20.05.2007 - 20.05.2007
It's 8 am on a Sunday morning, we have been awake for 3 hours already and we are watching fat men stamp their feet and then hurl their immense bodies at eachother. It may not sound like it, but a fantastic day has just begun.
We had woken up ridiculously early in order to queue for some last minute tickets to one of the prime annual sumo tournaments in Japan. One advantage to being there for the time the gates open was that we got to experience sumo wrestling "up close and personal" as most people only arrive for the 1st division fights at about 3; while the ringside seats are empty anyone plonk themselves down and enjoy the best view on the house no matter how cheap their ticket was.
The first fights were "novices" and as the day progressed so did the calibre of sumo wrestlers. With only a handful of spectators at 8 am, we watched the first wrestlers for an hour or so, accustomising ourselves to the various ritual chants, bows and footstamps. We were also surprised at how quickly bouts were decided (literally a few seconds) but once we were used to the pace we began to appreciate it more and more. Sumo is indeed an art, albeit one practiced by fat men in loin cloths. Even that isn't fair actually: they aren't all hugely fat and even those who are pretty wobbley are also incredibly muscled!
We knew that the "big boys" would only be wrestling from 3-ish so we headed back to the subway station to squeeze in a couple of hours of sight-seeing in the mean time. After a few false starts (Matthew's fault mind you) we got on a subway heading to Harajuka. There we wandered around yet another designer shop district (the Japanese can't seem to get enough of them!) and sampled some of the areas more "cultural" offerings. These included the Ota Memorial Art Museum (which is famous for its wood-block prints), the Meiji-Jingu shrine and the infamous "cos-play girls."
At the museum we were treated to an exhibition of some amazing wood block prints (most of them borrowed from the V&A for this special exhibition though) including Hokusai's "Great Wave Off Kanagawa." As a student both Matt and I each a poster of this on our walls - I never thought I'd get to see the original in Japan, or in fact live in Kanagawa!
The Meiji-Jingu shrine is a large Shinto shrine set in a forest in the middle of the city. It was built in memory of Emperor Meiji (of "Meiji-era" fame) and his Emperess and although it was destroyed by bombings in WWII it has been faithfully and beautifully reconstructed. We purified ourselves using the troughs of puridied water outside (although Matt came very close to accidently sullying the water you're meant to wash with) and headed into the shrine. In the central shrine area we performed the customary prayer ritual: throw some money in the donation troughs, bow twice, clap twice (to conjure the gods), say a prayer and then bow again. We will let you know if our prayers are answered, but don't hold your breath!
We then headed back towards Harajuku station, taking a detour by a bridge reknowned for it's "cos-play" girls. These are (social misfit) teenagers who live a life of suburban anonimity during the week but head to Tokyo on Sunday, dressed up in outlandish costumes ranging from goths to little-bo-peep look-alikes.. and they like nothing more than having their photo taken by gawking strangers! To be honest we found them a little disappointing: maybe we'd hyped it up too much but we could have headed to Cockburn Street (Edinburgh) to see goths, there was no need to fly out here!! That said, none of the cockburn street goths hold signs reading "free hugs here!" We decided not to part of the throng of photgraphers snapping away, so no great photos sorry!
After this we headed back to the stadium to watch the current sumo "greats" battle it out for the 7th day of the tournament. The stadium was packed out and we really got into the swing of things (after a little post-lunch sleepiness). Sumo may not seem sophisticated or rivetting at first but there is a lot more to it than either of us expected, and it is certainly very exciting!!! We would highly recommend any visitors to Tokyo make it to a tournament if they are lucky enough to be in town at the right time of year!