Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Japanned, Day Three

My Wife and I went to Japan for ten days. We had a blast. I took notes.


Tokyo. Sumo. Sobu noodles...

The Tomato Water is haunting me. It's just sitting in our room, tepid and stale and somehow resisting my desire to throw it out. It's disgusting, but... it calls to you. If you try even a little, you have to try more. I mean, not the whole bottle or anything, it's not heroin, but because it's so strange and terrible you're definitely compelled to try more than you would have originally preferred to. And make no mistake, it is terrible. Terrible, but sweet. And maybe tangy? Maybe? It was kind of vegetable-reminiscent, I think, like there were pulped leaves in it, or some kind of greenery. But still, if you tried it, I don't think you'd go: "Mmm... Tomatoes." Mostly because no one would ever say something like that when not eating an actual tomato, but also because it doesn't taste anything like tomatoes. It tastes like... loamy skittles? If you can imagine that. Every morning I had to sip at it and be amazed that such a thing exists in mass quantities...

Today we took the train to Tokyo.

You know what? There's a lot of white people in Tokyo. Mostly Europeans. Some French that look sweatier than me. Some Germans that could be mistaken as Americans. There's Russians, of course, cornering the market on tracksuits and giant sunglasses, and a metric ton of Australian frat boys, or maybe they were just regular Australians, it's hard to tell. They were everywhere, noticeably towering over the crowd... at least until we reached Ryogoku, the section where the Sumo championships were being held, as that section of the city is a lot more "old Japan" apparently. Which means, it's a lot of little old Japanese people in slippers shuffling about. But today was a day for sumo, and Ryogoku is where the Ryogoku Kokugikan is, which is the Sumo Stadium, so that's where we were headed.

The answer to whether or not we were in the right place became quickly apparent.

We bought our tickets just in time, as the event sold out quickly, and then we were off to hunt down some lunch and some sights. We headed to Kappabashi, known as Kitchen Town. Block after block of bowls and knives and chopsticks, of pots and pans and plates, on and on and on. The plastic food used for restaurant window displays was incredible.

We browsed for awhile, picked up some stuff, considered getting more... y'know... shopped a bit. Ela hemmed and hawed over some plastic sushi refrigerator magnets, but decided in the end to wait and get some later... a decision she later regretted, boys and girls, because she never got the chance to purchase any again. There's a lesson there, kids, never pass up the plastic sushi magnets you could buy today, for the cheaper plastic sushi magnets you might be able to buy tomorrow.

Truth bomb.

We found a soba restaurant down one of the alleys. It was cool and shady and empty, just us and the two old people who ran it. They were very nice and their soup was delicious. It's not the actual place, or the actual soup, you see in the pictures below, but I wanted to show you what it all pretty much looked like. Just a nice little Soba Restaurant tucked away down a random alley.

At this point in the trip, Ela and I were jingle-jangling around town with every step.

Japan is a pretty cash-based society, and not a lot of places take credit cards either, so you have to carry a lot of cash with you. That's not a really big deal though, because the people generally seemed pretty honest and friendly, the country always felt pretty safe--the occasional ninja attack notwithstanding--and the bills are easy to read and use. Most places you go, when a Japanese person realizes you're obviously not a fluent speaker, they will just punch the total amount of whatever you're buying into a calculator and show it to you at the end of a transaction, rather than try to explain to you how much it is.

It's all very convenient.

And Ela and I were ready for this, we had done our homework... well, Ela had... and so, in preparation for our trip, we exchanged plenty of cash. A funny little side-note, it turns out getting all our initial yen in America got us a ton of 2000 yen notes--which is basically $20.00--but in Japan, using a 2000 yen note is kind of like using a $2 bill here in America. Everyone looked at us weird each time we'd hand one over, and then kind of show it to each other and snicker.

Glad we could amuse you, Japan!

Anyway, the reason we were jingle-jangling so much was due to the fact that our pockets were full of coins. Japanese coins are more naturally involved in most transactions, because some of them are of pretty high value (500 yen = $5. 100 yen = $1), and the rest of them are of almost no value at all. The 1 yen piece is so worthless, it doesn't even feel like the metal it's made out of is even worth a single yen. And they're all different sizes, weights, and colors, and not always easy to read, or to use in a hurry, so foreigners always end up getting flustered and very quickly building up a stash. I had so much, who knows how much money I dropped around town just pulling stuff out of my pockets.

So, it was here that Ela and I resolved to start making more of an effort to pay with our coins...

So we did. We paid for the soup, carefully counting them out, and then it was time for Sumo...

We were a little ways back...

The sumo was great, truly a sport of anticipation and sudden thunder. It's minutes of stare-downs and almost-starts, a lot of salt-throwing and stomping and posturing, and then maybe 8 seconds of two massive human beings just slamming together, shoving and pushing at one another until one is forced down, or out of the ring. It was fun, fun to watch, fun to be with a crowd that loved it, a good time. And let me tell you, there is no funnier facial expression than that of a massive sumo wrestler, clad in nothing but a thong-diaper, who has just been lifted, hurled, and thrown bodily out of the ring, tumbling off the dais and to the floor below. It is the face of a man who is defeated, upset and embarrassed, a man suffering from both the physical and mental pain that naturally occurs when one takes an ass-over-teakettle type of fall, but... for just that first moment, his face is also sheened with the most brittle mask of pure hope, for just that first split second, there's the most fleeting of flickerings, a hope that maybe no one saw what just happened, that maybe his truffle-shuffle tumble was anonymous... maybe... only for him to look up, out into the crowd, and realize, yes... sadly yes, everyone saw... they all saw everything...

The only downside to the event was that the main level box seats were only big enough for four people if y'all know each other really well and don't mind a little rubbing. They were also directly on the floor, with only a thin mat and some carpet between you and THE HARDEST WOOD KNOWN TO MAN. It is without a doubt an understatement to say this, but it grew to be a bit uncomfortable. Also, for a stadium full of giant fat guys, the air conditioning was sub-par, Japan. Sub-par. It was a great time, but at the end, I was sweating like a monster and my ass hurt like crazy. Feeling the cool breeze in my face upon pushing my way outside, once everything was all done, was like feeling the sweetest of all heavens.

My poor, poor sweat towel...

The actual leaving of the stadium area took forever, for two reasons. One, it was a huge amount of people. And two, every once in awhile, the crowd would open up in front of me, and there'd be this small space, and way down low, below everyone's shoulders, there'd be this little tiny, stoop-shouldered, bent-backed old lady shuffling along with her bag and her program. Sumo is not the sport of young Japan. There were several of these pockets scattered throughout the crowd too. It was like suddenly discovering you're crossing a dark room full of puppies.

Step carefully.

We finally got free of the crowd after falling into the wake of a trio of Sumo Wrestlers. They were monstrous, just huge human beings lumbering steadily along, inexorable, and the people parted in front of them like traffic before an ambulance. Or maybe a boulder rolling down hill. Or maybe more like a giant whose massive presence easily communicates in every language: "Just get the fuck outta my way, man... or don't, doesn't matter to me, because I'm not stopping either way." They certainly looked unstoppable. Each one was the size of a mountain. And being so close to them, I couldn't help but notice that they all had the worst cauliflower ears I have ever seen. The cartilage was all puffed and twisted, just these thick knobs of flesh protruding from the sides of their giant heads. They had Shrek ears. Truly impressive damage, and without a doubt, a painful cultivation.

Next, we were off to the Sensoji Temple and its traditional shopping street. It was still super hot out. I mean, it wasn't like I was going to get sweatier at that point, but seriously, it was like walking on the sun, it was so hot. My Yokohama Baystars hat was doing double duty as a sun screen and a sweat-soaker. So broiled, we passed through the Thunder Gate and into the market.

This place was amazing. It culminates in a massive temple, and apparently vendors have lined the street leading up to it for nearly 1400 years. 1400 years, kids. For almost seven times longer than America has existed, people in Japan have been able to purchase random trinkets and doo-dads on that street. Does America have a flea-market that old? No, Japan does, they probably even have several, and this one was packed with people and noise and just... stuff. Endless stuff. Masks and lanterns and erasers and t-shirts and food and drink, And of course, almost no garbage cans. As someone who hates carrying any kind of extra little shit/garbage in my hands whenever I'm out doing stuff and not headed directly home, this would be the one thing I would warn people about: Chug that water and ditch the bottle at your first chance, or you'll be stuck carrying it forever.

So annoying, Japan.

A rare sighting...

But on the upside, there was plenty of Takoyaki available--which is fried dough and octopus and some ginger and sounds totally weird, but it was delicious. There were also cups of fried chicken chunks, which was one of the most awesome ideas ever. Pieces of friend chicken in a paper cup! How is this not a regular thing in America? And there was Chu-hi, of course, plenty of Chu-hi, that delicious and refreshing devil drink. We drank and ate and Ela searched for the perfect souvenir for everyone she's ever known ever.

Eventually, it was time to head home.

At this point, it was rush hour, which meant the trains were packed, seriously packed. Like sardines. Packed to the gills. You basically want to get your hands up and out of the way, or you stand the chance of really getting to know the stranger you're pressed up against, really well. I hate to say it, but... You're gonna get dry-humped. Hopefully not on purpose. The crowds in Japan are serious business, and they move quickly. They're polite, and there's definitely lines, but you better keep up. Keep an eye on the rest of your group too, or you could get really separated. Also, of interesting note, Exiting and Entering a really packed subway car is maybe the only time in Japan where it's permitted to be baldly aggressive. When the car is full, you just shove and make room. It's a moment where being a large American in Japan is a bonus, because if you want on the train, you're gonna have to push through the wall of people like you're aiming to knock the shit out of the Quarterback... and the best part is, you never look at each other while it's happening. No one acknowledges you, what's happening, or anything, because this is just how it's done. You shove your way on, you avert your eyes, and everybody just gets where they're going.

It's a good system.

It was really nice to get back to Yokohama though. After the hot sumo stadium and the hot market street and the hot train ride, I needed a cool shower. It had been a long, fun day, and we were worn out. I'm not even entirely sure what we did after that. I think we showered and then went down and sat at the bar for awhile. Maybe we napped. All I know for sure is, after all that walking and riding and sweating and drinking all day long, Ela and I were out like lights that night.

Day Three done,

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