Monday, March 29, 2004

Osaka's annual Sumo tournament ended yesterday. The champion wrestler, Asashouryu, a Mongolian who is about half the size of the largest wrestlers, was undefeated in the contest. Someone told me he hadn't lost any of his last 30 bouts, which seems quite impressive.

Typical for Gaijins, we purchased the cheapest tickets, standing area nose-bleeds, and then looked for unoccupied tatami (straw mat) seats to better view the bouts in more comfort and closeness. Unoccupied seats are easy to spot. The tatami, by the placement of cushions, is divided into seats, further separated into groups of four seats with raised metal bars, comprising a kind of group box seat. If someone buys one of these boxes, the ushers place cups for tea on a small tray inside the barred area, thus indicating that the area is reserved. We simply looked for seats where there were no tea cups and made ourselves at home.

If you can afford a box seat, you get lots of goodies. When guests arrive, they are brought a warm pot of tea to drink. Shortly afterwards, an usher arrives to take orders. The spectators in each box receive a bento (a traditional japanese lunch box), beer or sake, and some Sumo souvenirs. As we didn't pay for the luxury, I'm not entirely sure what else is included. Fortunately, scavengers that we were, we were able to snatch some unopened bentos and beer at the end of the contest, after most of those in attendance had dispersed. Enough, in fact, to feed and drink all six of us that evening!

Sumo is a great Japanese sport. We just don't have anything like it in America. There are quite a few foreign wrestlers, also. I'm not sure about the ratio of foreign to native wrestlers, but there's enough to notice that it's a significant number. I think the previous champion, Akebono, was Hawaiian. I can't help wondering what the Japanese think of so many foreigners playing and dominating their sport.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Nothing weighty to buzz in with this entry. I had some time on my hands, by virtue of an extra day off this week, and thought I would spend my time by wisely updating this version of my mind, although it's not all I accomplished today. The rest was almost entirely domestic or just plain unmentionable.

You might think, by reading some of my previous blogs, that Japan was a wasted, modernized, over-laden volcanic rock with nothing more than all of the allure of a cockroach-infested electronica where the people are excessively polite or rude depending upon how you look at them, but that's just not true.

Yesterday, Angela and me went to Ise, which revived our interest in Japan. Ise was a beautiful place on the edge of a National Park and the Ocean. Two of Japan's most esteemed Shinto Shrines are located in Ise. Apparently, there is a mirror housed inside one shrine that only The Emperor can view. Everyday riffraff, like me, and Japanese rabble can only walk to the entrance to pray or throw money on a white sheet which, I suppose, makes it easier to gather. The walk is quite nice, though, winding along a maze of trails, most of them roped off in such a way that you can only go in one direction, through quite large, clean and well-manicured forests. I believe the monks come out at night, and by the light of the moon or the electronic sensors, pick up fallen pine needles. A monk or guardian monk or something broke away from his sacred text and, with gestures, indicated that we couldn't take pictures, but we had already captured the sacred image. This is my vote for signs in English, after all, it is the world's language.

In between visits to the two shrines, Mother Nature did her best to dampen our spirits by raining, but we were determined to make the best of our journey, which was a two-hour train ride from Osaka. We were rewarded for our persistence, as the rain eventually passed by and the sun came out. On our way to second Shrine, we passed through a large old-style shopping area, which was packed with Japanese people eating, talking and making merry. Lots of old buildings and fish on a stick and the like. We were in time to witness the final performance of a Japanese drum quintet, which actually included a bamboo flute player.

Finally, having enough of wooden fences that surrounded the prize shrines and bansai shrubs, we caught a bus to the Ocean. We stopped to view the "Wedded Rocks." Two rocks in the ocean, one big and one not so, with a braided rope lassoed between them. It symbolizes a married couple with a strong bond, and we thought it was apropriate as we're planning our own marriage now. Next stop, Shikoku Island.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

St. Patrick's Day in Osaka. I wore green socks. I'm not Irish. I never did anything in America on this holiday, which always seems to fall on a weekday, but Angela and some other Italians wanted to drink green beer, and we decided to make our way to Japan's oldest Irish pub, Murphy's, to swill a pint or two after work. I never tried green beer, either, so it seemed like a reasonable quest. Unfortunately, the bar was out of green beer or the tap was broken, and we settled for black beer which, although not my favorite choice, seemed the right alternative on this occasion.

When asking a friend of mine if he was going to join us, Patrick, whom the Italians insisted must go out on his "name day," responded by telling me that, aside from the fact that he wasn't Irish, he wasn't thrilled about going to a crowded bar where the music would suck. I had similar feelings, preferring quieter places where one could actually sit and relax. The music didn't matter so much, but I envisioned rhapsodic Irish folk music ad infinitum among colliding pint glasses.

In making our way to the pub, none of us knew exactly where it was, we saw three of our female coworkers, arm in arm in arm, walking at a brisk pace, holding drinks, and singing loudly. As they were going in our same direction, we knew we were on the right track and consented to follow the drunk, singing, Irish girls.

The bar was packed. I wasn't surprised to hear American music inside, although there were Irish songs mixed in, too, which started the entire bar singing. Actually, a song by The Doors got me thinking, again, about who the greatest American rock and roll band of all time was, which was a continuation of a conversation I had had with a coworker a few days prior.

Monday, March 08, 2004

There's a world of variety among the toilets you can find in Japan. I never thought a visit to the commode could offer so much, but it has been an education.

First off, for the truly scornful breed of you, the cherished piss-pot is not even necessary. You can whip it out and throw it down wherever you happen to feel the yellow-eyed need. It's not uncommon to see a Japanese man staring at a wall, or simply the unsuspecting passers by, while holding himself. I'm glad to see tradition rear its head, even when there appears to be a lack of a head readily available.

Moving to more discreet methods of disposal. It's not hard to find those upright urinals built into or onto walls in restaurant or office bathrooms, perhaps more common in modern buildings. In many bars and older buildings, the urinal is a flat receptacle, like a mini wall-urinal, built into the floor. Sort of a fancy hole in the ground. I've never used one for anything more complicated than urination, being unpracticed at the other and fearing my own clumsiness. I haven't come across any of those trough-style urinals that you can find at many coliseums or sports arenas in the states. Also, many public bathrooms just don't have doors. It's not unusual to pass by a park and check the package of anyone who might be taking advantage of such a handy lavatory. So much for discretion.

Now, you can find the "Western-style" toilets, like those porcelain jobbers that we have in the states, in many places. We have one in our apartment, for example. In a gadget nation like Japan, they have, of course, improved upon it. Many "Western-style" toilets here include a control panel! Imagine flying a spaceshit while unloading your cargo. One button keeps the seat warm, which is a great feature during the Winter. It's hard to say what the other buttons do. Fortunately, I can't read much Japanese, but many of the icons on the toilet's dashboard are quite telling, as well as useful to the illiterate.

Recently, I discovered a new model. Upon entering a stall, I was pleased to discover that someone had, I thought, placed a paper seat cover on the seat and then, for whatever reason, left. I was happy about not having to touch anything else and went about my business. Anyway, having made use of a public repository and then flushing away the seat cover, a new paper seat cover emerged from what looked like a printer attached to the back of the toilet. This was an invention to marvel!