Ryogoku is an area in Tokyo where you are guaranteed to see sumo wrestlers freely wandering the streets. Kokugikan is the main attraction here, a sumo stadium, and in the area around the train station, you will find restaurants selling the same food that the wrestlers eat every day. Be sure to double up your trip here with a visit to the Edo Tokyo Museum:
(image by flickr.com)
In the Edo Era, Ryogoku became an area comparable to Ueno and Asakusa due to the development of Ryogoku Bridge. Sumo started to flourish from Kanjin sumo (tournaments to raise the necessary funds to build and restore temple buildings) at Eko-in Temple. The major sumo tournaments are held in January, May and September at Ryogoku Kokugikan Sumo Arena. In addition, the 1st floor of the arena is a sumo museum where material on sumo such as woodblock prints, banzuke (rikishi rankings), and ornamental mawashi aprons (a type of beautiful loincloth worn by the wrestlers when entering the ring) is collected and stored. On the 2nd floor, the purikura (photo stickers) booths where you can get a picture with a rikishi are popular. There is also the hot pot cuisine that the wrestlers eat, known as chanko-nabe, which has a traditional taste at each sumo stable where the ingredients and seasonings are not particularly decided upon. “Chanko Kawasaki” is a place that perennially goes high in the rankings. The “tori-chanko” (chicken) is a popular dish that hasn’t changed since the restaurant’s founding in 1937. Some of the sumo stables to which the rikishi belong offer viewings of the early morning practices. There are 5 rules for these viewings: 1. No whispering, 2. No photographs, 3. No turning your back on the ring and no shifting of your legs, 4. No smoking, food or drink, 5. Cellphones and smartphones are turned off. Since telephone reservations are common for direct visits, it’s best to go together with a guide if going individually may become a problem.
Opened in 1993, this is a museum that relates the 400-year history of Tokyo from the Edo Era. Material on the culture of the common people is mainly stored and displayed. A raised-floor style has been constructed in consideration of the neighboring Ryogoku Kokugikan Sumo Arena. The use of the space is extravagant, and its specialty is being “hands-on”. You can experience the lifestyle of the common people of the time through things such as a real-life replica of the Edo Era Nihonbashi Bridge and rickshaws.
(image by upload.wikimedia.org)
Sumo is Japanese wrestling with big half-nude men in topknots battling it out. The sound of them slamming into each other and their red-hot bodies with sweat spraying all about make for an overwhelming spectacle. On top of the severe training, there are the various techniques and tactics that have been polished over time that make watching sumo so profound. How about enjoying sumo live, a sport that has more than 1500 years of history? At Kokugikan, you can experience the sumo of wrestlers competing in front of your eyes.
Getting out of Ryogoku Station, you can see the massive stadium of Kokugikan with its light green roof of Japanese design. The current form of Ryogoku Kokugikan has a short history, having been built in 1984. When you enter the stadium, there is the dohyo (sumo ring) in the center and the suspended roof from the ceiling. This unique interior only found in sumo is also deeply interesting.
The enjoyment of sumo lies in watching the bouts while eating a bento box lunch. There are stores selling bento inside Kokugikan (bringing food in from outside is basically prohibited). Buying food there and then watching sumo at your seats as you nosh away at your lunch is the way to enjoy the sport. The yakitori bento is especially a Kokugikan specialty. There is a yakitori factory down in the basement and you can eat the skewers of grilled chicken made on that day downstairs. The souvenir shop has sumo-related goods such as towels and T-shirts.
One surprising thing is that for sumo, the bouts start from 8 a.m. But the matches with the big names actually begin from after 3 p.m. so it’s best to catch them from around 2:30. In addition, there is a sumo museum which is free to enter in the stadium, so how about taking a look in there before watching the bouts? There are interesting exhibits on display such as gorgeous ornamental aprons and woodblock prints.
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Kokugikan
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Kokugikan
- Tours of Kokugikan
Edo Tokyo Museum
(image by upload.wikimedia.org)
At this museum, there are replicas dedicated to exhibiting the landscape of the common people who lived in the castle town during the Edo Period. There are a total of 7 floors above ground and 1 floor underground in the museum, with permanent exhibition and temporary exhibition rooms and special events and exhibitions which take place 5 times a year. There is an exhibition room that is partitioned according to the ‘Edo Zone’ and ‘Tokyo Zone’. In the ‘Edo Zone’, you will find models of ukiyo-e (woodblock prints) and senryoubako (wooden boxes) as well as reproductions of the living quarters of people during the Edo period. You can gain a lot of insight into the lives of the citizens during the Edo Period with the multitude of models and exhibits.
Not only do you get the chance to learn about the Edo Period exclusively, but you can also learn about Tokyo after the shift from Edo to Tokyo. Through photos and exhibits, you can learn about events in Japanese history that were significant in changing the course of Japanese history. Such events include the Tokyo Fire Raids, Meiji Restoration and cultural enlightenment.
In the museum, there is also a video hall where you can view videos to enrich your knowledge, as well as a library where you can read documents related to the history of Edo. Moreover, as mentioned above, there is the permanent exhibition and special exhibition that you should take your time visiting.
There are over 140,000 precious books dedicated to Tokyo and Edo and from this collection, you are allowed to copy 1 book for personal research purposes. For tourists who would like to learn more in depth about Japan and the history, the Edo Tokyo Museum is a recommended spot to spend some time at. As Japan heads closer to the 2020 Olympics, the museum is strengthening its support for foreign visitors. The museum offers English guidebooks for visitors. Furthermore, visitors from abroad can be rest assured with the ample number of models and art displays, so that they will not leave the museum without having learned something new. It should be noted that there are English-speaking volunteers who can assist foreign visitors, as well as headphone sets that visitors can borrow to hear English commentary.
Admission: ¥ 600