Monday, January 26, 2009

Go to a sumo tournament... check.

So one of the items on the Japan to-do list was to attend a sumo tournament. There are six tournaments each year, three of which are held in Tokyo. The other three are held at locations around Japan (for example, Kyoto is one of them). The winter tournament (or banzuke, if you will) started about two weeks ago and wrapped up this past Sunday.

I won't get into a lot of sumo minutiae here, but each tournament runs for 15 days. Each wrestler has one match each day. The sumo day starts at about 9 or 10 each morning with what could be considered the sumo minor leagues. Matches run all day with top tier starting about 4 each day. Between each tier or rank of sumo matches, there is a ceremony where the wrestlers come out and parade around the ring.

The top level is the yokozuna, of which there were only two in this tournament. Each day finishes about 6 in the evening. After each tournament, the wrestlers are re-ranked for the following tournament. Unless you are yokozuna, you can be moved up or moved down. Yokozuna are at that rank until they retire, which is expected when they start losing.

We got there about 2 on Saturday (two weekends ago). I would say the arena (which is a dedicated use building - they only do sumo there) was probably about 30% full. We walked around a bit and snapped some photos. It may be hard to tell from the pics, but the entire lower level is basically floor seating - there is a small box with four pillows and those are your seats. Outside the arena, there are vendors selling food who will deliver it to your box. It could best be described as a picnic-type of deal. People sit in their boxes and eat and watch the sumo.

Fortunately (I think...we would not have enjoyed sitting in those boxes), our seats were in the upper deck, where they are actually seats. We grabbed some bento boxes (Jenn got a hotdog later) and took in sumo. As you will be able to tell in the video, there is a lot of ceremony and posturing in a sumo match. The actual action part of the match may only be about 5 seconds. It was also interesting how advertising was interjected into the higher-level matches.... as the wrestlers were going through their rituals, guys would parade around the ring with banners for various advertisers. By the time the yokozuna were wrestling, the guys were making two laps of the ring with two different sets of banners. It was kind of amusing since there was little other advertising in the arena.

If you don't know, the rules are pretty simple. If you step out of the ring, you lose. If any part of your body touches the ground, you lose. A match is one round. That's about it.

Some pics...

Some sumo action...

A low level match:

This very easily could have been a broken arm:

A good, top-level match:

All in all, it was a really cool experience. The sport is steeped in tradition - the pagentry and ceremony are fascinating to watch. And you can say all you want about the dress, but these guys hit each other, hard. The guy above nearly had his arm broken, so the risk of injury is certainly there. And that probably applies to the spectators as well.... they are sitting right on the edge of the ring and wrestlers went flying into the first couple of rows a few times. It was cool to see, but now that we've see it I don't know that we will make it again. There are pretty long periods where nothing really happens.

It was a pretty big story for the guy who won... you can read more here if you wish. The guy is a character basically. And interestingly enough, both of the yokozuna are Mongolian. Before we went, I asked one of my co-workers if he ever goes to sumo. He said not really and then paused. Then he said, "many of the sumo now are foreigners." A very Japanese comment.

The way to shop...

So, a few of our friends have these very fancy cameras and John has been salivating over them and pleading his case for why in fact we need one. I mean there's all these great sights that we can more appropriately capture and soon Cosmo will be here for us to take pictures of....all sorts of reasons we need this semi-professional camera.

Well, we hit up Bic Camera which is this huge department store that is full of electronics and other crazy things like toys, wine, everything. We hit pay dirt with an English speaking sales guy that can answer all our questions perfectly. But we need to price shop, so we scurry across town to Akihabara, which is the electronic area of Tokyo. I've seen nothing like it before....department store upon department store of electronics. Well, said camera was a little more expensive, so we trek back to Bic Camera to ask a few more questions of our fabulous sales guy. We end up pulling the trigger on the camera and we ask him about a memory card.

He pulls out the options and they are quite pricey. He leans over and says....are you familiar with Akihabara? If so, I would recommend going there for the memory card as you can get the same thing for half price. We were so shocked that he was giving us this great recommendation and we of course thank him. He then proceeds to say that he is a student and he is only a part time employee therefore gets no commission and...wait for it...besides that no one can understand what he's telling us anyway, so that is what he would recommend. I almost fell on the floor laughing.....

Until next time...Jenn
JRS Note: I totally admit that I had camera envy. And after only a short time period, I think we can highly recommend the Nikon D90 Digital SLR. Because sometimes, 11.0 megapixels and 3.5 frames per second just aren't enough. And it shoots HD movies! So expect better pictures and movies on a Tokyo blog near you coming soon.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Whirlwind Week...

And yes, this is where most of you scratch your heads and say, but you don't have a job...yeah, yeah, I know.  But despite that, I have actually, dare I say it, been too busy to think about the blog.  Last weekend we went to sumo and John is taking a large stance that he wants to amuse you with that little Japanese experience.  Let's just say, men in very interesting outfits that do not cover everything so to your imaginations can do their thing until he gets around to posting.  

Monday, I was all set to get myself finally kicked into gear and start on those New Year's resolutions that I made to get into shape...yes, I know that we are into the last week of January, but really whose counting.  But, my friend Jessie called desperate for someone to help substitute at the school she works at.  So, I scurry off to try my hand at holding the attention of 18 month to two year olds.  It was only for a few hours and the kiddos were way too cute, but what a day.  Just in case you, like me, don't have kids yet, at that age the attention span is very very low.  Thankfully, I was in a classroom with two other wonderful real teachers because we changed what we were doing and rooms every 15 minutes or so.  It was a blast.  

Monday night was also our first Japanese lesson in Tokyo I'm excited and a little embarrassed to say (what's four months without any lessons).  Our sensai was very nice, the material was basically a review, but when she left I told John that I missed Tai san our Dallas teacher.  But with 93 more hours to go, I'm sure it'll be fine....or so I keep telling myself.  In any event, it motivates me to get my apartment spotless as she comes to our house and since she called the cupcakes I had made from the box "beautiful" also motivates me to bake more.  

Tuesday I had lunch plans and babysat.  Wednesday was Bible Study and some Guitar Hero with my friend Nikki, Thursday consisted of more lunch plans and Friday wrapped up the week with yoga.  So, while most days weren't 100% full, I'm happy to report that progress is being made here folks, I am managing to keep myself busy.  

Now, onto Saturday.  We hit the slopes, or hills if you want to get technical, but regardless we saw some snow and got to get a little skiing exercise in.  John and I, along with a few friends of ours, decided to try out a day trip from Tokyo to Gala Ski Resort.  The alarm was set for 5 (yes, even though my regularly scheduled wake up time has in fact gotten earlier, this was still a stretch) in order to get all geared up and fed before making our way via taxi (our sensai will be so proud) to Tokyo station and the shinkansen.  The shinkansen if you will recall is the bullet train that runs various places outside of Tokyo.  Our train wasn't until 7:30am, but we had a non-reserved seat which means you have to wait in line and cross your fingers that you get to sit down.  Thankfully, that wasn't an issue.  I would have been one surly girl if I had to stand an hour and a half...I'll admit it.  The best part was that the station was literally attached to the ski resort.  The bad thing is that we got on the mountain around 10 and had skied every slope by 1.  Regardless, it was a great day and we're now looking forward to our big ski trip in February.  

Here are a few pictures of our day on the slopes for your viewing pleasure.  

Until next time...Jenn

Friday, January 16, 2009

Not to Beat a Dead Horse....

but, the karaoke restaurant sent us these pictures and I thought they were too great not to post.......

Here is my beautiful birthday cake and then a great group shot..."Japanese style" with the peace sign in full force.  

And here is my wonderful husband that made it all happen....with balloons, my favorite!  We are heading to a sumo tournament this afternoon, so we should have some fun pictures for your viewing pleasure sometime next week.  Have a fantastic weekend!

Until next time....Jenn

Monday, January 12, 2009

SURPRISE....It's Your Birthday.....

We're gonna party, like it's your birthday.....

So, my amazing husband just pulled off one of the best birthday scams ever....a surprise party for my 31st (yes, getting old) birthday.  First of all, I have to just say - IT WAS AWESOME!  It was so much fun and made me feel so special.  

To give you a little background, John sent all our friends in Tokyo an evite before we left for Christmas to come to dinner to celebrate my birthday the weekend after we all got back into town.  Most of our friends RSVPd yes they would be there, but there were two friends that couldn't make it and one friend that didn't reply to the invite.  

So, we get back to Tokyo last weekend, my actual birthday was Tuesday and I go out with two of my girlfriends for lunch.  I haphazardly ask Nikki, the one that has already said she's coming, if they were still in for Saturday and she winces and says...oh, I didn't want to break this to you until tomorrow (post b-day), but we aren't going to make it.  She said that her fiance had surprised her with a trip to Okinawa for Christmas and he didn't know about the date of my b-day dinner.  Okay, I was bummed, but totally understood....a trip is a trip.  

I have dinner with Sam and Andrea the next night where Andrea reiterates how sad she is that she can't make dinner and even gives me a believable reason why they aren't available (she had RSVPd no already).  And Sam goes into this elaborate story about how she hopes she can make it, but they aren't really sure if their babysitter can do Saturday (she is the friend that hadn't RSVPd).  So, on Friday when Sam texts me that they aren't going to make it....I'm once again bummed, but not surprised since it is hard to find a babysitter here.  

It didn't end friend Jessie sends me an email in the early part of the week welcoming me back to town and how she is hoping she doesn't catch anything that the kiddos have brought back with them from the holidays (colds, pink eye, etc).  Then on Saturday morning she texts to say how incredibly sorry she is, but she's now running a fever and there's no way she can come to dinner that night!  While everyone is canceling, Nikki (the one on the trip) responds to my "have fun" text message with, "we're having a great time, the weather isn't all that great, but we're still having a good time".  

So, John lures me out of the house with thoughts of a walk and sale shopping and a snack around 4:00pm.  We head back to our apartment to get ready for dinner (or so I thought) and SURPRISE....all my friends are there...all of them!  I was so surprised and couldn't stop screaming when they all jumped out of the dark.  It was too funny, but the surprises didn't stop there.  John and my friends had all arranged a karaoke party complete with food, drinks, a fancy birthday cake and.....COSTUMES!!!  It was awesome and will go down as one of the best nights in my life.  I love you, John!  

Until next time...Jenn

A post for the Car Geeks

An introductory note... I have been meaning to post this for several months now, so this is hardly timely.  But I wanted to load some video and have had some technical issues with doing so until Santa delivered the MacBook with some video editing software.  So, this is kind of a flashback post to October (thus the shorts and t-shirts).

Japan has become the center of the auto sports world for a couple of weeks in October. The Formula 1 Race was held at Fuji Speeday  and then the World Rally series was held up in Sapporo in a few weeks later.  Both very cool events.  (Just a quick aside - since we went to this event, Honda pulled out of F1 and Subaru pulled out of WRC for next year due to the economy.  Kind of sad really... I'll be curious if this event even happens next year without two of the major Japanese manufacturers there.)

Unfortunately, we were unable to secure tickets to either one (F1 is on the sports to-do list for next year though). But we were able to go to Motorsport Japan 2008. I think since most of the cars are already here, the organizers of the F1 race get the teams and manufacturers to roll them out onto a parking lot in Odaiba and let people come out and look at them. Lots of pretty cool cars and it's about the only free thing I think we've experienced in Tokyo. Some of the highlights...

They also had a big section of a parking lot cordoned off for the cars to get out and drive around a bit. I rolled some video on the F1 cars. You NASCAR types will love this... they drive around in a circle for a while and then do donuts at the end. F1 cars are well equipped to do donuts apparently.

(had some technical issues... will have to try this one again later.)

This being Japan, they also had video games setup. One of the cooler things they had was a pretty realistic mockup of a Honda F1 Car with a large video screen in front of it. You sat in the cockpit of the car and drove on the screen. Of course this was attracting a huge crowd and there is no telling how early you had to be there to get a ticket for one of the assigned time slots.

So we're just standing around looking at cars and this Japanese guy comes up to me and hands me a ticket clear out of the blue. It was for a time slot about 10 minutes later. I'll just say this before we go to the video:
  • The crowd was most interested to see if I could fit in the car. Said crowd grew during my exhibition

  • I would have done better with more support from my better half.

  • I did awesome on the straight-aways.

  • F1 cars apparently don't handle very well off-road.

Happy Coming of Age Day!

Continuing our celebration of Japanese holidays, I had today off due to Coming of Age Day (or seijin no hi day).  The internet is telling me it is a day to celebrate kids turning 20 this year - the legal age to vote, drink and smoke in Japan.  We celebrated by putting a shelf together for my closet and going the grocery store. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A Little Thank You

I just wanted to send a little thank you shout out to everyone who passed along their good wishes on my birthday.  It was really a great day!

My mom's oldest friend, Susan, instituted a "birthday week" many years ago and my mom has finally gotten my dad to buy into it in the past few years.  I am pretty philosophical and know that it is WAY too early in our marriage to attempt the birthday weekend directive.  However, I feel like I'm getting one this year.  Before coming back my family had a little b-day celebration for us.  And on my actual birthday I have to say John did an amazing job....Happy Birthday signs when I woke up and balloons all over the floor.  Not to mention breakfast and dinner and very thoughtful presents.  It was just really special.  

And all the fun birthday shout outs were too much fun and the sweet calls and emails were just what I needed after getting back to Tokyo!  

Until next time...Jenn

Monday, January 5, 2009

A Wii little Christmas had We

Ah, an end to the radio, John and I made it back to Tokyo yesterday after 3 weeks for me and 2 for him at home. It was so nice seeing family and friends you can't imagine. Not to mention how easy everything seemed since people everywhere understood what we said.

We rolled in last night around 7:00pm after carrying what had to have been several hundred pounds of luggage uphill to our apartment. Ah, the bliss of city life sans car. The effects of my workout hiatus were rearing their ugly heads as I was sore this morning. Note to self...might need to kick up that workout resolution to more than three times a week.

Of course, despite getting a little sleep on the plane and trying to go to bed as late as possible, we were still both up at 5:30am wide awake and raring to go, which is not my normal by the way. Ever since my status was changed to "kept woman", I am not an early riser by any means. So with all this extra time added to my day, let's just say I have been a busy bee. After John headed out to work I've managed to unpack our goodies from Christmas, take down the Christmas decorations, put up a few Valentine's decorations, do all the laundry, clean the entire apartment, write thank you notes for my gifts, organize my book shelves, rearrange my closet a bit, download some new CDs onto iTunes (I am now the proud owner of the 16 greatest John Denver hits as well as some popular Irish pub tunes), and hit the Don for a few staple grocery items. Whew, I'm tired just repeating it all. Needless to say I'm currently exhausted and it's only 4:30pm. AND there are strange sounds coming from my washing machine, which I'll worry about later.

So, Santa was very good to us this Christmas and we came home with all sorts of fun new things. The one that makes me laugh though is the Wii. After my 9 year old cousin got one last year, my mom decided that we needed one too. So, when she decided that John needed one this year I mentioned it to John and it went a little like this....

Jenn: What do you think about a Wii?
John: We won't ever use that....don't want one, waste of money
Jenn: But I heard that Guitar Hero was so much fun
John: Oh, and I definitely wouldn't want that...I would NEVER play it

So, despite his forewarning, John got a Wii and I got him Guitar Hero World Tour as a present. His reaction was favorable, but we are with my parents and what is he going to say. Let's just say a week later when we are at his parents house I find him in the living room, no lights while the rest of us are watching TV and he is practicing his guitar hero!!!!

I hope that you all had a fabulous Christmas and New Years too!!!

Until next time...Jenn