Tuesday 10th July
Sumo day!!!! This morning we’re up at 4.45am to buy our tickets at the Aichi Prefecture Gymnasium, situated in the castle grounds. The ticket booth opens at 7.45am and there are only about 100 tickets sold each day of the tournament. There were tickets available online on 24th May for this tournament that runs from 8th to 26th July but firstly they’re more expensive and secondly we weren’t really sure where we’d be and whether getting to Nagoya would be possible.
We were expecting a huge queue even at 5am but there’s only a small gathering and we’re 10th. Perhaps it’s because it’s early in the tournament or because it’s not as popular as Tokyo but we could’ve turned up at 7.30am and still got tickets. But this way we get to meet a NZ couple who sit with us in the queue and we get the full sumo experience. Thankfully it’s a beautiful day so we lie out and doze. At 7.45am the ticket booth opens and we purchase our tickets – 2900 yen each.
These tickets allow us sit on the top row but we’re only allowed to leave the gymnasium once. The show opens at 8.30am and finishes at 6pm and as the day progresses the higher the wrestling division. So the top division wrestles from 4pm to 6pm and all the wrestlers fight every day of the tournament. We decide we need more sleep to fully appreciate the day so we head back to our hotel for breakfast and bed. At 1.45pm we’re back at the gymnasium but we don’t head inside immediately. Whilst queuing this morning we were told at 2pm and 3.30pm there’s something to watch outside and there’s obviously something due to happen because crowds are gathered along the barriers. So we stand and sweat and watch and sweat some more. It’s unbelievably hot. As we watch cars pull up and sumo wrestlers dismount, some with an entourage of minions acting as bag carriers and door openers. Some of these wrestlers are really popular although the crowd is always very reserved with some limp hand clapping and a few greetings called. We watch for about 45 minutes, always waiting for the “big one” (Daz’s phrase) but actually we wouldn’t know the “big one” if he hit us in the face, although that would undoubtedly hurt, and we’re not entirely sure what we’ve been watching. Are all the wrestlers returning from lunch or is this the arrival of the top league????
Actually on further consideration we think we watched the arrival of the ‘big guns’, the top league and this was between 2 and 3.30pm. We decide we’ve seen and sweated enough and head inside. We check out our seat options but the back row is way back and that’s not going to be any fun so we follow the advice we were given, find an empty seat near the front and wait for the real occupants to turn up. So we do and find an incredible seat not far from the ring. The view is excellent and we are really impressed by the splendour and heritage that makes up a sumo event. We sit on mats in a little enclosure for 4 people whilst the gymnasium slowly fills to capacity all around us. Seats to our left and right fill up and we keep our fingers crossed that we don’t get moved too soon.
On to the actual sumo… we have entered as the intermediate division is fighting, with only the big dogs of the Senior Division to come after. We watch on. Just before each bout starts the Dojo is blessed by a man singing.
Then the referee comes on and announces the Fighters. One steps up onto the clay and dirt ring from the East, the other from the West. They rub their hands in salt/sand and throw some into the air. Then they face off against each other and perform a leg lifting and stomping dance, I’m sure if you’ve ever witnessed sumo on TV you know what I mean. Then they hunker down and get ready to battle it out… no wait, they’re back up for some more stomping, hand ringing and occasional showboating. Back they come, face off time again.
We’re not sure what the signal is but the next second there’s an almighty clash as the two behemoths come together, pushing and grunting, face slapping and belt grabbing. Basically if your first out of the straw circle, or if your hands or body touch the floor you lose. We see quite a few of the front row audience getting an up close and personal introduction to the combatants as they occasionally tumble out of the low ring into their laps!
As the day progresses we get really caught up in the spectacle, debating who will win, watching the adverts (young lads with banners walking around the ring between bouts!), crowd watching (there’s definitely a few female “companions” dotted around in full kimono. Explanation: we know Japanese men enjoy the company of an attractive young lady and will pay for such an experience. We’re not talking prostitution, just companionship and talk. There are bars where ‘women’ can be purchased for a chat session. There’s also the geisha girls). So as we look round the gymnasium we see a number of attractive ladies dressed in Kimono sitting with older, unattractive men. Perhaps they’re genuine couples??? and here to enjoy the bouts themselves. Before the Senior Division starts all the Fighters, both East and West are paraded into the ring. There’s some more pageantry and then it’s their turn. As mentioned earlier, these fighters will fight each other every day for the whole tournament in a huge round robin. At the end each Division will have a winner but that’s over 20 days away. Mid way through this division having just watched Endo, one of the most popular Fighters in this division, we go off to buy a beer only to return to find our seats taken. Finally the guy who bought these seats has turned up – that’s £100 per cushion and there’s 4 cushions in the enclosure and there’s only 30 minutes of wrestling left! We are really glad we came, it’s been an amazing experience. We had been told we might get bored after seeing one or two bouts, but how wrong they were. Totally enthralling!
Wednesday 11th July
Time to head back. We set off and position ourselves at an on ramp to the expressway in Nagoya centre. It’s baking hot but there’s lots of traffic so it shouldn’t be a problem. Unfortunately a little later the Road Patrol comes along and moves us on, we can’t hitchhike on the ramp, and as it’s on the other side of a 4 lane highway it’s impossible to do it from the safe side of the road! At this point we have a bit of a meltdown, suffice it to say after much walking about, subway travel, bus depots, we end up at Nagoya train station and catch the train to Okayama. This will leave us 55km from our workaway but a bus or local train should finish the job. Well, that’s what we thought. But about an hour into the journey our train makes an unscheduled stop at Himeji. We think nothing of it until there’s a Japanese announcement after 20 minutes wait. The computer generated English translation of one sentence comes over the tannoy. “Due to a fatal accident this train will not start until 1730”. OK, now we know what the problem is. The restart is delayed again and again until about 1845 we finally pull out of the station. Now there are more delays as we wait for the other trains that had stopped with us in Himeji to clear the stations in front. By the time we reach Okayama we are about 3 hours late. But we hear another English announcement, “Refund at Train Station “. We get off and enter the 3rd ring of hell, there are people queueing to get on late trains. People queueing to get out of the station, and bedlam in between, all in Japanese! We finally join a queue to get a refund, and receive a partial refund. We ask (argue!) why not a full one? The assistant keeps circling our ticket and saying stuff in Japanese. Finally we walk off, much to the relief of the people behind us in the queue no doubt. So there are no local trains nor will there be any tomorrow due to the recent flooding. The local buses have all finished for the night and every Inn/hotel/guest house in town is full. It’s also dark, time to hitchhike! We walk about 2km to the road we need, thumb out for a while with no joy then decide to walk along the road another 2km to a 7/11 convenience store in the hope of more traffic. Finally a business man pulls in and in stilted English asks us where we are going. “Mimasaka” we respond. He’s going home, another 15km up the road we need and offers us a ride. Yes please! After some more stilted conversation as we drive along, he says it will be difficult for us to get to Mimasaka tonight. We agree. Hmm, head scratching. “OK I will take you”. Wow, we are overjoyed, but feel bad that this guy is going about 40km (80km round trip) out of his way just to drop us off! One final twist, he says it’s an electric car, so we go to his house first and swap over into his family petrol MPV! So at about 1130pm we finally walk back into the house. Crip and Kazumi are still up, entertaining another couple who are also staying the night, but we are so knackered we head straight to bed!
Thursday 12th July to Sunday 15th
We’re straight back into work mode. Back up at the ‘construction site’ it’s time to do the interior. The lower half of the wall is plywood, then there’s a dado rail and above is plasterboard. Not forgetting the dreaded rockwool itchy insulation stuff that needs gloves to handle and goes between exterior ply and the internal walls!
Crip brings the new sliding door he’s had made and helps us fit it into the final wall. I dig a drainage channel and fit a concrete gutter outside to take away excess rainwater.
We fit the back window into a casement, and finish the last exterior wall with outdoor ply and cladding.
After 3 hard and very long days, where each job seems to take an age, we are left with fitting the ceiling panels between the rafters. This by far is the hottest, most finicky job to date. We have to put the itchy insulation in, batons for the ceiling board to sit on and cut all the boards individually as each rafter space is a different size! But finally we are done.
Wow, a whole new extension built by us, amazing! In the evenings we also fit in some crumble and scone making and even manage some sleep despite the heat and humidity. The rainy season looks to be over and with its departure the heat has seriously kicked in. On Sunday evening as we are returning from the new build we pass the local lake. There’s some type of fishing event going on. We spot Crip and Kazumi and pull in for a gander. It’s the village annual eel fishing event! BBQ, beer and a spot of night fishing. We are soon handed a plate of food and a beer each and shortly after a fishing rod. As it gets dark I’m casting and catching like a professional… no, wait, that’s the beer talking. My rod gets tangled with ground clutter, other people’s lines, and the drunk Japanese fisherman sat next to us. However it’s great fun and the stars are out in force tonight. Crip catches an eel and the villagers clap and cheer before he returns it to the water for next years fishermen! Finally just before we call it a night I catch a large black bass! Not a native fish, but one brought in by the Americans. It’s not liked amongst the locals as it decimates the local fish stock. It’s quickly thrown on the BBQ and we end up taking it home for the cat to eat!! What a fab evenings entertainment
Bank Holiday Monday 16th July
A late and lazy start for us. We tidy our room, air our futon bed mats and decide what job we want to tackle next. After the construction there’s now painting and plastering and a few prettification jobs to be done. There’s still a gate to be built and there’s always lots of weeding. Decisions, decisions. But with the heat in the high 30’s and high humidity we take our time! Finally by 1030 we drag ourselves to work. Crip and Kazumi both express shock. It’s a bank holiday in Japan, hence the fishing last night, so they thought we’d take the day off. Relentlessly we persevere in the tropical heat, the cicadas chirping in the forest around us. Normally we do work at a hard pace, but today we have a whiff of the relaxed, some might say Spanish rule of work. Daz builds his mahhosive gate and I fill the cracks between plasterboard with tape and putty. By 5pm, we are done for another day. Dinner tonight… crispy mackerel in a spicy sauce, delicious.
Thursday 19th July
Tomorrow we’re off to Okinawa to do some diving – well we’re hoping to do some but a typhoon is forecast and we’ve had a hell of a job trying to organise dive trips and accommodation. But fingers crossed!
Over the last 3 days we’ve sanded, masked and painted the inside of the shed, fitted skirting boards, decorative window and door frames, creosoted the exterior, clad the gaps in the eaves and cleaned and titivated our shed extension. Daz also finished his GATE (Daz insists his creation is so awesome it requires capitalisation) and Crip and I helped fit it, it looks fantastic, replacing some wire mesh. We even did a bit of weeding.
The heat has been oppressive but Daz has valiantly braved the heat in the kitchen to produce the goods. Potato pancakes, grilled fish, chilli con carne to name but a few.
We come in after a hard day, shower, and immediately break out into a sweat that seeps from every pore and orifice, I kid you not. God knows what it’s going to be like when we start cycling again!
Friday 20th to 27th August
This morning Kazumi gives us a lift to the bus stop. We’re catching a bus to Osaka and then a flight to Naha, Okinawa. We were planning to camp in Okinawa but last night I found a fab couchsurfing host near Onna so hopefully we’ll be staying with him. So no need to worry about camping in a typhoon or camping in the extreme heat and humidity. Fortunately our flight was only a little delayed and the turbulence wasn’t too bad despite the oncoming typhoon. In Naha we use Über to get a lift to Onna. It’s like a party bus with flashing disco lights and music – a bit weird.
At the house we meet Shawn, our couchsurfing host, and Xue, a Russian couchsurfer. Shawn is a special forces instructor with the US Marines and spends most of his time at work so
we just relax, sleep a lot, in fact we sleep as if we have sleeping sickness. Shawn insists on running his air-conditioning constantly so the house is cool and for the first time in weeks we’re not perpetually soaked in sweat.
A subtropical speck in the Pacific 1,600km from Tokyo, Okinawa shoulders the weight of Japan’s six-decade alliance with America. Local people live uneasily with nearly 30,000 American troops and dozens of military installations, including the American marines’ oldest jungle-warfare training unit. Okinawa was occupied by the Americans after the second world war until it was returned to Japan in the early 1970s
On Sunday Shawn lends us his car and we visit some islands off the east coast, Hamahigajima, Henzajima and Ikeijima. We do some snorkeling which is great. There’s plenty to see.
On the way home we enjoy a delicious meal of Tacos, and it’s great to have an English menu! Monday and Tuesday we do some snorkeling near the house and the rest of the time we relax, watch Masterchef and watch movies. It’s a complete break and it’s incredibly relaxing.
We see Shawn occasionally but he’s usually just come home for some kit or to take Xue somewhere. She flew back to Tokyo 7am Monday morning so he had to take her to Naha airport at 2am.
Wednesday we have an early morning start as we are off diving with George as our guide. George, an easy going Bulgarian came to Okinawa for a doctoral research position in solar energy but has since given that up to dive guide full time! We get kitted up and are soon enterng the crystal clear waters that Okinawa is famous for. Even though it’s early there are still a lot of people in the water at this popular spot.
In the afternoon we move to a quieter spot for 2 more beach dives .
Thursday is boat dive day, another early start but as we are on a boat we are away from the crowds. Another great dive sight and finally there’s turtles! Unfortunately (really!?) the reef shark known to frequent this dive area fails to show up! George has been a fabulous guide over these 2 days. We wish him luck in the future!
Another early start for Friday!!! Shawn, our amazing host has kindly offered to drop us at tue airport, but it’s got to be before he reports for work so we are up at 530am and by 7 we are at the airport. We haven’t seen much of Shawn but it’s been great staying at his house and relaxing, much better than the tent! We wish him luck for his retirement in a few years time when he also wants to do some travelling and maybe get some rest!