Day 5 - Ryogoku to Asakusa
Sumo at the Ryoguku was a super old school experience. No giant tvs, we're listening to English commentary on teeny FM radios, the advertising is via men in kimonos circling a ring holding cloth banners up, and people sit on cushions on the floors drinking and eating from bento boxes.
Caught metro to tour group meeting point at a bus terminal. Our tour guide's name is Amy, she is tiny, wearing an Annie-Hall inspired grey oversized suit, and she speaks rapid fire English. So rapid fire that no one really understands what she's saying. We all just nod like we do. There's a couple from Scotland in our group (what about Scotland saying no, hey?). He's been in Tokyo for six times, she's been two. She loves Disney. Which makes sense 'cause she's wearing all pink and a sparkly Tinkerbell singlet. She is the sweetest.
Barely five minutes into the sumo, Rob and I shock the entire tour group by flagging down the lady with the backpack full of beer and ordering Asahi like a thirsty Burke and Wills in the Australian outback. The Scots are right behind us. The young couple to our right are aghast and look away.
Watching the top-ranked sumo wrestlers clash was like watching those David Attenborough documentaries where the rhinos compete over the lady rhino. The force of the two huge beasts coming together makes you gasp and sit flat against the back of your seat.
The wrestlers are surprisingly flexible for such big guys. They can raise their legs above their heads, do the splits and back bends. When a sumo wrestler gets flung extra hard out of the ring, the people sitting around it are in huge danger of death-by-sumo-squishing. That is not the way you want to go in life. Trust me. These guys were all like over 6 feet and one of them was nearly 200 kgs.
The current champion, Hakuho Sho, was a real gentlemen though. Instead of letting his opponent slam face first onto the floor, he casually shoved him out the ring and before the guy could topple over, he reached out and plucked him back to safety. Nice.
Sumo tournaments start from 8 am till 6 pm. The later you get there, the higher ranked the wrestlers. We got there around 1 pm and stayed till the end. The top tiers of the stadium were B reserve, the bottom were A and down there, you had to sit on the floors in mats and you basically got to bring in whatever food and drink you wanted. Some of the seats had built in bottle openers. How civilised. I kept telling Rob to look out for men with fingers chopped off to the first knuckled. Yakuza!
Afterwards, one guy was up in a tin tower drumming with all the sumo flags around him and Tokyo buildings lit up. What a great atmosphere. By chance we caught some of the big-time sumo guys coming out. People shook their hands. They were dressed like samurai. It was unspeakably cool.
We took the subway to Asakusa to eat dinner and visit the temple complex at night, because I think that's when it's the most special. By luck, somewhere in the arcade leading to the temple, we plunged into a restaurant and had a great meal. The waitress was in a kimono, there was a nice mix of young families, professionals, tourists, and teens, and the sushi chef and his apprentice were busy pumping out delicate little sushi morsels. Listen, if I could tell you the name of the place, I would but everything was in Japanese! I had the sushi platter and ice cream with red bean. Instead of taking a picture of my actual food, I took pictures of the replica in the front window.
Senso-ji was just as cool as the last time I left it. Enormous, humbling, beautiful, lit like it's ready for its movie star close-up. All around the complex, lanterns were lit illuminating pictures drawn by kids, flowers, and landscapes of Japan. Tokyo at night is such a winner.
The guide earlier in the day asked me whether I like new Tokyo or old Tokyo better. I said something nonsensical about wrapping gifts with cloth and Hello Kitty which confused everyone including myself. I think Tokyo's lucky because both seem to coexist just fine. But there's something about old Tokyo - a magic that all the Shibuya crossings and Shinjuku nightlife in the world can't ever compete with.