U.S. President Donald Trump, it has been revealed, has expressed his desire to present the Prime Minister’s Cup to the winner of the Grand Sumo Tournament at Ryogoku Kokugikan Sumo Arena (Sumida Ward, Tokyo) during his trip to Japan in May. Other foreign heads of state and celebrities have played a part in building friendly ties with Japan in the past by watching live sumo, Japan’s national sport, during their visits. In the case of the U.S. leader, however, the world’s highest level of security is required wherever he goes. Kokugikan has a seating layout that differs from regular concert halls, posing unique security challenges. These security concerns need to be resolved to meet the President’s request.
Recognized as Europe’s foremost Japanophile, former French President Jacques Chirac contributed to the development of ties between Japan and France. He attended sumo tournaments five times during his presidency. Famous for being a fan of sumo, he even established the “French President’s Cup (Chirac Cup).”
Chirac knew a lot about sumo, including the names of the wrestlers, and he tracked their matches. Wanting to watch the sumo action up close, he viewed the matches from a first-floor seat. He even named his dog “Sumo.” When he left the stadium, the other spectators would sometimes break out in a chant of his name.
Former Princess Diana of the UK watched day 1 of the May tournament with Prince and Princess Tomohito of Mikasa when she visited Japan with Prince Charles in 1986. Other celebrities who have watched sumo include American actress Sharon Stone, who watched the September tournament in 2006, and Paul McCartney of the Beatles, who viewed the November tournament in 2013.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department (TMPD) will be in charge of area security and escorting the American leader. TMPD is very nervous about President Trump’s scheduled sumo viewing because the President’s actions attract international attention and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s attendance is also under consideration.
Security authorities are focusing on the seating layout at Kokugikan. With a seating capacity of about 11,000, Kokugikan has a different seating arrangement than regular concert halls where the audience is seated in rows facing a stage. At Kokugikan, the seats are arranged in an inverted two-floor cone configuration centered around the ring.
If President Trump enters the ring to present the Prime Minister’s Cup at the conclusion of the matches, many spectators will be looking down on the ring, necessitating 360-degree security. It is customary for spectators to welcome celebrities and politicians by cheering and applauding, so it can be anticipated that the arena will be filled with commotion.
Where President Trump will sit is also an important security consideration. There is a plan for him to use a VIP seat on the second floor because safe entry and exit can be secured, but he may want to be on the first floor where he can be close to the action and the spray of sand as the wrestlers engage in their matches. On that floor there are ringside seats and “masu seats,” 1.3 square meter box seats where spectators sit on cushions on the floor. First floor seats, however, present an additional security risk because there is no protection from the zabuton cushions that spectators sometimes throw from above in response to particularly exciting matches.