Sumo

Every year there are six major sumo-tournaments in Japan. We were fortunate enough to go to one, at Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo. The tickets were a little spendy though, about $280 per ticket, but we had pretty good seats. We did however feel that we got pretty good value for money as we were there for about six hours, and got to see plenty of massive dudes going at it with fierce determination.

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A tournament goes on for fifteen days (we were there at the twelfth day). It’s set up so that each wrestler has to get into action once every day. However, that only applies for those of the wrestlers with the best ranking. Those with lower ranking might only wrestle every other day. In total there are ten different levels of ranking, starting with the best: Yokozuna – Ozeki – Sekiwake – Komusubi – Maegasira – Juryo – Makushita – Sandanme – Jonidan – Jonokuchi.

The top five ranks (Yokozuna down to Maegasira) make up what is known as the maku-uchi, considered to be the elite sumo-wrestlers. Note that there are no weight classes. In order to make it all the way to the top and achieve the Yokozuna-title, one must have an outstanding record, and in addition display character worthy of the title. Once a wrestler make it to Yokozuna, he can never be demoted to a lower rank. This is different from all the other classes, where wrestlers based on their latest performances will either be promoted or demoted. I was surprised to learn that all of the three current Yokozuna are not Japanese, but from Mongolia.

The rules of sumo are fairly simple. To win, you have to either push your opponent out of the ring (it’s enough that part of the body, for example a foot, goes outside of the ring). Or you can push your opponent to the ground inside of the ring, and here it’s also enough that just a part of the body besides the feet touch the ground. There is however a big element of psychology as part of the match. Because, once the referee signals that the match can begin, the wrestlers have a four-minute time limit before they have to actually start wrestling. This period of time is spent trying to intimidate your opponent with angry looks, flexing, and slapping your belly, legs or face to get psyched up for the action. There are also some cleansing rituals going on during this time, with washing and throwing salt into the ring, which is said to bring good luck. The wrestlers also stamp their legs on the ground, as this is believed to drive evil away from the ring. Here’s a video from within the four-minute time limit:

Once the wrestling actually starts though, it’s usually over pretty fast:

Here’s a video of the final match of the day, with one Ozeki (second highest rank) on the left side, and one Yokozuna on the right, showing who’s boss!

Visiting Toyota

Been staying in the city of Nagoya for the last few days, and today we made a field-trip to the Toyota-factory. The factory consists of several very large plants and offices, and the tour we got was to one of these plants, called Tsutsumi. At Tsutsumi they produce the following models: Allion, Camry, Scion tC, Prius, and Premio. The Tsutsumi-plant employs 5.000 people, and produces 1.400 cars on a daily basis (and by the way, it only takes 20 hours to produce a single car). Unfortunately yet understandably, it wasn’t allowed to take photos inside the factory, but it was really cool to be guided through the whole assembly process. The assembly line snakes its way through the plant with employees positioned around at different stations, and the principles of Lean-thinking were clearly visible. For example, when producing a Camry each employee has 75 seconds to complete his part on the assembly line. If this criteria isn’t met, a yellow light appears on a board (a so-called Andon-board) that signals a hold-up at that particular station. A supervisor then rushes to that station to help out. If the problem isn’t fixed within a short span of time, the color on the board changes from yellow to red, and the whole assembly line must stop. This is due to the Jidoken-principle, a defective item must never be sent onto the next process. Furthermore, the entire plant is based around the just-in-time principle; Making what is needed, when it is needed, in the amount needed.

The overall impression was that the factory is extremely well organized, after decades of tweaking and adjustment in the hunt for continuous improvement. People were working in a steady pace, without rushing it, in a neat and clean factory.

We were however allowed to take photos in the showroom. A couple of personal favorites was the Lexus LFA, a genuine hellmachine with a top speed of 325 km/h and the capacity to accelerate from 0-100 km/h in just 3.7 seconds, fueled by a 4.8 liter V10 engine!

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Another vehicle that caught my eye was the Land Cruiser. I could picture myself cruising around in this any day! 🙂

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Kochi

Ever since we came to Japan, we’ve been paying close attention to the surf-forecast on Magicseaweed for several different spots, which unfortunately has shown pretty useless conditions so far. Therefore, we were pretty excited to see that it was suppose to be all right down in the Kochi-area for a couple of days this week. So, we hopped on the train from Tokyo and traveled for about nine hours (counting change of trains for a few of times), before arriving in the city of Kochi down south in Japan.

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We decided to go for a spot called Monabe, a rivermouth about an hour away with the local train outside of Kochi city (take the train to Ioki station, then it’s about twenty minutes walk from there). The first day we went to Monabe it was somewhat working, with waves up to seven feet. They were breaking pretty close to the shore though, so riding for more than a couple of seconds was risky. And during our session, the conditions changed, and the waves were starting to close out. On the second day it was smaller, maybe around four feet at the most, and the spot didn’t really work then. Some waves were breaking, but they were crashing with the current from the river and became a mess, and it was only waist deep, even though we went at high tide. So, we ended up doing mostly paddling practice, and it was just nice to spend some time on the beach and in the water again. The water was really warm though, I’m guessing 27 degrees, so that was pleasant 🙂 Here’s a photo from Monabe on the second day:

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Today we went and saw the biggest attraction in Kochi, an old castle which has been really well kept over the years after being constructed in the early 1600s, very neat. It’s good that Japan has a lot else to offer when the surfing isn’t working. Boredom doesn’t exist! 🙂

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Getting by with emoticons

The language barrier here in Japan can be quite substantial at times. My impression, or guesstimate, is that about 1 out of 20 Japanese speak English well enough to have a conversation. So, when we go out to eat, we usually look for menus with pictures of the food. That way, we can just choose whatever looks good, in case the waitress doesn’t speak any English. We still end up eating a lot of food that we’ve got no clue what is though, but fortunately it’s usually as good as it looks.

However, when the menu is in Japanese and there are no pictures, I’ve come up with a quite modern way to place an order, by using emoticons! Here’s an example from a restaurant we visited yesterday:

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The emoticons state that I’d like pork in noodles accompanied by a beer. The waiter immediately gave me a nod, made a note of it, and said something in Japanese, before heading to the kitchen. When he returned about ten minutes later (yeah, they serve food fast here!), he brought me this, exactly as intended. A meal most tasty.

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The conclusion is: Never mind the idea of Esperanto, we’ve got emoticons folks! 😉

Uni reunion and day-trip to Hakone

This weekend I had the opportunity to meet up with a friend from uni in Australia, Yuki, who lives here in Tokyo. Yesterday, Eivind and I were invited over to Yuki and her husband’s home for dinner, a delicious set of home-made Japanese cuisine. We also got to meet Yuki’s friend and co-worker Hikari 🙂

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Today, our excellent Japanese hosts took us on a day-trip to a popular recreation area named Hakone about an hour and a half by train outside Tokyo. Hakone is an area with high volcanic activity, which was clearly visible with steam erupting several places and sulfur-colored ground. We rode a cable-car with quite a view to the highest point accessible at an elevation of 1050 meters.IMG_1446

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At the top, we got to eat eggs boiled in the hot spring. Fascinatingly, the eggs turn black when being cooked in the mineral-rich waters! Looks pretty far out, but it’s only the shell that changes color, the inside and the taste is like a normal egg. According to Japanese folklore, eating an egg boiled in the hot spring will add seven years to your life, so knowing that I might extend my year of travelling a bit 😉

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We rounded off the day with a visit at the Hakone public bath, where we enjoyed soaking in the warm waters of the hot springs. Thanks for an excellent weekend guys! 🙂

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Easy living in Kyoto

Travelling around the world and switching accommodation on a regular basis, led us to test out airbnb here in Kyoto. For those unfamiliar with airbnb, it’s an online site which functions as a facilitator for rental of accommodation between private parties. Japan can be pretty expensive when it comes to accommodation, so we found a very affordable place in northern Kyoto, with a rate of only 134 NOK per night (21 USD). The standard is simple and modest and looks like something out of the 60s I reckon, but it’s clean enough, quiet, has excellent WiFi, a washing machine, and a pretty nice common area. 

Here’s a photo from the hallway. Kind of reminds me of a prison, partly because of the metal doors.

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Here’s one from our room, simple and modest, and we sleep on mats on the floor, Japanese style.

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And finally, here’s one from the common area.

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So we’ve booked five nights here. Besides checking out temples and shrines, we’ve gone to the other end of the scale and checked out the Kyoto-nightlife. It was top notch, and we ended up going to a karaoke bar with a Japanese crew we met in town. Good times! The Japanese really love karaoke, and the deal is that you get your own karaoke-room at the bar, and it seems you also get an unlimited supply of booze, so we ended up staying there until eight in the morning. Breakfast at McDonald’s made the night complete, before venturing back. 

We’ve also visited the oldest public bath in Kyoto, Funaoka Onsen, dating back over a hundred years. It’s still fully functioning, and people come there to rinse off, chill out, soak, shower, shave, and otherwise just for a good chat with the mates. Men and women have separate bathing areas, by the way.

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Finally, we’ve been walking around town quite a bit, one of our expeditions led us into the foothills right north of town. Found some nice paths and small roads that we followed to a small peak overlooking town. Doesn’t matter if we’re in a million-people city, Norwegians will always find a place to go hiking 🙂

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Four temples in a day

We’ve made our way from Tokyo to Kyoto, the former capital of Japan. There appears to be an abundance of temples and shrines here, and today we walked around and visited four of the larger ones, all of them Buddhist temples. 

The first stop was perhaps the most grand of them all, the Kinkaku-ji temple, or temple of the Golden Pavilion, a Zen Buddhist temple. The Golden Pavilion is a three-story building, with the two top floors covered in pure gold-leaf, reflecting in the pond in front of the building. The reason for such grand construction, is that the outside is suppose to reflect the greatness of what is inside the building, the shrines.  

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Next stop was the Ryoanji temple, which houses the Rock Garden. Created around the year 1500 by a monk, Tokuho Zenketsu, this small yet remarkable garden only consists of fifteen rocks with white gravel in between, and measures twentyfive by ten meters.

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We also made a brief stop at the Toji-in Temple, founded in 1338 by Lord Ashikaga Takauji, the founder and first shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate.

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Last stop on our temple-safari was the Ninna-ji temple. After having been destroyed by fire, most of the temple dates back to the 17th century when restoration was carried out. Ninna-ji consists of several buildings, some have actually been moved from the Kyoto Imperial Palace and rebuilt here.

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