Ryogoku: The Home of the Kokugikan Sumo Stadium

When one mentions the country of Japan, the first words that come to mind are probably sushi, ramen, anime, and cherry blossoms to name a few. The Land of the Sun is famous for its scrumptious cuisine, rich history, extraordinary culture, and beautiful scenery. However, Japan is also quite well-known in other areas such as in sports. Japanese people can go crazy over baseball games and their favorite players. One of the sports that is quite synonymous to Japan is sumo wrestling. If one is quite interested in sumo wrestling, the best place to visit or travel to when in Japan is the district of Ryogoku. 

Basic Facts About Ryogoku: A District in Tokyo, Japan

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Located in Sumida, Tokyo, Ryogoku is a small neighborhood in the metropolis that is quite well-known for its connection to sumo wrestling. The area is surrounded by other neighborhoods located also in Sumida, Chuo, and Taito wards. These neighbouhoods include Midori, Higashi, Yanagibashi, Yokoamo, Chitose, and Nihonbashi.

To give a brief overview of the history of Ryogoku, its name was based on a bridge. The Ryogoku Bridge was constructed in the year 1659. The length of the bridge spans the Sumida River until the upstream of its confluence with the River of Kanda. Translating to “two provinces,” the name “Ryogoku” was bestowed upon the bridge as it connects Shimosa Province and Edo Province, which is the forerunner of Tokyo in the province of Musashi.

One of the places in Ryogoku that were preserved and holds great history is a part of a mansion. Upon the death of Asano Naganori, the lord of the Forty-seven Ronin, his disciples avenged his death. They did so by breaking into the said mansion of the one who killed the lord, known as Kira Yoshinaka, in the year 1703. A portion of the mansion can still be visited today as it is preserved in a public park in Ryogoku.

Opened in the year 1904, the Ryogoku Station made rail transportation available in the area of Ryogoku. Recognized as the homeland of professional sumo, Ryugoku houses most of the training stables, also known as heya in Japanese, in Japan. The first ever Ryogoku Kokugikan stadium dedicated to sumo wrestling was established in the year 1909 while the current one was constructed in the year 1985. Located at the Yokohama neighborhood just on the north of Ryogoku, the current stadium holds three of the six annual official tournaments of professional sumo.

Basically known as the heart of the sumo world, various sumo tournaments have been held in this area for a long time now. However, prior to the start of the 20th century, tournaments that involved sumo wrestling occurred outdoors at temples and shrines. Because of the many sumo wrestlers training in the area, there are also a lot of chanko restaurants, serving food specifically designed for the proper diet of sumo wrestlers, located in Ryugoku.

While there are sumo stables scattered all over Japan, most of them are still located in Ryogoku. Sumo stables are basically the training grounds of sumo wrestlers, where they also reside while they train. Some sumo stables allow the public to watch the sumo practice during the early morning hours. However, several of these sumo stables require advance applications, which can be made via phone call, while there are others that require foreign visitors, such as those who only know how to speak English, to be accompanied by a person who can speak Japanese.

The staple food of sumo wrestlers, especially those who are undergoing intense training, is chanko nabe. A hot pot dish, chanko nabe has a wide range of varieties, though all of them consist of seafood, meat, and vegetables. These ingredients are important for the proper diet and health of sumo wrestlers. Most restaurants in the area of Ryogoku offer chanko nabe on their menus. Furthermore, several of these restaurants are also managed by retired wrestlers.

There are interesting places to visit when in the district of Ryogoku. Aside from the Ryogoku Kokugikan, other places that could be of interest are the Edo-Tokyo Museum, the Sumida Hokusai Museum, and Yokoamicho Park.

Ryogoku Station: The Main Railway Station in Ryogoku

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A railway station located in Yokohama, Sumida in Tokyo, Japan, Ryogoku Station is the main rail station that serves the people in Ryogoku. It is under the operation of the Tokyo Metropolitan Bureau of Transportation, also known as Toei, and the East Japan Railway Company, also known as JR East. Two lines served Ryogoku Station, namely, the JR East Chuo-Sobu Line and the Toei Oedo Line. The station is numbered as JB21 under the Chuo-Sobu Line and as E-12 under the Oedo Line.

Opened in the year 1904, the station was formerly known as Ryogokubashi. However, the name changed to just Ryogoku Station in the year 1931. Its average number of daily passengers amount to 38,733 persons, as estimated by JR East in the year 2010.

Comprised of two different stations, these stations are considered an interchange. The JR East runs the elevated station while the Toei Subway runs the underground station. Despite them being an interchange, passengers would still have to pass through ticket barriers when changing services. This means that a separate fare would have to be paid when switching services.

Considered a local stop on the Chuo-Sobu Line, Ryogoku Station is bypassed by “rapid” trains. These trains pass through a tunnel that goes to the north of the complex of the main station. An island platform that serves two tracks is served by the Chuo-Sobu Line. This includes platform 1 that serves westbound trains going to central Tokyo and further and platform 2 that serves eastbound trains heading to Chiba.

A third platform called platform 3 also exists only to be used for special services. Located at a slightly lower level, this platform is a remnant of the previous terminal times. On the other hand, the Toei subway station is located on a north-south axis. Just below Kiyosumi Street, also known as Kiyosumi-dori in Japanese, the station consists of five exits that are labeled from A1 to A5.

Ryogoku Kokugikan: The Famous Sumo Stadium in Ryogoku

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Also known as Ryogoku Sumo Hall, Ryogoku Kokugikan is one of the main attractions in the Ryogoku area. Situated in the Yokoami neighborhood that borders the neighborhood of Ryogoku, Ryogoku Kokugikan is an indoor sporting arena that is mainly used for sumo wrestling. Standing just next to the Edo-Tokyo Museum, the stadium is the third building constructed in Tokyo that is connected to the name “kokugikan.”

Opened in the year 1985, the arena has a capacity of 11,098 people. It holds sumo wrestling events and tournaments, also known as honbasho in Japanese. It hosts three main sumo wrestling tournaments every year. The first honbasho is known as the Hatsu honbasho, also known as new year honbasho, which occurs in the month of January. The second honbasho is known as the Natsu honbasho, also known as the summer honbasho, which occurs in the month of May. The third honbasho is known as the Aki honbasho, also known as the autumn honbasho, which occurs in the month of September.

With the coordinates of 35°41′49″ North and 139°47′36″ East, the arena is owned and operated by the Japan Sumo Association. Also housing a museum all about sumo wrestling, the grand arena also holds other indoor events such as pro wrestling, boxing, and even music concerts. Among the many popular events that it has hosted through the years are the finals of the yearly G1 Climax tournament of New Japan Pro Wrestling, the events of the Invasion Attack and King of Pro-Wrestling, and the Beast in the East events of WWE, which was held on the 4th of July in the year 2015.

Also known as the Kokugikan Sumo Stadium, the museum it houses is free of admission. Open from 10 in the morning until 4:30 in the afternoon, guests can only shop until 4 in the afternoon. Hence, people can no longer visit at night. The museum is closed on weekends and public holidays. Also, it is closed in between exhibitions. As for the tournaments, only ticket holders are allowed to enter.

To give a brief overview on the history of the stadium, the original kokugikan was first established in the year 1909 due to the increasing popularity of sumo during the Meiji period. During the Second World War, the stadium was appropriated by the Japanese army while some sumo tournaments were held outside, at a baseball stadium. However, SCAP recognized the sport of sumo wrestling as less threatening in comparison to other martial arts. Hence, during the occupation of Japan, a tournament was held in the stadium in the month of November in the year 1945.

Another tournament was held on the same month the year after before tournaments were resumed to be held on the grounds of the Meiji Shrine. This continued until the year 1954 then Kuramae Kokugikan became the next venue. It was replaced by the present Ryogoku Kokugikan in the year 1985 after it was established. This kokugikan will be the host for the boxing competition at the 2020 Summer Olympics, which was reported in the news.

Prior to every tournament, advance tickets are sold a month before the event. While these tickets generally are not exactly the hardest to get a hold of, the box seats are usually sold out despite them being expensive. Weekend tournaments also typically sell out. Fret not, as some balcony seats located at the back row are usually sold on the day of the event at 8 in the morning.

A Brief Ryogoku Guide: Other Must-Visits, Pearl Hotel, Foods

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Other tourist attraction in the area of Ryogoku would be the Edo-Tokyo Museum. Open from 9:30 in the morning to 5:30 in the afternoon on weekdays and Sundays and 7:30 in the evening on Saturdays, the museum depicts the rich history of Tokyo. Entrance to the museum is only until 30 minutes prior to its closing time. The museum is closed during New Year holidays as well as on Mondays. If Monday is a holiday, the museum would be closed on the following day. Admission to the museum costs 600 yen per head.

The museum has several models of figurines and towns as well as other exhibits that showcase the past of Tokyo. There are also life-sized figures that would make some visitors be in awe. The best collections of artifacts that portray the history of Tokyo can be found in this museum. Examples of these include the big-scale reconstructions of Nihonbashi bridge. Exhibits in the museum also depict the lifestyles of the people in Tokyo in different eras as well as the natural and man-made disasters that affected and changed the landscape of Tokyo.

Another must-visit would be the Sumida Hokusai Museum. Open from 9:30 in the morning until 5:30 in the evening, guests can only enter 30 minutes prior to closing time. Similar to Edo-Tokyo Museum, Sumida Hokusai Museum is also closed during New Year holidays as well as on Mondays. If Monday is a holiday, the museum would be closed on the following day. Admission to the museum costs 400 yen per head for permanent exhibition entry.

The museum features works made by Katsushika Hokusai. These works were based on his life as well as general information about ukiyo-e that visitors may find interesting. Temporary exhibitions are also being held at this museum, featuring other great painters and artists.

Ryogoku is definitely an interesting place to visit when in Japan. If one would be staying in the area, one may stay in hotels such as the Pearl Hotel, which offers various rooms for guests. There are also various foods in the area that are a must-try, such as chanko nabe, which is offered by most restaurants. Parks and gardens are also available for resting or strolling. Get the best and most fruitful sumo experience in Ryugoku as well as take in the rich history of Tokyo by visiting the mentioned museums. This visit would not only be delightful but also full of lessons about the city of Tokyo as well as the sport of sumo wrestling.