Daily Archives: September 13, 2010

The Ultimate Endurance Sport

We met out­side our accom­mo­da­tion at the scar­i­ly ear­ly hour of 7.30AM; Phoebe and I had looked into the ongo­ing Sumo Grand Tour­na­ment in Tokyo and man­aged to con­vince a bunch of the guys and girls to come along and watch. Some of us from Cam­bridge were joined by the ever-eager Finns and we set off towards the Sumo dis­trict of Ryo­goku. The tour­na­ment lasts for about 2 weeks and since each indi­vid­ual bout only lasts mere sec­onds, you have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to see many, many fights in just one day. Gen­er­al admis­sion [unre­served] tick­ets were the cheap­est and were only on sale on the par­tic­u­lar day of the event — first come, first served! We were wor­ried they would sell out and so we arranged it so that we would arrive just as the box office opened (8.30AM). This turned out to be a pre­ma­ture cau­tion since it didn’t seem to sell out until much lat­er!

The junior wrestlers were giv­en bouts ear­ly on, whilst the high­er ranked wrestlers came on lat­er. We decid­ed to go to the near­by Edo-Tokyo Muse­um to kill some time so that we didn’t get burnt out by watch­ing so much sumo. The muse­um was fair­ly inter­est­ing and had many relics from the Edo-peri­od of Japan. It also had a sec­tion on Japan dur­ing the Sec­ond World War. We spent 2–3 hours soak­ing in the cul­ture there, whilst simul­ta­ne­ous­ly hyp­ing up the sumo that we were about to see [“OMG sumo is gonna be awe­some!”].

We stopped by in a near­by con­ve­nience store to get some drinks and snacks. Phoebe and Kaisa both went for tuna-mayo Oni­giri [filled rice ball wrapped in sea­weed] and I was sur­prised to see such con­trast­ing reac­tions!



When we entered the are­na at just after mid­day, we felt smug in think­ing that since we had man­aged to spend three hours else­where we would be able to endure the rest of the fights that day. Although we bought seats in the very back row of the are­na [‘nose­bleed sec­tion’], most of the oth­er seats were emp­ty and so we seized the oppor­tu­ni­ty to move clos­er until some­one would come to claim their seat.

A fight between two junior wrestlers. Note the emp­ty sta­di­um!

We spent an hour watch­ing some junior ranked wrestlers before going off the eat in the under­ground hall. They were serv­ing chankon­abe [tra­di­tion­al ‘Sumo Stew’] for only 250 JPY and so we hap­pi­ly paid the token sum to have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to try food that real sumo wrestlers ate on a reg­u­lar basis [as a side note, we were in McDon­alds ear­li­er that day and saw a wrestler wolf­ing down a Big Mac meal!]. The stew was extreme­ly tast­ing and fill­ing, although I couldn’t imag­ine it con­tain­ing very many calo­ries in com­par­i­son to the meals avail­able in mod­ern cui­sine (i.e. junk food!).

The stew went down well with Antti!

We returned to the are­na in our appro­pri­ate seats and watched the rest of the show. THIS IS WHERE TIME SLOWED DOWN. There was still over 5 hours of fights left. There were only about 30 sec­onds between each fight and so I soon grew tired of the repet­i­tive­ness and cer­e­mo­ni­al chant­i­ng. Most of the sta­di­um was still emp­ty and we can now under­stand why! Although sumo is cer­tain­ly very inter­est­ing to wit­ness, it los­es its charm when you see over 100 bouts in a row! I even man­aged to take a quick nap on the back row whilst the ‘action’ was going on. Each match was extreme­ly sim­i­lar to the next, and I couldn’t even tell the dif­fer­ence between the appear­ance of most of the wrestlers [“fat guy” and “fat­ter guy” were the most com­mon nick­names].

A more senior fight with a full sta­di­um.

We impa­tient­ly wait­ed for the end of the day where we would be able to wit­ness the fight of the Yokozu­na [sumo cham­pi­on!]. The cer­e­mo­ni­al danc­ing and chant­i­ng become par­tic­u­lar­ly more elab­o­rate and it helped to build the sus­pense. The crowd even began to cheer the names of the wrestlers and it felt like some­thing excit­ing was going to hap­pen. By this point our con­ver­sa­tion had drift­ed to ran­dom Finnish swear words but we main­tained our enthu­si­asm for the Yokozu­na. The sta­di­um at this point was almost com­plete­ly full and for a sec­ond, just a sec­ond, I tru­ly believed my endur­ing efforts would be reward­ed. So how did the final, epic bat­tle turn out? One of the wrestlers lost his foot­ing and fell to his knees with­in the first two sec­onds. Match over.

Do as they do

We spent most of yes­ter­day evening in a local Iza­kaya near­by our accom­mo­da­tion in Shi­mo­takai­do. We met the rest of the Finns and so only the Swedes remained to be seen (rumoured to arrived on Mon­day!). One of the guys from Cam­bridge, Tom, had lived in Japan before and was able to speak Japan­ese con­fi­dent­ly enough to order what­ev­er we want­ed. Japan­ese peo­ple are usu­al­ly extreme­ly sur­prised at his lev­el of flu­en­cy and always have a mas­sive grin whilst they are talk­ing to him! We found out one of the bar staff actu­al­ly attend­ed Nihon Uni­ver­si­ty and so she was par­tic­u­lar­ly hap­py to see us. We are due to meet a few vol­un­teers from the uni­ver­si­ty on Tues­day, and also take our place­ment test(!) at the same time — it will cer­tain­ly remind me that I’m not here just for tourism!

Bor­rowed image from Kaisa’s blog!

We decid­ed to go to Shibuya and Hara­juku today to check out the sights. The Finns hadn’t been to Japan before and so we showed them the things we liked about it when we last vis­it­ed [Hara­juku girls!]. We are using Suica cards to get around Tokyo, which is pret­ty much the same as an Oys­ter card in Lon­don but you can also use it to pay for oth­er things such as drinks in vend­ing machines. I have no doubt that this is a pre­cur­sor to how things will be in the UK in a few years — I am liv­ing in the future! The staff at train sta­tions all speak pass­able Eng­lish and the sta­tion boards are in Roma­ji, so it is gen­er­al­ly quite easy to get around for tourists. I’m quite sur­prised at how easy it is to get by in Tokyo with­out speak­ing a sin­gle word of Japan­ese; sim­ple hand ges­tures and speak­ing Eng­lish in a Japan­ese accent usu­al­ly gives the desired result!

The weath­er was extreme­ly hot and it made it dif­fi­cult to ful­ly enjoy strolling in Tokyo’s fash­ion dis­trict. For­tu­nate­ly, we were giv­en free paper fans (in the shape of a Google Places/Maps mark­er) and lat­er we were also giv­en free wet tow­els. Usu­al­ly the free stuff hand­ed out on the street in the UK is next to use­less, but in Tokyo they are a wel­come sight! We saw clothes stores to acco­mo­date every Japan­ese teen sub-cul­ture and some to suit West­ern styles also; price-wise they are not sig­nif­i­cant­ly high­er than Lon­don.

There weren’t many peo­ple dressed up around Hara­juku, but those that were there received plen­ty of atten­tion.

Phoebe makes friends with the locals.

This was also the only place where we saw more for­eign­ers than native Japan­ese peo­ple! Indeed, we man­aged to find an English/American/European/‘White’ girl dressed up as a maid and par­tak­ing in the same cer­e­mo­ni­al pos­ing as a typ­i­cal Hara­juku girl. Although I enjoyed my time there last year, it was very much a super­fi­cial impres­sion and I wasn’t able gain any depth of appre­ci­a­tion at all. To get a real glimpse into Japan­ese cul­ture I would have to look far beyond just the streets of Hara­juku… We quick­ly made our way towards the Mei­ji Shrine, which I had also vis­it­ed last year.

Cen­tre court of the Mei­ji Shrine.

There are small wells/fountains on the side which allow peo­ple to wash their hands and also drink the water, if they wish. I used to feel some­what uncom­fort­able tak­ing part in this tra­di­tion­al Shin­to hand wash­ing since I (obvi­ous­ly) didn’t share any of the asso­ci­at­ed beliefs. Now I’m choos­ing to approach it with a more open per­spec­tive, do as they do [in Tokyo], and per­haps I will be able to learn some­thing from the expe­ri­ence. What do I have to lose? One of the lec­ture series as part of the JLSP course is called “The Japan­ese Mind” and this is def­i­nite­ly some­thing I am look­ing for­ward to! As a side note, I realise I don’t have pho­tos for a lot of the things I’m talk­ing about, so I apol­o­gise in advance and promise to get bet­ter at this in the future!

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