This is Life

Thursday, September 14, 2006

A Princess, A Shark`s Fin and A Bird`s Nest

Well, the day started out normal enough. I was headed to Tokyo to see the first day of the fall sumo tournament. Being a big fan of this most traditional of Japanese sports, I was quite excited, although this was one experience that would not be a first for me, having already gone twice to see Sumo live in Tokyo in the past year. However, what made this instance unique was that I would be sitting in a box near ringside.

I tutor for a family in a nearby town and their family has owned a Japanese-style hotel there for many years. Because of this, they have had many important guests stay at their hotel over the years. One of which happens to be the gentleman who owns the afformentioned box seats at Tokyo`s sumo stadium, Kokugikan. He is now about 73 years old and has recently come out of a battle with stomach cancer, but he still managaes to look 10 years young. Before he retired he was a junior high school soccer coach at one of the most prestigious private schools in the country. It is basically where all the really rich politicians and celebrities (including Yakuza - Japanese mafia) send their kids to school. So, in Japan, and ordinary job like being a junior high school sports coach can somehow afford you a $60,000 a year box. Hmm, interesting. Did I mention that he has an uncanny resemblance to a stereotypical yakuza member? Anyway, my clients (the family I teach for) has become good friends with him because every summer his school would send the team he coached to a camp in their town. Every year for 30 years they would stay at this hotel. I guess the rest is history.

Now, as for the actual sumo night, well you can see pictures of it on my photo blog (link is on the right side of the page). It was cool being in what are supposed to be in the best seats in the house. He was in a different box before, but was apparently waiting for 50 years to be moved to this spot. Patient is an understatement. There are closer seats, which we were directly behind, but they aren`t allowed food, which is a big deal since the box seats are each given a stupid, and I mean completely ridiculous, amount of food. At first we were given a bag about 15cms wide by 40cms long and 40cms high. It was filled to the top with box upon box of Japanese delicacies. There was also 5 liters of beer thrown in, but that is irrelevant since both the food and the drinks were unlimited. Also, at the end of the night as we left we each were given one of these bags for our very own. I assumed that they wanted me to donate all of this food to a few hundred starving children, but apparently it was just for me. I did the next best thing in donating it to starving hostel dwellers and my hostel.

Anyway, back to sumo. My one complaint was how cramped the actual box was. Being Japan, you do in fact have to sit on you butt (on a small cushion, mind you) and this can be achieved if you are even slightly flexible in you lower body. I, unfortunately, am not. So, it hurt, and even for my Japanese companions it was a little cramped. My theory is that the Japanese used to be the size of oompa-loompas back in the day, but as their diet has gradually improved, they have doubled or even tripled in size. Nonetheless, the sumo boxes remain unchanged. It was small, but I would go again in a heartbeat if I was asked.

What happened next was astounding, but unless you want the details of 300-400 pound men smashing into each other and throwing each other to the grown whilst trying to give a throughly sterilizing wedgie then I will spare you the details. I thought it was pretty interesting. Ok, but other than that was the appearance of the royal family - the crown prince and his wife, plus his eldest daughter, the teenage princess. It was apparently quite rare for them to come and it was the first time for any of my campanions to see the royal family in person so they were pretty excited. They even waved and smiled in my general westwardly direction. I felt like they really cared about me, as a person ... or maybe just my salt flavored ice cream sandwich ... or maybe the other 10,000 people in the vicinity of where our box was.

Speaking of that ice cream, which isn`t as bad or as salty as it sounds, it was that item that convinced me that I am indeed a recognizable celebrity in this country. Well, at least one family recognized me. After campaigning for a week or so trying to tell everyone I know that I would be on TV during the sumo tournament so they better watch (despite the fact that I knew quite well that the odds of being on TV were very slim since the guy who owned the box specifically didn`t want one that would be on TV - still think he was only a soccer coach?) , it turns out that my friend that lives near Yokohama spotted me at least three times. I didn`t believe her so I asked what I was wearing. She said I was wearing a blue shirt and eating ice cream. Amazing! The truth is that my shirt was sky blue and she didn`t specify the flavour of ice cream, but I figured it was close enough. So, yeah, pretty much everyone in Japan recongizes me. Ok, almost everyone. Actually, the truth is that 90% of the people I ask don`t like sumo and the only people it seems that do are the senior citizens. So, it is a good thing that over 20% of the population in over the age of 65 now isn`t it? Haha, I win!

Ok, now there are a couple more things in the title of this entry that you may be wondering about. Well, our next stop was a really expensive Chinese restaurant in a really expensive district of Tokyo. They all ordered beer or cocktails and told me to get whatever I wanted, so naturally, I ordered a glass of the house wine. It turned out to be $25 ... for a glass! Next up was the Shark Fin Soup. It was actually pretty good, but I think it had more to do with sauce. It was also surprisingly large at about the same size as my hand. Couldn`t help feel a bit bad for the shark though. Sorry about that. Oh, and just before that we had jellyfish. It was bad. Really not much flavour and the texture was like a rubber band. The difference being that a rubber band has better flavour. Anyway, another exotic first to check of the list. Finally the really bizarre one - swallow`s nest soup. I was a bit scared about this because I watched a cooking show once where the host traveled around the world and tasted all of the really strange things other cultures considered delicacies (sheep`s eyes, guinea pigs, anything else you might see on Fear Factor). The show had a time lapse video of how the host slept and he got up and went to the bathroom no less than 30 times. So yeah, wasn`t really looking forward to this one. Despite my fears and to my utter astonishment, it turned out to be pretty good. It is amazing what a good soup or sauce can do to even the strangest food, such as, um, well, a bird`s nest.

Other than that, I guess I do have another story, which I think has the potential to be as funny as a great knock-knock joke, so I think I will leave that until next time. I am also gearing up to do lots of traveling as Japan heads into it most beautiful time of the year. So there should be lots of colourful pics in the next while. Oh, and I have uploaded the clips from my helicopter ride. I didn`t send an email out about that so have a looksee at the last entry for more information.


At 12:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Dean,
I knew you were eating `THE SALTY ICE CREAM` that day. HAHA...
YOU were 100% on TV, three times...maybe more since I started watching it from 17:00...


At 8:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Love reading the posts you make here, makes me feel like I keep in touch with you while you are there! Awesome.

At 11:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nothing new? Come on!

At 1:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We need to talk, my friend ... you haven't updated in over a month ... what's up with that? Has the power plant blown up? Some other natural disaster we haven't heard about? WHAT?! I'll even post a comment on every new entry if that's what it takes to get you to write one. Where's the love?! ;) Danie


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