Wherever you are around the world, you’re probably fortunate enough to catch at least a few of the day’s sumo highlights from NHK World. But as many of us here at Tachiai have been fortunate enough to experience, there is no comparing the highlights (or even the extended live broadcast) to actually being in the arena. But sometimes, just planning the trip is unbelievably exhausting! So I put together, as part of a new series on Tachiai, a walkthrough to cover the essentials of planning your trip.
Each of Grand Sumo’s four tournament cities provides a unique and interesting experience. Today I’m going to tell you, in painstakingly explicit detail, how I put my trip together to Experience Sumo at the EDION Arena in Osaka. If you have more questions, please don’t hesitate to leave them in the comments section below – your questions will help other Tachiai readers experience sumo as well! Click through to read more after the jump…
Booking Your Travel
It sounds easy and obvious, but one of the toughest things to do, especially for foreign visitors, is to figure out your flight details. Accessibility is going to vary depending on your country and city of origin, but fortunately, Japan is one of the busiest and best connected air transport destinations in the world, with several major airports.
For Osaka, the big question you have to answer is: what kind of trip to Japan do you want to have and how do you want to get there? I shoehorned this trip in around work commitments, and knew I would likely have to focus on one of the three weekends of the tournament. I use Google Flights to enter a variety of date combinations and also destination cities. You can set Google Flights to track a multitude of different itineraries, and send you email updates as the prices change, so that you can book your ticket at the optimal time with the best price.
The main focus for me, owing to my short trip, was to find a flight either into Kansai International Airport (KIX) or a connecting flight from Tokyo into the old Osaka International Airport at Itami (ITM). If you’re coming from far away it is much likelier that you will have more availability to Kansai. If you have more time to spare, you can also look at the main Tokyo airports Haneda and Narita as options, as Osaka is a few short hours away on the high speed Shinkansen train. But if you’re just planning to go to Osaka, the Tokyo airports will need to be several hundred US dollars (tens of thousands of yen) cheaper for it to be worth your while to fly there. Still, it’s good to know all of your options.
The most cost effective way for me to book ended up being a flight from my home base in Los Angeles into Kansai via San Francisco, with a return from Itami via Narita back to LAX a few days later. Whew!
Booking Your Sumo Ticket
You have multiple options for booking your ticket to the Basho. The Sumo Association sells tickets directly on their website via Ticket Oosumo, and you can complete this transaction in English. Pay attention both to the on-sale dates – due to the increased popularity of the sport, all fifteen days of the recent tournaments have been selling out, and even trying to buy your ticket a day after it goes on sale from the Sumo Association may leave you with few or even no options. This is doubly true for tournaments like the Haru basho which take place outside of Tokyo: the EDION Arena, like its counterparts in Nagoya and Fukuoka, is smaller than the Kokugikan, so there are fewer available tickets to begin with.
There are alternate vendors however, and here at Tachiai we like to use BuySumoTickets.com. The site takes preorders before tickets go on sale, and only sells tickets at a slight markup. It’s a good way to ensure that you can get your ticket as the website has boots on the ground in Japan to complete their ticket purchases. You can also have shipping expedited, or save on shipping if you plan to buy tickets for multiple days or take in other sports such as J-League football. I’ve used both the Sumo Association’s site as well as BuySumoTickets, and opted to use BuySumoTickets for the third time ahead of the Haru basho.
Booking Your Accommodations
The Osaka honbasho is special for a multitude of reasons. We will cover the in-venue experience in a later post, however your visit to see live sumo in Osaka is unique. First of all, unlike Tokyo or Nagoya, the EDION Arena is located in a very vibrant (and central) part of the city. Osaka is known as The Nation’s Kitchen and there are plentiful food and hotel options near the venue.
There are many chain and boutique hotels servicing the area. Since I was short on time in Osaka, I looked for a hotel that would set me up with easy access to and from the airports, the arena, and good food options. Since I had a long flight, it was also important to me that I could get a higher quality hotel than some of the tiny business hotels (with no windows in the room and a single bed), while still keeping the price somewhat affordable.
As I travel frequently I use a variety of tools for finding a hotel: Kayak and TripAdvisor as aggregators to determine the price and quality of a hotel, RocketMiles to see if there are hotels with deals that can net me a large return of frequent flyer miles, and JetSetter for deals on higher quality properties. In this case, I let Kayak and TripAdvisor do the work for me to find the best room in the best hotel at the lowest price, and then used Agoda, which was the lowest price booking partner to complete the purchase. If you can book through the hotel website itself it’s always better, but it’s impossible to predict where you’ll find the best price, so it’s good to keep all your options open.
If you’re smarter than me and you can book further in advance, you can probably get a better deal than my USD $150 a night at the Cross Hotel. That said, the hotel was located on a major road (Shinsaibashisuji) with plenty of amenities, very near to the major Namba train station and accessible to the arena on foot: all things which were important to me. It was also very clean and comfortable.
It’s possible that you can also use a home rental service like Airbnb in lieu of a hotel stay. However, not all apartment buildings in Japan (as in many other countries) allow tourist stays, and I have experienced issues with folks who have put their apartment up for rent in the past in spite of this. So, be careful and read all of the user reviews. Amazing apartment deals are certainly possible to be had on Airbnb, but with the cost savings comes an additional layer of risk. I will, however, likely be using Airbnb on my upcoming visit to Tokyo for the Natsu basho.
Arriving in Japan
You will want to check your country’s guidelines for travel to Japan. As an American, I’m able to stay up to 90 days without obtaining a special visa, so all I needed to do is complete the entry cards (for Japanese immigration and customs) on the flight and show up at the airport with my passport! If you’re not sure whether your country is subject to visa-free entry, the Japanese government has posted a list which you can view by clicking here.
If you decide to book accommodations close to the arena, you can get the Nankai Main Line train from Kansai International Airport toward Namba Station, which is the nearest major station to the venue.
From Osaka International Airport (Itami), you can take the Osaka Monorail Main Line and then transfer to either the Hankyu Takarazuka Main Line or Midosuji Line toward central Osaka in order to reach your destination.
And of course from elsewhere in Japan via rail, you’ll likely be coming on the Tokaido Shinkansen which arrives at Shin-Osaka station. From here, train connections are vast towards all areas of the city.
Bear in mind that multiple train companies operate in the region, so you may need to cross over multiple entry/exit gates with your IC card. More info on how to acquire and load this card can be found by clicking here.
Getting to the EDION Arena
The EDION Arena (also known outside of sponsorship purposes as the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium) is centrally located and can be found just a few short blocks away from Namba train station. As stated, Osaka is chock full of fantastic food options, although the area directly surrounding the arena is somewhat lighter on these options than the more tourist-friendly and food-heavy Dotonbori neighbourhood just to Namba train station’s east and north.
If you’re looking for somewhere to stop in for breakfast before you reach the venue, I recommend Dotonbori’s Marafuku Coffee, which is about 5 minutes walk on the other side of Namba station from the arena. It’s an old school, classic coffee shop with a full sit down breakfast menu and assortment of beverages. There are few things better to get you ready for a day of sumo than a classic exceptionally fluffy plate of Japanese pancakes to go with Marafuku’s strong coffee. Americans might be bemused to see that “American Roast Coffee” is noted as “weak coffee” on the menu, so do yourself a favor and get the local blend!
From Namba’s main station, you can take exit 5 and walk about 2 blocks south to reach the arena. It is also easily accessible within 5 blocks of several other station exits.
From here, you’ll just need to get your ticket ready and look forward to enjoying the day’s action! Coming soon, we’ll post a review of the day’s experience inside the venue itself.