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New Ways to Experience Sumo Offer a Taste of Japanese Culture and Traditions

With growing foreign interest in sumo, travel services and venues in Osaka are teaming up to offer new ways of experiencing this ancient Japanese sport.

The popularity of sumo is on the rise among inbound tourists visiting Japan. Rooted in ancient myths like those found in Japan's ancient chronicles, the Kojiki, sumo serves as a captivating portal into Japan's rich traditions and culture. It is especially enticing to Western visitors who are fascinated by its uniqueness. Responding to that interest, Osaka is welcoming new event halls in May.

Sumo events have quickly become a coveted experience for travelers. Indeed, tour packages from travel agencies consistently sell out.

Visitors experience sumo at the dohyo at Active Square Daito, in Osaka. (©Sankei by Keiko Tamura)
Visitors try their hand at sumo at Active Square Daito, in Osaka, on April 12. (©Sankei by Keiko Tamura)

"It was our first time experiencing sumo live. The experience gave us insight into the rituals, etiquette, and strategies of the sport. If we have the chance, we would love to see it again," remarked Laura, 47, from the United States. She attended a live amateur sumo match with English commentary at Active Square Daito, Osaka with her 17-year-old son Anthony. They were both happy with the experience.

The sumo experience program is a joint venture between the Osaka Tourism Bureau and Daito Club, a general incorporated association. Started in 2019, it has been gaining traction with tourists. Visitors have an opportunity to step up to the dohyo (sumo ring) to learn about sumo traditions and good luck rituals. They even get to savor chankonabe, sumo wrestlers' hot pot cuisine. All of this takes place while they are learning about sumo's cultural significance.

Former sumo wrestlers bring authenticity to "THE SUMO HALL Hirakuza OSAKA" demonstrating some sumo techniques. (©Sankei by Masahiro Enomoto)

Many Ways to Experience Sumo

Hanshin Contents Link is renowned in Osaka for its music and event ventures. On May 27, it unveiled THE SUMO HALL Hirakuza Osaka inside the Namba Parks commercial complex in Naniwa Ward. This venue promises sumo shows tailored specifically for international visitors.

Covering about 330 square meters, the venue offers seating for approximately 180. Moreover, the hall offers explanations of sumo's history and rules in both Japanese and English. Former sumo wrestlers perform on a life-sized dohyo while spectators experience the typical boxed lunches. 

Reservations have already flooded in from over ten countries, with the United States and Australia leading the way. As a result, the organizers report, "We're off to a smooth start."

The sumo show at "THE SUMO HALL Hirakuza OSAKA" on May 27. (©Sankei by Masahiro Enomoto)

Sumo's Growing Fan Base

The surge in sumo's popularity can be attributed to the Japan Sumo Association's proactive efforts in promoting the sport globally. That is coupled with the increasing presence of foreign sumo wrestlers in the sport. 

According to the association, the number of international spectators at professional sumo matches is steadily rising. Indeed, foreign visitors now account for an estimated 30% of attendees on any given day. 

This recent uptick surpasses pre-pandemic levels. One spokesperson remarked, "People from various countries are increasingly drawn to sumo."

Former sumo wrestlers opened the show at "THE SUMO HALL Hirakuza OSAKA" on May 27. (©Sankei by Masahiro Enomoto)
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Popularizing the Ancient Sport

Adding to the sport's global appeal is the TV drama Sanctuary, portraying the lives of young wrestlers in the sumo world. It gained widespread recognition through its online streaming in 2023, further expanding the fanbase. The Jalan Research Center, a tourism research institute of Recruit Holdings, Ltd, observed the trend. It found: "Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many individuals explored TV dramas while staying at home. This led to heightened interest in activities such as watching sumo."

Travel agencies have also been quick to seize upon this growing trend. For example, JTB offers guided sumo-watching tours at renowned venues like Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan in Sumida Ward. Furthermore, these tours feature interpretation services. They also provide informative booklets in English detailing match rules and rankings, ensuring the experience is accessible for foreign newcomers. 

A visitor experiences the power of the ancient sport with former sumo wrestlers at "THE SUMO HALL Hirakuza OSAKA." (©Sankei by Masahiro Enomoto)

It has been particularly popular among tourists from Europe, the United States, and Australia. As a result, JTB expanded its tour offerings in 2024 compared to the previous year. Their Osaka Tournament tours, introduced in March 2024 were priced from ¥16,500 JPY ($105 USD) to ¥17,000 ($108). They sold out rapidly.

Moreover, sumo matches offer enjoyment beyond language barriers. A representative from JTB expresses confidence in the experience, affirming, "The straightforward criteria for victory makes it accessible and engaging for international audiences."

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Follow the excitement of sumo wrestling and daily results of its seasonal tournaments on JAPAN Forward's dedicated sports pages, SportsLook.

(Read the report in Japanese.)

Author: Keiko Tamura

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