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  • Writer's pictureKristin

Japan | Tokyo: Endless Cars & Sumo Wrestling

Updated: Apr 9, 2021

On Tuesday after we departed from Omaha we spent the day in San Francisco seeing the sights there. We met up with our friend Julie and she showed us around the city. We checked out the wharf and downtown area as well as the Golden Gate Bridge. We had a great time catching up with Julie though and appreciated her hospitality in showing us around.

TOKYO - DAY 1: We arrived in Japan on Thursday, Jan. 7 -- skipping most of Wednesday -- and went straight to our hotel within the central part of Tokyo. At that point it felt like 1 a.m. in the morning to us so we basically went straight to bed. But because we went to bed so early we decided to wake up at 4:30 a.m. Tokyo time to make it to the Tsukiji Fish Market, which is the most interesting in early morning hours. We saw hundreds of people scurrying about buying the fish at the auctions and then going back to their stations to prepare the fish so they could then sell it. We saw all varieties of seafood there -- including octopus, squid, tuna, etc. The tuna fish were the biggest and many of them probably weighed about 150-200 pounds. We had heard some of them are bought for around $10K and the record was for $175K. We had a good time just watching the locals work, but had to be careful not to get in the way of their work.

By the time we were done passing through the market it was about 6:30 and time for breakfast. We wandered the street alleys surrounding the market and found a restaurant preparing fresh sushi straight from the fresh catches we just saw. The sushi was so good and so fresh that it did not even have the fishy taste or smell to it. However, breakfast was a tad bit pricey that morning -- about $42 USD for the both of us -- but we figured you cannot put a price on FRESH sushi in Japan. We also discovered that they put wasabi on almost all the sushi rolls here -- our sinuses cleared right up after breakfast!

For the remaining part of the day we walked around the various districts of Tokyo. We visited the Ginza district and checked out the Sony showroom. We also went to one of the main department stores in Japan called Mikimuto. Since it was in the fashion district, there were quite a few pricey items. One blouse we saw was about $100 USD and there was not much material to it. We also discovered all the department stores have various food stands in the basements. There are a variety of vendors selling everything from fancy desserts to fruits and sushi rolls. Most of these items appeared to be for the high class, as a box of chocolates tended to range around $20-35 for a box of 15 to 20 pieces. However, the great part about these are that some of the vendors provide samples - so we were able to try some of the Japanese food or treats without having to buy them. Later we also checked out a normal grocery store and the prices seemed comparable with prices in the US or Canada -- about $10-12 for a six pack of beer [Canada] and electronics matched the prices for items back home as well, so we have not done too much shopping other than for meals. Around lunchtime we went to the Imperial Palace in the middle of the city. The most interesting part about this location was the path around the palace. It appeared as though many of the Japanese run around the Imperial Palace park on their lunch hours. Interestingly, some of the men we crossed paths with did not even take the time to change into gym clothes as they were running in their business suits. However, we were amazed at how clean the air and the city were. For it being a city of millions, the air quality was like you were living in the rural area without smog or other pollution. Also it is amazingly quiet for so many people. You rarely hear any honking of horns or people talking -- quite the difference from our experience in China.

In the afternoon we went to the Nihonbashi district to check out the Tokyo Stock Exchange and another large department store called Mitsukoshi. Since we had gotten up so early that morning we hit up the basement again for some more free samples. The most interesting thing we tried was this sugar-like ball covered with soy sauce -- not our typical definition of a sweet snack. But we found the jackpot on the other side of the floor, where they were handing out wafer-like cookies and some of them were dipped in chocolate - Yum! TOKYO - DAY 2: We continued to explore the various districts of Tokyo and started the morning by going to Ueno Park. Within the park is the National Museum, which exhibits traditional artwork, wall sliding doors, kimonos and samurai swords and armor. Afterwards we went to the Shitamachi museum where they showed traditional shops, houses and toys from the Edo period. We stopped for lunch at this little sushi bar on one of the side streets of the Ueno district and we were greeted inside with the waiters scrambling to bring us an `English menu.` Thank goodness for picture menus though, otherwise we would had been eating blindly. We did try a new roll that we were not sure what it was for curiosity sake. After trying it we think it was a cooked egg-like omelet strip on top of the rice wrapped up in a sushi roll. We also checked out the Shibuya and Harajuku districts, which had a completely different atmosphere than the other areas of Toyko we had seen thus far. There were many more people in these areas and at one of the main intersections they would stop the traffic from all four directions as people from all sides of the street crossed. There were a lot more younger people in these areas and you can tell that these areas are more liberal as well. In one section there are several hotels called `love hotels` that let young couples pay to go into one of the rooms for some `privacy.` Couples can either pay $40 USD for a rest (AKA `quickie`) or for a stay - $60 USD.

It is amazing how everything is so modern and efficient, even with the most simple things. In fact, there are vending machines everywhere -- even at restaurants! For dinner we decided to try one of these vending machine fast food places because they had the picture on the buttons, whereas some of the other ones we had run into did not. You simply put your money in the slot and select the meal you want and it dispenses the ticket for you to take up to the person at the counter to make the food for you. Great business concept for them because it saves them from having to hire a cashier! It was a new dining experience for us, but the food was still delicious!

They are very good at saving space! The gas stations suspend the gas pumps in the air so that there is not space taken up on the ground. They are all full-service gas stations too, as the attendants have to yell out directions to the drivers as they back out onto the street. The parking garages also have rotating spinners at the bottom to maneuver cars out of their parking space onto the street and some of the parking locations we have seen even have one car suspended above the other. Even though they are trying to conserve space they are very environmentally conscious. Everywhere there is a trash can there are also bins for recyclables.

However, I have to say that one of the most interesting cultural experiences is going to the bathroom. Almost all of the toilets, even the public ones, are the shower toilets which give you the option of the bidet. They are also have sound makers that mimic the sound of the flushing toilet so that users can hide any of the bodily function noises they may not want others to hear. However, the personal highlight for me is the heated seats!! It is like a luxury vehicle with heated leather seats, but just a toilet instead! TOKYO - DAY 3 Day 3 could be themed as `Alex`s Day` as we spent most of the day going to several of the vehicle showrooms within Tokyo for Nissan, Honda, Audi and Toyota. At the Honda showroom we were able to see a demonstration of their robot Asimo which can even run by itself. We then took one of the trains to the port area of Toyko to visit the Toyota Mega Web where they have several vehicles on display for you to climb in and out of, as well as have several different simulators for you to try out. Alex was in heaven as he got to check out all the different vehicles. However, we observed that regardless of culture, typical gender roles pretty much remain the same -- the male bends down looks at all parts of the car in detail from every angle as the female stands off to the side watching anything else (besides the car) that catches her eye. After the car portion of the day, we wandered around the Shibuya district and discovered one of the kitty cafes they have available in the area. These cafes are places for the Japanese people to pay money to have some tea while being in an environment surrounded by cats. We walked up to the third floor of the building to check it out but then once we found out that it was going to cost about $11 USD per person for 30 minutes, we decided it was not worth spending the money (we are on a tight backpackers daily budget). However, we were amused with the concept. Later I heard that having these options prevents people from adopting cats because they can go to these kitty cafes to get their `kitty fix` without having to take ownership or responsibility, and as a result a lot of cats (around 60,000) are terminated each year in Tokyo. TOKYO - DAY 4 Today we became real `Japanese` and attended the sumo wrestling tournament, which was conveniently located within a 10-15 minute walk from our hotel. There was a limited number of cheap tickets so we had to go over to the area around 7:30 to get the tickets. Each year there are six sumo tournaments held and each one lasts around 15 days. This tournament was only in its second day but there was still a lot of hype around the event.

In the morning the amateur sumo wrestlers have bouts (or matches) with one another. As the day`s events progress, the wrestlers become more and more advanced in status. The end of the day is where most of the fans come to the tournament to watch and is when there is the most excitement. There is a very distinct routine the wrestlers follow as they fight their bout. Each wrestler open their palms to show they have no weapons and then stomp each foot to get rid of any evil spirits. After this part, each wrestler will take a sip of water and spit it out into a cloth to cleanse their mouth before they take a handful of salt to throw into the area where they will be fighting. This process is the most time-consuming part of the match. Once both wrestlers feel they are ready, they commence fighting. However, this only lasts for about ten seconds before one of them is thrown out of the ring and the other wrestler is declared the winner.

However, it was cool to see something with such a long history still being respected and so popular within the modern society. These sumo wrestlers are treated with a lot of respect and treated as though they are celebrities. As we were walking back into the tournament earlier today, one of the wrestlers was arriving and there was a crowd gathered around his cab and others lined up to watch him walk into the stadium area -- we almost felt as though we were in the presence of a Hollywood star. Later tonight we were watching some videos on YouTube and learned that the sumo wrestlers' regimen is basically this way so they can purposely gain weight. In order to do this, most of the wrestlers eat 10,000 to 20,000 calories a day and then after lunch they take a nap in order to prevent the calories they just ate from burning off. They will also drink beer to help with the weight gain. Alex has decided his next career aspiration is to be a sumo wrestler. :-) Tomorrow morning we head off to Vietnam, where the weather information says it will be around 90 degrees Fahrenheit! It is hard to believe just one week ago we were in -10 degree weather in Nebraska, and tomorrow night we`ll be in almost 100 degree warmer weather. So farewell for now and we will talk to you again in Vietnam!


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