Well if I slept in the day before I made up for it on my third day in Tokyo by getting up at 4:45 AM.
There are 6 Grand Sumo tournaments a year in Japan. 3 of them are held in Tokyo. Only when I arrived in Tokyo did I find out that I happened to be there while one of the Grand Tournaments was happening AND it was happening a 15 minute walk from my hostel.
Well now I just had to go.
Only problem was the tickets online were sold out. BUT the tournament gives away 400 tickets a day, starting at 8am. They are first come first serve. And they’re popular. Which meant I had to get up early to stand in line and wait for my ticket. A guy from my hostel wanted to go to the tournament too, so together at 5 am we walked to the arena and then waited two and a half hours, in the dark and cold, to get tickets.
We probably could have gotten there about an hour later, like 6:30am, but I don’t think we would have made the cut off if we had gotten there any later than that.
After getting our tickets we grabbed breakfast at a cafe and I am such a bad blogger I can’t remember it’s name. But it was cute, they did coffee and toast combos. Breakfast finished, me and the hostel buddy went our separate ways. We decided to meet up at the tournament later.
I had not been to the famed Tokyo fish market yet, that’s where I started my day. On my way to Tsukiji Market, I passed by the Tsukiji Hongan-ji Temple. Notable for it’s extremely different exterior, it is a striking building. Destroyed and re-built twice, it is a building with a mix of styles. The outside is a mix of Indian and classical Roman styles, while inside it is mostly traditionally Japanese but also it has a German pipe organ in the back.
Moving on to Tsukiji Market. Considered THE place to get fresh fish, most of the business happens early in the morning, and if you to be one of the lucky ones to see the auctions you have to get there by like 4am. I was content just to browse and see what was happening. The inner market is where majority of the seafood products are and it is not open to tourists until 10am. This is so we don’t interfere too much with the actual business that goes on.
Then there’s the outer market, this is a space that tourists are actively encouraged to visit. It is lined with restaurants where you can eat fresh sushi. I had some sushi with miso soup and tea at one of the places here. It’s fun to watch the chefs make it right in front of you.
As far as like…tourist value goes….not to sound too jaded but like…it’s a fish market. If you’ve been to one, this one will look a whole lot similar. I get what I call “market fatigue.” Which is where all the markets start to blend and look/feel similar. And I was definitely feeling market fatigue at Tsukiji. Beyond that the whole thing felt really… touristy? And not in a good way. For example, Asakusa was touristy in that kind of hokey-fun-beach-boardwalk way, Tsukiji was touristy in that kind of seedy-gross-uncomfortable way. If that makes any sense.
In fact Tsukiji Market was the ONLY place I felt unsafe in all of Japan. Unsafe might be a bit dramatic, as I didn’t feel like I was going to be assaulted….more like uncomfortable? I was all of a sudden hyper aware of where my valuables were, and felt that I needed to pay extra attention to my surroundings. I didn’t feel so uncomfortable that I would never go again, just next time I go to Tokyo Tsukiji Market won’t be at the top of my list. (Actually it might be, as the entire market, not built for the large amount of tourists it now receives, is moving to a new specially built marketplace in October of 2018.)
Stomach full of sushi, I moved on to the Hama Rikyu Gardens, a short walk away from the market. An admission fee of just 400 yen, you can stroll along the gardens, left over from the Edo period. These gardens used to be duck hunting grounds for the feudal lords that lived in Tokyo.
One of my favorite things about travelling, is the juxtaposition of old vs. new. I think it’s amazing to see gardens which were designed in the Edo period (1600s) flanked by skyscrapers. Whenever I travel somewhere I always am looking for that contrast. I think it makes landscapes and buildings and just everything more interesting. Seeing where we came from vs where we are now. Ah, I love it. Anyway Hama Rikyu is a GREAT example of this, so I spent a lot of time here taking in the views.
I thought about taking the water taxi from Hama Rikyu to where I was staying but the water taxi’s are infrequent and I was going to have to spend a lot of time waiting, so I decided to move on.
Next up for me was the Imperial Palace East Gardens. While there is no access to the Imperial Palace itself, the East Gardens are free for you to explore. You get a close up view of the castle walls, and can even climb up the ruins of one the original buildings that was destroyed in an earthquake. There is also a viewing point so you can look at the Imperial Palace, though it does not give you a very good view haha.
It was getting time to head back for the sumo tournament. I met with my hostel friend and we navigated our way to some free seats. At first we were extremely confused, but with some help from the people around us and Wikipedia, we were able to learn a lot.
Basically sumo started as a ritual practice in Japan, with focus on making sure the rituals were done correctly. There was a competitive aspect but it wasn’t the main focus. Everything they do is ritual, from throwing salt on the clay, to stomping on the ground to crush spirits, to the way they wipe their face. But because of match-fixing and some other scandals it has been hard to bring new recruits to the sumo world. This has lead to many other nationalities coming and trying their hand at sumo wrestling. Namely Mongolians. But this has rubbed some Japanese the wrong way, because as more nationalities come in, the sport becomes more about winning and less about the rituals.
It’s a heated debate within the sumo community. There is only one Grand Master Champion who is Japanese right now (the other two are Mongolian) and he is a great source of pride in Japan. We saw him wrestle and when he lost, there was like a literal cry of pain in the stadium.
As far as the actual rules of the game go, it’s quite different than the wrestling I have been exposed to via my brother.
First there are no weight classes. This means you can have a 400 lb guy going up against a 280 lb guy.
Second there are no “pins.” You win by pushing your opponent out of the circle or getting any part of your opponent’s body, except the soles of their feet, to touch the ground.
Third, there’s no time limit. Bouts go as long as they need to. Most of them are very short but some can go quite long. And it’s one and done. They go one time with no re-dos.
Last, it’s not like a tournament that we traditionally think of, like March Madness. Everyone is in a league and after every tournament you either move up or move down based on how many wins you have. So say you’re in the elite league and you lose every match, well next year you might be bumped down the intermediate league. No bueno.
It was really interesting to watch, and easy to get into. Me and my hostel friend would guess who was going to win, and it was really hard to tell, because the biggest guy doesn’t always win.
After the fun was over I found some dinner then headed back to the hostel for the night. I was tired from being up so early and I had a bus to Kyoto early the next day.