Trazee In-Depth: Sumo and Grappling in Tokyo

by Angelique Platas

Jul 30, 2019

© J. Henning Buchholz | Dreamstime

Trends / History

Japan is one of the most-desired destinations on traveler’s lists, and the capital city of Tokyo is a big part of the draw. There is no denying it, the city is electric. With a mix of old and new in a stunning, but mostly out-of-this-world way, Tokyo boasts a visual trip through time and space, with eclectic entertainment options, incredible cuisine and nightlife along the way.


With neon signs and vibrant colors swirling around the city, from the skyscrapers to the ultra-modern bars and restaurants, Tokyo is a showstopper. Not to mention, you also have Imperial Palace gardens, must-see national museums, world-class theaters and stunning Shinto shrines, along with unmatched traditional history and culture around every corner.


One piece of that history quintessentially Japanese? Sumo. You may know the sport, you may have even slipped on the inflatable costume and bumped chests with friends at parties and events, but you don’t know the intense ins and outs of grappling, tradition, honor and professionalism. That’s where Palace Hotel Tokyo comes in.


Americans know Sumo as a form of full-contact, competitive grappling where wrestlers, or rikishi as they are known in Japan, try to wrangle their opponent out of his circular ring (only men can compete) and get him to touch the ground with any part of his body other than his feet. That may sound pretty technical, but there happens to be a lot more to it. While spin-off female sumo has been popping up and making a name for itself in recent years, traditionally, Japanese women are forbidden from entering the sumo arena or even touching the ring. It’s believed to sully their purity and still of controversial opinion in Japan.


For anyone seeking traditional sumo experiences and world-class treatment, you’re in luck. Sumo originated in Japan and is still only professionally practiced there today, which makes the Palace Hotel Tokyo offering so exclusive. The Sensationally Sumo package is an elite inside look at grappling in Tokyo and all of its inner workings. Additionally, Palace Hotel offers this package in partnership with bespoke, authentic, cultural experiences tour company TOKI — this package rolls out the mat, and the red carpet.


Begin your experience with a tour of the arena. Like a gladiator to the Coliseum, the Ryogoku Kokugikan arena is where it all happens. Watch grappling matches with your own guest and expert companions, including a sumo sports writer and announcer, during one of three annual tournaments. Another option, guests can go behind the scenes and actually have lunch with sumo wrestlers in the “stable” during the off-season.


With such a high-demand for sumo wrestling in the city — it’s a big deal, highly professional and not interrupted for guests — there are two options: on-season and off-season with some wiggle room in between.


During tournament season, the Palace Hotel offers accommodations for two for two nights, daily breakfast, including access to the Club Lounge, private transfer to and from the Kokugikan sumo stadium, a personal guide and sumo sports broadcaster, accompanying translator, guided tour of the Kokugikan stadium and museum and two tickets to the day’s sumo wrestling tournament with a choice of either box or theater seats.


One aspect of the offer you may not appreciate until you get there: your translator. While many Japanese residents speak excellent English, it’s not all that common and definitely not expected. Do yourself a favor and learn a few key words and phrases before your trip, it’s polite (a keystone in Japanese culture) and really helpful among the locals. While in the company of the Palace Hotel staff, you can relax a bit with the luxury of an expert guide and translator, which will come in handy during your immersive tours.


Now, back to the sumo packages.


During the off-season, Grappling Tokyo experiences include a bit more, due to the flexibility of the wrestler’s schedule and arena availability. This offer also includes a two-night stay for two, daily breakfast and access to the Club Lounge, private transportation to and from the sumo wrestling stable, sumo sports broadcaster as your personal guide, accompanying translator, but additionally offer a private viewing of morning wrestling practice and the option for lunch and a photo-op with sumo wrestlers.


Guests can opt out of the exclusive lunch and picture taking option and simply tour the arena with an expert guide. Prices range for both tour options $5,435–6,690. While the price tag may seem high, the Palace Hotel Tokyo rooms typically start at $510 a night for a deluxe room. The hotel also offers a great location in the heart of Japan, with a slew of high-end services and amenities, as well as dining options, spa treatments and transportation options getting you in and around nearby attractions — which your concierge can also help with.


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