Japan On Ice

Trip Start Aug 06, 2011
Trip End Oct 06, 2013

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Flag of Japan  , Kanto,
Sunday, September 23, 2012

As a bleeding-from-the-eyes, die-hard Canadian hockey fanatic, you probably wouldn't lie awake at night dreading the next encounter with the Japanese National Ice Hockey Team, but we were somewhat surprised to learn that Japan has 4 teams in the Asian Ice Hockey League.  One of these teams is the Nikko Icebucks, and, since Nikko is also home to some of the finest temples in all of Japan, watching a hockey game in Japan became a must-do as we wandered the country.

The temples and pagodas in Nikko were indeed more elaborate than most of those we had seen in Kyoto and area and were allowing me to fill in some blanks on at least a small piece of Japanese history- the first dude to unite most of Japan's feudal kingdoms was the patriarch of the Toyotomi clan, and was based in Osaka (in the oft destroyed 'indestructible' castle) with temples in the Kyoto area. His son and heir was only five years old when he died, and the Tokugawa family from Edo (now Tokyo) put a permanent end to the brief reign of the Toyotomis after the Osaka siege. And in the show of one- upmanship that usually happens, the temples at Nikko were given a little more artistic flair. Vast oversimplification but it made for a story of conflict that helped string together the castles, temples, samurais (warriors), shoguns (hereditary commander in chief), ninjas (spies) etc that we had explored to date (it still didn't explain the Maid Cafes but I'm getting ahead of myself).

The other claim to fame of the temples is one shrine in particular- the "Three Monkeys" sculptures are famous throughout the world for the "see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil" poses. The carved monkeys covering their eyes, ears and mouth respectively, were inspired by the Buddhist teaching that if we do not hear, see or speak evil, we ourselves shall be spared from evil, and the theme was chosen here in the ancient belief that the monkeys would protect the horses from disease.

The population of Nikko is only 90,000 so I'm not sure how a professional hockey team ended up here (vs nearby Greater Tokyo Area with 35.7 million+ people) but they were playing out of a reasonably modern facility and seemed to have quite a presence in town. Apparently Westerners don't often make this particular hockey pilgrimage because the team GM made a point of welcoming us as honoured guests and gave us a pretty good rundown on the team (didn't recognize the name but the goaltender, Yutaka Fukufuji,  was with the LA Kings for a cup of coffee). Each team is allowed two imports who are invariably Canadians still living the NHL dream. We had promised to support the local side despite the fact they were wearing Philadelphia Flyer orange and it was actually a pretty entertaining game with the Icebucks hanging on for a 1-0 win. The team we were playing was from Fukushima (yes, that Fukushima) but after a quick Geiger counter scan, they were good to go. There was even a fight with one of the Canadians (shocking) trying to get the fists going with a very reluctant Japanese player- it was kind of a bizarre spectacle and put me in mind of the unique hockey fighting style of Peter B who had the strange and disadvantageous tendency to throw his gloves off when he was flat on his back and had the opponent perched on top of him. Nonetheless the crowd really seemed to enjoy things especially when singing goodbye to any opposing player who was sent off with a penalty. They were all dressed head-to-toe in team paraphernalia but I think that was largely to keep warm- this has to be one of the coldest rinks on the planet and with just a T-shirt and shorts, I was pretty much a Nikko Popsicle by the end.

I'm not sure that Japan will be a hockey threat any time soon but if they could get some of their sumo wrestling guys upright on skates they might be dishing out some world class body checks. And speaking of sumo, we're off to the biggest tournament of the year in Tokyo where DH gets another opportunity to explore her fascination (some might say "problem") with watching big and fat, nearly naked men wrestling with one another.
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Carol C on

Well I was trying to leave a comment on the scary dude's picture and of course it was going to be something like "oh Vic I actually thought it was a close up of your face while riding a rikshaw"... or something of that nature!!! But the damn thing wouldn't load, so I'm guessing that the "Guardian" even if he was ugly and scary looking was looking after you!!! :-)
Can't wait to catch up in about 12 days!!!

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