(proofreaded by Barbara Ann Klein)
Japan, the birthplace of sumo, the country that any fan of this sport wants to visit. In September 2006 I went to watch the Aki Basho live. This is the story of my trip to the land of the rising sun.
Introduction - The journey begins - First contact with sumo - The show starts - The fight of the gods - Tourism across Tokyo - Komatsuryu dojo - Tomozuna beya - Barbara and the typhoon - Senshuraku - Senshuraku party - Daishi - Feel the sumo
It’s true that the distance scared me a bit. To have to spend nearly a whole day’s journey to reach the land of the rising sun is not something to do very lightly. You must have a few days off (you cannot go for the weekend) and even then you must decide to go. At the end, everything is a matter of getting up one morning and saying “yes, it’s decided, I'm going to Japan." And from there, all you have to do is to start planning things. In my case, it was clear from the first day that all I wanted to do was to go to watch the Sumo Aki Basho. I wanted to see a full tournament, see all the rituals that take place during the first and last days, be there for the special dohyo-iri when the Emperor is in the venue, and to see so many things related to sumo. I knew that 20 days would not be enough, but neither my duties nor my economic status would let me stay for more time, so I planned my travel to start on September 6th, the day of my 41st birthday. Certainly I was going to give myself an exceptional journey, a journey that many people always have in mind to take, but surely, because the thousands of miles away and the myth that Japan is the most expensive country in the world (I assure you that right now travel to any European country is as expensive as Japan), just abstain.
For starters, it’s best to make your plans way ahead of time, especially because the airlines used to have some offers for just a week (or less). In my case, every day I looked at the internet, searching patiently until “the” offer appeared; airflight round trip with Air France, via Paris, for 635 euros, including taxes and other expenses. I decided not to wait any longer and bought my tickets. Now there was no return - Japan was waiting for me.
Then there was the issue of accommodation. Again, having plans to travel only to Tokyo makes things much easier because I had to find a place to sleep in only one city. And the truth is that the opportunities in Tokyo are enormous and for all budgets, from the luxurious 5-star hotels like the one showcased in the movie 'Lost in Translation', to the cheaper 'guest house' designed for backpackers and young people in general. As I was going to spend almost all of my trip in the Ryogoku area, I wanted to focus myself on finding something simple (at the end, I was going to use it only for sleeping) and economical, and which would allow me to move quickly. The idea was not to find a hotel in Saitama or Yokohama which forced me to spend more than one hour daily by train to reach the Kokugikan. So after looking a lot for the right hotel, and after contacting people who had been in any of the accommodations narrowed down, I finally chose a single room in a hostel in the north of Asakusa (the most typical “old section” of Tokyo), a few metro stations away from the sumo venue. For only 3500 yen per night, they offered me a small room with bathroom, but as I said, my idea was only to stay there only for sleeping. You can never be sure if you have made the right choice, but until you are there you cannot know, so I didn’t think anymore about this and I made my booking.
During the rest of the time until the anticipated September 6th, I had more than enough time to contact several people who would be helping me a lot during my stay in Tokyo. Among them, no doubt I have to give a special thanks to Mark Buckton, who got my sumo tickets in advance for the 15 days of the tournament. Doing this, he took advantage of the offer of the Nihon Sumo Kyokai – a 20,000 yen tickets set which allows you to secure an entry for each day’s competition. This also let me avoid expending time in line every day to get a ticket at the Kokugikan and to permit me to spend this time watching the bouts of the lower grades, to visit a heya to watch asageiko, or to do some sightseeing around the city (because not everything was going to be sumo during the 20 days of my trip). I also planned to eat chanko with an internet friend named Hiromi, go to a baseball game with David, see sumo bouts with Barbara, Mark and Doreen and find a place to visit with Chigako, Hiro or Arancha, a Spanish friend of mine who was in Chiba University on a scholarship.
Well, it seemed that the agenda was going to be very busy with many things to do, so I just had to wait patiently until the big day arrived, when I finally was going to fulfill one of my dreams, - to travel to Japan.