The Sasagawa Sumo Festival: Enjoy the National Sport of Japan by Locals




In the small town of Sasagawa (笹川), within the larger town of Tonosho (土庄町), during the summer, there is a festival with over 160 years of history, founded in a sense of community spirit and based around the traditional Japanese sport of Sumo wrestling.
What better way to experience the heart of Japanese tradition than through being a part of such a festival? In this article, I will introduce you to this Sasagawa Sumo Festival.


Matsuri Breakdown:

Held at the Suwa Shrine (諏訪神社) as part of the Shrine’s autumn festival proceedings (秋季大祭), this traditional festival is based around competition and traditional storytelling through sumo wrestling. This is accompanied by another Japanese tradition, Roukyoku 浪曲, a type of Japanese narrative singing which is normally accompanied by a Shamisen, also known as Naniwabushi(浪花節).

As mentioned, this festival has a long history- it was first held in 1842 as a grandiose gesture for the local farmers who were at the time suffering from famine, along with the creation of a garden/temple area.
This initial festival drew local sumo wrestlers who were popular throughout Japan back to their home town to support their fellow town, and try to unite everybody through the hard times that the town was suffering. You can now enjoy and feel first-hand this storied history through the festival in the towns more prosperous times!

In modern times, the participants in the sumo competitions are largely Self-Defence Force wrestlers and members of the town’s local children’s sumo association, from across 7 different districts. This festival is a very popular community event, as in recent years any men over 16, including amateurs, have been allowed to participate and the winners can even receive prizes!

Things to do:

The sumo matches continue throughout the day, with team competitions, tournaments, traditional performances, and the high-level ‘Sanyaku Sumo’ (三役相撲).
Throughout the town there are also floats and parades, as well as the traditional ‘Mikoshi’ (神輿), or portable shrine carrying, both in a simple and traditional style, which continues all through the day, until 10pm, and of course as the festival continues throughout the day, and across the town, there is plenty of local food and drink on offer to sample!

Details and access:

The festival, as it has been for more than 160 years, is held on the last Saturday of June every year. The festival is very easy to access, being just a five minute walk from the JR Narita Line Sasagawa Station. From the station, take the north exit, and head to the ‘Suwadaijin’ or the Suwa Shrine, accessible from the main road on your right.
There are high speed buses from Tokyo that take approximately 2 hours to reach nearby regional centres, from which Sasagawa can be easily accessed via local trains

Other things to do in Sasagawa/ Tonosho

Tonosho Forest Park (土庄県民の森)

A spacious wooded park with observation squares, outlooks, walking paths, and bird watching spots. A perfect place to surround yourself in a rich Japanese forest environment!

Hiratemiki no Haka (平手造酒の墓)

A set of tombs in which local legends, and notable people from local history from the 19th and 20th century are enshrined. Another great opportunity to experience local history!

Closing remarks:

As a small town with a long history and long-standing traditions that still continue to this day, the Sasagawa Sumo Festival is a perfect opportunity to learn about authentic Japanese celebrations and ways of life from a new perspective.
Even within Japan, this festival is a very unique experience, so I think you’ll be able to feel something completely different from what you ever have before!
So if you need any guides to show you around Sasagawa and this festival, and show you even more that the town has to offer, check below!

For those interested in Matsuri…

You probably guess that this festival is one of many naked festivals in Japan. As naked festivals are important traditional and cultural feature in Japan almost every area can boast their own unique nude festival.

If you are curious about strange and nude festivals around Japan, the following article picked 10 best festivals for you to visit!

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Aedan Southeren

Hi, I'm Aedan, an Australian university student currently studying in Japan

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