Hello sumo fans! I’m on my way to Japan to experience sumo in Fukuoka. As you may be a person thinking about doing the same, I want to share with you the story of how I put this trip together. It may give you some ideas on how to construct your own trip! I’ll talk more about the basho experience itself in a later post.
Booking the flight
Typically, as an international visitor to Japan, you’re going to fly into one of the main international airports – for example Haneda, Narita, or Osaka Kansai – and catch a connecting flight to Fukuoka (it is less likely, but also possible that you may be able to fly into Nagoya). Fukuoka Airport is served by Japanese international carriers ANA and Japan Airlines, a handful of international carriers from around the region and world, and a number of low-cost domestic carriers such as JetStar, Peach and StarFlyer. It’s possible that the best, or lowest cost combination of flights includes multiple airlines or an overnight stopover in Tokyo or Osaka (which is never a bad thing). I recommend playing around with Google Flights in order to find the best result from your city. Before you book, however, I recommend taking advantage of one of the site’s best features – the ability to save and track a fare. While there is always a risk that your fare will go up, it’s possible also that you can take advantage of sales or trends to save money. I tracked my flight for the upcoming Haru basho for 47 days before booking it, and ended up saving $300 on the original fare – but more on that in a future post.
For the Kyushu basho, I decided I wanted to take a very unorthodox route. This will almost certainly not apply to you, unless you are a glutton for punishment and like obscure airplane routes that have you crossing the Pacific Ocean at among its widest points in a relatively small plane. I decided I wanted to cross-off a bucket list item and take United’s Island Hopper route, an old US government essential air service route that serves Micronesia and delivers things like mail and groceries and brings some of our friends in the military to their outposts. It even has an on-board mechanic that you can talk to. The Island Hopper travels from Honolulu to Guam, where United operates a hub which connects to several destinations in Japan, including Fukuoka.
After I spend some time at the basho, I’m going to hang out in Japan for another week with friends, so the overall super-hacked-together trip looks something like this, but still actually cost me less than I once paid for a normal nonstop flight from New York to Tokyo a few years back. This is the magic of Google Flights:
Booking the stay
I have booked virtually every type of property there is to book in Japan, from western style hotels to Japanese style hotels to actually renting an apartment from a broker (which is not easy). This time, I opted for a local “business style” hotel I found with a cheap nightly rate on Kayak, before I cancelled said reservation and switched to a local Airbnb. The Airbnb is located in Hakata Ward and while it is slightly less accessible to the train (approximately an 8 minute walk), I ended up saving even more money and getting a much larger apartment that’s fit for 3 people – more spacious than the average Japanese hotel room. While a run of the mill hotel in Tokyo with a small room during the Natsu basho during tourist season could go for $200 a night (deals, certainly, can be had), the beauty of the Fukuoka region is that not only are hotels much cheaper, but you can stay in a Japanese style apartment, which can be had for less than $80 per night:
Again, it is possible to get even lower prices depending where you’re willing to compromise (area, amenities, etc).
Buying the tickets
As I have done in the past, I used BuySumoTickets.com for my ticket purchases for this tournament, and got a discount on international shipping for being a repeat customer. It’s no secret if you’re a punter in the sumo world that the demand for tickets has been incredible over the past couple of years, and BuySumoTickets has certainly felt the strain. I managed to score tickets to two days of sumo (Days 6 & 7), with one of my tickets being downgraded to a lower section. You should anticipate if you use a 3rd party broker that the section you request may not always be available due to demand. That being said, I am obviously very thankful for the BuySumoTickets crew, and their ability in situations of overwhelming demand to make sure those of us coming from areas outside of Japan, and who may not have the best Japanese language ability, are able to score tickets to the basho.
Getting around town
While not as expansive as the other honbasho host cities, Fukuoka does offer a somewhat significant local train service. The Fukuoka airport is located on the aptly titled Kukō line which runs east-west through the city from the airport through the main Tenjin and Hakata stations, and will be the main artery of my travel through town. As opposed to Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya, the airport is actually incredibly well situated – just two stops from the major Hakata train station (compare this with Osaka and Nagoya’s airports which sit on man-made islands close to an hour outside the city).
Fukuoka’s venue for sumo (which, again, we will cover more in depth in a later post) is the Fukuoka Kokusai Center which is located about a 13 minute walk from the nearest station, Gofukumachi Station; and about a 20 minute journey from either Tenjin or Hakata stations (by various combinations of bus, train and/or walking). I’m excited to use this well situated network to explore the city, and fulfil some of my wishes for the trip (including Fukuoka’s famous food scene)!
Now that we’ve covered the journey, let’s cover some sumo!