Infinite Possiblities, Endless Fun.
Having finally completed orientation and meeting my host family, it was officially time for the fun to begin. Although I was already having a blast simply walking through the streets of Tokyo, I somehow had avoided going to any actual attractions or landmarks in Tokyo. The weekend had come though, and ow that we had some free time on our hands, we launched into a whirlwind of activity that took us all over the city.
There's a lot of walking involved in Tokyo.
We began by having our lunch at Kissho, a small restaurant tucked away in the middle of central Tokyo. As we walked in we were greeted by hostesses wearing traditional Japanese garb. They took our coats and led us to a private room, where we were seated at a long wooden table. As they poured us tea, we decided between one of two entrees; grilled salmon, and a white fish that was described to me as an “acquired taste”. I opted for the salmon.
The entrance to the restaurant.
The meal was stunning to the eyes and irresistible to the tongue. The lunch was comprised of salmon served alongside black beans, lotus flower root, miso soup, a rice pudding, and a whole smattering of other offerings that I did not recognize. One particular dish, a slimy green sludge in a tiny bowl, tasted much better than it appeared. Everything was beyond delicious, and I quickly cleared my plate.
The tastiest picture I've ever taken.
From there, we wasted no time and took the subway to a Boisakan, or Life Safety Learning Center. On paper, it didn’t sound like much, but what we experienced was like an Exploratorium for natural disaster. The place was filled with all kinds of hands on exhibits and demonstrations, and after watching a precautionary video about the March 2011 disaster (hint- don’t mess with Mother Nature), we began our safety training. What we experienced was way more exciting and informative than I ever could have imagined. At school, our safety drills consist of someone yelling “Fire!” or “Earthquake!”, and us lounging beneath our desks or filing slowly out in single file. Here, we were first taken to a platform with a model kitchen set up where we sat down, pretending to have an evening meal. Suddenly, an alarm sounded, and the room began to shake with the intensity of a 9.0 magnitude Earthquake. It was like a terrifying version of a thrill ride, and we bounced around underneath the table as we clung to the legs for our dear life. Next, we were given fire extinguishers, and on the instructor’s order, scrambled to put out a simulated fire they had set up on a big screen. We were then guided into a fake-smoke filled maze, where we had to navigate through to an exit. Upon finding our way out, we were informed that we had died, as we had not stayed close enough to the ground. That was rough, but I learned a lot and had a ton of fun!
The lobby of the Boisakan.
Our last stop for the day was Shibuya, a shopping district known for its trendy shops and huge department stores. It’s the busiest part of Tokyo, and a huge attraction for tourists and locals alike. I walked into a department stores thinking I’d look around for a bit, and upon exiting realized I had been in there for two hours. Time sure flies when you’re having fun, and I hadn’t even scratched the surface of one of Tokyo’s many exciting districts. I vowed to spend a full day there the next time I had the chance, but for now, it was time to go home, have a good meal and watch a movie with my host family.
So much to do, so little time.
The next day was just as exciting. I started by attending a sports club with my host family, a multi-level recreational facility with swimming pools, batting cages, multiple gyms, and pretty much everything else you could imagine. We signed up for an hour long tennis class, and I had a blast playing with a whole bunch of Japanese folks as we circled around playing games and quick matches. Having played on my High School tennis team, I received quite a bit of admiration, even from the instructor, who complimented my form.
Afterwards, our CIEE group took a trip to Ryogoku to see the celebrated January Sumo tournament, which we were lucky enough to obtain tickets for. Sumo is quite the spectacle in Japan, and for good reason. For anyone who doesn’t know much about the sport, Sumo is a fast paced, highly technical form of wrestling that takes place within a small ring (dohyou). The rules are simple; the match begins when both players tap the ground, and ends when one is either pushed out of the ring or forced to the ground. Matches last anywhere from three seconds to three minutes, and are judged by a referee (gyouji).
With one move, it's over.
There is a very strict hierarchy in Sumo, both in the competitors and the gyouji. Sumo wrestlers spend their entire lives training in special Sumo stables (heya), refining their technique and growing their strength. The top ranked Sumo are known as Yokozune, and are leagues above even the next highest rank. Watching a Sumo match is very special, because you are watching a lifetime of dedication and discipline leaping into action as the two competitors clash.
Two top ranked Sumo prepare to fight.
Even today, Sumo is deeply rooted in tradition. Before each match, the names of the competitors are read aloud by announcer (yobidashi), and as they enter the arena, preform several posturing gestures, such as raising their legs high in the air and stomping down, in order to scare away evil spirits and intimidate their opponent. They then throw salt into the ring before entering, in order to purify it. Then, as they take their place at the center of the ring, they stare each other down and try to psych each other out, occasionally preforming the entire ritual again up to three or four times. The intensity of the wrestlers and the excitement of the crowd was palpable, even from the stands higher up where we sat.
Performing pre-match rituals.
The crowd loved this match, shame it cuts off right before the end.
I only wish I could have followed Sumo more closely before, for as much I as enjoyed it, I knew I could only appreciate about half as much as those who were longtime fans of the sport. It’s a completely unforgettable experience that I’m glad I had the opportunity to witness, and something I never guessed I would enjoy as much as I did before I came to Japan. I can’t wait to see what other opportunities await in store during my stay here.