Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Lots of nakie man bum

I meant to get this up a few weeks ago, but it’s been busy back at work. Recently a second wave of the pigflu has quarantined many of my students in their houses, so I’m finally free to sit down and write this.

Recently there was a huge sumo tournament in Tokyo to which Adam and I bought tickets. The tournament lasts all day, with the lower level matches beginning in the morning and running until the serious wrestlers go at it in the late afternoon. We got there in the morning and played spot-the-sumo in the area around the stadium. This is super fun because all the wrestlers are out doing normal people things like eating lunch and riding bikes and shopping. And they’re easy to spot since they all have a traditional waxed hairstyle. (And easy to spot for other, more obvious reasons.)

Mid-day we left to visit a Parasite Museum. It was cool, but very misleading. I won’t go into details, but Adam and I walked out of the place under the false impression that tiny fish could live inside your liver, and crabs could live inside your heart. We later googled ‘liver fluke’ and ‘heart crab’ to no avail and promptly realized how stupid we really were. I blamed the museum for lying to us and maintained a dignified silence on the train back to the sumo tournament.

Anyway, we went back to see the oozeki and yokozunas, the top ranked players in Japan. There are a surprising number of foreign sumo wrestlers, and in fact, the two highest ranked wrestlers are Mongolian. We sat a few levels up from the action, but people can buy Japanese style seating right next to the ring (really just cushions on the floor) for outrageous prices. These usually go to impetuous old farts who are known to have mantrums and throw their cushions at the wrestlers during lacklustre matches (because old people can get away with whatever they want in Japan.) What’s funny is that Sumo isn’t just a fat man’s sport. We saw lots of Marvin the Martian vs. Mongo matches, and it wasn’t always a win for the bigger guy. It would seem that being a good sumo wrestler has qualifiers other than ‘be gigantic and push people around.’

Though this guy never got the memo:

Oh and we got to see the Emperor of Japan. He and the Empress came to watch some Sumo too, only they had much better seating than us and were accompanied by some shifty eyed suited types.

In other news, you’ll be interested to know that the Tokyo Metro Railway Company puts out a series of ‘do it at home’ posters featuring various impolitenesses, reminding Tokyoites to mind their manners when riding the subway. These are apparently necessary because Japan sans public service posters detailing embarrassing social faux-pas is a Japan with no discernable moral compass…? Some of them are quite funny, and here are a couple of my favourites.

Here's a spoof I thought was pretty funny:

Saturday, January 9, 2010


Happy New Year! Winter holidays are over and it’s back to work. After Christmas I spent most of my time showing a friend around Tokyo and its surrounding areas. We got to see a kabuki performance, which was lucky, considering the famous (and very old) Kabuki-Za theatre is being torn down in a couple months and being completely renovated.
We also played some pachinko. Pachinko is way less fun than it sounds. And it sounds horrible. When walking into a pachinko parlour you’re met with the sound of a million million steel balls ricocheting off the pegs inside the game. It sounds like the engine room of some great ship. Couple that with second-hand smoke and flashing neon lights, the whole experience is a sensory overload. Oh, and the chairs are designed to pull you right into the machine, should you push away or lean back. It was like being inside the heart of some giant out-of-control manic robot clown.

New Years was spent drinking nihonshu (a mix of sake and shochu) in an izakaya in Tokyo this year. We did the countdown with everybody else in the restaurant, except for the table adjacent to ours, who did theirs two minutes later… which struck us as odd. What did they think was going on beforehand?

My New Year’s resolution is to stop carrying around so much shit in my bag. I never wanted to become one of those girls with irritatingly full shoulder bags, but I find myself reaching in for my wallet when it’s time to pay for something and embarrassingly grope away like a 13 year-old boy trying to get to second base. Here, then, is what’s in my bag:

-emergency battery for iPhone
-assorted tea bags (this month is Lady Grey and popcorn tea)
-pamphlets/tickets to things/receipts
-extra pair of underwear (black, if you must know)
-broken South Africa keychain
-book (currently reading Kafka on the Shore) (So guhd)
- 2 spoons
-no, wait, 3 spoons
-lip shimmer
-insurance application form with scribbles all over it (this is telling, don’t you think?)
-packet of soy sauce
-maple candy I brought from Canada (I don’t like maple. I brought these to give to other people, but now they’ve gotten all scummy and manky at the bottom of my bag and would likely give someone a bad case of thrush)
-glue stick
- earrings I thought I lost
-broken pens

…I may have issues.

Tokyo is a walking city, but after a while we were able to duck into a basement cigar bar near Harajuku, where we sat down like rakish highbrow types and ordered port and sat in high-backed leather chairs and exchanged sly witticisms while smoking cigars etc etc. Struck with the realization that I had an opportunity to indulge in some bad-assery, I opted to try the whiskey, mainly to satiate my preoccupation with Captain Haddock. Nope. Still can’t drink the whiskey. But going to places like this may ruin my life in the most magnificent ways.

I was recently made aware of a place in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro district (lit. “pond bag”) called Nekobukuro (lit. “cat bag”) where you can go and play with cats all day. If everything is born of necessity, places like this is what makes Japan so bloody peculiar. Adam’s allergic and I’m in kitty-withdrawal, so I made a special trip with Juan to see this place, which is just a big room with cats comfortably tucked into every nook and cranny, as only cats can do. They’re used to being pet all day so they’re completely indifferent if you go up and poke at them while they’re trying to sleep. I happened to have some string with me, but I was popular only as long as their attention spans held out. Either way, they were soft and cute so I was happy.

Overall, it was a busy and tiring holiday. However, Adam and I weren’t so worn out that we couldn’t appreciate the novelty of this enormous carrot, which provided suitable entertainment for an entire evening.

What small lives we lead.