Kids Web Japan

Tokyo: Chanko Nabe

Chicken dumpling Chanko Nabe

Sumo Stew from Ryogoku

Tokyo, the capital of Japan and one of the world’s largest cities, is a blend of old and new. From the skyscrapers of Shinjuku, to the pop culture of Harajuku and the retro vibe of Asakusa, it is a hot pot mix of a metropolis.

Chanko nabe has its origins in Tokyo’s historic Ryogoku area. Situated on the banks of Sumida River, this small traditional town is home to Japan’s biggest sport: sumo.

Sumo is an ancient Japanese form of wrestling, where two big-bodied sumo wrestlers try and push each other out of the ring. Sumo tournaments are held in the Ryogoku Kokugikan Sumo Stadium, and many sumo wrestlers live and train in sumo stables in the surrounding area. Ryogoku is where chanko nabe was first invented.

You can sometimes see sumo wrestlers strolling around Ryogoku, especially when the Grand Sumo Tournament is on.

A Hot Pot Helping of Nutrition

A sumo wrestling bout

The meals in a sumo stable are called “chanko,” with chanko nabe being the most commonly cooked dish. Twice a day, everyone in the sumo stable, from junior wrestlers to the chief coach come together for chanko.

Chanko nabe is a Japanese hot pot dish with a stock base, and seasoned with salt, soy sauce, miso and other condiments. Each sumo stable has its own recipe, but the ingredients are usually meat, fish, and seasonal vegetables. Chanko nabe, packed full of healthy and nutritious ingredients, became popular around the end of the Meiji era (1868-1912) as a cheap and effective way to help sumo wrestlers build up their strength.

Traditionally, chanko nabe stock was only made from chicken. Four-legged animals were believed to be unlucky because in sumo wrestling, if your hands touch the floor you lose the match, and this posture is thought to resemble a four-legged animal. Nowadays, chanko nabe is made with beef and pork stock too, but some sumo stables still stick to the lucky two-legged chicken on the day before a big tournament.

Customizing Chanko Nabe

A family gathers around a pot at a Chanko Nabe restaurant in Ryogoku complete with a sumo ring

There are also chanko nabe restaurants in Ryogoku with sumo rings where you can enjoy your meal while watching a sumo tournament right before your eyes. (The sumo ring is a sacred place for wrestlers to fight, so the general public is not allowed to enter.)

Chanko nabe is eaten as it is cooked. Ingredients are added to the pot and you take what you want from the pot as it is ready. The soup soaks up all the flavors, making it a delicious and healthy way to eat lots of meat and vegetables. When all the food is gone, you can add rice or noodles to the soup for a satisfying end to the meal.

In Ryogoku, there are lots of chanko nabe restaurants run by retired sumo wrestlers. Here you can taste the flavors used in sumo stables, from traditional chicken stock to original blends.

In Japan, hot pot is cooked at the dining table. At the end of the meal, people add ramen, udon, or other ingredients to the soup, just like chanko nabe.

Warm and filling, nabe hot pot is a popular dish in Japan to eat in the cold Japanese winters. The great thing about chanko nabe is that you can choose the flavor and put in whatever you like. Even the fussiest eater can eat as heartily as a sumo wrestler with chanko nabe.