2 Weeks in Japan (Tokyo, Kyoto and More) -- Part IAuthor: GregW (More Trip Reviews by GregW)
Date of Trip: July 2006
First, a guy comes out, opens a small fan, and sings to both the wrestlers, turning from one side to the other side half way through his short song. The wrestlers then stand and enter the ring, where they proceed to slap themselves and raise and lower their legs. The wrestlers than stand in the middle of the ring, where they face each other. The guy who was singing picks up a broom and starts sweeping around the edge of the ring, removing dirt from the rope. A referee addresses both the wrestlers by yelling at them. Then the match starts. I think it starts when both wrestlers place their hands on the floor, getting into a 3 point stance, but I'm not certain on that point. The wrestling consists of two large men slapping each other, occasionally pulling the hair of the other guy and attempting to grab their opponent by his underwear. At some point, one guy manages to throw the other guy down or push him out of the ring. At that point both wrestlers return to the ring, stand facing each other, and then the referee yells at one of them, declaring him the winner. The whole thing takes maybe 5 minutes from start to finish, with the bout itself taking maybe 1 minute total. It starts all over again then.
I watched the sumo for about 3 hours, but never really "got" it. I think, much like ice hockey to a person from Mississippi, unless you've grown up with it, you probably won't understand it.
Went to Osaka for the baseball game! I watched the Hanshin Tigers of Osaka take on the Hiroshima Toyo Carp in Koshien Stadium. Koshien Stadium is the oldest baseball park in Japan, built in 1924 to be host for the high school baseball championships, it has been home to the Tigers since 1936. The stadium has a very old time feel, with ivy climbing the walls outside and a real grass field inside (most ball parks in Japan have astro-turf). It seats 53,000 people, and the field itself is circular, giving a huge foul area. It was interesting to see the game, because while the action on the field is as American and baseball and apple pie, the fans are not. They are much more European soccer fan like, in that they have chants and songs and flags and are pretty much active the entire game.
Outfield tickets to Koshien Stadium cost me ¥1700 (US$ 17). To get to the stadium, take the Hanshin line from Umeda station and exit at Koshien Station. Return tickets for the train cost around $US 5.
Tickets for baseball games are hard to get overseas, but shouldn't be a problem to get once in Japan. I would recommend going and getting tickets a few days before the game to ensure you get a seat. The two biggest teams are the Osaka Hanshin Tigers and the team from Tokyo, the Yomiuri Giants, who play in the Tokyo Dome. Tickets can be purchased for a the games from a ticket vendor, ask at the TIC (Tourist Information Center (see below)) where the nearest ticket vendor is. They'll probably be one close to the major train stations.
I stayed at the hotel booked on the travellerspoint site for ¥2100 ($US 21) a night, which was about the best accommodation deal I got. However, the area was full of hotels similarly priced, so you should be able to just show up and find a place if you want (the only place I found in Japan where I would suggest that, by the way - see more in accommodation below). The area was a bit out, but still right by the subway, and there were a number of hotels in the area. Rooms were small, but comfortable and clean. The area is right by Dobutsu Enmae station on both the Mido Suji line and the Sakai Suji lines. Heading to the north-east there are a number of places in a quiet area from around ¥2100. To the south-east, there were a number of places from between ¥1300 to ¥1900, but the area was a touch shadier.
I just popped into Hiroshima for the day after seeing the Hiroshima Toyo Carp fans at the baseball game the day before. Obviously the A-bomb Dome and associated attractions are the big draw in the area, but Hiroshima was interesting for me to see because of the rest of the city that had built up around the A-bomb site. I knew little about Hiroshima before arriving, and must admit that I was shocked to find such a vibrant city built up around the site of the first atomic bomb explosion. Hiroshima reminded me a lot of the other cities in Japan like Nagoya or Osaka, and that's what was amazing about it, that it's history was not it's present.
Interestingly, also, is that Hiroshima was the place I saw the most white people my entire trip. I wonder if it's morbid fascination with destruction, or nuclear guilt?
General Traveller's Impressions
I really enjoyed Japan, and could have done a lot more travel there. It's a great location to see especially if you are a fan of big cities, as Tokyo is the biggest.
In general, I was surprised by both how easy and how difficult Japan was to travel in.
For the easy part, the trains all run on time and have English announcements (even the subways, trams and buses), and are frequent and clean. There is no haggling and most every place has a cash register so you can easily see what you owe. There's no tipping or additional tax, so prices you see are prices you pay (some places, mostly upper crust places or tourist sites charged a service charge, but it was usually pretty minimal). And many places either had English menus or picture menus, making it easy to order.
In other respects, though, I found it hard to travel around. In fact, someone asked me how I compared travelling in Japan to travel in China or South America, and I said that I felt Japan was harder than either of those places. There were very few people that spoke English, and I often felt myself really struggling to communicate or understand what was going on. In China or South America, I often felt that I understood what was happening, even if I couldn't understand what was being said. They were, in a sense, simple, in that a meal was a meal and meeting someone was meeting someone. In Japan, though, I often felt like what was occurring before my eyes was part of an elaborate ritual that I didn't understand at all. Even though Japan is an Asian country with few English speakers, I was really surprised by this.
I chalk this up to two things. The first is that Japan is a G8 country with a long history of ties to North America, and so I expected that it would be easy to travel in. This is further backed up by the fact that many of the things you see in Japan are very familiar to the North American or European - it's got a large middle class and the infrastructure of the country is very similar to us. The roads are in good shape, and you see many of the same cars as home. People have similar technology and dress the same, and there is a large middle class. There's even baseball on the TV! But if you dig a little deeper, there are differences in those small things. This can be confusing, because you expect when you see something that is familiar, it'll be a certain way, but then you find it to be different.
As an example, you see ATMs everywhere, and Japanese people using their ATM and credit cards to pay for things. However, most of these systems aren't hooked up to the international networks, and so the ATM and credit cards from home won't work in most places.
So the first point is really that I expected it to be easy, but when I encountered small unexpected problems, they seemed more distressing then if travelling in South America or China, where you would expect things not to work (like your ATM card).
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