I have not been a faithful blogger, despite still having half of our Japan trip to post about. For that I apologize, and instead of excuses I present you pretty pictures.
Japan has 6 big sumo tournaments a year. A tournament lasts 14 long days, and tickets can be hard to come by, especially to foreigners. The July tournament was in Nagoya. I did a lot of research online to figure out the best way to get tickets, and stumbled upon a service that will buy tickets on your behalf and ship them to the US.
I highly recommend them, but be prepared for a bit of sticker shock on the ticket prices. Seeing a Sumo match, let alone a tournament, was on my bucket-list so it was a no-brainer.
The Sumo tournament almost fell through when accusations of illegal betting started hitting the news leading up to the month of the tournement. Sumo is serious business. Thankfully the powers-at-be convened and decided to go ahead with the tournament.
When we arrived in Nagoya by train, in the late morning, we had a mission: get cash, get to the hotel, and get to the tournement!
The tournament day lasts from 8am to about 8pm, and as the day goes on the matches get more and more important, with better and better wrestlers. We wanted to get there by 2pm or so.
When we got to the Nagoya station we were tired and sweaty. We needed cash for the Hotel (in Japan you usually pay cash at check in). We looked for the red 〒 symbol which means Post Office, which means international cash machine.
Not finding one near the station that we could walk to, and really not feeling like risking it on the subway, we decided to go to the street and hail a cab. We learned that day that Cab Drivers are not nearly as good with English or foreigners as the shop keepers or hotel staff. We did find an ATM, and we did find our hotel, while I nervously watched the map on my iPhone to make sure we were going the right direction.
After checking in we navigated the labrynthian Mall/Subway station (a huge underground mall spanning subway station after subway station) and found a train that would take us to Nagoya Castle and the Prefectural Gym where they were hosting the Sumo Tournament.
Grateful for some air conditioning and some lunch, we were escorted to our 2-person boxed seat and given a box lunch and a cold green tea. Our seats were closer than the above photo implies.
Sumo is a sport of mental intimidation as much as physical power. After the referee/announcer literally sings the names of the contestants, and while fans randomly shout cheers for their favorite team or wrestler, the Sumo wrestlers pose and posture on either side of the center of the ring. They raise their legs and pound them on the ground like hammers.
Many times, a wrestler will interrupt the posturing, get up and grab a handful of salt to throw on the ground. This is the first half of the match - the mental intimidation. The goal is to psyche out the other wrestler. Eventually, usually with little warning - the huge behemoths rocket toward each other and collide like two fleshy planets.
The goal, if you don't know, is to get the other wreslter out of the circle or on the ground. It doesn't take long. Usually less than 10 seconds. We watched and marveled at the spectacle. We watched geisha tend to old (and apparently) rich patrons, and watched middle aged men who had had too many sapporos stumble down the stadium steps.
At about 6pm we wanted to sneak out and go to the nearby castle, which was on our agenda. However, they were closing by the time we made it to the entrance.
It was no matter, since we were ready for dinner at this point. This was the first restaurant I had actually researched from home ahead of time, and I was ready. The restaurant was called "Layers", and they specialize in hamburgers. I had read stellar reviews.
We took another cab there because it was a bit of a hike from a subway station. I really regret not taking my camera to this place. I mean, extreme regret. Take my word, this place was one of the smallest restaurants ever. A brightly lit beacon on a dark Nagoya street not far from downtown, this place had about 4 tables total, and 2 extremely friendly staff. One the cook, one the waiter.
Christina got a hot dog, I got an avocado cheeseburger and we shared a plate of fries. I am not exaggerating when I say it was the best hamburger I had ever had. I'm not just saying that because I had been used to rice and fish or chicken. It was the perfect size, perfect doneness, perfect balance of toppings.
We soaked in the kitschiness of the small restaurant while we savored our dinners. We were the only ones in the place, and the waiter stood at attention to let us know he was at our disposal, but he never felt like he was breathing down our necks.
When we left the restaurant, I turned and said, in broken Japanese: "Totemo Oishii Desu!" (That is very delicious!") They both grinned and said thank you very much as we left to stroll through downtown back to our hotel.
The next morning we had a few hours to kill before we had to catch a train to Tokyo, so we went back to Nagoya castle. The park was beautiful and lush, and we had some awesome ice cream before touring the (reconstructed) castle.
Part museum, part reconstruction, the castle was one of the best sight seeing spots we went to in Japan. It showed a slice of life in Feudal Japan and the mythology of Nagoya. It also highlighted the culture of war that ruled Japan during much of this time. Kingdoms that rose and fell in the mountains and shorelines of medieval Japan.
Our only thought while heading to the train station and eventually Tokyo was that we should have spent one more day in Nagoya. For all the Nagoya photos, click here!
Next, Tokyo in 2 or 3 parts!