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SOLO JAPAN II 14.-28.3.2004.
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conclusion of my trip | photo gallery II
Monday, 22th of March 2004
Tokyo -> Osaka

Day Nine:
Sumo at Osaka

Time to hit the shinkansen again

Shiho, like many other people working, had to get up early for work, so naturally I did the same thing and packed my stuff for the trip to Osaka, where I would watch sumo. I had a ticket for this day already, thanks to Shiho who ordered it for me in advance.

We parted at a Yamanote line station and I got on board the shinkansen for Osaka at the familiar Tokyo station. The ride went smoothly and one stop before Shin-Osaka (my destination stop), the train stopped at Kyoto, which brought back some good memories. Hmm, should I skip Hiroshima later and spend a day here instead once I leave Nagasaki ...

Navigating around Osaka

At the Shin-Osaka station I made the routine move of visiting the tourist information centre and checked how to get to the hotel I reserved a room from. Then I called Mikiko and we agreed to meet after the sumo tournament was over.

I wanted to drop my backpack at the hotel before going to the sumo tournament, so I first took a local train to Osaka station and then switched to Osaka's own loop line (similar to Tokyo's Yamanote line that makes a loop around central Tokyo) and jumped off at Shin-Imamiya.

It was heavily raining outside as I tried to figure out where the hell the hotel was. To add the grimness of the situation, there were a lot of homeless people sitting under a huge train bridge close to the station. After asking directions and buying an umbrella by the way, I finally found the hotel I was looking for.

The hotel looked decent from the outside and the staff was kind. However, the small hotel room itself was furnished pretty much what you might expect for a mere 2000 yen: a bed, television, towels, vcr (for rental videos) and a small table. Oh, and a box of kleenex.

Searching for the sumo arena

I left the hotel right away in order to make it to the sumo tournament in time. That turned out to be an even more difficult task. I got off at Namba station and went to all kinds of directions for probably a hour or so in the heavy rain before I knew I was close to my target when I saw a sumo wrestler walking in the street and wearing a yukata (informal kimono).

So I found the arena, known as the Osaka Municipal Gymnasium. I was already half an hour late from the opening ceremony, so I didn't waste any more time and went straight to the entry gate passing the souvenir shops.

Expensive seat yet still far from the ring

I gave my ticket at the entry door. Instead of just letting me in, one from the staff escorted me to my seat at the arena and gave me some brochures of the sumo wrestlers (in Japanese) and a booklet explaining the history of sumo (in English).

Although I paid 6700 yen for the seat ticket (plus an extra 500 yen service charge), the seat was still quite far away from the ring in the center, so I could forget about taking close facial photos of the sumo wrestlers with a five times zoom lens.

Some of the seats closer to the ring were "boxes" of four floor seats where you could enjoy the sumo tournament while eating and drinking picnic style. These seats are naturally even more expensive than a normal seat I was using and usually the closest seats are long ago reserved by various companies.

Shinto related sport

About sumo itself, it's an ancient sport dating back some 1500 years. Originally a ritual dedicated to the gods with prayers for a bountiful harvest, it developed into a wrestling festival during the Nara Period (8th century) and soon the rough sport got Imperial Court rules which are largely followed to this day.

The routine rituals before each bout was interesting to watch for maybe an hour, but after that it would have helped to know some background of the sumo wrestlers taking on each other. I also noticed that some of the wrestlers weren't Japanese (later I learned that one was from Russia and another from Mongolia).

Final clash for the day

The final bout was a match everyone was waiting for, as the referee for this clash was the highest ranked possible (yes, they also have their own ranks), indicating there is at least one champion (yokozuna) in the ring and thus the highest ranked referee is needed.

After the compulsory psychological battle of changing glances between the wrestlers for several minutes, the crowd was clearly excited of the upcoming battle.

When they finally slammed against each other it was a fierce fight between two clearly experienced wrestlers, both having their chances before both falling teasingly slowly outside the ring, ending with the other's victory by maybe only an inch.

The crowd was ecstatic from easily the most dramatic and exciting bout of the day and threw their seat pillows towards the ring showing satisfaction, which I found a bit surprising after many hours of strict, ancient rituals.

Meeting Mikiko

I left the arena right after that bout as I had to meet Mikiko as agreed. After walking to the near by station and wondering where she was, I called her and realized I misunderstood the meeting spot, so I returned to the arena where I finally met her and her husband.

Mikiko is 20 years older than me and the link between us is that 20 years earlier she was living in Finland and stayed in my parents' apartment for one night. In fact, the book of Japan she presented us was most likely the first one I read about Japan when I was 10 years old. Is she to blame for my growing interest towards Japan afterwards? Who knows. ^^

Mikiko originally wished I could come over to their house near Osaka, as they also run a restaurant there and her husband is a professional cook, but because of my tight schedule we settled to meet in Osaka and eat in some good restaurant at Osaka's Namba district.

We found a suitable okonomiyaki restaurant and took a table that had a big iron hotplate (or teppan) in the middle. We then ordered food (my was a mixture of vegetables, meat and seafood) that we would cook and literally eat them right off the stove. Not only was this fun, it was also very tasty! Okonomiyaki means "cook what you like". We also had some compulsory yet tasty sushi.

We talked about various things, mostly about sumo, Japan and Finland. Then we walked around the streets full of neon lights and settled for a cup of tea in a very high class cafe (I dare not to remember the price of that cup of tea anymore).

Returning to the hotel

When I mentioned that my hotel was in Shin-Imamiya, they got a bit concerned as they see the area "chotto dangerous" and insisted they would escort me there.

So they did and after thanking them for a really good evening and wishing we could meet again some time, I got back to the hotel and noticed they had a public computer with internet, which was a nice plus.

Otherwise I got back to my closet and went to sleep right away in order to get up early, as there wasn't much else I could do. At least the sheets were clean, the shared toilet room was messier than most public ones.

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Photo copyright Ude
For 7200 yen you get this close to the ring (dohyo). Not a good deal if you ask me.

Photo copyright Ude
The referee (gyoji) had his own set of poses too.

Photo copyright Ude
Sumo wrestlers (rikishi) shoving each other while the referee shouts encouragements.

Photo copyright Ude
Posing with Mikiko at the Namba district in Osaka.

Photo copyright Ude
Interactive photo! My hotel room in Osaka. Move your mouse over the image for a different angle.

LINKS TO SERVICES, PLACES, ETC. MENTIONED TODAY:
Osaka - Okay, so I was there again, but I still couldn't get a good idea of the city.
Nihon Sumo Kyokai - Official Grand Sumo Home Page. Good info of sumo and how to get tickets to tournaments.
Hotel Raizan - For the travelers looking for a really cheap place to stay on Osaka, check this hotel out.
An article of supercheap hotels in Osaka - I found this interesting article on Japan Times a year after my trip. It highlights the hotel I stayed at in Osaka.
Copyright 2003-2019 © , second edition. Latest minor update 4th of May 2010 (fixed and deleted broken links)
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