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Chankosan

My first trip to the Kokugikan!

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Hi everybody! Long time lurker, first time poster. I am very happy to be going to see sumo live for the first time ever at the Kokugikan in May. But I was feeling a bit uneasy about the trip as I am travelling alone, I have never been to Japan before, and I do not speak or read Japanese. I was hoping that some of you could answer a few nagging (and fairly naive I realize) questions to ease my anxiety:

TRAIN -- How hard is it to buy train tickets at Narita and to find the right train to the Ryogoku station? How hard is it to know when to get off the train at Ryogoku?

HOTEL -- How easy is it to check in with non-English-speaking staff? Has anyone had any problems not getting their room despite having an on-line reservation?

STABLES -- I would love to catch a morning practice (I have read up on the etiquette for attending) but do they have them during a tournament? If so, which stables are the best bets? I have seen heya maps before, but I couldn't find a good one recently -- any links?

TICKETS -- I want to see Days 1 thru 6. How hard is it to buy tickets (with cash) at the venue on the day of attendance? Have these days been selling out recently? Has anyone here used BuySumoTickets.com yet? (They sound good, but I'd like to see/hear some feedback first.)

SEATS -- I am planning to get a balcony seat each day. I also want to get there early to catch the lower divisions so I can have more of a ringside experience for part of each day. How close can I sit without getting get evil looks or being chased off?

Thanks for the help -- I am VERY excited to finally be going!!

Here is my sumo "story" for anyone interested:

I discovered sumo in 1992 when I came across Andy Adam's book in a used bookstore. I remember thinking how the cover pic of Onokuni looked like the classic sumo wrestler, but then being blown away from the picture of Chiyonofuji on the first page. He did NOT look like a sumo wrestler to my mind then -- too small and too muscular. I was hooked! I started my sumo education with Sumo World and began watching the sumo broadcasts. I had planned to see sumo live for the first time in Vancouver in 1998, but it didn't work out. I never saw it in Las Vegas or Hawaii or Los Angeles because I decided that I should lose my sumo "virginity" in Japan. I need to go now if I am ever going to see Kaio wrestle. Besides being my favorite rikishi, his Makuuchi career has also spanned the entire period that I have been watching sumo...

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Hi!

I can try and answer a couple of your questions, but please note that I am a little out of date.

TRAIN -- How hard is it to buy train tickets at Narita and to find the right train to the Ryogoku station? How hard is it to know when to get off the train at Ryogoku?

You'd probably need to take the train from Narita into Tokyo, and then use the subway system. I don't think the Tokyo subway is too different to other big subways in the world - and I think the maps are written in English too. You can download a map off the Internet.

HOTEL -- How easy is it to check in with non-English-speaking staff? Has anyone had any problems not getting their room despite having an on-line reservation?

Most hotels in Tokyo will have English speakers. If you have printed out your on-line reservation to take with you, there shouldn't be a problem.

STABLES -- I would love to catch a morning practice (I have read up on the etiquette for attending) but do they have them during a tournament? If so, which stables are the best bets? I have seen heya maps before, but I couldn't find a good one recently -- any links?

Yes, there is keiko during bashos. I used to go to Musashigawa-beya most, and never had a problem. However, if you are a non-Japanese speaker, and it is your first time to go, it may be best to try to go with someone else. You may know the etiquette, but the heya guys don't know that. If you can't communicate to them in Japanese, there might be a problem. They don't want some clue-less foreigner disturbing them during a basho. (Even though you are not clue-less, they may not take the risk!)

TICKETS -- I want to see Days 1 thru 6. How hard is it to buy tickets (with cash) at the venue on the day of attendance? Have these days been selling out recently? Has anyone here used BuySumoTickets.com yet? (They sound good, but I'd like to see/hear some feedback first.)

It used to be easy to get tickets every day in the morning - but I hear it is harder these days. I would imagine (as long as there aren't any public holidays), that you should still be able to get them easily on the mornings 2 - 6 (especially as you are interested in the balcony seats). You may also be able to get them for day 1, but that would be the only tricky one, I think. However, as you are going so far, you may not wish to take such a gamble, and so perhaps best to get some in advance for some of the days, just to be safe?

SEATS -- I am planning to get a balcony seat each day. I also want to get there early to catch the lower divisions so I can have more of a ringside experience for part of each day. How close can I sit without getting get evil looks or being chased off?

I always used to sit ring-side right up until the Juryo - and sometimes until the Makunouchi bouts. Many people do this - both foreign and Japanese. Just follow the rules, be very polite, don't eat or drink, and graciously change cushions when the real owner turns up. If the yobisahi ask you to go to your real seat, smile politely and go. However, they usually turn a blind eye to such 'squatters' until Juryo begins, at the very least.

Enjoy the trip - and you should see Kaio!

Edited by Jejima

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Hi Chankosan!

I am sure you will love your first trip!!! I know it can be nervous for you the first time but I think it is so much easier to get around the train lines now than it was 21 years ago when there was limited English especially out in the country!

Where are you going to stay?

This site has an English route finder that you can check & print out before you get here: http://www.hyperdia.com/

It may be possible to take an airport limousine bus.. I used to use them out to Saitama, much cheaper & direct than the trains. (These days I just drive to Narita. I found a hotel with 2 weeks free parking with a one night stay. That is even easier!)

If there is anything I can help you with please don't hesitate to ask! Just PM me & I will give you my email address.

As for the basho Jejima is right, most days we sit at least through the Juryo in the tamari or Masu A seats with no problems. Some Ochaya-san are nastier than others but after usually there is no problem. We were very shocked in Osaka that the weekdays even were so crowded & that people showed up so early! My friends come to Osaka every year & this was the first time. Tokyo was also a bit crazy. The 2nd week they were selling out of general admission tickets early in the morning on weekdays.

If you are talking about a good balcony seat A section, I can arrange that through one of the heya for you if you like, especially for shonichi! The other days in first week you should be able to buy them when you come.

Jejima is right, if you can go with someone to a morning practice who has been there before it may be easier.

Of course you know the etiquette, and many Japanese don't.... but Jejima is right, the heya do get nervous often about foreigners especially if they can't speak Japanese. When I've called some heya to ask if I could come they have said something like "will there be any Japanese with you?" to which I often reply it is just me and assure them that I am an experienced keiko observer... :)

Many heya these days prefer you to call in advance. I always do or drop by to ask in person. I would be happy to call any of the heya you want to visit and make a reservation for you. I can't join you except maybe shonichi as this next basho I have to work all the weekdays :(

I have never gone to asageiko during a basho myself because it is usually hard enough to get to the kokugikan by 8am! And I go to keiko at least twice or three times a month outside the basho times.

Again, I am happy to help you if I can, get tickets or make some calls to heya for you just let me know!

Take care & relax!

Viki

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STABLES -- I would love to catch a morning practice (I have read up on the etiquette for attending) but do they have them during a tournament? If so, which stables are the best bets? I have seen heya maps before, but I couldn't find a good one recently -- any links?

Heyas @ Google Maps

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Hi everybody! Long time lurker, first time poster. I am very happy to be going to see sumo live for the first time ever at the Kokugikan in May.

Sounds excellent. Hope you have great time. I might even bump into you if you decide to come in mighty early some days.

TRAIN -- How hard is it to buy train tickets at Narita and to find the right train to the Ryogoku station? How hard is it to know when to get off the train at Ryogoku?

HOTEL -- How easy is it to check in with non-English-speaking staff? Has anyone had any problems not getting their room despite having an on-line reservation?

These two questions are pretty much related as you just don't de-plane at Narita and head to Ryogoku unless you are planning to stay in one of the hotels around the Kokugikan. Though a bit dated, if you are thinking of staying there, check here.

The two are pretty nice and the other two are not so but you should have no trouble check-in at any of them if you have a reservation.

So if you want to go to Ryogoku from Narita Airport directly, you probably want to take Keisei Skyliner Express from the airport and get off at Keisei Funabashi station and then walk over to JR Sobu line's Funabashi station. Then hop onto the Sobu line going to Mitaka station from there. 10 stations later you are on Ryogoku station.

Personally if this is your first visit to Japan and Tokyo, don't just limit yourself to Ryogoku. Nothing wrong with Ryogoku but there are other sights you may want to check out. Try staying in a place like Asakusa (Asakusa View Hotel is a good choice). Then you are right on Tsukuba Express line and one hop to Akihabara station. Then get to JR Sobu line at Akihabara and two more stations later you are in Ryogoku. Then you get to see Asakusa, Akihabara etc all within a short distance.

Good luck.

Edited by Jonosuke

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Wow guys, thanks for all the great info!

I failed to mention my hotel because I was still trying to find a room close to the Kokugikan. I just now booked one at the Pearl via Expedia.com, so I think I'm set in the hotel department. I am by myself and lead a spartan life, so it should be just fine. I will be there for Days 1 thru 7. I will have my reservation in hand when I arrive.

As for getting from Narita to the Pearl, I am sure that Jejima and Jonosuke have the best ideas, but I am just too neurotic to attempt train or subway connections. So I think I'm just going to take the Narita express train to Tokyo Station (learned of it via Lonely Planet) and walk to the Pearl from there. My flight gets in at 6 PM and that will give me a chance to see the Ginza at night, which I wanted to do at some point in my trip anyway. It's a little over 2 miles as the crow flies and I'm in good shape with only a backpack, so not too bad I think. I know from past overseas trips how the adrenaline is running when I arrive, so I might as well put it good use! I could always take a taxi if I'm too tired or confused, although I hear they are expensive.

Thanks for the heya map Asashosakari -- I will definitely be putting that to good use during my wandering around Sumida the day before the basho starts. And thanks for your very generous offer of assistance in seeing a morning practice ilovetochinoshin -- maybe on that Saturday when I am out and about?

As for tickets, I think I will try BuySumoTickets.com for Day 1 just to make sure I'm in, but then buy them at the Kokugikan the morning of for the other days.

As for seating, I am really loving what everyone has to say about the seating. Can't wait to see a whole morning of up close sumo!

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Thanks Nishinoshima -- I will definitely take your advice about the green and yellow line with me on my trip. That makes a lot more sense than a taxi. However, I have a very high resolution Kodansha bilingual atlas of Tokyo that covers the Ginza, Kyobashi, and Nihombashi neighborhoods, which will get me to the Edo Dori (road 6) to get me to the Keiyo Dori (road 14) to get me across the river to the Pearl hotel area. So I think I will be OK, but I am taking it much more seriously than I otherwise would have, given your warning about small streets being omitted on many maps. For that reason, I will be downloading high resolution maps of the areas I want to explore while I'm there (Asakusa, Ueno, and Sendagi) to supplement my atlas.

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Nishinoshima, thanks so much for the extra info!

The taxi sounds pretty reasonable actually, although the way you described the green and yellow lines I should not have any problem with that option either. It's nice having a number of options I must say. After studying my atlas a bit more, I think I want to go from Tokyo Station to the Yaesu underground arcade, then down Chuo Dori to the Ginza "Times Square" intersection, then take Harumi Dori to Shin Ohashi Dori, then head northeast on that across the river, then a few blocks north to the Pearl. I studied that route on Google satellite and it looks to be the most foolproof route for me.

As for walking, that is one of the things I am most excited about doing. I have been hiking a 3-mile trail up and down a 1000-ft mountain near my home every other day, so I should be in pretty good shape for the level terrain of Tokyo when I get there. I measured the distance of a roundtrip walk from the Pearl to Sendagi and back and it is just over 6 miles -- probably the limit of my endurance for a single day adventure. I will rest up between walking days by relaxing in the Kokugikan and dining at a Chanko restaurant (I hear there is one right there by the Pearl). And I will definitely remember your point about treks taking longer than you imagine...

And a huge thanks about catching the dohyo matsuri! I will definitely take advantage of that on Saturday. Should I be there at 10 or earlier? How long does it last? It will make a nice start for my walking tour of the local stables that day.

Edited by Chankosan

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And a huge thanks about catching the dohyo matsuri! I will definitely take advantage of that on Saturday. Should I be there at 10 or earlier? How long does it last? It will make a nice start for my walking tour of the local stables that day.

You'll only able to see the stables from the outside this way of course, but you probably know that. If you want to see some keiko inside going on, then you should rather arrive no later than 7 a.m. at the stable. If it's in Ryogoku you still can go on to the dohyo matsuri later on.

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Oh, Nishinoshima, just a couple of questions about taxis, as I think I may use them a bit more than I had planned (for example, coming back to the Pearl after I have walked the 3 miles to Sendagi).

You say that they are metered. Does that mean if you get stuck in traffic, you pay more for the extra time?

How about language barrier? Will they understand me if I say "Kokugikan" or "Ryogoku Pearl"?

And I assume I can easily find a taxi at any major train station (eg, Nippori)?

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You say that they are metered. Does that mean if you get stuck in traffic, you pay more for the extra time?

When stopped in traffic the meter runs at a much reduced rate. Heavy traffic makes little difference to the fare.

How about language barrier? Will they understand me if I say "Kokugikan" or "Ryogoku Pearl"?

"Ryogoku Kokugikan" is what you should say. The hotel is across the road. Most won't know it by name. Almost all taxis use GPS now anyway so the route is usually the fastest.

And I assume I can easily find a taxi at any major train station

Find a taxi in Tokyo? Anywhere, anytime you'll have at least 5 within sight. (In a state of confusion...)

Yeah.Taxis are easy to find in Tokyo.Be prepared to pay through the nose!

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Taxi to Ryogoku from Tokyo will be about 3,000-3,500 at most. They are metered and there is no chance of being ripped off or taken the "long way".

You know if it's a weekend you arrive I could meet you if you are stuck.

Also don't forget the dohyo matsuri in the Kokugikan at 10am the day before the tournament. It's free and you will get to see both Yokozuna up close.

That sounds about right.

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And a huge thanks about catching the dohyo matsuri! I will definitely take advantage of that on Saturday. Should I be there at 10 or earlier? How long does it last? It will make a nice start for my walking tour of the local stables that day.

You'll only able to see the stables from the outside this way of course, but you probably know that. If you want to see some keiko inside going on, then you should rather arrive no later than 7 a.m. at the stable. If it's in Ryogoku you still can go on to the dohyo matsuri later on.

not quite.

During, and just before a basho it is perfectly normal to go to keiko and see the sekitori as late as 0830 and many run till just before 1000.

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During, and just before a basho it is perfectly normal to go to keiko and see the sekitori as late as 0830 and many run till just before 1000.

Yes, I knew the part about 0830 and 1000 (maybe leaving before 10:00 to visit dohyo matsuri on that day is acceptable?). My thoughts were directed more at the appropriate starting time to visit keiko. Is that also later during the basho?

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As for walking, that is one of the things I am most excited about doing. I have been hiking a 3-mile trail up and down a 1000-ft mountain near my home every other day, so I should be in pretty good shape for the level terrain of Tokyo when I get there. I measured the distance of a roundtrip walk from the Pearl to Sendagi and back and it is just over 6 miles -- probably the limit of my endurance for a single day adventure.

I agree with NIshi san on this. If this is your first time in Tokyo/Japan, I'd recommend that you try to avoid walking all the way from Tokyo Station to Ryogoku. Walking on busy streets and transversing narrow and small streets in Tokyo is not a hike especially with your luggage and the day you just flew in.

You can walk all you want to around Ryogoku looking for sumo beya with a map in your hand once you arrived but I wouldn't do it myself even with a GPS after coming in from Narita which is not that quite close to central Tokyo. I'd rather want to get to the Ryogoku beer garden sooner.

However if you insist you want to walk, I go another way. Rather than taking the Narita Express from Narita to Tokyo Station, take a Limousine Bus to T-CAT (Tokyo City Air Terminal). This way if you find yourself totall exhausted, you can catch a cab right across the platform but if you are still up to it then you can take a subway (Metro Hanzomo Line's Suitengu Mae Station) is not only right in the place but they even provide you one of those "walking" path to the station.

From there, Hanzomon Line's Kinshi-cho Station is only three stations away. It costs less than 200 Yen if I recall. Kinshi-cho is pretty close to Ryogoku actually as I have walked between the places a number of times but even if you take a cab, I'd imagine it won't cost more than 1000 yen. Personally I like Kinshicho as it's a kind of mixbag of places with something new and something old.

You can find traditional Japanese restaurants as well as a Russian restaurant known to have been frequented by certain well known rikishi or two or three. There is my favorite BBQ place operated by a former rikishi too. Anyway it's not that far if you are into walking but personally I just hop onto JR Sobu line from there as the next stop is Ryogoku.

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Wow, Jonosuke, even more options! I have written all of your advice down (as well as everyone else's) and will take it with me when I go, and play it by ear. But I must say that at this point I am liking the express train to Tokyo station and the taxi to the hotel the most (ie, not to walk). I usually don't splurge on taxis (or anything else for that matter), but this is the trip of a lifetime in many ways, so I don't mind paying a little extra for the luxury of an express train and taxi.

Thanks again to everyone for your ideas and support, and I hope to meet some of you when I am there... :)

BTW, I was so excited about the trip last night that I couldn't fall asleep until 4 AM. I think that's a good sign! ;)

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However if you insist you want to walk, I go another way. Rather than taking the Narita Express from Narita to Tokyo Station, take a Limousine Bus to T-CAT (Tokyo City Air Terminal). This way if you find yourself totall exhausted, you can catch a cab right across the platform but if you are still up to it then you can take a subway (Metro Hanzomo Line's Suitengu Mae Station) is not only right in the place but they even provide you one of those "walking" path to the station.

I agree that it's not sensible to try to walk from Tokyo Station, especially as the streets run at an angle and you could very easily get lost. The limousine bus from the airport to TCAT is indeed the way to go, though the change at Kinshicho might be a little daunting for a man who doesn't feel confident of trains. The Hanzomon line is very deep down, and you have to come up a

couple of long escalators; then inside the JR station across the road you have to get on the right train; once you've done this you will find it easy to do it again, but it may not seem so when you are jet-lagged on your first day. I agree with everything Jonosuke says about Kinshicho, but recommend you to get to know Ryogoku first.

His basic advice is very sound: get a taxi from TCAT, it's not very far. (The taxi driver may not be very happy to have such a short ride, however.) If you really feel like walking, it is possible; but when you get to the River Sumida, follow the road round as far as possible until you get to Ryogoku Bridge on your right (not Shin-Ohashi bridge, the first one): then you should have plain sailing.

Orion

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