Our first stop in Japan lies as the centre of Japan’s third-largest metropolitan region – the Chūkyō Metropolitan Area, where 9.10 million people live. Our initial reason for visiting has been the possibility to see a live sumo match, but Nagoya has so much more to offer and is an amazing introduction to Japanese life.
Already from our first draft itineraries at home, we had decided that we wanted to watch a sumo match, and as our timing was a little off we found that our only chance was the final day of the Nagoya sumo tournament which is held each year in July. It was the reason we had skipped Tokyo and taken the bullet train directly to a city none of us had heard off before.
Arriving in Japan has been confusing and the lack of sleep on our 12 hour flight did not help. But despite only getting a couple of hours sleep in a crappy airline seat, we managed to stay up relatively late on the day we arrived. We left Copenhagen Airport at around 4 PM and landed about 12 hours later at 9 AM local time. In the airport we ran around like headless chickens searching for mobile data cards before finally getting the train to Shinagawa Station in Tokyo from where we took the Nozumi, the fastest of the Japanese bullet trains to Nagoya, arriving around 3 PM.
Overly tired and wet from the humidity, we realised that while the Tokyoko Inn Marunochi had been described as close to the train station it was an uncompromising 20 minutes’ walk with backpacks to the cool reception of the hotel. Here we were given the keys to our very own smoking room. The online booking agency had not been kind enough to inform us that we had in fact booked a room where we could smoke. Walking into the small humid and smelly room, I almost gave up, just wanting to return home to the rainy Danish summer.
However, instead of booking the first ticket out of there we decided to beat the jetlag and get out of the smelly room while leaving the air-condition on to improve the climate of the room. Being in the land of technology and gadgets, we headed to Bic Camera, a five floor electronics store next to the station. I needed another memory card as I have this bad habit of shooting both RAW and JPEG photos.
Bic Camera was our first true meeting with Japanese customer service. I’ve travelled a few places in Europe and North America, and though there are great differences in how to treat customers in Lithuania, France, Canada and Denmark, none of it even comes close to the attentiveness of the Japanese customer service. If you ask them a question they are with you until you exit the store. While this would under normal circumstances feel rather crowded and get my panties in a twist, I actually kind of like it here. They are so polite and in the big and confusing stores such as Bic Camera they are a Godsend and so amazingly polite. I owe a big thanks to the guys at Bic Camera Nagoya, but that story will have to wait a bit.
After getting a bit of Japanese fast food on our way home we returned to a much more pleasant room thanks to the helpful air-condition, hitting the sack at around 9 PM local time. A few hours later we both woke up refreshed and in great need of something to eat. I imagine it was dinner time in Denmark. Eating a few leftover biscuits from our flight we finally had the feel that we were here, in Japan…
Sightseeing on a timer
Having slept for 10 hours I no longer feel any effects from having travelled halfway across the planet in only 12 hours and I have no jet lag left. I am ready to take on Nagoya, Japans third largest city and the home of automobile company Toyota. However, to begin the day properly we are getting Japanese breakfast buffet style and learning to say Ohayo Gozamasu, or good morning as the breakfast lady sings out every time a new guest walks down for breakfast. I love Japanese friendliness and manners.
Nagoya is a pleasant big city with lots of trees and millions of noisy cicadas. Bombed during WW2 it does not have the same cultural importance as Kyoto, but the people of Nagoya have taken pride in restoring their 16th century Nagoya castle after it was bombed during the American air raids.
The castle was ordered as a public project (tenka buskin) in 1610 by Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the powerful Tokugawa shogunate, and finished two years later. It was the first castle to be designated a national treasure in 1930. After the air raids in 1945, the main palace tower was rebuilt by 1959. In later years the restoration and rebuilding of the rest of the castle has commenced and it is planned to be finished by 2018.
After a short rest in the shade of the beautiful Nagoyajo (jo means castle) it was time to head on to the Commemorative Museum of Toyota. But as I got up my camera was not secured in its strap around my neck and it crashed to the ground, cracking the outer protective glass. I could see that the lens was unharmed but the outer glass had been hit in such a way that I could not get it off. I was manic, concerned that I might be unable to take any more pictures on our trip. A kind Japanese man on the bench next to us tried helping, but to no avail. The protective glass was stuck and threateningly close to scratching the lens.
Looms and automobiles
Heartbroken we headed off to the Toyota museum, where we came to learn a whole lot about textiles and textile machinery, and off course a bit about the production of cars.
I was actually really surprised by the interesting permanent exhibition on Toyota’s textile production. Toyota started off as Toyoda Automatic Loom Works, Ltd in 1926. Two years prior, the owner Sakichi Toyoda had invented the Toyoda Automatic Loom, Type G, which was extremely innovative and progressive of its time, allowing a twentyfold increase in production.
It wasn’t until 1933 that a division of the company was established under Sakichi’s son Kiichiro Toyoda focusing on automotive technology, leading to the Toyota Motor Corporation which we know today.
The Canon clerk and the Panasonic man
After wandering around among the massive looms and spinning machines, and the even larger machines for the production of cars, we headed off back to the centre with a plan to stop by Bic Camera to see if they could help me with my broken camera.
I am not afraid to admit that when the very polite clerk at the Canon Station told me I had to go to another shop which was closed on Sundays, I began to cry. I was so worn down from our rocky start and now I had managed to break my camera on the first day. Monday we were heading into the Japanese Alps with no chance of finding a similar place where I could get first aid for my camera. I felt pretty desperate and heartbroken. I imagine that it was my desperation and crying which led the clerk at Canon to bring in the Panasonic man.
He gently knocked out the broken glass of the protective shell, while my heart was beating rapidly worried that he would damage the lens. After getting out the glass he took a metal tang and with a lot of effort managed to turn the capsule off the camera lens. After this the kind Canon clerk spent painstakingly long time cleaning and polishing the glass of my lens and finding me a new protective glass.
With this experience in my bag I can with all my heart recommend the wonderful guys at Bic Camera Nagoya’s camera floor if ever you need to stock up on camera equipment.
Leaving the ER for cameras, we headed off to the Osu district for a bit of shopping. I had heard that the Komynhoe department store had a kimono section in Osu and was longing to check it out. After finding it, it didn’t take me long to find the perfect Yukata (summer kimono) in dark brown with red, green and purple flowers. The woman assisting me found a large beautiful and very red Obi formed as a bow, which I immediately fell for, and now for the rest of the trip I have to carry around a large box with a red bow. My boyfriend thinks I’m crazy, but he can’t deny that it is a beautiful set. I will probably never wear it, but I will treasure it deeply.
After a quick walk in Osu, we headed off to one of the highlights of our trip: the 2015 Nagoya Sumo final! Or, as the Japanese call it, the Senshuraku – the pleasure of a thousand autumns. We pre-ordered tickets for the finale as far back as April at www.buysumoonline.com. It was surprisingly easy to book the tickets and they were delivered by post a week after they had come out in ordinary sale in ultimo-May. The seats were not the best and I had forgotten my glasses at home, but we took several walks around the hall getting a good view of the action. I must admit that I find Sumo is a surprisingly pleasing sport to watch with great traditions and spiritualism.
What is Sumo?
According to the ever marvellous Wikipedia:
Sumo (相撲sumō) is a competitive full-contact wrestling sport where a rikishi (wrestler) attempts to force another wrestler out of a circular ring (dohyō) or into touching the ground with anything other than the soles of the feet. The characters 相撲 literally mean “striking one another”.
It is shrouded in tradition reaching back 2000 years to its roots in Shinto rituals, and apart from the often very short matches it is the entire introduction of traditions surrounding it that I find really fascinating. It goes a long way beyond the superstitious belief of a soccer goalie that he can only win if he smears his bubble-gum on the pole of his goal or if a baseball player only uses a particular pair of underwear during matches.
It is not until the Edo period (1603-1868) that Professional Sumo became an actual spectators sport made for entertainment. Previously and as part of Shinto rituals it was related to the harvest of rice and a way to honour the spirits. For this particular reason the rituals perform during a Sumo match relate to Shintoism.
Most of the Shinto that we see in sumo occurs symbolically. To begin with, the sand that covers the clay of the dohyo is itself a symbol of purity in the Shinto religion. And the canopy above the ring (yakata) is made in the style of the roof of a Shinto shrine. The four tassels on each corner of the canopy represent the four seasons, the white one as autumn, black as winter, green as spring and red as summer. The purple bunting around the roof symbolizes the drifting of the clouds and the rotation of the seasons. The referee (gyoji) resembles a Shinto priest in his traditional robe. And kelp, cuttlefish, and chestnuts are placed in the ring along with prayers for safety.
Once the actual bouts begin, the two rikishi spend several minutes before their match lifting their legs high in the air and stomping them down, a practice said to scare away any demons. They also throw several handfuls of salt into the ring, which is said to purify the ring. Many rikishi will also sprinkle salt around their bodies as a means of protecting them from injury. After the last bout of the day, the yumi-tori (bow twirling) ceremony is performed by a makushita-ranked rikishi from the same stable as a Yokozuna. True fans of the sport will not leave their seats until this ritual is performed.
During the matches, we sat next to a few yukata clad Japanese women, whom were polite enough to answer a few questions about the wrestlers. The one next to me who was a rather stout looking woman had a pair of prime functioning lungs, yelling along with the names of her favourite wrestlers. The final match, which concluded the fourteen day tournament of Nagoya stood between Hakuho and Kakuryu, both names heard across the hall from enthusiastic fans.
Our neighbour was by all means a Hakuho fan, and I was quite pleased that the clerk at the souvenir shop had suggested for me to choose a fan with his portrait on. Consider the drama had I sat next to the stout woman with a Kakuryu fan.
My choice was awarded as Hakuho won the final match and thus the tournament after what can only be described as a very intense wrestle.
After the final match was over, Hakuho was presented with a very large cup which makes the Champions League and Premier League cups look rather pathetic. Then followed a line of other sponsor gifts which were all presented to Hakuho – some of them extremely large and many of them hideous.
I particularly found the massive Coca Cola bottle really tacky. However we enjoyed watching the poor employee destined to take away the large sponsor gifts after they had been presented to Hakuho. He was far from as robust as Hakuho and constantly in danger of crushing under the weight of the monstrosities otherwise known as sponsor gifts.
As we were watching the parading sponsor gifts we bumped into our friend from Nagoya castle, who had been so kind to try and help out with my camera.
I was pleased to tell him that it had survived its crash landing and that everything was good. At the same time we found out that he was a major Sumo and Hakuho fan and that he always attended every match of the Nagoya tournament. Whoever said Sumo is dying out hasn’t been to Nagoya.
After leaving the Sumo arena we headed off to Antsu Jinga Shrine in the absolute other end of town. Though the park was covered in darkness, we did manage our first glimpse of a Japanese Shinto Shrine. Deadbeat from a long day we headed off to Sakae and Nagoya Tower which looks surprisingly a lot like the Eiffel Tower.
Here we found a place which sold sticks. Back in Denmark we have this rather ordinary and boring chain called Sticks’n Sushi. Well, they definitely need to take a small study trip to Nagoya. We stayed clear of the more exotic sticks, such as rectal and uterus, but the ones we choose were absolutely delicious. We ended the evening with a plate of gyoza at a diner, before finally making it home to our smoky room.
Tomorrow we are leaving Nagoya. Our next stop is Matsumoto and the Japanese Alps.