Asia

5 Things I Got Up To In Japan

For my 23rd birthday my dad bought me an incredibly generous flight to Japan. I’d been in New Zealand for around eight months, so it was the perfect opportunity for my Dad, Step-Muvva-to-be and myself to have ourselves a little holiday and a massive reunion; so we all flew into Tokyo and allowed the jet-lag to take over, before heading out to explore the big City.

Given that we only had seven days away, we wanted to try and see and do as much as we could. Here’s a list of five of my favourite things that we got up to…

5.  Went to a Sumo Stable and watched Sumo-Wrestling – What better gift to buy your dad for his 50th birthday than forcing him to sit on the floor for two hours to watch morbidly obese, and incredibly naked men, ram into one another? …Happy Birthday Dad… In all honesty this was SO cool. We met up with a tiny Japanese lady who told us all about Sumo wrestling and it’s history before bringing us into he stable to watch the men undergo training.

My first impression was that I couldn’t believe how ginormous these men were, not just in weight but in stature. For the most part Japanese people are very little, dainty, but most of these men were well over 6ft tall with broad shoulders and long limbs. Their hair was coated in a thick oil (that we were later given a demonstration off as we watched the wrestlers hairdresser at work) that would be kept in a bun on top of their heads. We had been given strict rules as their audience: no talking, no photography, and don’t show the soles of your feet to the room or the stable master. So as we took our seats in the corner of the stable, the wrestling began.

What impressed me most about the sumo-wrestlers was their flexibility. All of them, even the largest who struggled for breath every time he…well every time he did anything that involved movement… was able to get into the splits, stomach laying flat on the floor in front of him. They would chant words in Japanese as they began their warm-up, darting around the room lunging and slapping their thighs, picking on the smallest demanding that he work harder. It became obvious who the best, most important, wrestlers were – the biggest, and the eldest – especially as the real wrestling began and they launched themselves into one another to push them out of the ring. The sound with which their skin would slap against the others, leaving red marks and a trail of sweat. It was impressive to say the least, although a little bit, erm, gross. As their training session came to an end we were allowed to stand beside them to have our picture taken, which felt rather intimidating given their size in comparison to mine. Overall, a great success, and we walked away feeling amazed, educated, and thankful that we could walk five meters without needing a rest.

4.  Saw the incredible Mt Fuji – Ohhhhhhh, Lord. Mt Fuji is so impressive. My dad had organised a tour that would drive us up to the fifth station of Mt Fuji (about half way), allowing us to see the peak and the views below. On the drive up we could just about make out the peak, before being consumed in a ginormous cloud. And that was it. We waited and waited for the cloud to move on but nothing happened. As we drove back down the mountain, heading to our next activity on the agenda, I thought we’d missed our only chance to see this iconic mountain. But later that day, as we’d stopped off at a place called Hakone, we took a gondola ride up another much smaller mountain, that
showed us the whole of the peak of Fuji! A cloud line still covered its middle, but we were able to see all of its snow covered peak and its perfectly formed sides, and it honestly took my breath away. Fuji had finally delivered, and just in time for the sunset – perfect.

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3.  Visited Shrines and Temples – So. Many. Shrines. Gah. The first of the many that we visited was very cool, but then they all sort of molded into one and that was that. The temples were more impressive (particularly a ginormous golden one situated on a stunning lake), and I loved hearing about the Japanese rituals and respect and tradition, despite the sadness to Japanese history and culture. Seeing the intricate and elegant detail that has gone into their architecture was phenomenal. The grounds to many of the temples were filled with people – expectedly – but what I didn’t anticipate were the number of deer that we also had to share the outdoors of the temple with. A sacred animal in Japan, these deer loved the food given to them by the vast numbers of tourists, although I can’t say I was particularly thrilled by their presence. I’m yet to find o
ut what it is about these animals that the Japanese find so wonder some.
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2. The food – Food, food, glorious food! You hear a lot about Japanese cuisine, but upon visiting I was somewhat disappointed. Or maybe not disappointed, just a bit confused. On one of our days we were presented with a traditional Japanese meal, consisting of: Noodles, salty soup, rice, some deep fried fish, and lots of deep friend vegetables (one of which I think was a stinging nettle). I wouldn’t say I didn’t like it, it was just that it was a little bit overwhelming. Where do you start? What cutlery do you use? And what on earth is that pink swirly, star shaped thing?!

Alternatively, there were two meals on this trip that I loved. Number 1 of course being the Sushi. We only ate this once, but I was so impressed by the size of the fish on top of each dish – when you buy the Tesco packs of Sushi the fish is diddy, and taste’s a little like plastic, but this tasted so fresh and I couldn’t get enough. The second meal was one that I had when I met up with one of my Step-brothers and his girlfriend: a noodle/soup dish that was impossible to eat with chopsticks but super yummy, and even
more importantly super cheap. These were the cliche meals that I anticipated eating day and night whilst away, but more often than not we opted for a more Wester
n alternative. Shameful I know, but the stomach wants what the stomach wants.

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1. Kyoto – Tokyo had been nice, but Kyoto was by far my favourite of the two. It had a much more interesting vibe to it (I’m not sure exactly what I mean by that, but it did) and the shops and range of bars were far more interesting than that of Tokyo. We managed to find a lot of great shops here (Forever 21!!!) and spent an entertaining hour or two meandering around the Manga Museum. If I were to go back to Japan I would definitely want to spend a little bit more time here, just to see what else this vibrant city may have to offer.

Overall Japan was interesting. Certainly an eye opener, but it also changed a lot of my sterotypes of the Japanese people. They’re far more elegant than I had previously thought, especially in their fashion (which I loved) but also in a lot of their buildings. And if I went back I would really like to visit more of the countryside, definitely Hiroshima and of course see what snow and slopes are like over there (apparently incredible – powder galore). Massive massive massive thank you to Pops, as it is his wonderful sense of adventure that I have no doubt inherited. Lots of love Marky P (sorry, dad). xxx

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