Visiting Temples and Sumo Wrestling
Trip Start Dec 02, 2008
10Trip End Jan 20, 2009
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The Morning after Disneyland was Sunday, so we slept in. It felt good to sleep in, even though we were in a new city with tons of things to see, we couldn’t resist the temptation to just do nothing for one morning. After touring Europe, Karla and I are professionals and “Combat Vacationing”. We can pack in all top 10 things to do in a city within the first three days with time to spare. Sometimes I forget that Vacations are for relaxing and recharging your batteries. There’s no point in killing yourself seeing the sights, then needing a vacation from your vacation. So we hit snooze and killed the morning. …zzzzzzzzz
When we finally got motivated, we found that it was another beautiful day, crisp and clear with high wispy clouds that promised no rain in our future. From the Shinigawa station we traveled East this time on the Yamanote line to the Harajuku station. Just out the door and over the bridge is a large park that includes the Meiji Shrine. The park and shrine was originally built in 1920, a few years after the Emperor Meiji died.
There were many signs in Japanese and I could tell that this was a place that catered to all tourists, but mostly Japanese tourists.
I’m not sure how Lonely Planet missed this, but somehow we went to this temple, dedicated to the Emperor Meiji, walked around it all morning, and never actually realized that the Emperor was entombed IN that very building. Perhaps that is just assumed in Japan when you talk about a shrine, it means also “tomb”. I suppose the person being honored has to show up to his own party. But I somehow missed that memo, anyway… I digress. This is the reason why this place has special meaning to Japanese people. And perhaps why there weren’t so many signs in English, which the Japanese are pretty good about placing everywhere else in Tokyo.
We arrived in the main area just in time to see a wedding happening. I didn’t want to rubberneck, but after I saw several of the other Japanese tourists whip out their cameras and start standing around snapping pictures of the procession, I figured I could participate without feeling too awkward. Keep in mind, I am already white, and a foot taller than everyone around me, so It’s not like I was keeping a low profile to begin with.
After the ceremony in the central square area, the procession moved through a little gate into a more private area to do some more of the ceremony. Karla was looking at me with dreamy eyes… I told her if I had a diamond in my pocket, I would have already given it to her by now. She took it in stride.
On our way out of the shrine we passed back over the bridge where several young girls in dress up costumes were gathered, as if, preparing for some kind of dress up event. If I hadn’t read about this in the Lonely Planet guide, I would have thought that this was some kind of Asian flash mob.
Some were dressed in short frilly dresses, others in combat boots and G.I. dress downs. Goth, Punk, Rave, Futuristic, and Retro were all represented. Many people who were not in a costume were standing around taking pictures. I had read that Harajuku was a popular fashion and shopping district. So this was the place to show off your style on a Sunday afternoon. I had not considered it before, but all these Japanese kids wear uniforms to school, the only time they GET to show their style is after school or on the weekends. No wonder there were so many girls here.
I took some pictures and got a free hug from a girl holding a sign saying “Hug Free” in English. I knew what she meant so I obliged.
We hopped back on the subway and went back to have lunch at the hotel. On our way from the station to the hotel I saw some more of those black vans, this time with VERY LARGE imperial flags and loud speakers on top of them. As we crossed the street we saw a woman on the sidewalk preaching into a megaphone, she did not look very happy. Along the parameter of the action were several uniformed police officers standing and watching. Wondering if this was some sort of Anti-American demonstration, I asked a police officer if it was ok to walk down the sidewalk, he assured us that we were ok, and we passed by the woman without drawing too much attention to ourselves.
I asked around, and to the best of my understanding, they were not necessarily Anit-American’s as the were Pro-Imperial Japanese. Demonstrating to protest the dissolution of the Royal family from the governmental seat. Which happened to be done by the Americans, well….Allies, but nobody blames Britain for anything.
Oh yea, except that whole empire that THEY had back in the day.
Again, I digress….
Arriving back at the hotel had Lunch and rested for a spell, we had something special planned for this afternoon: A Tea Ceremony.
Karla was about to start studying Cha-Do with an instructor in Portland. Cha-Do is the study of the Japanese Tea Ceremony, and also includes iki-bana flower arranging, kimono dressing, and calligraphy. Getting to see this first hand was a great start to understanding the traditions and functions of the Japanese tea ceremony. Even though we were sitting at a table in the hotel, and not in the traditional tea room, It was still very cool to see. The simple task of serving tea is stretched out into an elaborate performance, with each move delibrately thought out and carefully executed. Before seeing it I had no Idea that it was such an involved event that held so much importance to the Japanese and their culture. Back in the day, a woman who knew how to perform the tea ceremony were in high demand and was a good catch if you could marry her. The tea was called Matcha, finely ground green tea, not strained through a bag or strainer, it was ground so fine that it was simply added to the water and it dissolved fully when stirred. It was a little bitter if you're not used to is, but it was very good. We were also served sweets to go along with it. They were rich, but a nice contrast to the flavor of the tea.
The Tea Ceremony is not just for Women, It was first developed by men. And the entire package of flower arranging and calligraphy was actually encouraged and taught to Samuri warriors. For what good is all that violent skill of a samuri if there isn't any balance with beauty. It's the Yin to the Yang.
That evening we set out to dinner at a place called the Black Lion Pub, this was an English style bar for Ex-pat looking to get away from the noodles. This was a place recommended by my good friend Bill who's grandfather has a house near there. He had visited it before and it was great to be somewhere where you didn't have to feel obligated to ask if someone spoke english before breaking into conversation. I had nachos and watched Soccer, we played some darts and I got pretty saucy.
Our last full day in Tokyo and we had made it, the weather was again, going to be clear and I felt like we had totally beat the odds getting this many days in a row of good weather. Our Suica cards were also working out very nicely. We found that the prepaid cards could be used to purchase a number of things around the city from vending machines to coffee houses to subway markets and magazine stands. I had become a pro at simply sliding my bum over the sensor and getting through the gate without even taking my wallet out of my pocket, I love technology!
Our first stop of the morning was way up in the north of the city in Asakusa, Senso-Ji temple is Tokyo's oldest buddhist temple and probably the most important temple in the city.
On the other end of the long marketplace is the Hozomon gate, another large entry way with three very large lanterns.
There were so many people here, even on a monday morning, that it was
almost impossible to take a picture of each other without people
walking in front of us. Inside the gate, there was a square area that had a large incense pit where people would gather around and waft the smoke toward themselves.
shake labeled sticks from enclosed metal containers and read the
corresponding answers they retrieve from one of 100 possible. This time there were no english options, so we bought some incense instead.
The Sumo stadium was a short distance from Senso-Ji temple and only required a short subway ride. We arrived about two hours early for the event in order to meet our friend from the Black Lion Pub and get our tickets.
We walked around the neighborhood for a while and finally had lunch at a local Pepper Lunch location. I love that place, and want to try to replicate some of the food dishes back in the states. After lunch we made our way back to the stadium, people were beginning to line up at the ticket window. Apparently this is the only sumo stadium in Tokyo and possibly in Japan, When I got inside I saw that it was the same arena I was watching on the TV while we were barhopping in Kagoshima (see Travel blog : A Tale of Two Surveys.) The arena was about the size of a Pro basketball arena, but only had two levels. It was almost perfectly
The upper level was very similar to theatre seats in a concert hall. The lower areas had foldable tables that you could set your drinks on, the nose bleed section were just standard seats. Along the upper rafters were giant tapestries with the pictures of all the previous grand champions on them. Karla and I were told that if a seat was open below us when the event started, we could move to it, so we went ahead and guessed on a couple of seats in the upper level, I took my jacket up and draped it over a couple seats in the nose bleeds just in case.
A match begins with two wrestlers entering the ring, they stare each other down from a distance, grab some salt from a bin on the side and toss it into the ring and usually pat their stomachs, cock their necks, grunt, etc. Then they will square off standing in front of the white lines. The round officially begins when both the wrestlers fists touch the white line. This is a game within a game (for ease of description in this scenerio,I’ll call these two guys First wrestler and Second wrestler).[ It is often that the first wrestler will place one hand down, then stare down the other, the second wrestler may put one hand down, then stare back. Usually along the line, someone will not like the way things are starting, so they’ll stand up, causing both to go back to their corners, toss some more salt, slap their bellies and grunt. The second time around they’ll do this again, maybe the second wrestler will put one hand on the ground first, then the first wrestler will place both hands down at once in a statement saying “I’m ready, your move”.PHOTO_ID_L=sumo-wrestling.jpg] This freaks the second wrestler and they stand up, walk back to their corners, throw salt, grunt, pat their bellies, and come back to the center. Usually by this time the two of them have figured it out, and one of them will walk right up to the line and lay both fists down. He’s ready! The second will place one had on the line and with his other hand as the trigger, slowly move it toward the ground, it barely touches for a half instant and the two are embraced in a powerful pushing, slapping, twisting ball of fury until one of their hands or knees touch the ground, or one foot leaves the ring. The referee watches intently to make sure a foul is not committed, sometimes getting so close that he’s almost hit when the two start to move in a new direction. This entire process takes about 15 seconds, a fraction of the time they spent tossing salt and slapping their bellies.
All the matches lead up to the final match between the two grand champions. The crowd was now very loud and excited. Of the 24 matches, most of them had ended within a matter of seconds, but you could tell as the fighters got better, so did the tactics, and the bouts began to get more exciting and the crown grew louder as the match neared the end.
The final match had a very long stare down, each time the wrestlers would stand up after squaring off the crowd would go nuts, yelling and shouting for their favorite guy. When the two began the match lasted for almost a whole minute. If you've ever tried to push over a 300 lb man who was trying to attack you, a whole 60 seconds is a heck of a long time.
After dinner we wandered around Akihabara agian on our last night. Karla wanted a truly authentic dinner so we searched around until we found a place that looked fitting. We walked in and immidiately I thought to myself "what the hell are we doing, we don't speak Japanese!!" This was going to be some experience because the only thing I could say besides thank you was :
The next morning we woke up early and had breakfast, packed all our things and said goodbye to the fish in the garden pond. We had ordered a bus to take us to Narita and it arrived right on time. After more than a month and a half I was finally going back to the states. What a long strange trip it had been. I couldn't wait to get home so I wouldn't have to ask people if they spoke English before engaging in conversation or could buy an item without having to convert Yen to Dollars in my head. I bought a Tokyo Giants hat as a going away gift to myself and got some small souviners for people back home. My final review of Japan is that it is the friendliest palce I've ever traveled to. People are so nice and honest, and I feel safer there than I do in most places in the US. Anywhere where someone can leave a coin purse at a subway pay kiosk and nobody will take it is my kind of place. As usual the flight from Narita to Portland took 8 hours in time but because of the date line, we actually arrived before we took off, by about 7 hours. I went straight home and embraced my apartment with all it's little Americanisms. It's good to get to travel, but it's so nice to be home :-)