Monday, May 26, 2008

Tokyo; Sumo and Kabuki

Last weekend a group of friends and I went to Tokyo to experience some things very unique to Japanese culture. We went to see sumo and kabuki! If you don’t know what Kabuki is, well neither did I when I got here. If you don’t know what sumo is,… where did you grow up? Everybody knows what it is right? However, even after going and watching it for myself, in Japan, in Tokyo, I am still not understanding everything that is involved. Two men enter a ring; usually they are very fat and also quite strong. These men rely not only on physical strength, but physics as well. Often a man is beaten because he will throw himself at his opponent attempting to knock them out of the ring and the opponent will dodge the blow and let moment carry his opponent to defeat. Being out of the ring, or putting a knee or hand down signals the end. The ring is actually a raised square of compacted sand with a circle on top of it. The wrestlers will mount the square and then they will proceed to go through a ritual of expelling evil spirits and purifying the ring. Apparently this involves slapping their chest, throwing salt into the ring, and stomping on the ground. The crowd cheers their favorites. Then the two men engage in combat for a few brief moments and the whole thing is over. I saw the number one wrestler in the world, needless to say, it was quite special and I can’t wait to go again. In fact, my school has a small team that I may try a practice with. I'm really pumped about sumo.

Kabuki was a different story. Kabuki is a traditional Japanese theater. When I told my Japanese teachers there response was something like, "oh, ... uh, no, havent seen it, uh... you might be bored?" When I heard this I thought to myself, it can’t be that bad, it’s an experience of culture, I can bear it. I fell asleep during the first act and at that point remembered that I do not really like theater. I also recounted how I fell asleep in Beijing while watching traditional theater there. However, my friends liked it and so my feelings were not shared by all. I have also since heard of a different troupe of Kabuki actors whose plays involve modern Japanese language, without drawn out dialogue, and more fight scenes. Perhaps I will give Kabuki one more try.

Check this link for my friend Brian’s video which of course has me in it. or just check Youtube and search for brianadler. This video is done by National Geographic and is of much better quality.
Or follow this link to footage of the champ in action

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Fun Facts (OOOOOO Hashi)

The Japanese use chopsticks for most meals, in Japanese the name is o hashi, or hashi, depending on the context. The thing about Japan is that you will quickly find yourself using a disposable pair of chopsticks, then another, then another, then another, and so forth until you ask your self where they are coming from and where they are going.
The truth is that they are probably coming from China (97%) and they end up in the trash, to be burned. This may not seem so bad, BUT Japan uses an estimated 25 BILLION disposable chopsticks each year. Thats about 200 pairs per person, in Japan, every year.
I'm certainly not the first person to harp on this, its been a long concern. I'm just another now aware person. How to combat this? Deny chopsticks that you will not use and better yet, carry your own. I bought a plastic pair with a travel case from the 100 Yen store (dollar store) and often take them to dinner with me. Its not hard and I estimate that my average yearly use goes down from 75 or so a year to less than 30. Now that is something to chew on.

Golden Week

Golden week has come and gone, but my memory remains. Here in Japan there is a 7 day period during which three public holidays fall. This is called Golden Week because of the mass amounts of time off in such a short period, its “Golden”! Most people go to Korea or China or somewhere far. I was broke, almost, so I didn’t travel very far. However, I did “get away”.
I decided that I would pack up the hiking pack, throw a futon in the back of my car, spend what money I had on gas, and hit the road. My aim was Mt. Iide. Unfortunately it took me about 5 minutes on the road to realize I would never make it, even though Iide is about 3 hours away by car. As you can see in the picture, it is covered in snow and currently not climbable and barely approachable.
Plans changed to B and I decided to aim for Oguni, which is near Iide and has a 5 story wooden pagoda in the middle of a big park with lots of hiking trails. Two hours later I was in Yamagata prefecture and knew I had been thwarted. I calculated that I did not have enough gas to make it to Oguni and back and I did not have anymore money. Therefore I went to plan C.
Plan C was to just hike around my area, Aizu. I did this taking care to visit places that I had never been to before and purposely get lost. I was on roads that I never had been on before. I often had to check the map and when I was hiking during the day I was on trails I had never been on before.
I spent just a few days hiking around and a couple of nights sleeping in the back of the car, but it really put my mind at ease. It was the perfect vacation. I was alone, trekking around, sleeping in my car, eating off a camp fire, reading a lot, and meeting the occasional interesting Japanese person.
I had a few conversations with Japanese hikers who also appeared to be on their own, but the kicker was on the second day when I saw hang-gliders at the top of “Flower Mountain” I couldn’t fathom why they were circling the mountain so I hiked up to find them. I saw the last two hang-gliders take off for the day and then talked to the instructor who had the job of packing up. He told me its quite fun, and not really scary at all. I only believe him a little.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008


There isn’t too much for me to say about Kyoto. Yes, I know, I know, it has a long and rich history, but that is not my story. Kyoto is the “old” capitol of Japan. Location was switched in around 1865 after to Boshin War to the present location of Tokyo, leaving much of the old life intact in Kyoto. If you go today you will find a beautiful city, full of temples and tradition. I saw geisha, sakura (cherry blossoms), and many, many temples and shrines.
I went with my friend and his friend from Puerto Rico. It was really nice to have their companionship. My friend and I took an overnight bus from Fukushima City, it took about 8 hours to get there, but the drive was fairly comfortable and I got some sleep during the night. Upon arriving there we walked around a bit and eventually got a bento lunch, a beer, and a comfortable spot in the park where we ate and then napped. It was really rather lovely with the newly bloomed cherry trees around us. Later we met up with his friend who had been touring other parts of Japan. Over the next few days we bumped around the city, exploring and doing fun things like renting bikes, going to a jazz club (where Richard played with the band!), and of course going to many historical spots. My main impression of Kyoto was temple/shrine – temple/shrine. I plan to revisit some day as I had only about 48 hours and I am sure it will be much more temple/shrine, but I hope to find something else, something deeper. Perhaps the next time around will be more meaningful.

Friday, May 02, 2008

The Price We Pay

There are many drink vending machines in Japan. At first I thought, I don’t care, I rarely used these in America so I won’t use them here. Over time I have come to use these, they are everywhere! For instance, about a block and a half from my apartment complex there are three such vending machines. In America we put our vending machines in social areas such as offices, ballparks, or road side stops. In Japan they put them just about anywhere. This particular grouping of vending machine is in the middle of a neighborhood, about 7 blocks from the nearest thing that Americans might consider a social gathering point. Strange, but even more strange are the prices!

As an American who tends to think in terms of monetary value when I first saw this machine I was a little confused and amused. If you look closely at the small can of CC Lemon you will see that it is 120 Yen, if you look at the large can of CC Lemon you will see that it is 120 Yen. The same price! The Mountain Dew and Pepsi follow the same fashion. I pondered why this was and got a simple explanation in a story from one of the books I have. Japanese tend to think in terms of efficiency, so, even if the colas are priced the same they will purchase the drink that they are able to consume, not the one that is a better monetary value. That is the price we pay.