A Travellerspoint blog

Sumo

相撲

So I know someone, who knows someone, who knows someone ... and in this way I was able to get a ticket to see a Sumo match for FREE :)

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I headed over to Ryogoku, which is the Tokyo area famous for everything Sumo related. It is also where the Sumo wrestlers live and where the Sumo matches are held. That entire area is a mini Sumo world full of Sumo shops, Sumo museums, and even Sumo restaurants with big Sumo rinks in the center.

"Hey Jeff, I'm tired of eating chanko-nabe. Let's go wrestle."
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The Kokugikan is the name of the stadium where the Sumo matches happen. It seats up to 10,000 people and holds three of the six annual Sumo tournaments per year.

Kokugikan
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You immediately realize that you're in a Sumo stadium the moment you step inside of the building because the entire perimeter is covered in ginormous pictures of Sumo wrestlers.

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Alright! Let's watch some Sumooooo!
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♫ "Girl, look at that body..." ♫
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I used to think that Sumo was just the Japanese version of America's WWE Smackdown, but apparently, it's completely different. Sumo wrestling has it's roots in the Shinto religion and even today, modern Sumo matches are full of ritual elements. When a wrestler steps onto the rink, he preforms traditional practices like clapping his hands and stomping his feet to drive evil spirits away. There is also a pile of salt on opposite sides for Sumo wrestlers to throw onto the rink for purification.

After completing the rituals, the wrestlers squat in the middle of the rink facing one another, then simultaneously spring up and begin wrestling. Whichever Sumo pushes the other Sumo out of the rink wins. If any part of the Sumo's body, beside his feet, touch the ground, that Sumo loses.

The funny thing is that the preparatory clapping, stomping, and salt throwing last for several minutes, while the fight itself is only a few seconds.

Two Sumos prepare for battle. The guy in the fancy outfit is the referee.
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"I will destroy you!" - said one Sumo to the other.
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Fight! Fight! Fight!
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Dang...das hawt.
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The entire Sumo event lasted for about five hours. Five whole hours of preparation stomping, clapping, squatting, salt throwing ... and occasional 3 second battles.

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At one point, I got a little tired of watching the match from the second floor, so I decided to sneak onto the first floor - where I could see the Sumo wrestlers up close and personal.

Sumo. BIG BIG Sumo.
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The spectators on the floor seats who see Sumo wrestlers up close and personal pay $abajillion.00 for their seats. I probably wasn't allowed to be down there, but the good thing about being such a big white foreigner is that if you ever get caught being in a place where you're not supposed to be, you can just say "No hablo Japanese!" and run away. Works every time.

After 5 hours of watching Sumo wrestlers stomp and throw salt, I was ready to call it a day. On my way out of the stadium, however, I was able to make a quick Sumo friend.

BFFs for L!f3.
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Posted by DanPan 20:16 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Seijinshiki

成人式

No, I did not just bang the keyboard in the heading to make the title say "Seijinshiki." Seijinshiki is an actual Japanese word, pronounced say-jin-she-ki, which is the name of the Coming of Age ceremony in Japan.

In Japan, a person is considered to be an adult when they turn 20, and a ceremony is held especially for them. On that day, the 20 year old girls wear kimonos, boys wear suits or hakamas, and they go to the Seijinshiki ceremony at a local city office.

One evening a few months ago, I received an invitation from the Japanese government inviting me to participate in Seijinshiki, too. Even though I won't be 20 until March, I was still invited because the Japanese school year is from April to March, placing me in the same grade as everyone else who already turned 20. The Japanese expression used in this situation is "giri-giri safe" [which means "just barely made it".]

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My host sister, who goes to university in Osaka, also turned 20 in November and we went to Seijinshiki together. She wore my host mother's kimono and my host family rented a red hakama for me :)

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The morning of the ceremony was cloudy and a light rain was falling. However, maybe an hour before the event, it began to snow. It doesn't usually snow in Tokyo, so it was very special. My family said that I am lucky and the snow fell especially for me.

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However, the snow kept falling. And falling. And falling. What started as simple snowflakes turned into a hardcore blizzard. A few hours later, EVERYTHING was covered in snow and it felt like it had been snowing for days.


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The ceremony itself made me feel as though I fell into a sea of suits and kimonos. All of the young adults where walking around, chatting with friends, and taking photos.

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Being a big and burly Caucasian man, it was not very difficult for everyone to notice me. I received lots of stares and puzzled looks from the otherwise entirely Japanese crowd. I think they thought I was some Seijinshiki crasher or something. I even got interviewed twice, once for television and once for the newspaper. :)

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I think there was another event immediately after the ceremony, because once the ceremony ended, an announcement told everyone to leave the building. Staff members began ushering everyone outside into the freezing snow blizzard. All of the boys in their suits and girls in their kimonos had nothing to do but to stand in the falling snow.

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All of the girls and some boys who decided to wear hakamas, myself included, had a difficult time standing in the snow since we were also wearing tabi [traditional socks] and zori [traditional flip-flops] along with our kimonos and hakamas. Oh and no coats, either.

Our parents couldn't pick us up due to heavy traffic and our host dad was having trouble putting chains on the car tires. We couldn't take a taxi because taxis and buses were having trouble driving in the snow. Everyone just stood outside in the snow not knowing what to do or how to get home.

We finally decided that the best thing to do was to walk to the nearest train station, maybe 15 minutes away, in the blizzard.

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Walking on snow in socks is a pretty painful experience. Within minutes, my feet were numb and I could not feel them when we arrived at the station.

To our disappointment, all of the trains at the station had stopped due to heavy snowfall. I took off my soaking wet tabi socks and walked around the station barefoot.

However, my host dad was finally able to put chains on the car tires and come to the station to get us. From the station, we drove to a picture studio where we made ourselves pretty again and took some family photos.

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All in all, I had a great experience and it was a very memorable Seijinshiki :)

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Posted by DanPan 17:09 Archived in Japan Comments (2)

Happy New Year!

Osaka - Kyoto - Kobe

あけましておめでとう!!

New Years is probably my favorite holiday because it is the only time I am expected to hang out with friends all night long.

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This is the first time I'm celebrating New Years in another land, far away from my friends and the mandatory оливье . Still, I had fun learning the Japanese customs and traditions during New Years.

Japanese people usually head to their hometowns to celebrate New Years with their extended families, causing train stations and airports to be crazy crowded. My host family and I traveled to Osaka, my host mom's hometown, to celebrate New Years with her parents.

Most of our five days in Osaka were spent sitting around the kotatsu, reading, sleeping, or watching TV. We greeted the New Year by watching a live-broadcast of Japan's most popular artists and celebrities performing famous songs. Four hours and fifteen minutes of J-Pop O.o

Though I was far away from my оливье, I enjoyed having an authentic experience eating traditional Japanese food. On the first day of the New Year, Japanese people eat osechi - a big bento box full of food symbolizing long life or prosperity. I thought that most of the food was tasteless, but that's probably because my American taste buds are too n00b for real Japanese food.

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On the first days of January, Japanese people go to a shrine to throw coins into a wooden box, ring bells, and pray for blessings in the New Year. Japan is congested as it is, so when everyone decides to go to the shrine at once, the result is tons of people waiting in long snake-like lines. Popular shines in Tokyo and Osaka have as many as 3 million visitors during the first three days of January.

With my host parents and grandparents at the Shine.

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What I enjoyed most about my New Years vacation was a day trip we took to the nearby city of Kyoto. Kyoto used to be Japan's capitol before Tokyo and is distinguished by many old traditional buildings and beautiful nature.

The buildings in Kyoto are old and the streets are narrow, and some areas make you feel like you just transported into medieval Japan.

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The government has worked hard to preserve the cultural significance of the city, even placing a height limit on buildings and a ban on blinking advertisements in order to keep the traditional atmosphere. It isn't uncommon to find people walking around in kimonos and hakamas or even see a geisha here and there. Another thing that makes this city so interesting is the abundance of ancient shrines and temples.

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BIG BUDDHA!

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Posted by DanPan 20:44 Archived in Japan Comments (2)

Christmas

クリースマス

A knock came at the door around eight in the evening, just as we were finishing eating dinner.

I yelled out, "IRANAI~~~", meaning "we don't need it", pretending that it was some late-working door-to-door salesman.

My host mom laughed and went to answer the door. She came back carrying a huge USPS box from America.

Oops. Just kidding. I need that. I really need that.

My parents in the US decided to surprise me for Christmas by mailing me a box of my favorite items from America. They somehow managed to pack a pair of pants, two jars of almond butter, five boxes of gum, four giant chucks of halva, and four packages of chocolate.

I have no idea how my parents managed to shove all of that stuff into such a small box. But knowing my parents, there is always a way.

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Needless to say, I was ecstatic to receive my gift. Although my parents told me about the package beforehand, its physical presence was so overwhelming.

I felt like this kid:

Christmas in Japan in very low-key. It is not a national holiday, so Japanese people go to work and students go to school on Christmas day. Some stores, however, play Christmas music and hang up big "Merry Xmas" signs. You can even spot a Christmas tree here and there.

Christmas Tree at Tokyo Tower

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My treasure chest of goodies arrived at a time when I was feeling particularly nostalgic for my family and for the American version of Christmas. Every Christmas Eve, my extended family gathers to eat, sing, pray, and enjoy each others company. I realized how much I had taken the holiday for granted and how much I missed everyone.

However, my parents' Christmas box was a warm and fuzzy cup of home.

BEST CHRISTMAS PRESENT EVER!

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WARNING. If you are anti-Jesus, now is a good time to stop reading. I am about to get religious up in here. This is Christmas after all.

The entire experience reminded me of 2 Bible verses.

  • Philippians 4:19 "And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus."

As mentioned before, my parents let me know beforehand about the package and asked what I wanted in it. I told them that I wanted almond butter, halva, gum, and chocolate. I was expecting a little bit of each, considering the fact that international shipping is expensive. Instead, my parents blew through all monetary considerations and presented me with two jars of almond butter, four fat pieces of halva, five boxes of gum, and four packs of chocolate. Wow.

Same goes for God. We try to be humble and ask for something small, not realizing that he has the power to give more.

  • Matthew 7:11 "So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him."

My parents gave me a wonderful gift. And if they, being the evil sinners that they are [according to Bible], can give me such a wonderful gift, how much more with the sinless Father in heaven give to those who ask him?

PONDER THAT。

Posted by DanPan 17:56 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

FOOD

食べ物

HOW can I spend an entire year in a foreign land and not write about the food I eat?

I cannot.

Therefore, I shall write.

This post is entirely dedicated to the grub that I put into my stomach.

So, Japanese food. What is it like?

...

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Rice. Rice all day long. A bowl of rice is served with every meal. Due to extensive rainfall during the summer, Japan is the ideal place for rice irrigation. As a result, rice is a staple item and is eaten daily by the Japanese.

The Japanese word for rice is gohan. If you're like me and loved the Dragon Ball-Z anime as a kid, the word "gohan" is easy to remember since it's the name of one of the main characters. Interestingly enough, breakfast in Japanese is called "asagohan" [morning rice]. Lunch is called "hirugohan" [afternoon rice]. Dinner is called "bangohan" [evening rice]. The word for every meal has the word rice in it. Interesting.

No matter what you eat; rice is usually served in a serperate bowl. Actually, everything is served in separate bowls. Traditional Japanese style does not mix foods and tastes. So instead of taking food from a center dish and putting it onto your plate, food is served to you in several small bowls. Besides that, all food is brought to you at once. Instead of eating soups and salads first and the entree second, everything is served together for you to eat at the same time.

I was extremely fortunate to be placed into a host family that cooks amazing Japanese food. Every day, my host mom whips out something new and delicious. My favorite meal is probably "shabu-shabu".

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Shabu-Shabu: A pot of boiling water and vegetables is placed in the middle of the table and each person is given a plate of raw meat slices. Everyone uses their chop-sticks to "swish" around their meat in the big pot, cooking it themselves. "Shabu-shabu" directly translates to "swish-swish" in English, due to the swishing sound that is made while the meat gets cooked.

Beside rice and shabu-shabu, Japanese cuisine is made up of a large variety of different foods. It would take a while for me to list them all, but here are a few I find interesting:

  • Soba noodles - long, thin gray noodles made of buckwheat.
  • Okonomiyaki - a thick omelet-pancake covered in sauce and filled with eggs and vegetables.
  • Takoyaki - diced octopus inside of a fried ball of dough.
  • Tempura - deep fried seafood.
  • Natto - fermented soybeans.
  • Sashimi / Sushi - these do not need any explanation. Everyone knows what they are. But for some strange reason, all of my friends and family in America think that all I have to eat is sushi and sashimi. Japan is much more than sushi and sashimi. Much, much more.

I think that the coolest thing I ate here was a black egg. A black egg with a green shell.

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Black eggs are traditionally from China and are known as "century eggs". Century eggs get their black color after being preserved in clay, ash, and ammonia for about a month. The result is an egg that is straight-up black.

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Even with the variety of new and tasty foods that I am eating, I cannot help but miss some food I took for granted back home. Sometimes I have huge peanut butter cravings. Sometimes I am blown away the prices in restaurants and I miss cheap Chipotle burritos. But most of all, I miss the abundance of fruit.

I remember walking into a Japanese convenience store and was surprised to find that two apples cost ¥389 [$4.63].

Fruits are max-expensive. I used to think this was because Japan imported all of its fruit since there was no space to grow it. But apparently, the Japanese government subsidizes Japanese fruit farmers in order to keep out cheap foreign fruit competition. This, as well as meticulous farming practices and an obsession with creating perfect fruit, leads to high fruit prices and a sad Dan Pan the Travel Man.

Four apples for ¥780 [$9.28]
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One pear for ¥498 [$5.93]
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One melon for ¥980 [$11.66]
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In fact, there is a store in Tokyo named Senbikiya that is world famous for selling exquisite fruit gift-baskets. Apples cost $25, a dozen strawberries cost $83, and three melons cost $419.

Adjusting to life in a foreign country also means adjusting to a new lifestyle. Although I miss eating barrels of fruit every day, this small sacrifice has made it possible for me to have amazing experiences I could never have anywhere else.

One of these experiences includes the time I ate Kobe Beef in the city of Kobe. Kobe beef cows, known as Wagyu, are feed special beer and get massaged to increase marbling and improve muscle tone. I've always wanted to eat Kobe Beef in Kobe, and during my trip to Osaka last month, I was finally able to do it.

Kobe Beef in Kobe!
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LOTS MORE EXCITING ADVENTURES TO COME!

Posted by DanPan 00:00 Archived in Japan Comments (1)

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