Saturday, November 28, 2009

It's SUMO time!!!

The stadium

Yesterday's experience would have to rate as one of the best we've had in Japan so far. In fact for pure insight into a countries historic culture and sheer enjoyment maybe one of the best experiences we've ever had! To use the word 'amazing' would be an understatement!
The entrance ceremony

Sumo wrestling must be one of the worlds most ancient sports dating back about 1500years. According to legend the very origin of the Japanese race depended on the outcome of a sumo match. It's origins were religious and contained rituals dedicated to the gods in hope of bountiful harvests, in the 8th period it was introduced into the imperial court and a tournament was held each year. A period of warfare broke out across Japan around 1192 and it wasn't until 1603 when a new Shogun (commander or military leader) took control and restored peace, that Sumo took it's place as Japan's national sport.

Moving on from the history lesson, there are now six grand national tournaments a year and thankfully one of those makes it's way to Fukuoka, a 1.5hr drive along the expressway from us.
Before each match the wrestler's sponsors are displayed

Each tournament lasts for 15 days and each rikishi (wrestler) fights only once each day against a different opponent. The rikishi with the best W-L record is the winner of the tournament. There are about 800 professional rikishi in the world so it's a very exclusive club! Sumo is actually a very complicated sport with so many different ranking levels, rules, ceremonial stuff and techniques. It may not look like it but there are 70 winning 'tricks' most of which are achieved by maneuvering your opponent with a grip on the mawashi (nappy). Basically the aim is to get the other dude to touch the ground first (with any body part excluding their feet) or to throw them outside the ring.
A match in progress and the gyoji (ref)

The atmosphere was electric and as the day progressed and the top guys started wrestling things really heated up! Hopefully the pics will do it justice!
Here is a sequence of one of the more exciting matches

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Yufu Dake

During the weekend I headed out to climb another mountain with some of the local alpine club members. It was my second trip with some of them and it`s starting to become a regular occurrence with a few more in the pipeline before winter really hits. This time we headed for Yufu Dake, 1583m, it won`t win any records for it`s height but it`s location, views and looks are certainly up there. Like most mountains in Japan it is an extinct volcano with a perfect cone like formation and 2 craters, it has 2 summits the East and West peaks which I`m guessing where formed when it last blew off some steam.

It is only a 1hr drive from our place through the steaming hillside of Beppu and the drive up the mountains out onto the Kijima Plateau is beautiful. The trip started out across large fields of bamboo grass, one of those plants that looks comfy from afar but you wouldn`t want to roll around in! Once you’re in the forest the track steepens a bit and the going gets a little tougher, before long you find yourself panting your way up one of the 24 zig zags in the track. The last few hundred meters get really steep before popping out at the saddle between the 2 peaks.

I wish I could say I was lucky with the weather but after climbing 4 peaks in Japan I still haven`t had any with perfect weather! The temperature was probably only 2-3degrees and combined with the wind chill would have easily been below freezing, in fact you`ll see by the pictures it was probably more like -5 and hasn`t been any higher in a long time! 100% of the flora was frozen and in some places the ice build up on plants was 20-30cm long! It was a true winter wonderland! Being a tough kiwi I was the only one wearing shorts and every single person we passed on the way commented on how the hell I was ok. My motto is `walk cold, stop warm` so while we were moving it was no problem. After about 10seconds at the top I quickly changed into some pants much to everyone`s relief. I`m sure the non English speaking Japanese thought I was way outta my depth but I had no way of explaining I knew what I was doing.

We headed for the more challenging West peak first and as the guide book said we were greeted by a long section of chains to assist us. Most of these weren`t really needed but one section in particular required a 7m climb up virtually vertical rock, no problem in summer but covered in snow and ice the chains were very helpful! After lunch on the west peak summit we headed back to climb the much easier east summit and then off back down the hill to the cars.

On the way down we met a volunteer who builds tracks, benches and markers on the mountain, he climbs it 40 times a year! He also told us last year he walked the whole length of Japan in 90 days! And he's 70!

Another fantastic day out which could have easily been mistaken for a trip to the Antarctic!

Monday, November 23, 2009


A couple of days ago i finally got my hands on a scooter! After having survived my first few trips to and from school on it i can now safely blog about it. There are a ton of scooters all over the show, most with little old lady owners who speed around the narrow streets on their daily shopping outings etc. i figured it'd be pretty easy to get my hands on one. Unfortunately this was not the case! After a solid 2-3month search I'd almost given up hope and had come to terms with the fact I'd have to put up with the 2.5hr daily commute to and from school. I didn't really have any problems with catching the train and bus, it was more of the annoying waiting in between because some bright spark hadn't though of scheduling them in a user friendly way that i found frustrating. Most of the scooters in the shops sold for anything over 75,000 yen right up to the price of a car!!! My ideal amount was considerably less. Luckily after taking a slight driving detour one day we came across a shop i hadn't seen before (ironically i walked about 100m past it every day for 3 months). A long story short it was a good shop to find!

So wee Mr scoot works hard everyday racing it's way along the busy main road taking me to school. If a big truck goes past we shake a little and the 'speed warning' light flashes at 37km/h (I've been 40! wow) but it's a hell of a lot of fun!!

Friday, November 20, 2009

School lunches!

Before I get started I warn you now that I get the feeling that this is going to be a reoccurring blog entry - because when it comes to school lunches I’m never anything short of amazed (disgusted is probably more accurate) about what I find dished up on my plate!
On the one hand I love school lunches because it means I have one less thing to worry about before I head out the door in the mornings but on the other hand (and this hand is much much bigger) I HATE school lunches with a passion! I realise that my hate of school lunch stems from the fact that the food we are given each day is clearly not the type of food I am used but in my defence I do always try everything on my tray before politely declining to eat anything further and resigning myself to the fact that yet again I will go hungry!

Check this little gem out... he was on my plate at school last week....isn’t he delightful!?

Most days when I get given my tray I seriously have no idea what the heck is in front of me. I can usually spot the rice or the bread (although sometimes they put so much weird stuff in it it becomes barely recognisable) – my favourite is when they put tiny little white fish with big black eyes all through the rice... let’s just say I’ve got pretty good at picking up single grains of rice with my chopsticks!
Whoever led us to believe that Japanese food was really good for us was lying! I’m sure back in the day when it was just miso soup, fish and rice it might have been but if the amount of fried food we are served up is anything to go by then these days a long gone! I absolutely refuse to eat anything that arrives on my plate that fits into the deep fried category given that just touching it with your chopstick causes it to oozes fat! My guess is that combined with the full fat milk that is given each day too (my schools think I have a milk allergy...) this goes some way to explaining why there is an increasing number of overweight kids here!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Cellphone pictures

We apologize for infrequent blog entrys but life is in the 'get up, work, sleep' mode right now. With no big adventures to speak of lately and a gap (like a few weeks) of public holidays we haven't been out on to many adventures. But never fear! Japan is 'the land of different' and there is always something to make you smile.
There is no real theme to this blog entry, just a collection of small things stored away in my head.
I tell my self everyday not to stop enjoying the little things and forgetting how wierd this place is. I think it's quite easy to forget the little things as you get use to a new life and what was originally strange, new and different slowly becomes just the way it is. My aim is to prevent this from happening for as long as possible!

It's frickin frezzing! About 1 month ago i was praying for winter, complaining everday it was to hot and that i wished i was in Antarctic. Not now, now i want that back!! (although going to Antarctic would be awesome). As of the first 0f Novemeber someone in Tokyo obviously turned the heater off. Maybe the Toyota or Honda factory has broken down. But god dam it's cold. The best part about it....Japanese schools don't have heating! Awesome. And with swine flu (which i got told off for calling it that) now in full swing we have to have the windows open. Double awesome. Weather lesson time: in winter the arctic winds blown across siberia bringing freezing wind and cold low pressure, it travels across the sea of Japan picking up moisture then hits Japan and spews up, resulting in 15m+ snow levels on skifields (at one time,not over a season!). Thanks siberia! So we have many months of this to come!
I've also just worked out how to get the pictures of my cellphone, so below is a collection of a few of my favorites. Sorry for the small size but you'll be ok.
These are the hills behind our house, i wondered why it was so cold walking to a staff softball game at 7am, i looked around and WHAM! I nearly fell over! It was only the 3rd November.
This is a bowl of Ramen. Originally from China it is now a firm favorite among Japanese and us of course. Somewhere in there are noodles. It's so good! (and yes they are eggs in it)
Going out for tea and trying to read the menu. We have no idea what it says but they don't know that!

Japlish. Endless humour. I think they want us to recyle.

The view out to Beppu bay from my school.

The Incredible Hulk's piss. Very popular.

A giant rice triangle i can buy at school. It's good! Full of chicken, beef and some form of sauce.

Hope you enjoyed!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Vending machines...

It’s hard to believe we’ve been in Japan over three months and until now not done a blog entry on vending machines! Unless you’ve been here to see for yourself it’s hard to explain just how prominent vending machines are in Japanese society. You can be in the most remote location, on top of a mountain, on a bush walk or completely surrounded by rice fields and have no doubt about it that there will be one if not five vending machines all lined up waiting for you. I seriously have no idea how any of these vending machine companies make any money given that there might be 5-10 vending machines all lined up next to each other... it’s just pot luck which one gets your money depending on which one you pulled up closest to etc. Unlike back at home where vending machines are confined to food and drink you can actually buy pretty much anything in a vending machine here.

Alcohol vending machines are everywhere... you can buy beer right through to strong spirits – no ID required, cigarette vending machines are another common sight – again no need for ID. At various places along the side of the road there are even tin sheds that house vending machines selling adult magazines, DVDs and wait for it... eatable undies!!!

The most common vending machine is of course those for drinks and I guess given the huge array of drinks available in Japan that’s not surprising but it never fails to amaze us just how many of them there are and where they seem to pop up.

I would love to know the vending machine to people ratio here... I reckon it must be pretty close! The bonus of course is that if you get lost driving down a narrow rice field lined road in the middle of nowhere you know you there’s bound to be a vending machine or 10 close by to keep you company! We are looking forward to seeing what else we can find in a vending machine when we venture to some of the bigger cities... apparently the list is endless!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Scarecrow Valley

On Sunday we took a trip with my sister's family to a village nearby known for its... scarecrows. There were over 500 dotted about the place all doing different things... some fishing, others taking a bath and a fantastic children's playground filled with scarecrows doing all sorts of child-like things (skipping, climbing trees, leap frog etc). At times it was tricky to distinguish between the scarecrows and the tourists, some of them were incredibly life like!