Today was a day of contrasts and perhaps the single best social event of the tour.
The day began with a trip to see a Race Simulator. The state of the art technology gave all of us the chance to drive in a simulator, competing against our fellow club members. The day began with a Metro ride to meet Adam who had arranged this visit. After meeting us at a station, that is once we found our way after Geetak’s “follow me” address, shortly before heading off in the wrong direction! Finally finding our way we soon found the Japanese Railway to be an unkind soul as we waited for what seemed like ages for two trains to clear the level crossing blocking our route.
Arriving at RFC, James and Adam soon set about setting up the ‘cars’. Discussions on what tracks followed with the Nurburgring favoured by some but others went for local flavour with Fuji. Eventually we agreed Suzuka would be ideal as a test of our skills and would give no-one unfair advantage. So, in two by two we set about setting the best time over three laps to find our GTROC Virtual Track Champion of 2012. To be fair Jann Mardenborough would have been embarrassed by our very poor attempts but at least we had a lot of fun doing it. For the record our ‘Star in a very expensive car’ was Ville.
After a spirited session in the seat of a simulator we felt the need for food and headed off to James’ recommended joint for something to eat. A Japanese restaurant that didn’t sell green tee may seem strange but the giant home-made burgers soon made up for it.
Originally the plan was to detour to Harajuku for some shopping and typical gawping at the sights of Takeshite Dori. Unfortunately the extended lap times and the long lunch put paid to that so, instead, immediately after lunch we headed off to Ryogoku and a chance to watch Sumo Wrestling.
For some tour members this was regarded as one of the things they were looking forward to more than many others. Whether we were interested in Sumo Wrestling or not we all seemed to want to go to experience such an event.
Sumo Wrestling takes place only a few times a year and we were very lucky that this tournament coincided with our visit to Tokyo. As we arrived at the huge square-shaped stadium we were met at the gate with the lady that had purchased our tickets and secured our seats. The first sections, nearest the ring, were mats for people to sit on rather than chairs. Us gaijin opted for the chairs. Once inside and with green tea in hand we found our seats and settled in for a new experience for all. Geetak looked resplendent in his yellow armband ‘tour guide’ outfit as the rest of us took our seats.
We arrived in good time. The dohyo (Sumo ring) was beginning with the parade of competitors for the next session. One by one the wrestlers entered the arena and were announced to great cheers. There were clearly some favourites amongst them. For the entire tournament the combatants are split into two teams. There are no team honours as such it is just a way for everyone to get a good selection of fights. Every sumo fights ever other which explains why a tournament lasts 15 days.
What was really interesting was that this once sacred ritual of sport was no longer a purely Japanese domain. Though it dates back over 1500 years to the Nara Period today it had become a global event, for the competitors at least. Perhaps 20% of those competing were from Europe, Asia Pacific and the Americas. However, and as a mark of their embrace of the sport they behaved in the time honoured traditions of Sumo, dressed and conducted themselves just as all the local born competitors.
Once seated we sat to watch the fights unfold. From adjacent entry points the combatants came in two-by-two to do business. The ritual entry to the dohyo was followed by some athletic posturing, salt throwing and more than a little psyching out of the opposition. In the past this could last a very long time so is now limited to four minutes – almost usually longer than the bought itself.
NOTE: a full write up about the origins and meansings of SUMO will be produced and posted on this website soon
Any sport can get a better vantage point if watched on television but any sport is also better being there to really understand it and soak up the culture. This was no different. The atmosphere was electric as the wrestlers paraded, prepared and tried to out psych the opposition. The bouts themselves were brutal affairs, none more so than the sumo who was thrown clear of the ring and 4 feet down the side onto his back, only to have his combatant land on top of him. That’s gotta hurt!
The whole spectacle is filled with ceremony and is exciting to watch, so we were all disappointed to leave early for our evening boat trip. For all of us this had been a first and we all agreed we wanted to stay longer and see more, such is the draw of Sumo Wrestling.
As we left the arena we gathered souvenirs from the shop, took photos and then made our way back to Ryogoku station before getting on board the Oedo Line train to Himamatsucho. There we meet up with our evening entertainment – a river boat!
The evening onboard the boat was a feast of fine food, good beer, hot sake and fantastic conversation. With the entire boat to ourselves the whole evening was one raucous bout of laughter and merriment. Recounting stories of our week so far and asking questions that, until now, we had been too busy to. Trying to get to grips with the Japanese culture and planning for the 2013 trip. The evening onboard the boat and cruise around Tokyo Bay was about as much fun as you can possibly have whilst kneeling down eating food without actually knowing what it is!
As with everything on this trip all too soon it was over. The boat docked and we were soon heading back to our hotel for perhaps a few late drinks in the bar. Tomorrow would be a different day but today would be remembered not for the cars but for the culture.