Yokozuna

These are the highest ranked wrestlers with less than 100 having achieved this ranking in almost 400 years since 1630. The only wrestlers to achieve this status are those that have achieved excellence across three areas. These areas are power, skill and dignity or grace. Wrestlers granted Yokozuna wear a ceremonial cape known as a tsuna tied around their waist when they enter the ring. The tsuna weighs up to 20kg.

Ozeki

This is Sumo’s second highest ranking and is based on each wrestlers record. By winning 33 wins over three tournaments is usually sufficient for a wrestler to be granted this ranking. To maintain this ranking each wrestler must continue to achieve a good record or they can be demoted into the next ranking.

Sekiwake

To achieve this ranking a wrestler must have 30 wins over the three most recent tournaments.

Komusubi

To achieve this ranking you must have more wins than loses during a tournament. It is a difficult ranking as once you achieve this grade you are expected to then wrestle those above you in the top three rankings. So once achieved, those granted Komusubi can quickly fall back out of this ranking.

Honbasho

Honbasho are the 6 major sumo championships held each year and each one lasts a marathon 15 days. The lower ranks go first with the stars not appearing until about 4pm. Within the sumo system there is a complex ranking within each division. Each division has one champion for each tournament. The winners must then fight at the next higher division for the next contest.

In addition to the New Year Basho the 2019 schedule of events includes five other Basho held during the year. Tickets are generally on sale six weeks before the each event starts and cost from 3,500 yen up to 40,000 yen.

Some things you might not know about Sumo

At one time sumo wrestlers were skinny and not the size they are today. Over time weight was taken as being an advantage, hence wrestlers have become much larger. The weight of wrestlers is not taken into consideration during a bout and one wrestler can be twice the size of his opponent.

There are lots of the top wrestlers from outside of Japan. At one time there was no restriction on the number of foreign wrestlers. There is now a restriction of one foreign wrestler for each stable. Despite this restriction there are still around 15 or 20 foreign wrestlers fighting in the top two divisions of sumo. Foreign wrestlers are expected to speak Japanese and be aware of the culture of Japan.

Despite their size sumo wrestlers are able to dance. When they enter the ring they perform a ritual of leg-stomping that is designed to remove any evil spirits from the ring. This ritual is rhythmic and stylized. When the wrestlers face each other they clap their hands and show their open hands, this is to show they have no concealed weapons.

Sumo is not of interest to the younger generations of Japanese. The younger generations are interested in sports such as soccer and baseball. The average age of spectators at a sumo match is higher than 50 and interest is declining as the people interested in this sport are getting older.

Women are not allowed to enter the sumo ring. This is considered a violation of the purity of the ring. When the governor of Osaka was a woman she was prevented from entering the ring to award the prizes as was the tradition for that tournament. There was once a tradition of female sumo held at Shinto shrines however the importance of this has been downplayed by those in professional sumo circles.

Sumo wrestlers must follow strict rules including living in sumo training stables and always dressing in traditional Japanese clothing. Every part of the life of a sumo is dictated by the strictest rules they must always abide by.

Sumo originated at Shinto shrines where a human would wrestle with a kami, a Shinto divine spirit. If you visit a Shinto shrine in Japan you may well see sumo rings in place. The ritual of Shinto guides every aspect of the sport with referees acting as priests by performing purification rituals before a match can commence. Wrestlers will throw salt into the ring before they can begin a match.

You can show your disappointment by throwing your cushion into the ring. The seating comprises of thin cushions and when they are not satisfied with the outcome of a match the spectators will throw these into the ring.

Kappa are terrible river monsters in Japanese mythology. Kappa challenge humans to sumo, usually children because the myth is that kappa themselves are small. The myth is that if you are challenged by a kappa they will let you go if you beat them at sumo