Someday, you will have to come back and do something really cultural in Japan. I had heard that a few times in my travel, as I on some trips I go from work thing to work thing (I don't normally write about those trips). But, I am never one to shy away from something fun. Duh. So, I had a bunch of miles from years of air travel, and why not? Sumo it is. Liz and I loaded into a Delta bus and flew from Madison to Tokyo (that is a long way, btw... Liz let me know that. I have done it a few times, and somewhere in there it just becomes less than what it is, not really a thing any longer.)
Anyway, It's Japan. Weird foods, funny little tiny cars, driving on the left, people are smaller than in the western world, more polite, more formal, interesting countryside etc... It is one of those places, that is just a lot different than Wisconsin. Trust me - a lot.
The evening started off on our arrival with a stroll to the pub across the street from the hotel to get some dinner. It was a good local place that people were eating something after work on Friday. There were couples there that look like it is their usual place after both being at work all week. Kind of the place to get caught up after a busy week. We sat up at the bar, and took a look at what the guy next to us was eating (Soup with some sort of big fish parts in it). After trying to figure something out from the pictures in the menu, we broke down and asked for an english menu. The waiter pulled it out, blew off the dust (clearly it had not been looked at in a while) and we looked through discovering that they really do eat every single part of the chicken. I did not know that you could successfully sell something that advertised itself as chicken skin...
Our Saturday morning started with a visit to the Tokyo fish market. This is the fish market to mark all other fish markets by. In Japan, if it lived in the ocean it is food. Sometimes you are not really sure if it was really alive, and it is still - food. The fish market is a huge warehouse with row upon row, hundreds upon hundreds of small fishermen spots selling their daily catch to wholesalers and restaurants from the area. The sheer magnitude of ocean life that is for sale for eating is amazing. As I said, if it was alive in the sea - in Japan that equals food.
I saw huge fish being divided into smaller pieces of fish. I saw buckets and buckets of fish and crabs and sea urchin and abalone and seaweed and shark and shellfish and barnacles... you name it, it is food. It was an amazing experience being there when that was going on.
Next up was a huge temple in the city, followed by a boat ride on the river ending in the palace grounds... wow, what a day. Of course, no visit to Tokyo is complete without seeing the basement of a good department store. The basement is where the food court is, and you can find amazing delicacies. $300 cantaloupe, perfect strawberries - 10 for $100 - and a bazillion other over priced foods. We didn't eat, we just walked around marveling at the selection and the price.
The day ended with a little local teppanyaki place, where the food comes out in courses and just never seems to stop.
Day 2 started with a trip to the National Museum in Tokyo. I have to admit that I am not great with Japanese history, so the museum was quite helpful to understand all of the different times in Japan.
But, the highlight of Day 2 was definitely the Sumo. When I was originally invited, I was just not sure what it would be like. I was also not sure if it would have any appeal to Liz. Big sweaty guys smashing into each other. But, like everything seems to be in Japan, there is way more to it than just that. In fact, the whole thing is less about 2 big sweaty guys smashing into each other and more about the tradition and the ritual. It is so filled with ritual, it is almost religious.
The "sides" come out dressed in their formal traditional dress, replete with colored skirt. They parade out in order of their names and they form a circle in the ring. They first face out and follow a ritual to the crowd, then face each other and bow and salute and present to each other. Then they leave in single file. The matches happen one after another, where the referee calls out a competitor from each side with an almost opera sounding chant. The 2 wrestlers bow to each other, do the lifted leg thing balancing on one side, lifting the other leg, then touching the ground. They then pull off to the side and wipe their faces, talk to their trainer on the side and grab salt to throw into the ring - purifying the ring. They then go through the stretching and leg lifting ritual once more. Then all of a sudden, when the wrestlers decide to, they smash into each other trying to push each other out of the ring.
We read before the night that there are 3 ways to loose a sumo match. Touch the ground with something other than your feet, leave the circle or loose your diaper.
The top wrestlers go through the bowing and leg lifting and leaving the ring to throw salt back in and belly slapping multiple times before the match. Sometimes the matches last just 10 seconds, sometimes a minute. Either way, there is way more ceremony than there is actual wrestling.
I am amazed that Japan loves this entertainment. Japan is a country of 130lb men and 110lb women. The top Sumo wrestlers are north of 400 lbs. These days, the wrestlers come from all over the world. But, even the Japanese wrestlers weigh 400lbs. It is truly incredible.
Try the leg lifting thing. It is harder than you think.
I never learned how the Mawashi or the wrestlers belt came to be, but it dates way back to the origins of the sport.
Until the next time.