(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
Tourism across Tokyo
Twenty days in Tokyo is too much to spend only watching sumo from half past nine in the morning, not to mention that the tournament is only 15 days’ duration. I was in one of the biggest cities in the world, and despite the fires, earthquakes, and especially the American bombing during World War II leaving the city reduced to rubble, the Japanese capital has much to offer to the visitor. Many of the old temples have been rebuilt and, for the Japanese people, they have the same value as if they were the originals.
Obviously, the Ryogoku area was the first to be visited. As I said, the whole district smells of sumo. There are many heya along the streets of Ryogoku, and you can always see wrestlers either walking or buying something in one of the small shops that are scattered throughout the neighborhood, always getting the kind smiles of an owner who surely knows them from earlier visits. I also recommend a visit to the Edo-Tokyo Museum, which is right next to the Kokugikan and has an excellent exhibition about the history of the city since its founding in the fifteenth century to the present, with many models (some so big that they occupy two floors), photographs, prints and videos. I was almost 4 hours visiting the museum and I found it very interesting. There is always another series of temporary exhibitions, but if you want to see everything there, you need to have more free time for your visit. And if you have an opportunity, it's really nice to walk across Kuramae Bridge, which connects the neighborhood where the former Kokugikan stood with Ryogoku, and is decorated with sumo scenes.
One of the first places that every tourist visits in the capital of Japan is Akihabara, the electric city, famous worldwide for the agglomeration of small shops and department stores devoted exclusively to electronic devices. Unfortunately, Japan’s voltage is different from Spain, so all the articles must be equipped with dual voltages if you want them to work at home. We must also keep in mind that in Japan, the TV system is NTSC, but in Spain and most of Europe, the PAL system is used, so videotapes will not work at home. However, you can get any DVD, as Europe and Japan share the same region. You also cannot buy a mobile phone, as the system that is used in Japan is incompatible with the rest of the world. Even if you enjoy a device with a lot of functions more advanced than any phone you can get at the store near your home, when you go back home it just will not work, so spending the money in this manner is useless. It’s logical, then, that digital cameras or MP3 players are the most sought after merchandise for tourists shopping in Akihabara.
Another interesting area to visit is Jinbocho, famous for having a street full of bookshops, selling both new and old volumes. It is doubtlessly a paradise for lovers of reading or collectors, although the main problem is that almost all the books that we will find there will be written in Japanese. There are some stores that have a section of books in other languages, but these are mostly in English.
Ginza is a dream for shoppers, but we must have a lot of spending money when you go, for now, we are in the world's most expensive street. But even though the prices are very high in most of the shops, it is very interesting to walk around the area and check the noise and the throngs of shoppers entering and leaving the stores. On Saturday afternoon, the street is closed to traffic until night, so although there are many people wandering around window shopping, you can still walk around without being too overwhelmed. As in almost all areas with so many affluent people in Tokyo, the crossings all sport giant television screens, affixed to the buildings, from which the advertising is hammered at you without mercy. We cannot forget that Japan is one of the countries with the most consumers in the world - and it is evident at every corner.
An obligatory visit in Tokyo is to the Imperial Gardens, with surrounds part of the great castle of the Edo Tokugawa period. You can only see one section of it, because the rest is part of the private residence of the Emperor and his family and is not open to the public. Nevertheless, it is a beautiful and pleasant area for walking - a small oasis of calm just beside the Marunouchi district and Tokyo Station, one of the most popular and used stations worldwide, which also maintains a facade of the early twentieth century, with some extensions contrasting with a modern style.
The hotel where I stayed was on the border between the areas of Ueno and Asakusa, undoubtedly the most typical of Japan. Ueno Park, next to the station of the same name (another one with a lot of users) is a large green area often used at night by homeless people for sleeping. (They also tent in the urbanized Sumida riverside.) It is incredible to see how, despite this massive use, the park is impeccably clean and you even can see the homeless cleaning their own spaces with total naturalness. How much we can learn from these examples of civility of the Japanese, even the most disadvantaged people, when compared to the view that is sometimes offered in our cities! Well, this park is famous because in late March or early April, it is filled with people who come to celebrate the cherry blossoming, which signals the arrival of spring. This park also has an access way to a small temple via a route punctuated with several orange torii. Anyone who sees this would be reminded of the movie "Memoirs of a Geisha," although the temple portrayed in the film is in Kyoto - specifically, the Fushimi Inari Temple.
Also interesting is a visit to the statue of Saigo Takamori, one of the heroes of the Meiji Revolution. Upon leaving the park, we can go to the Okachimachi area where we’ll find Ameyoko market, an area full of shops with prices a little cheaper than normal and often very crowded with Japanese people making their daily purchases.
From there we can walk to Asakusa. We can also go by taxi or subway, but I do recommend walking because it only takes about half an hour and it is always nice to mix with the denizens of Tokyo, who are very kind and always willing to help you reach your destination or understand what you want to buy, although the majority do not speak anything other than Japanese. But, of course, Spaniards know very well how to express themselves with gestures and this is an advantage when you need to be understood.
Asakusa probably is the most typical part of “old” Tokyo, with its temples and its narrow streets full of small restaurants and shops with everything that a tourist can dream about finding in Japan. The Sumida River and Azuma Bridge are close to it, separating the center and the outskirts of old Edo, and from there you can take a boat excursion that will take you down the river to its end in Tokyo Bay. This is a beautiful way to see the main river of the city and from which we can enjot a different perspective of the Kokugikan. Going to the north is the Sumida-koen, a park very popular on weekends with people who go there to walk or play sports.
Shinjuku is the zone of skyscrapers, a small Manhattan in the heart of Tokyo. An eminently business-oriented area, this is a must for all tourists because you cannot leave the city without riding up to one of the lookout towers of the Tokyo Town Hall, where, from the 43rd floor, you have an impressive view of the city. From there, you can even see Mount Fuji during the clear winter days, which, unfortunately, in my case, didn’t happen. Anyway, this is the way to comprehend how huge is this city, as you will only see buildings and houses one after another wherever you look, being unable to see the end of the city. And we cannot forget that around 30 million people live in Tokyo and the surrounding cities of Yokohama, Saitama or Chiba, which are linked to the capital; that, alone, gives us an idea of the monster of a city we are talking about. Not too far from the skyscrapers, we find the Kabukicho district, an area of prostitution and bars of sexual content. While Tokyo is a very safe city, maybe this is the area least recommended to walk around by night. It’s often frequented by members of the Yakuza (Japanese mafia) who control all of the business in the area.
Shibuya and Harajuku are the areas for young people. The first one is frequented by the Japanese for “partying” purposes. It is also where you can find many "love hotels" which will rent you a room for hours at a time, just to have “fun” for a while. At the exit of Shibuya station, is the famous statue of the dog, Hachiko. Legend has it that Hachiko, went daily to meet his owner at the station, even after his master had already died. On Sundays and holidays, Harajuku is crowded with legions of fans of “cosplay”, or “costume play”, who like to dress up however they choose, and go to perform and join other fans like themselves. Near Harajuku is Yoyogi Park, a very nice and quiet area for walking and the place where Meiji Shrine is situated, which all sumo fans know because this is where the first dohyo-iri of a new Yokozuna is performed. Back to the subject of nightlife, there is also the famous Roppongi area, a business area by day (and where most of the embassies are) and a party town at night. This area is frequented mostly by foreigners, so I don’t recommend it if you really want to mix in with the lifestyle of the Japanese.
Odaiba is one of the most modern and quiet areas for walking. Located in the middle of Tokyo Bay, there is a replica of the Statue of Liberty from which we have an excellent view of Tokyo Tower, and an exact copy of the Eiffel Tower, but only three meters high. To access this area, I recommend the Yurikamome Line, an elevated train that runs without a driver. You also have to cross the famous "Rainbow Bridge", which is very similar to (but much smaller than) the bridge of San Francisco, except white in colour. In Odaiba there are many leisure areas as well as buildings occupied by major companies, including the headquarters of Fuji Television, one of the most important in the country.Tokyo undoubtedly has a lot more to see, but at this time, I just wanted to make a short summary of where I visited during my trip. But the main purpose of the trip was sumo, so let's focus once again on it.