“Common venues for sumo in the early Edo days were the Eiko-in Temple in Ryogoku and Asakusa Kuramae Hachiman Shrine, both located in the old entertainment quarters of the city. The largest of the outdoor arenas could hold more than three thousand people, a sizable number at the time but too small to satisfy the growing legions of fans.
“Sumo’s popularity continued to increase until finally, in 1909, the first Kokugikan, with a seating capacity of 13,000, was built in Ryogoku. Kokugikan literally means ‘National Sport Hall,’ that is, a stadium for the national sport, sumo. The naming of the new hall marked the first time such a claim for the sport had been publicly made.”
– Sumo: A Pocket Guide: A Pocket Guide, by David Shapiro, 2013
In 1909 the first permanent sumo hall, Kokugikan [national sport hall], was completed on land north of Ryogoku Station next to Eko-in Jinja [shrine] and, until the aftermath of World War II, sumo tournaments in Tokyo took place under its domed roof. Legend has it a champion wrestler, Umegatani Totaro, helped raise funds for the building of Kokugikan. When asked by a potential sponsor what collateral he had to back the stadium’s construction, Umegatani simply flexed his muscles. He sealed the deal.
The first Kokugikan was irreparably damaged by fire in 1917 and completely rebuilt by 1920 (with the Tokyo tournaments held in the meantime at Yasukuni Shrine) only to be severely damaged in the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake. Repaired again, this second Kokugikan survived until torn down in 1954. A second Kokugikan was completed at nearby Kuramae in 1954.