Ryogoku Kokugikan – One of the Home of Most Ancient Japanese Sport

At first I had this impression that Sumo Wrestling or just Sumo was kind of violent sport. Yes I am aware that it is the traditional and national sport of Japan, without really knowing stuff about it, I was curious how this sport is being played. I visited sumo site prior to traveling to Japan and found that during our travel in Japan there will be Grand Sumo Tournament. I saw in one site the Sumo ticket sale will be available soon. I booked the ticket at the 1st day of ticket sale. And to be honest booking the ticket was already an experience because the box seat tickets near the center for most of the 15 days tournament were immediately sold out in a matter of hours. And because of that I immediately bought 1 box seat (4 people) to make sure we have seats in one of the days that the sumo tournament is happening while we are in Japan. I was glad that even there’s not much festivals happening during our visit (September is low peak month of visitors) at least we can watch the most ancient Japanese sport – The Sumo.

We watched sumo on our 4th day in Japan and it was Monday. I planned that day to just watch Sumo as I wanted to balance the itinerary that we have for the consideration of my aged parents. That day, I allowed all of us to regain long rest as the main event of the Sumo was scheduled at 2PM in the afternoon that day.

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Rikishi (Wrestlers)

From hotel, we took train from Kayabacho Station and transferred to Akihabara Station and took Chuo Line going to Ryogoku Station and got off at the same station. From that station, we walked few minutes to Ryogoku Kokugikan. We found that a lot of people were at the front gate and noticed that people seems waiting for something or someone as people were lined-up to both sides like there some parade coming, until we realized that some of the Sumo Wrestlers are coming. We felt excited too when we saw them. I got excited because our activity that day is uniquely a Japan culture.

I brought the printed order ticket at Ryogoku. Before passing the entrance, we saw the booth beside it which designated for tickets bought online. And then, I requested for help from assistant which just standing by at the booth. With the printed document I have in my hand, we were able to retrieved the tickets after verifying the credit card I used to order the ticket online. Before entering the gate, there’s a big announcement that the ticket was sold out for that day. It was a good relief that I bought ticket online. It secured us that day for guaranteed seat to be able to watch Sumo comfortably.

When we entered The  Kokugikan Sumo Stadium, we felt good, we saw the human board of famous Rikishi (wrestler) at the entrance and even though we don’t know them, we stand beside them and took our photos. When we were inside the stadium before entering the sumo arenas, people are going back and forth and most of them are buying food in the surrounding stores inside the stadium. We did the same thing, we bought lunch boxes for all of us. When were done buying and looking around, we went to the door nearest to our seat.

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Riskishi (Wrestlers)

Sumo arena are divided into two, the lower ground is called box seats while the balcony or upper level are called arena seats. The ticket that we bought were in the box seats and the unique experience we had in box seats was were going to seat in the floor with cushion and we will sit in Lotus position where we cross our legs.

At the center of the stadium we found the Dohyo, a stage with circular ring on it and with suspended roof similar to the Shinto shrine with four giant tassels hanging to each corner that signifies the seasons of the year (information from Sumo official website).

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Rikishi’s (Wrestlers) Bouts (preparation time during warm-up period)

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Rikishi In Action

We waited for almost an hour before the tournament started. And then the sumo arena were filled with people. When we enter the stadium and went to our assigned box seats, there were some Rikishi that are fighting in the Dohyo. I got a paper for the Torikumi or Sumo Bouts for 2nd Day. From the paper that I got there were two bouts, one is Juryo and one is Makuuchi. Based on my understanding in Banzuke (Banzuke-hyo – offical document of rankings of professional sumo wrestlers) Sumo rankings, the upper division of Rikishi is called Maku-uchi which includes the five positions of Rikishi order from highest to lowest rank: Yokuzana, Ozeki, Sekiwake, Komusubi, and Maegashira. The lower division includes Juryo, Makushita, Sandame, Jonidan, and Jonokuchi. As per Sumo official site, below Makushita ranks does not get to wrestle on each day of tournament. The tournament for day actually started in the morning and low ranking Rikishi bouts happen on that time. The main event of bout starts in the afternoon which includes Juryo and Makuuchi bout.

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Juryo Dohyo-iri Ceremony

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Juryo Dohyo-iri Ceremony

Past 2PM that day, the main event started when Juryo Grade did their entrance both from East and West teams (please take note that Rikishi from different team does not fight for team, the fight does not have any relations which ever team the Rikishi belong) did their colorful dohyo-iri or “entering the ring” ceremony. I saw all Rikishi in queue wearing their kesho-mawashi (ceremonial aprons) and climbed to the dohyo. Each Rikishi, when they were all in the Dohyo did their short ritual ancient in sumo tradition wherein they raise their hands. That ritual is very unique which I really enjoyed watching.

After the Juryo Dohyo-iri ceremony, it followed by Juryo Bouts. We witness their bouts and my family enjoys the ancient sports of Japan.

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Juryo Grade In Action

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Dohyo Sweeping

I also observed that the Dohyo was frequently swept after the bouts and after Rikishi’s entrance ceremony, it was mentioned that Dohyo was made of special kind of clay and covers some think layer of sands, this is the reason why few people assigned to swept it.

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Shimpan (Judges)

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Gyoji (Referee) at the center

My curiosities were not only focus to the Rikishi who fough inside Dohyo. Other people were also noticeable such as the judges of sumo which called as Shimpan and the referee whose inside the sumo stables are called Gyoji. As I watch the fight of Rikishi, I learned that sumo is a sport where the wrestler aims their opponent to be out of the ring or their opponent parts of the body touch the ground aside their feet to be able to win the game.

After the Juryo Bouts, it followed the Makuuchi Dohyo-iri Ceremony. The whole stadium was jam pack of people which signifies that people are more curious of the Makuuchi’s fight as I understand that being included in Makuuchi ranking is really important in this sports.

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Makuuchi Dohyo-iri Ceremony

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Makuuchi Dohyo-iri Ceremony

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Yokuzana Dohyo-iri Ceremony

During the tournament, we were able to watch as well a Yokuzana which is the highest rank of grand sumo wrestlers and represent all sumo’s participants entered the Dohyo and did his Dohyo-iri ceremony with greatest dignity.

After the entrance of Yokuzana in Dohyo, it followed by Makuuchi Bouts. And we felt the heat of Makuuchi fight as people reacted more in every action seen inside the ring.

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Makuuchi Bout In Action

Before the tournament of the day ended, there was a bow dance which done by Makushita Rikishi, which shows the expression of satisfaction on behalf of the victorious Rikishi of the day.

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Bow Dance – A Makushita Rikishi performs Yumitori-Shiki

I observed the whole tournament while enjoying the Rikishi wrestled with their opponents. By watching the sumo, I learned that the sumo sport is not really violent sport, it’s very traditional and cultural sports which strictly following the sumo ancient rules. All my bad impressions regarding this sport was gone, it was replaced with utmost respect with this ancient sport and to all Rikishi.

I can truly say that we had a such great time discovering and watching sumo tournament.

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Tokyo – From A Small Fishing Village To A Bustling Metropolitan Prefecture

When I am researching information about Tokyo, there is a curiosity about the history of one of the popular or famous city in the world. Tokyo’s former name was Edo which was part of old Musashi Province (information from Wikipedia) wherein fortified by Edo clan. Edo  was a small fishing village around 18th century, but seeing Tokyo right now, as I knew that it was a city until I understand that it’s not just a city but a metropolitan prefecture of Japan. It is the most populous metropolitan area of the country and where Japan’s government located.

After seeing some part of Tokyo, knowing what it was before is an amazing thing to discover. Realizing how far it progressed from where it was before is truly considered exponential growth and success of the small village.

A Metro To Remember

The inbound flight that I was able to book to Japan was through Narita Airport. The said airport is 1 hour train to Tokyo Downtown. At first, when I started planning my family’s itinerary, Narita area was first on my list to visit while in Japan with the reason that it is near from the airport and considering utilizing our time. Then I changed the list when I was finalizing the itinerary, I replaced Narita with Tokyo.

We left home from Dasmarinas Cavite around 1AM of September 11, allotting 4.5 hours before the scheduled flight. The past few days that week in my country had gloomy weather as almost every afternoon to evening, in Metro Manila and its outskirts had been raining. We left early as we were trying to anticipate road traffic challenges that may arise if the weather will be the same. I was really glad that Friday early morning, the road was quiet as we travel on the way to the airport. We had smooth travel from home to the airport and the good thing about that morning, it wasn’t raining at all. Around 2AM we’re already at NAIA (Ninoy Aquino International Airport) Terminal 3.

At the airport, we followed the norms of people traveling international such as paying travel taxes and flight checking-in. After checked-in, since it was still early and we had ample time to spare, we had our breakfast at local food chain in the airport. Next, we went to immigration gate. After passing immigration, we went straight to the airline’s gate. While waiting at the designated gate of our flight, I was thinking about Japan. In my mind, in just less than an hour or so, I will be on my way in a country called “Land of the Rising Sun”. A country which for me was only a dream. At that moment of my life, I felt excited because soon the dream in my mind will become a reality. And the momentous about it, I’m traveling with my family.

The flight was more than 4 hours. The plane took off around 5:30AM in Manila. We landed in Narita International Airport past 10:35AM. Japan was 1 hour ahead in Philippines. We disembarked the plane and walked towards immigration section. Standing in one of the airport in Japan was the realization of my thoughts that I was really in Japan. When we passed the immigration officers, that was the time I believed we will really see and experience Japan.

After the immigration, one of the first thing that’s unique with Japan at the airport is their toilet where you have a lot of options to do aside from the normal stuff that people does. What I’m referring to is that, their toilets has options to play some music or soothing sounds while doing your business. And most of the manual stuff like flushing before and after, it will be done automatically for you. Well, in my country that’s not the case, though some malls has toilets with automatic flush after doing your business.

We were adjusting in the airport and I was thinking what’s the next thing to do, we tried to figure out how we were going to Tokyo downtown. We found Skyliner desk, Skyliner is a train line that directly goes to Nippori and Ueno Station (another option is Narita Express train line that goes straight to Tokyo Station). I chose Skyliner because our Japan Railpass was not yet activated and it has only 7 days, we will be in Japan for 10 days so we were saving the other 3 days. I also knew that we still have chance to experience Narita Express train once we return to the Airport, for our scheduled flight back to Manila. Skyliner is just one of the great trains that we were able to ride while in Japan. I bought the tickets for four and then I looked for ATM to get some money. We went upstairs  (where the departure floor is located) to pickup the pocket WiFi in Japan Post Office that I reserved for rent prior arriving in Japan, WiFi will enable us to connect to internet while roaming around the country which is a LTE connection, unlimited data and cheaper for 10 days compared if I will activate data roaming in my mobile from my country and the best of all, all in the family can connect internet seamlessly.  After I picked-up the wifi, my father told me that he lost his jacket somewhere and it seems he left it after we passed the immigration officers. My father and my sister went to Information Desk at the airport and requested to looked for the jacket. It was a good thing that we had some photos of the jacket and we were able to show it to airport officers. In few minutes of waiting, my father’s jacket had been returned to him immediately. That kind of experience in a new place was really a great thing. I appreciated how people in that place were so efficient and trustworthy that they can easily find my father’s jacket. It may be a different situation if we were in another country.

Because of the incident, we came back to the Skyliner train desk where we bought our tickets and we requested to replace our tickets as the ticket schedule has passed already. They issued us new tickets for next train which will be leaving soon. We hurriedly went down to the train platform but the train doors were already closed when we arrived and its departing, we missed it for the second time. I came back upstairs and let my family wait in the platform as it’s quite inconvenient if all of us going up with our luggage. I talked to the train officer and advised me to get new ticket. I returned to the Skyliner for the second time, the third schedule given to us was at least an hour waiting time, a very sufficient time for all of us not to miss the train. Missing the train is not really something that’s surprising for us to experience because its our first time to find the train platform and it’s also first time to ride a train in Japan.

From Narita Airport Station (because there is Narita Station which different station), we arrived at Ueno Station after an hour.  Japan is a country where train is the most common and most efficient public mass transportation. After arriving in Ueno Station, we started to use our Passmo card I bought together with the Japan Railpass. Passmo card are usable to all trains and buses around Tokyo, but it cannot be used for long travel. Passmo card are accepted to many cities in Japan, maybe in the next coming years they have one card for all transportation which I will be looking forward to in the future. I did my research about public transportation in Japan and understood that there are specific tickets for some train lines. That’s why I made sure that we have the appropriate ticket for the train line we will be taking. From Ueno Station, we transferred to Tokyo Metro Subway and took Hibiya Line towards Naka-meguro and got-off at Kayabacho Station where our hotel for 4 consecutive days in Tokyo is very near and the hotel we will be staying is Sotetsu-Fresa Inn Nihombashi Kayabacho.

Honestly, based on my plan, after we arrived in Japan, we planned to see some places in the afternoon as part of our activity to end our first day. The original plan was to visit Ueno Park, but the plan did not happen because both of my parents were already tired as we haven’t slept due to early flight that day, I decided to cancel the planned activity.

The following places we visited in Tokyo are: Ginza for the first day, Ryogoku, Akihabara for the fourth day and Ueno, Azakusa, Tokyo SkyTree for the 9th day in Japan. Detailed stories of each places are posted or will be posted separately on the link given below.

Day 1 – Ginza

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Day 4 – Ryogoku Kokugikan

Hidden Panorama - Tokyo Fishing Village Metropolitan Prefecture

Day 4 – Akihabara

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Our second and last Saturday in Japan spent another day in Tokyo. Early in the morning, we took Shinkansen train from Kyoto to Tokyo. We left Kyoto Station around 6:23AM and we arrived in Tokyo Station around 9AM. Though these two cities far from each other, the Shinkansen train made us felt that both are just near each other. The estimated distance between Kyoto Station and Tokyo Station are around 500 km and it only needs more than 2.5 hours travel within the two stations. It was 3rd time we had Shinkansen Train, though it was not the fastest Shikansen, but it still comparable in terms of its speed, for what I’m aware of the Shinkansen train we took just late of 10 minutes compared with the fastest bullet train. Because it was long weekend (as September 21 is a public holiday in Japan), I anticipated that a lot of people were traveling and we reserved our ticket a day before and it’s almost fully booked  when I reserved our tickets, the seats we got were not beside each other and one seat was in another car train. I let myself apart from my family as I can be on my own and let my youngest sister be with my parents in another car train.

When we were at Tokyo Station, we looked around for luggage locker because our hotel for the night is near in Narita International Airport. After checking-in our luggage, we roam around again for the last time in Tokyo.

Day 9 – Ueno Park and Ameyoko

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Day 9 – Asakusa and Sensoji Temple

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Day 9 – Tokyo SkyTree

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After taking our time with photo shots in Tokyo SkyTree, we decided to go down as we need to catch-up train going Otsuka to attend an event. From Tokyo SkyTree Station in Tobu Line, we returned to Asakusa  Station, then transferred to Ginza Line. We got off at Ueno Station. At Ueno Station  I just realized that I have to cancel our travel in the place that my family need to be, due to my unintended mistake, we had to take train to Tokyo Station instead to Otsuka Station as we need to catch-up the last trip of Narita Express train from Tokyo Station to Narita Airport Station, as our hotel for our last night in Japan was near the airport.

At Tokyo Station we walked so fast as we need to find the luggage locker we used to checked-in our luggage and bags at the station. We arrived at the train platform for Narita Express train at least 5 minutes before its scheduled departure as we were catching our breath. For all of us it was really a nick of time because if we missed the train, we have to take a taxi which was really expensive coming from Tokyo to Narita.

We arrived past 9PM at Narita Airport Station. Then, we took the shuttle bus to the hotel we booked. We checked-in at the Narita Tobu Airport hotel before 10PM. Before we ended the night, we had a wonderful and delightful dinner at the hotel as both of my parents complimented the food we had that night and I felt relieved to what I heard.

We woke-up early and did last-minute packing of our luggage and checked-out the hotel. We took the shuttle bus back to the airport. We arrived at the airport, had enough time before our flight. I went back to the Post Office booth and returned the WiFi device I rented. We checked-in in our flight and passed the immigration. We went to the designated gate of our flight and waited for our departure. At that time I felt that days passed so fast. I remembered 9 days ago, we just came in to Japan and yet that moment we’re about to leave the country. I sensed that in few hours I and my family has to go back in reality of our lives again.

I had a great time in Tokyo and oveall in Japan, though there are lots of places that I haven’t seen but we had wonderful time and we had fun as Japan offered us a lot of places to see to enjoy our trip in this country called “Land of the Rising Sun”.

Until I return again.

Japan Highlights At The First Visit

I know that it’s been a while since my last post. After being busy in a project at work, I was busy planning my next out of the country adventure this year together with my family.

Traveling in a country with visa is most likely a dream to me because your chances to see that country is whether the visa application is approved. If the visa approved we are really lucky. If not, the hope will probably gone as there’s no way to come to that country in a normal and legal way.

When I heard that Japan loosen a bit of its strictness in processing visa specifically for tourists visa to promote their tourism, I put some thought to visit the country since last year. Then, I waited my chance for cheap airline ticket since I am planning to travel together with my family (with my parents and my youngest sibling). Last February this year, I received alert email from one of the budget airline in my country and I grabbed my chance to book tickets for myself and my family. Honestly, it was difficult to get cheap ticket with combined promo rate both for departure and arrival flight but with perseverance I was able to find combinations of dates for our travel.

Almost 7 months had passed and I’m still not sure if we can really travel to Japan for many reasons. And last August, I processed all our visa applications and submitted it to one of the authorized travel agency of Japan Embassy as their office does not accept anymore applications directly from applicant. I completed all the requirements and prepared for the visa fee. I applied a single entry for all of us. And after 3 days of processing, the agency called me and notified me that the visa were already approved. I was ecstatic when I heard the news, because the major worry of the travel planning if we can push visiting Japan got resolved. When I returned to pickup the passports, I was surprised for one thing. I received a multiple visa for 5 years in Japan while the rest of my family just got single entry. For me and my family, being approved even for single entry in Japan was one of the great things happened because it gave us a chance to see the country even for once. I just thought that if there is a need to re-apply for visa, it will be probably easier because we’ve had a record that we had visited Japan.

Even before visa application processing, I already started searching places to visit in Japan. Since after the booking of our flight, I have hope that I will be able to see Japan. When our visa approved, that’s was the time I made a real itinerary. I planned the places to visit and the accommodation where were going to stay. I aligned all the accommodations that we need to all places we planned to visit. Since I’m always on a budget, I selected hotels walk able to and from the train station, as I learned that taking a cab in Japan is quite pricey. I also bought necessary advance tickets such as train pass and sumo ticket to reserved guaranteed slot for my family.

My family and I traveled the country within 10 days, these includes two flights to and from Japan. In total we spent at least 8.5 days roaming around in Japan.

Here are the following places we’ve  got a chance to visit.

1. Tokyo

Ginza

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Akihabara

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Ueno

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Asakusa

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Tokyo Skytree

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2. Yokohama

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3. Mount Fuji and Kawaguchiko

Mount Fuji

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Kawaguchiko

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4. Miyajima and Hiroshima

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5. Osaka

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6. Kyoto

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Our trip was really quick by I tried to see as much as we can since I was with my family. In the next coming post. I will described the experience that myself and my family had in our first visit in Japan.

Until then.