Natsu Basho Sold Out in 90 Minutes

Today’s headline comes again from Mainichi:

“Pre sale tickets have sold out (for the May tournament) in an hour and a half.”

We’ve got a very short headline today that will introduce several important kanji. Again, I’ll break things but you will need to know ALL of this kanji. The whole thing is beginner level.


This first character (前), “mae”, is VERY important. It means “in front” or “before.” You’ll see it on many train stops because there will be a store or some attraction and the station is right in front of that attraction. Mitsukoshi is a popular department store, so Mitsukoshi-mae is the station right in front. It is also used frequently in a temporal sense of “before.” One word of caution, if you watch anime, you will often hear characters us the word “omae,” as “you.” DO NOT OMAE WHEN YOU GO TO JAPAN. IT IS VERY INFORMAL AND RUDE. Instead, people usually use the person’s name with -san afterward, even when talking directly to that person. With the word for to sell (売り), “uri,” we get pre-sales. With “ken” it’s pre-sale tickets.


Telling time in Japanese is obviously an important skill and (時), “ji,” is critical for that. After a number it means “o’clock”. So 1時 is 1:00. Many time schedules use a 24-hour clock (military time) over there. The next character is also critically important. In this case, we’re not talking about 1:00. We’re talking about a length of time and that is because of (間) “kan.” This is used after seconds (秒), minutes (分), hours (時), days (日), weeks (週), whatever, to express elapsed time. If you thought we were done with critical characters, we’re not. The next character (半), “han,” means “half.” So we’re talking an hour and a half.


Sold out. You’ll recognize (売) from earlier in the headline as “to sell.”

To show just how important this phrase and these characters are, our translation engines did okay. Google was bang on but the others did okay. Each could tell that we were talking about elapsed time instead of telling the actual time as that is a critical first-level skill for anyone hoping to learn Japanese.
Google: “Advance tickets sold out in an hour and a half.”
Yahoo!: “It is sold out in advance ticket, one and a half hours”
Excite: “It’s sold-out by an advance ticket and 1 hour and a half.”

On a personal note, I love being ahead of the curve. I really like to discover things which are undervalued. I went to an antique store yesterday and picked up four vinyl records costing me a TOTAL of $8. “Bad Co,” The Talking Heads’ “Stop Making Sense,” The Clash’s “Give ‘Em Enough Rope,” and Styx’ “Paradise Theater”. $8. I’m still in shock. I’m going to play the heck out of these records because there’s not a bad track on here. I just bought tickets to see Michael Kiwanuka at the 9:30 Club this summer for $20. I got to watch the “canceled” tournament in person at Kokugikan for pennies. It was amazing.

Why do I mention this? As sumo becomes more popular with a Japanese Yokozuna, tickets will be more difficult to come by and they’ll be more expensive. It will be harder for us non-Japanese to get in the building as we won’t be connected to fan clubs. So if we don’t want to get shut out, we’re going to need to learn the system and to learn the system, we’ll need to learn the language and try to get the Sumo Kyokai to publish more information in English or our native languages.

Despite the sell out of pre-sale tickets, there’s still a chance to get cancelled tickets and 400 tickets will be put on sale each day of the tournament. But you’re not going to book a flight to Japan if you don’t have a reserved seat, will you? If we can’t get in the building and NHK cuts back its offerings, it will be much harder to find legitimate content. There’s nothing that replaces the experience of being there in person. But we also can’t be there every day of every tournament so we need avenues for watching. And not just the makuuchi. Not just Juryo. The more we watch, the more we learn and appreciate the pomp, ceremony, drama, and nuance to the sport. I want to watch makushita and lower ranked wrestlers, too. Wakaichiro, Shunba, 頑張れ! Tachiai will continue to bring sumo news and commentary in English because it’s an awesome sport.

10 thoughts on “Natsu Basho Sold Out in 90 Minutes

  1. Thank you for offering headlines with translations! I am relatively new to loving sumo – watched last year’s Kyushu and I was hooked on the whole thing. It’s one place where it’s hard to be non-Japanese. :)

    • You’re very welcome. Your enjoyment makes it more worthwhile. It’s definitely hard to be non-Japanese so I would encourage any of this blog’s readers who may be at a tournament to reach out to other readers. It’s great to get there early and enjoy the lower divisions. But it can be pretty lonely spending a whole day in the sumo venue if you don’t know anyone else there. With 15 full days of action, it’s not like an NHL game where the event is over in 3-4 hours and everyone around you speaks English or Canadian. It’s also not like a football game where everyone tailgates and then goes in with a whole section of pre-reserved seats.

      It can also be difficult to be a foreigner and try to reach out to other foreigners. Not everyone speaks English and those of us who’ve been there for a while tend to be pretty stand-offish toward other foreigners. So I’d encourage those reading this blog to meet some of your fellow readers. If being a reader of this blog helps break the ice, that’s a bonus.

      • Oh how I’d love to go overseas to see a basho! It’s not going to happen in the near future – I’d love to have a source where I could watch all of the matches down to the Jonokuchi division. Yeah, I was one of those who would wake up at 3am’ish to watch the Sherming9 feed this basho (It was hard to keep quiet about that BS henka when I was watching the highlights later).

        I’d love to see the US get exposed to more grand sumo. Maybe my friends would understand what I mean when I yammer about the possibility of a Takayasu ozeki run or the respect that I have for Kakuryu’s singing voice. :)

  2. So in other comments on the “90 minute sell out”, my plans are (were?) to be in Tokyo for the first week of Natsu. There has been such a fire-storm of interest that as Andy wrote, the tickets were all gone within minutes. Much as it throws a monkey-wrench of someone like myself, who has to schedule flights and lodging long before they can know if they have Kokugikan tickets, the Japanese sumo fans are furious.

    There have been plenty of folks on twitter proclaiming justified outrange that the tickets went to resellers, fan clubs and “friends of the NSK”.

    I will say this much, Kisenosato’s elevation has greatly stoked sumo interest across Japan, and I would say across the world as well.

    For the record – still going to Tokyo in May, and if needed I my buddy and I are going to stand in line all night to get “day of” tickets. I will see sumo!

    • Yeah, the article talked about a guy in his 50s from Yokohama who came to the ticket window and was told they were already sold out. Sad to hear. At UNC we had many of the same issues. All the alumni and corporate people had seats in the Smith Center for the Dook game but we had to camp out for a small number available to students. Then they did away with campouts and created a numeric system where seniors had priority.

  3. Well, that’s going to make things difficult for me in July.

    Even getting tickets for Hatsu was difficult but I can’t imagine this. The tickets I got through Oosumo put me with a bunch of other English speakers in the top corner of the Kokugikan. I went quite early and saw a lot of the bottom ranks which were great actually because the ring purification and stretching routines at the start of the match are just so much quicker than at the top levels so you see so much more Sumo.

    A lot of the English speakers couldn’t understand what was going on and likened the rikishi stepping back to “stepping out of the batter’s box to put the other guy off”

    They couldn’t work out how I would keep knowing when it was actually time to fight!

    Not to discount the tourist experience but I hope these tickets can get into the hands of real sumo fans regardless of how far they have travelled to watch the sport.

    • Apparently people are none too happy with the ochaya and their access to tickets. My wife was surprised to learn that they expect a tip on top of their regular fees…something virtually unheard of in Japan. They also direct tickets to preferred, “regular” customers instead of the one-offs. I imagine this will remain an issue for some time, just as it is an issue here for popular music and sporting events. Green Day played a surprise gig at the 930 Club last year…tickets were sold out in seconds and then available on secondary markets for much higher prices.

  4. Andy – While we’re onto a good run of translations – any chance you might be able to revisit the Homarenishiki retirement? Would be good to see if any more insight came out of what happened there!


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