A sumo-sushi spectacular is coming to New York City in late June to both delight and educate people who have never been exposed to this integral part of Japanese culture. In every two-hour show, a few lucky attendees will get in the ring to try their hand at sumo wrestling against one of the sumos.
The show is being put on by Seattle-based SE Productions, an event company that has curated sumo experiences for the general public since 2017. This is the second running of the sumo-sushi experience, and New York City is the final stop on the East Coast Tour after Miami and Washington D.C.
“Our business focuses on creating really unique experiences throughout the country that mostly pair food, beverage, and unique cultural experiences,” said Sam Minkoff, co-founder and president of SE Productions.
Minkoff told amNewYork Metro that Sumo + Sushi is the company’s favorite show to put on because it’s an opportunity to educate and inform guests while also entertaining them at the same time. The show is being held at the Armory Track in Washington Heights, and there is capacity for 1,000 attendees. Tickets are already selling out.
“It provides us a really fun platform to be able to bring something that I think a lot of people have misconceptions about,” Minkoff said. “I think a lot of people think that this is just a bunch of big guys pushing each other around and I think there’s misconceptions also about health and wellness.”
The sumo show is arranged in three separate sections. The first section will present the wrestlers and the host of the show, Konishiki Yasokichi, a Honolulu-born former professional sumo wrestler who was the first non-Japanese wrestler to reach Ōzeki, the second-highest rank in the sport. Guests will be able to learn about the history and culture of sumo and learn the basics of the sport — and how matches are won.
“It’s not meant to replicate a sumo tournament that you would see in Japan,” Minkoff added. “It’s meant to give guests a really amazing 101 into what sumo is from someone that is so influential.”
Sumo + Sushi leveled up in 2019 when the SE Productions team joined forces with Yasokichi, and then refreshed and expanded their entire lineup of sumos under Yasokichi’s expertise. The sumos on the lineup are Aononami, Chiyonoshin, Kirinowaka, Daikiho, Tououyama, and Somoyama.
“We worked together to identify an amazing lineup of “sumotori” that have, between all of them, a combined 100 years of professional sumo experience,” Minkoff said. “They use these opportunities to share the sport and the culture with everyone else, which is the only way that anyone outside of Japan can learn about it.”
Out of the six sumos, only one has been to New York City before. For everybody else, it’s going to be their first time, said Yasokichi.
Yasokichi told amNewYork Metro that he never expected Minkoff to reach out to him from Seattle after retiring from more than 40 years of professional sumo wrestling for the Japan Sumo Association.
“The U.S. is the slowest to start doing (sumo) clubs,” Yasokichi said. “America is just starting to pick it up, but I can see it growing slowly.”
Dinner will be served during the brief intermission between the first and second sections for those who ordered bento boxes, which are available for purchase and prepared by local Japanese restaurant BentOn. The restaurant was named as a wordplay between “bento” and “on” to represent the founder’s desire to carry on the bento culture in the United States.
BentOn will be creating bento boxes for attendees with six different sushi rolls, chicken teriyaki, edamame, yakisoba, pickled ginger, kale kimpira salad, and potato salad. There will also be variations for front-row guests and vegetarians.
“We wanted to put some really authentic taste,” said Maki Yasunaga, the general manager at BentOn.
Yasunaga told amNewYork Metro that the Sushi + Sumo show will be a new opportunity for her as well.
“Even though I’m Japanese, I’ve never really watched sumo in the past,” Yasunaga said.
The second act of the show provides guests with an introduction into winning and forbidden sumo moves. There are technically 84 match-winning techniques and five forbidden techniques, as outlined by the Japan Sumo Association, the only body that operates and controls professional sumo wrestling in Japan.
“There are techniques the smaller guys can use against bigger guys and vice-versa,” Minkoff said. “Then we show a lot of the exercises that these guys do every single day.”
The show will conclude with a round-robin style tournament of live sumo matches between the six wrestlers. The first sumo to win three matches in a row will take the tournament. While this style is not traditional to Japanese tournaments, Minkoff said it’s perfect for this particular experience.
“Of course everybody wants to see live matches, so we would be remiss to not include those,” Minkoff said. “It’s just meant to be a really fun night out for folks to come out in the city and enjoy themselves.”
There’s an opportunity for a select number of guests to actually try and get in the ring. And take on a sumo wrestler which is always entertaining. And that’s you know, that’s the format so it’s just meant to be a really fun night out for folks to come out in the city and, and enjoy themselves.
“I love this section of the show because we really see the full gamut of folks that want to try and take on a sumo wrestler,” Minkoff said. “You see everything from an individual that’s in their local sumo club to complete surprises from people where they’re throwing their husband or wife or partner into the ring, and they have no idea what’s coming.”
Sumo + Sushi will be at the Armory Track in Washington Heights from June 23 to 25, 2023. The show is for attendees aged 21 and older. To purchase tickets for a show, visit this website: https://www.sumoandsushi.com/nyc-2023-tickets.