Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Sumo

Last Sunday, I went to Ryogoku for the first major sumo tournament of the year, which is also one of the most important as it gives wrestlers their first chance to prove themselves for the coming year.

Sumo is over 2000 years old. In Japanese mythology the gods wrestled with each other, which was later adopted as a form of divination and then as a spectator sport.

The rules are simple. Each opponent must try to force the other out of the ring(dohyo), or make the other touch the floor with a part of his body other than the feet.

The tournaments last fifteen days and I went to the final day. I arrived early at nine o'clock so that I could get a seat near the ring. Later in the day when it gets busier, the person who has booked the seat turns up and you have to move back to your own. So it's worth getting there early so you can get close to the action.


Useful Sumo Vocabulary and Stuff

Rikishi - A sumo wrestler.

Senshuraku - The last day of the tournament.

Dohyo - The ring.

Dohyo-iri - A ceremony in which the wrestlers all enter the dohyo together to show
themselves to the spectators.

Yokozuna - Grand Champion

Chonmage - Sumo wrestlers have long hair which is tied and arranged on top
of the head in a topknot.


In the morning I got to see the junior divisions of sumo which was very interesting, although some of them were a lot thinner than I had been expecting.

After this at lunchtime I had chanko nabe, a food sumo wrestlers tradionally eat to build themselves up. This is a vegetable and meat stew which is delicious, although I did make the mistake of ordering enough for four people. I managed to eat it all in the end though.

There is also a museum you can visit with many interesting things relating to the history of sumo and there are plenty of shops selling sumo souvenirs.

After the junior divisions have been completed it gets a lot busier in the stadium.

The most highly ranked sumo wrestlers(Makuuchi) enter the ring at around 3.55 in separate groups from the east and the west. They then all line up in a circle in the dohyo and face outward.

The main bouts began at around 4.00 and the atmosphere was very exciting. This is what I'd come to see. Really fat people wrestling. I saw some very good fights although some were very short.

During the fights there is a lot of ceremony. Before each wrestler enters the dohyo, they drink water offered to them by the previous winner in order to purify the their body.

When the wrestlers step up to the dohyo they squat down facing each other, rubbing the palm of their hands together. They then clap hands and turn their palms upwards. This is called chirichozu-wo kiru and is done to expel defilement.

The tournament was won by Asashoryu. He's seen as the
bad boy of sumo having upset a number of the sumo authorities in the past. Although, having spoken to a number of Japanese people, they seem to think that he does in fact make the sport more interesting.

You can check out all the photos
here.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Oh! Mikey

Japanese television is sometimes very odd. One of the stranger programmes is called 'Oh! Mikey'. This is a comedy about an American family who have moved to Japan.

What is surreal about it is that all the characters are mannequins.

You can see some images from the show
here.

You can check out this website for a bit more information
here.

Curiouser and curiouser....


Sunday, January 27, 2008

On Saturday, I went to a place called Super Deluxe in Tokyo. Each week they have different events including concerts, art, jazz and film. The night I went to examined the increasing growth and popularity of hip-hop culture in Japan.

Hip-hop is very big in Japan. Wherever you go you'll see the youth of Japan wearing baggy tracksuits with caps slightly askew, trying to look like their favourite hip-hop artist. It's not just imported music that the youth of Tokyo listen to. The Japanese hip-hop market has increased greatly in the past few years with a large number of homegrown acts.

In fact there are over 300 hundred shops selling hip-hop clothes in Tokyo alone. One of the biggest mistakes I've made in Japan is doing karaoke requests with Japanese people. They always end up asking me to do hip-hop songs by Eminem for example and I always end barely getting through the song, completely exhausted from the singing.

At the beginning of the evening there was a panel discussion with MTV Japan Chief Music Programmer Reiji Harayama, MC Utamaru from Japanese hip-hop group Rhymester, Japanese hip-hop writer Kou Furukawa, and Assistant Professor of Japanese Cultural Studies at MIT, Ian Condry.

After this there was a screening of the film 'Black Picket Fence'. This was then followed by a hip-hop dancing competition.

I was looking forward to competing, but pulling a muscle in my upper right thigh, due to exstensive amount of physical activity I do, has left me unable to do windmills.

After this there was a hip-hop singing competition(It was like a cross between Hello Kitty and '8-Mile') followed by a hip-hop fashion show.

It was a very enjoyable night out, although in places it was very Ali-G.

You can check out the official website
here.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

I've seen 'The Last Samurai' starring Tom Cruise and I enjoyed it immensely. In the film Tom Cruise plays plays an officer in the United States Army called Nathan Algren. At the beginning of the film he is a drunk, who is selling guns for a living, having just fought in the American Civil War. He then goes to Japan in order to help the Japanese government get rid of the samurai by training soldiers. This is because the Emperor wants to move the country into the modern world and as a result is faced with a samurai rebellion.

In a battle between the samurai and the Japanese troops that Nathan has trained, he becomes captured. It is here we then meet the leader of the samurai called Katsumoto, played by Ken Watanabe. Gradually they build up a friendship and as Nathan learns more respect for the culture and way of life, we gradually see him change his allegiance.

The performances from all the actors are very good, especially Ken Watanebe. There's plenty of action throughout and the fighting and battles are breathtaking. I was also surprised with how much respect the American filmakers have given to Japanese culture and the way of life.

If you liked 'Braveheart' and 'Gladiator' you'll definitely like this movie. Recommended.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Happy Chinese New Year to everyone!

It's the year of the monkey.

You can check out lots of Chinese New Year facts
here.

Monday, January 21, 2008


Cosplay

Last Sunday, I went to an anime festival in Ikebukoro. Anime is Japanese for animation. The animation industry is extremely big in Japan and very popular. For example, the Warchowski brothers, who wrote and directed the Matrix trilogy, were heavily influenced by anime films such as 'Ghost in the Shell'. Other famous Japanese anime includes 'Akira', 'Gundam' and 'Gatchaman'(Battle of the Planets).

You can check out the official site for the festival
here.

The festival took place at a huge shopping centre called
Sunshine City, which is a shopping and entertainment complex. It also used to be the tallest building in Japan. There were lots of shows and lectures given on anime in English and in Japanese and a lot of famous people involved in anime were also there.

Probably the most interesting thing about the whole event was the cosplay. Cosplay is when people dress up as someone from anime, manga or film. It's a bit like fancy dress in England. Everyone looked very cool. You can see the photos
here.

I've also finally managed to find that special someone in my life. She's very pretty and she's also very famous. You can see the photo of me and my special lady
here.

If you're interested in finding out which Matrix character you're most like, click
here.

Apparently I'm like Neo.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


Kyoto

I went to Kyoto on Christmas Day and I stayed at the Tojian Guesthouse, which is about ten minutes west of the station on foot. I met lots of great people here and it was really friendly. There was also no curfew, which is something you tend to get in a lot of Japanese guesthouses. This allowed to stay up drinking late. I was also introduced to Jinroo, a Korean alcoholic drink which is extremely nice.

Kyoto was the capital of Japan for more than a thousand years and the number of temples, shrines, museums and places to visit is phenomenal so on this visit I just looked at the eastern side of the city.

The To-ji temple, just west of the station, was founded in 794 by Emperor Kammu. At the To-ji temple you can see a five-storey pagoda, which is Japan's largest. Next to the pagoda are two buildings, the Ko-do and the Kon-do, which both which house many statues and images of the Buddha.

You can see the photos
here.

Just east of the station is Sansusangen-do. In the large hall here there are 1001 gilded statues which are amazing to look at. The statues were comissioned by the emporer Go-Shirakawa in 1164 and each statue is different in some subtle way.

Walking north east you come to Kiyomizu-dera. There has been a temple here since 778 and nearly all the buildings date from 1633. This temple is famous for it's waterfall which is supposed to cure any illness if you drink it.

The photos for Kiyomizu-dera are
here.

From Kiyomizu-dera, I then went along the old cobbled lanes of Sannen-zaka(Three-Year Slope) and Ninen-zaka(Two Year Slope). Some of the paving stones were laid in the ninth century and the houses date from the 1800s. It was here that I saw a maiko, which is an apprentice geisha.

You can see the photos for Sannen-zaka
here.

Yasaka-jinja is a very brightly coloured temple and has a Buddhist style gate, which is a result of when Buddhism and Shinto were together.

The photos for Yasaka-jinja are
here.

East of Yasaka-jinja is Chion-in. This is a very big temple that was founded in 1175 by the priest Honen. Chion-in also has the Daisho-bell, which is the largest in Japan.

You can see the photos for Chion-in
here.

North of Chion-in is Nanzen-ji, which is one of the most important in Japan. The gate here is called San-mon and is huge. It was built in 1628 to commemorate the soldiers that were killed during the siege of Osaka Castle.

You can see the photo of Nanzen-ji
here.

From Nanzen-ji you can then take the Philosopher's path to Ginkaku-ji. The path is two kilometres long and is named after the philosopher Nishida Kitaro who used to walk daily along the hillside.

Ginkaku-ji(Temple of the Silver Pavilion) is a lot smaller than a lot of the other temples, but nonetheless is still very beautiful. There is also sa and garden with a large cone in it.

You can see the pictures for Ginka-kuji
here.

You can see all of the photos here.


Monday, January 14, 2008


Friends

On holiday, I also had the chance to catch up with my Japanese friends I met in England and I had a brilliant time.

First of all I visited Yukiko and Junjee in Nagoya. We went to an isakaya for a meal and after this we went to a prikura. A prikura is a booth where people(usually teenagers-I'm gradually turning into a Japanese schoolgirl. All I need now are the big white baggy socks!) can go and get their photos taken, which are then made into little stickers. When you're in a pricolor you have to pull a number of poses like the peace sign, or blow kisses for example.

After this we went to karaoke. Drinks were free for the first hour, which meant we were constantly ordering as many drinks as possible and the result was we all ended up getting very, very drunk.

I also managed to catch up with my friends Yuichi and Satoko in Chiba, which is near Tokyo. We had a beautiful meal at Yuichi's and then we went to karaoke. The highlight of the evening was me doing a duet with Yuichi of 'Living on a Prayer' by Bon Jovi. Although I wouldn't usually choose this song, I'd like to thank Yuichi for helping to unleash the wildman of rock that's always been inside of me. We both ended up getting a bit carried away and to everyone else it probably sounded more like screaming than singing.

One thing I have learnt about karaoke in Japan. Don't do requests. People pick really hard rap or hip-hop songs like Eminem. How I managed it I'll never know.

I also met lots of very nice people in Osaka and Kyoto too.

Check out all the photos
here.

Friday, January 11, 2008


Astroboy

On the third day of my holiday I went to Takarazuka, a town situated 20km northwest of Osaka.

Takarazuka is famous for it's all female musical/dance/drama troupe, called, originally enough, Takarazuka. The Takarazuka Review company was founded in 1914 by railway tycoon Kabayahi Ichizu.

Apparently, thousands of girls each year apply to join at the age of sixteen and then devote themselves to their art. The company motto is 'modesty, fairness and grace' and upon joining they aren't allowed to have boyfriends. Fortunately for them I was sitting at the back of the theatre.

The show I saw was spectacular and the singing, dancing and sets were unbelievable.

The story was your average tale of vampire meets girl, vampire loses girl, vampire gets chased by nazis. Trust me, the plot got even stranger.

If you've got 6000 yen to spare, you can even dress up like a takarazuka showgirl if it takes your fancy.

Definitely worth going to see if you ever have the opportunity, although getting tickets can be a little difficult. They also have a theatre in Tokyo.

The official website is
here.

After this, I went to the Tezuka Osamu Manga Museum. Tezuka Osamu Tezuka(1928-89) was born in Takarazuka and is regarded as the 'god of manga'. He created Astro Boy, Blackjack and Kimba the White Lion. The museum charts his career and there are many interesting exhibits and galleries. There's even the opportunity to create your own cartoons.

Click
here for the photos.

Click
here to go to Tezuka Osamu world.

Manga caters for all tastes, ages and sexes and is very popular in Japan. Everywhere you go you see shops selling manga and people reading it. The most popular is called Shukan Shoren Jump and regularly sells five million copies a week.


Monday, January 07, 2008


Himeji-jo

Himeji is a town approximately thirty minutes from Osaka by shinkansen. Situated in Himeji is Japan's most impressive castle, Himeji-jo, which was used in the James Bond film 'You Only Live Twice' (and if you're wondering, I did run about the castle pretending to be James Bond when no one was looking). The castle is also known as Shirasagi, the white heron, as it is supposed to resemble a bird in flight.

There has been a fortress in Himeji since 1346 and the present castle was completed in 1618. The main castle has six levels supported by huge wooden pillars, one of which is made from a 780 year old cypress tree and it is said that if you touch it, you will have a long life.

Inside there are many
interesting things on display. On top of the main tower is the Osakabe Shrine and you can look out across the main castle from there.

On leaving the castle you come across the
Harakiri-maru. It was here that samurai would have commited ritual suicide(seppuku).

The castle has a famous ghost story called 'Banshu Sara-Yashiki'. A servant named Okiku prevented the murder of the Lord of the castle by the chief samurai, who wanted to become Lord. In revenge for this the chief samurai stole a valuable dish, the blame for which was put on Okiku and resulted in her being tortured to death. The well where her body was thrown into can be seen
here.

You can check out all the pictures here.

Saturday, January 05, 2008


Bullet Train

Happy New Year! I'm back and I've had an absolutely amazing time travelling around Japan. I managed to see so many amazing things and meet so many wonderful people I think it's going to take me a few days to recover!

My trip started Tuesday the 23rd. I got to Tokyo station at around ten o'clock and I bought my Shinkansen(Bullet train) ticket to Osaka. The ticket was very expensive(13,000 yen!) but even so I was looking forward to my first time on it. Shinkansen trains often reach a top speed of between 270 to 300 kph and even though they go so fast, the ride is extremely smooth. You can check out Bullet Steve
here.

When I arrived in Osaka the first thing I did was go to Osaka-jo, which is a very impressive castle in the centre of Osaka.



After this I went to the Osaka Aquarium. The aquarium provides a trip around the 'Ring of Fire', the seismic and volcanic belt that goes around the Pacific Ocean.

It was pretty amazing and you get to see many species of animals from around the world, including sharks, dolphins, jellyfish, toucans, seals and thousands of exotic fish. I also got to see lots of penguins. It's a really interesting and educational day out.

I've also learnt how to distinguish man sharks from lady sharks.

Check out the official website
here.


Capsule Hotel

Then I had to find somewhere to stay. Instead of going for the usual thing, like a hotel or guesthouse, I thought I`d experience life like a Japanese salaryman, so I decided to stay in a capsule hotel. These are hotels where you sleep in a little plastic box.

Afterwards I had a strange dream about being a worker bee in a hive. Maybe we will all live like this in the future.

And whilst on the subject of the future, check out
here.

If you've seen The Matrix or Terminator films be afraid. BE VERY AFRAID.

Dancing robots are going to take over the world and enslave us all!

I had a great time in Osaka and I met lots of really nice, friendly people and I'm looking forward to going back one day.

You can see all the photos here.