Sumo, Shinkansen, show time and Shabu Shabu


Sumo is one of Japan’s traditional sports – with roots stretching back 2,00 years to Shinto harvest rites.
It seemed a world away at the 10,000 capacity national stadium in Tokyo watching from cinema-style seats (dodgy knees meant avoiding the kneeling/squatting mats closest to the ring).
Perhaps this was a good decision as quite a few of these very big guys were toppled down the 2ft slope putting judges and fans at the front in serious risk of a squashing.
Some of them were pretty enthusiastic in flinging handfuls of salt about to purify the ring so stinging eyes might have been another issue.
It was clean, efficient and hi-tech in there although the fighting gear, rituals, the referees, in court costume from the past, announcing the wrestlers in a strange high-pitched voice seemed to maintain continuity with the past.
They actually sounded a bit like a cross between the scrap metal men doing the rounds in Wolverhampton, the call to prayer at the mosque and Kent Walton doing the ‘wrestling’ on ITV’s Saturday afternoon sport back in the mists of time.
I wondered if the hard core fans were irritated by the increasing number of sponsors’ flags being carried round the ring as the climax of the day’s competition was reached with the Emperor’s Cup holder fighting in the final event.
A familiar bugbear for football fans – leaving before the end – was also in evidence during the closing bow dance ceremony.
Slightly different music leaving the stadium to Port Vale’s Wonder of You.
At the sumo they had a taiko drummer giving it some from the top of the flag tower outside.
Into a bar while the traffic and crowds at the rail station cleared – no change there then.
On the way to the station to catch the Shinkansen bullet train to Kyoto we noticed another helpful fine detail.
Grooves, painted yellow, along the pavement made for an easy passage for suitcase wheels.
However, these, and nodules on squares at regular intervals are apparently to help blind and partially-sighted people navigate Tokyo’s streets.
After a while this sort of stuff – along with toilets combining washing sprays, bidets, deoderisers and dryers and washbasins combining soap, water and dryers seem to make a lot of sense.
Well they do in a society emphasising absence of litter, cleanliness, neatness, order and efficiency.
Shinjuku is supposed to be the world’s busiest station so we started out early for our transfer train to Tokyo station.
We should not have worried. We even got seats after the first few stations and were super-early for the Shinkansen.
No worries – time to do some postcards and have some iced coffees.
On our Shinkansen platform (they run on different high-speed lines to slower trains) cleaning ladies in pink uniforms lined up to get to work on an arriving train.
A trio of blue uniformed stewardesses also lined up to bow to the suited men as they exited the train en route to their offices.
We noticed a lot of people were buying bento boxes – paper/card lunchboxes split into compartments with different kinds of rice, vegetables, fish, and other delicacies.
It seemed to make sense to go native and the ensuing lunch on the train turned out to be superb – once the chopsticks were made to behave.
An added bonus was to see Mount Fuji without the cloud that had surrounded it for most of the week.
Getting a picture of it at 200mph was another matter.
Bang on time at Kyoto.
This may be Japan’s main repository of culture and history but the station belongs to the space age with soaring steelwork and glass towering above the platforms and shopping malls.
Just enough time to book a trip round some of the thousands of temples and shrines on Wednesday, drop the suitcase and catch the 206 bus to the Gion District – home of the Geishas.
They have change machines on buses so you can always give the right fare.
Why can’t Brit buses have them?
Oh yes the bus companies quite like you paying too much.
It would remove a serious source of irritation for millions of passengers though.
Messed up by jumping off too early but a stiff walk got us to Gion Corner to see a show which combined the ancient tea ceremony,
playing the koto – Japanese harp,
Kado flower arranging, Gagaku court music, a Kyogen ancient comic play, dances that Geisha and their trainees (Maiko) perform and a Bunraku puppet play.
That crash course in Kyoto culture worked up an appetite that needed to be sorted in the old (very) low rise wooden eating houses in Gion.
Never had Shabu Shabu before but it was great.
As you sip a cup of green tea they whip a circular cover off the middle of the table to reveal a burner ring.
Once fired up, a pot of water goes on it to heat with what looked like a strip of seaweed.
Into this goes cabbage, mushrooms, onions, herbs and thinly sliced beef (in our case – you can also get all kinds of fish and seafood).
Once the technique has been demonstrated you can go it alone cooking your own veg and meat and dipping into a sauce with pickled radish stirred into it accompanied by sticky rice and pickles.
Bit like fondue but with water rather than oil or cheese.
After that lot, washed down with Kirin beer and more green tea it was back to find the right stop to get the 206 back to the station and The Horel directly above it.
This time we got it right and rewarded ourselves with drinks in the Sky Lounge Bar overlooking nighttime Kyoto – only after going the wrong way and and mistakenly trying to use the keycard to get into a guest room section we weren’t staying in.
Even got reception to give us new keycards which we thought might work on the wrong rooms.
Tomorrow starts with some grovelling methinks.

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