Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Numerous Updates, The Japanese Movie Theater Experience and Manga

Today my girlfriend left for home and after seeing her off on the Narita Express I went to the book store and then to a movie. More about that later but now a few updates.

First, I forgot to mention that the day we went to the morning sumo practice while I was sitting on the platform watching the wrestlers I was also looking around at the facility. We were sitting on cushions (zabuton) about three feet off the ground on a wooden wrap-around deck. At the one end of the deck to our left I counted fourteen, one-hundred pound bags of rice. Rice is the food that the rikishi eat the most so I guess it was natural for me to see it in the beya.

I'm sure that many of their supplies are supplied by benefactors and since Takamisakari is in a number of food commercials the beya receives more than their fair share of goods.

I don't think that Azumazeki beya is very large with only about seven to ten rikishi but there are some with around sixty. Imagine how much rice, not to mention steak and eggs, the larger beyas have stacked up some where.

Staying with sumo, the basho is over and Yokozuna Hakuho did go undefeated and set a record of four consecutive undefeated tournament wins. He has only lost three matches this year and they all came in January. He holds the record for fewest losses in a year at four, which he set last year. If he goes undefeated in the November basho in Fukuoka he will set three new records; five consecutive undefeated bashos, fewest losses in a year at three and longest winning streak which would be seventy seven. He will also be the only rikishi to have won seventy in a row.

My favorite rikishi, Homasho, had a good final week and ended up with a 7-8 won/loss record. He will not get demoted too far and won't have to face the top rikishi next time. He needs to work harder so he can beat a few Ozekis.

The Ozekis all had mediocre tournaments. The old Ozeki, Kaio, did get a winning record of 8-7 so he remains an Ozeki going into Fukuoka, which is his home town. They are saying again that he will retire in his home town so we'll watch and see. The big Bulgarian Kotooshu had the best Ozeki record at 10-5.

We went on the last day and it was another new experience at sumo. We stayed for all the presentations at the end and believe me there are plenty of presentations. First Hakuho receives the Emperor's Cup as the champion. It was presented by the Japanese Prime Minister, Naota Kan. The trophy was too heavy for the Prime Minister so one of the assistants had to help him carry it. Then Hakuho was presented the Japan Sumo Association victory flag.

Then, they just keep coming. The French Cup, the Hungarian Cup, the Chinese Cup, and the one we found most amazing, The Mexico Cup. We've never seen a Mexican sumo wrestler but along with the cup Hakuho received a year's supply of Corona Beer.

Beer may be second to rice in consumption in a sumo beya so this could have been an expensive gift. The United Arab Emirates gave him a year's supply of gasoline but since rikishi aren't allowed to drive I don't know how much that will amount to.

The Japanese Prefecture (state/province) of Miyazaki gave Hakuho a cow (they are famous for beef and have just been cleared of a hoof and mouth disease outbreak) and one ton of vegetables. The cow and the vegetables were not present. I told this to people here and they asked me if they walked the cow into the building. Coca Cola gave him a giant silver Coca Cola bottle but I didn't hear of a gift but I'm sure there was a year's supply of Coca Cola involved.

After the Yokozuna received more than he could handle they awarded the certificates to the winners of the other divisions then there was a promotion ceremony. Three young boys were promoted to sumo apprentices. They were very young and they came out in their mawashis to the center of the ring along with one of the top Gyogis (referees, who are Shinto Priests or similar) and their Oyakata (head coach and beya manager). The youngsters didn't know what the procedure was and got pushed into position by a rather aggressive gentleman in a gray suit.

They were each given a drink of sake which I don't think they are old enough to drink and then they all did a chant. The entire audience knew the chant and chimed in to announce the promotion. After that they all gathered in the center of the ring and picked up the Gyogi (referee) whom they tossed in the air three times as a symbol of rising up.

I've been following sumo very closely for five and a half years now and I experience something new with regard to sumo every time I come to Japan.

Now an update on another subject; the weather has turned severely in the opposite direction of summer. For the past three days it has been cold and raining. Sometimes it rains very hard and sometimes it's very cold. My girlfriend and I didn't have to fight over the temperature in the room at all. Today we had to take a cab to the train station because it was raining so hard. We got soaked crossing the street to get in the cab and we both had umbrellas.

The week after I arrived my friend and I found two umbrellas left on a train and since it was raining we took them. They were the smallest cheapest kind that you get for about 300 yen at the 7Eleven. They get left behind everywhere. Trains, umbrella stands, chairs in restaurants, bathrooms, you name it. My friend kept one and so did I. I found a much better umbrella left on a train two days ago and I've been using it since.

This morning though I used the tiny crappy one. I had bought a decent umbrella for my girlfriend, we each needed an umbrella to get to the station and I didn't want to be carrying two umbrellas after she left so I took the crappy one intending to leave it on the train or in the bathroom afterwards. It lived up to its ability and my jacket and pants were soaked when we got to the station after only walking about a block. The closest escalator to where the cab dropped us was being repaired so we walked to another one.

It felt good leaving it on the umbrella hook in the men's room, the way these umbrellas float around it's kind of like 'catch and release'.

My girlfriend and I had a great time while she was here. We only cooked in the room one night and then the night after the last day of sumo we didn't eat at all. The reason? Well, if you read one of my earlier blog posts you will remember that my friend from the Keio Plaza Hotel and I went to see a museum in a small area called Musashi Koganei. We met a lady there who was extremely generous to us when we went into her restaurant to ask for direction to find the number 4 bus. Remember?

Well, if you don't, she ended up having one of her employees drive us to the museum. When we decided to go back and eat at her restaurant to pay her back, she put on a fantastic meal for us and then refused to let us pay. So, before we went to the last day of sumo we went to her restaurant for lunch. My friend phoned to make sure she would be there and off we went.

Well, this time she out did her previous delicious meal. She supplied us with course after course of unbelievable food. Appetizers of mitake mushrooms and rice in the shape of bunnies, grilled mitake mushrooms, a delicate consume with a shrimp shumai dumpling, a whole grilled sanma (a fish I pictured earlier on the right side of the Zonajin blog page, www.Zonajin.blogspot.com), grilled lamb, a giant deep-fried shrimp and the highlight of the meal, a whole sea breem (Tai in Japan, red snapper in America) sashimi style with the head and tail for decoration. I have the picture on the right of the Zonajin blog page.

When we tried to pay she was very adamant that she wasn't going to accept our money. We continued to insist and she said we were going to be late for sumo and had better leave so we could pay her another time. She is the most generous person I think I've ever run into. I've certainly received more valuable things from people I know but this lady has no reason to be so nice to strangers in the manner that she has been nice to us. My girlfriend couldn't believe how nice this lady is. We ate so much good food that we couldn't eat dinner that night.

After my girlfriend left on the train for Narita I went to the book store. I've read two of the three books in, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, trilogy and they are so good I'm saving the third book for the plane ride home. Since I'm in Japan I thought I would check out the manga scene. My first attempt was a juvenile manga written in Japanese but it had Furigana Characters (Hiragana and Katakana pronunciation syllables) and I thought it would help me learn Japanese Kanji characters. The problem was that the juvenile mangas use a lot of slang so I couldn't figure out what the words were anyway. I mentioned this in an earlier blog post.

Next I tried a manga that was written in English. I'd read two in North America before and enjoyed that method of telling a story. I mentioned in earlier blogs I had been a comic reader when I was younger so I don't have a problem with graphic novels. I bought a samurai manga and it was fairly easy reading and easy to follow but I didn't notice that it was volume one of a series and volume two comes out in December. I don't know if it is going to be interesting or not since it really just got started.

While I was looking I saw a few others that I thought would be interesting and when I saw a review of one of them in the Japanese times online I decided I would go back and buy volume one of this series. If I like it I know I can get other volumes. The one I bought is called, Black Jack. Each volume is a number of individual stories about the world's greatest surgeon who happens to be very greedy and does surgery for what appears to be the wrong reasons. He doesn't have a license and seems a bit cutthroat about his profession but things work out fine in the end.

This series is from the same author/artist who created Astro Boy. I read two of the stories in a bar while I was waiting to go to the movie and I'm not sure they can hold my interest very long. So far, I don't get manga.

After a 99 yen beer, some edamame (they don't salt them too strongly in Japan) and some hot and spicy chicken wings (spiced with white pepper and sesame seeds but no red sauce like in America) I went to the theater to see a samurai movie that came out last Friday. It did not have English subtitles so I was going to have to try and follow some of the details with my limited Japanese. I had read a review and so I knew something about the plot and I've watched a number of samurai movies so I kind of know what's likely to happen.

The first thing I noticed that was different about going to a movie in Japan is the price, 1,800 yen, about $20. I wouldn't pay that in America but I wanted to see what it was like to go to a movie in Japan. I paid and walked up the stairs to the second floor. It appears the theaters are stacked on top of each other because there was a different floor for each movie.

I walk into the lobby area and didn't realize the guy that takes the tickets is behind the door so he had to chase me down to tear off the stub. Then I notice that there are no concession stands. The lobby is full of vending machines. Sodas, tea and the regular Japanese vending items but then there is a sandwich machine and a machine filled with popcorn. It smelled fresh.

But the most amazing vending machine was the Sapporro Beer machine, yes, you can buy beer to take in with you to watch the movie. The picture is on the right side of the Zonajin blog page. That ain't happ'nin' at home. I didn't have one.

The theater was nice, it sat about two hundred people but it was less than half full for the 4:20 showing. Most of the audience was older men since they are the main audience for samurai movies these days.

It was an interesting experience but I didn't get much of the dialogue. Some of my Japanese friends say they have trouble with samurai movies as well because they use old style language. Probably why young people don't go.

The fifteen minute walk home from Kichijoji was extremely pleasant. The rain had stopped and I didn't need to wear my jacket. I was enjoying the evening so much I almost wanted to keep going past the apartment when I arrived.

I have links to a website where you can watch Japanese television dramas and movies, many of which are samurai movies. To see the link go to my author page at my publisher's website, www.pensmithbooks.com.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Whole Lot of Sumo Goin' On

First, it got hot again here in Tokyo. As a result my temporary roommate and I are in agreement about keeping the room cool while we are in the apartment. No conflicts on that front so far.

Over the past two days we have been immersed in sumo. We went to the Ryogoku Kokugikan (Sumo Stadium) for the Day 9 matches. My favorite rikishi, Homasho, won his match that day but returned to his losing ways the next. He is now 3 and 7 and one loss away from a losing record. Yokozuna Hakuho is still undefeated and has a winning streak of 57 straight matches that he is working on. The big Bulgarian, Kotooshu, lost his first match and now must win his matches on the last 5 days to get into a playoff with Hakuho whom he would have to beat.

On the day we attended 3 of the 4 Ozekis lost their matches. Aside from Kotooshu, Yokozuna Hakuho has no competition.

There is another rikishi who is very interesting and supplies a lot of fun at the matches. His name is, Takamisakari. He is very famous in Japan and is seen a lot in television commercials. He has a very exuberant warm-up process when he gets in the ring which involves a lot of chest pounding, arm thrusts and foot stomping followed by the tossing of a large handful of salt. The crowd grunts along with him on each arm thrust and cheers loudly when the salt flies clear across the ring.

If Takamisakari wins, the crowd is happy and he marches out of the stadium with his shoulders back, his head high and his chest bursting out with pride. If he loses, well, you know what it was like when you were a little kid and your older brother threw dirt on your popsicle, that's what Takamisakari looks like when he walks out after a loss. The crowd groans with sympathy then applauds to give him a little moral support.

So far this basho Takamisakari has won only twice and, that costs him money. Before some matches there are some banners that are carried around the ring. These banners are advertising banners that companies pay 60,000 yen ($600) to have presented before the crowd. The 60,000 yen is placed in an envelope which is given to the winner of that particular match. Fifty percent of the money goes to the government for taxes; five percent goes to the rikishi's sumo stable and the remaining forty five percent goes to the rikishi himself so each packet means about 2,850 yen ($280) to keep. Before each Takamisakari bout, the company that he does so many television commercials for puts up 5 to 7 banners so, Takamisakari or his opponent gets $1,500 to $2,100 (round numbers).

For the Yokozuna matches there are anywhere from 12 to 25 packets on a regular day and I have seen as many as 50. I did the calculations once for a years worth of packets for former Yokozuna Asashoryu and it came to around $1,000,000.

Takamisakari usually wins between 6 and 9 bouts each basho so he makes a good buck but his opponents also have a chance to make some pocket money.

After sumo that day our new friends that I met one night at La Rochelle, asked us to meet them for Chankonabe. Chankonabe is the food that sumo wrestlers eat to increase their bulk. It is a rich stew with meat and seafood, plenty of vegetables and a delicious broth. There are a number of restaurants that offer Chankonabe but our new friends have a favorite one so we met there. This restaurant is owned by former Yokozuna, Mienomi, who was the head of the Japan Sumo Association up until about 4 weeks ago. He retired due to the betting scandal and for health reasons.

The food was delicious. There was more than just the stew. As usual there was an appetizer that was two kinds of fish roe followed by a sashimi platter. Tasty as always. Then there was a dish of home-made tofu with sea urchin roe (uni) in a thick brown sauce that they called turtle shell broth because of the color (no turtles were killed during the courses of the meal). We were then each presented with a whole grilled halibut about 8 inches long. Fantastic flavor with a crispy skin and tricky to take apart with chopsticks.

The stew had meat balls of chicken and fish that the lady formed into balls with chopsticks then dropped into the broth. After eating the contents of the stew it is customary to add either rice or noodles to the remaining broth so you finish your meal with a hearty bowl of starch. We chose noodles and at this restaurant they used home made ramen. They were nice and firm yet fully cooked and we slurped away enjoying the texture and the savory broth, umame.

We knew that the next day we had to get up very early because our young friend from La Rochelle restaurant had arranged for us to attend morning sumo practice at one of the sumo stables. Her uncle has some connections but we didn't know which stable we would be visiting.

My friend that works at the Keio Plaza Hotel who was with us for sumo and Chankonabe, had joked that we might get lucky and be asked to eat Chankonabe with the wrestlers in the morning.

We got up about 5:00 AM and took a train to meet our young friend, her uncle and her uncle's friend then we went to the sumo stable. We were very lucky. We got to visit and watch the sumo practice at the Azumazeki Beya, which is the beya of none other than, Takamisakari. We were shown where to enter by one of the young rikishi who was covered in sweat since he had just finished a practice match. I was amazed at how tall he was.

We took off our shoes then stepped onto the platform around the practice ring and there was Takamisakari warming up in the corner. We watched the rikishi work out for about 45 minutes. I was amazed at how hard they worked in practice on a day when they would have to fight a real match at the stadium. I also couldn't believe the loud sound of smacking flesh as the two wrestlers came together at the start of the match (tachiai). In the stadium or on television you can hear these collisions but when you are just ten feet away it's hard to believe they can make that big a noise without someone getting hurt.

After the practice matches we received another bonus. The former Oyakata of the beya, Takamiyama, came to talk with us. Takamiyama was known by all in Japan by his Christian name, Jesse. He is a Hawaiian and left Hawaii after high school to join sumo in Japan. He's been there for 45 years. Jesse was the first foreign born wrestler to win a Grand Championship (see the picture of his championship portrait on the right of the www.Zonajin.blogspot.com blog page). He also recruited, Ake Bonno, the Hawaiian who became the first foreign born Yokozuna.

After our chat he pointed to the kitchen and said that they were waiting for us to join them for Chankonabe. We felt honored and went to the kitchen to eat. Throughout the practice session we could hear chopping coming from the kitchen and then we could smell food being cooked. Each beya makes their own version of Chankonabe and they will never give out their recipe. Each beya thinks its version of Chankonabe gives them a competitive advantage. Now we were going to eat Azumazeki beya's version.

When we got to the table (we were actually sitting on the floor) and I got to sit beside Takamisakari. We each had a bowl of stew set in front of us then big platters of fried eggs and steak were placed on the table. They wanted us to take food first so I took some steak. The stew was in a spicy broth. You don't get much in the way of chili spiced food in Japan but this broth had chili in it. It was very tasty with a back ground chicken flavor. There was chicken meat, youba (tofu skin), cabbage, carrots and mushrooms. They offered a side of rice but I didn't take it.

I spoke Japanese with Takamisakari. I told him about the temperature back home in Phoenix and he commented that it was hot like that in Las Vegas as well. This reminded me to tell him that when all the rikishi came to Las Vegas in 2005, my girlfriend and I had gone to Las Vegas to see the matches. He was very impressed that we had seen him there.

The other young rikishi were standing around listening and watching us eat and I realized that they wouldn't eat until Takamisakari and his guests were finished and that anything we ate, they wouldn't.

After the meal we watched as the stables hair-dresser groomed the hair of a few of the wrestlers. That was pretty interesting as he pulled, combed and waxed the long black hair into the traditional topknot of the sumotori.

That afternoon as we watched the sumo matches on television we were especially interested in Takamisakari's match. Unfortunately his older brother threw dirt on his popsicle again and he marched out with his head down as his opponent pocketed the reward money.

It was a great two day stretch of sumo and I will never forget the morning sumo practice and the Chankonabe with Takamisakari. See the picture on the right side at www.Zonajin.blogspot.com and visit my author page on my publisher's website, www.pensmithbooks.com, for links to the Japan Sumo Association.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Homasho Wins One

It had to happen. Today my favorite rikishi won his first match of the tournament. That means my prediction of him staring 0-5 was correct and since his first victory came from a lower ranked rikishi it proves my point about him having difficulty with high ranked opponents.

As my friend from the Keio Plaza Hotel always says, “Homasho now has one eye open.” Once a rikishi wins two matches he has both eyes open and he will begin to see how the tournament should go.

The big story for this basho is Hakuho’s winning streak. Today he won his 53 straight match which ties him with Chiyonofiji for the second highest number of consecutive victories. Tomorrow he goes against Kinsenosato who has beaten Yokozunas in the past. If he wins and takes sole possession of second place he then has to keep it going until he wins 70 to set the all time record. That would also mean that he wins this basho with a 15-0 record which would beat his own record of three undefeated bashos in a row.

Now, you may be thinking that Futabiyama who won 69 in a row would have won at least three bashos in a row but somehow that isn’t the case. Since he retired in 1945 and his record was set before that, there must be some circumstances I’m not aware of that resulted in him not winning three tournaments in a row with an undefeated record. It may have been that he skipped a basho or two with injuries or that some bashos didn’t take place because of the war. I also believe that at that time there were only four tournaments a year but that shouldn't affect this type of record.

The big Bulgarian, Kotooshu is still undefeated and so is the small Yoshikaze. They will start moving Yoshikaze up against some higher ranked rikishi next week to give him a stronger test but Kotooshu is where he is expected to be and will go against Hakuho on the third or second last day.

With regard to the rest of Japan, the weather has cooled considerably. On the weather report one night they showed a map of Japan with all those weather lines that show fronts and high and low pressure areas. One line was long and ran from the southwest to the northeast almost splitting the country in half. The weather man pointed to the right side of the line and said, “This is summer.” Then he pointed to the left side and said, “This is autumn. When this line is completely east of Japan it is officially autumn.” The next day the temperature dropped 15 degrees and it rained constantly for 24 hours. It was autumn. One day later it has cleared beautifully, the temperature is in the high 20’s (80’s F) and the humidity is only about 50%. Quite comfortable. I sleep with the windows open and turned off the air conditioner. This morning it was so cool in the apartment I actually had to turn the heat on for a short time.

This was a good thing to test since my girlfriend is arriving tomorrow. We will be fighting over the room temperature for the next ten days.

We have a busy schedule. We’re going to sumo twice. I’m quite excited because we have tickets for the last day. I expect that Hakuho may have it wrapped up by then but you never know.

We have also been asked to go to morning practice at one of the sumo stables. During a basho they all work out in their home stable in the morning. The younger rikishi work out really early because their matches are early in the day. The senior rikishi go a little later then eat and sleep until it is time to go to the stadium. The young girl who works at La Rochelle has an uncle who knows the Oyakata (Head Coach) of one of the stables and they got permission for us to go.

This same young lady asked us to go to Disneyland with her so we will be doing that one day as well.

We will also be dining in a few new restaurants with friends. As usual, the first meal is okonomiyaki with our friend from the Keio Plaza and we will be eating one night at La Rochelle. I ate there a week ago at a special food presentation event and it was a great evening. I’m looking forward, as always, to going back.

Our friends that we met in Hawaii have planned a day for us involving a visit to a Japanese Garden, lunch at their home and then he says a surprise.

My friend who is in Paris right now on family business will be back next week and we plan to go to a baseball game with him.

There are a few new places in Tokyo that my girlfriend wants to see so we will be out and about every day.

A picture up date for you all. I have replaced the picture I took of the Seibu Dome the night we went to the baseball game out in Saitama. My friend from the Keio Plaza has much better camera skills than I do and when he sent me his pictures I had to use them. His picture of the dome does a better job of showing that there are no walls. You can see the park out behind the scoreboard. I also added a picture he took of the Shrimp and Pork fry meal we ate at the stadium as well as a shot of one of the displays of support that the crowd pulled off in support of their team.

More sumo updates in future posts and I’ll let you know who’s winning the basho of room temperature.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

My Haircut Worries Are Over

Today I had my first haircut from someone other than my regular barber in 15 years. I have to admit I was worried. Those of you who read my earlier blog regarding some of the issues I had with going to Japan to live for three months may remember my concern.

Today’s haircut came about in and unusual and fortunate way. My friend, who works at La Rochelle Restaurant, his girlfriend and I went out for dinner on Sunday evening. It was a small Italian Restaurant within walking distance and the night was cool. The restaurant wasn’t crowded and we were able to get a table upon arrival. There is a custom in Japan that you first order a think-about beer so that you have something to drink while you think about what you are going to eat and drink so we ordered beer.

We decided on a green salad because I was craving green leafy vegetables, two small pizzas, some grilled vegetables, pickles and a bowl of spaghetti. We shared all the dishes. The food was tasty and the pizza of the day was salami and potato with tomato sauce. Nice light crust and tasty topping but this was my first time to have fried potatoes on a pizza and I’m not sure I’ll be copying that pizza when I get home.

On a previous trip to Hong Kong where my girlfriend’s nephew was on a Mormon Mission, we took him out for dinner one night. He suggested that we go to Pizza Hut because he didn’t get to eat back-home type food very often. It was quite different from American Pizza Huts. They had one page of regular pizza and one page of 1000 Island pizza. We ordered one with ham and kernel corn on a pizza with 1000 Islands dressing instead of tomato sauce. It was surprisingly good and I’ve made it on more than one occasion at home although I must tell you that my son gagged on it and wasn’t able to eat anything else that night.

Back on Sunday night in Japan, the pasta we had was in a tomato, oil and mustard sauce. I was curious to see how they would work the mustard into this dish and they surprised me. What they did was sauté some mustard seed in oil like it is done in India cuisine. Then they added fresh tomatoes and herbs. It was delicious and I’m definitely going to try and replicate that sauce. It could be the new secret ingredient that will have people asking what that unique flavor is that they just can’t quite name.

My friend is very talkative and since he had been to the restaurant before he knew everyone who worked there. My friend began to tease our waiter, a young good looking guy, about being a playboy. During a previous visit he found out that our waiter had a girlfriend and that she worked in the hair salon just up the stairs. He teased the waiter about how he pounced on the girls that worked nearby then he asked if she was willing to cut my hair. The waiter said, of course, and asked when I wanted to make an appointment. It was set for today.

I did not get the shave and massage that I had described in a previous blog about haircuts in Japan. This salon was geared toward women’s hair treatments so a shave was out of the question. I’m sure there are some countries in which women need to shave but Japanese women are so feminine that Japan couldn’t be one of them.

I did get the shampoo and man did I get a work over. The young assistant scrubbed and rubbed and rinsed and toweled for about 15 minutes. Then back into the salon for the cut. It went well. I chatted with the waiter’s girlfriend throughout the cut and we communicated smoothly. She spoke English on just a few occasions. See the results in the picture on the right side of the www.Zonajin.blogspot.com page if you are reading this on that site. I put it way down at the bottom so you’ll have to scroll down to see the results of the haircut.

I choked when I saw the price. Over $50. My friend had been suggesting that I go to the 1,000 Yen (just over $10) but then thought I wanted a better haircut than the speed cutters with the weed-wackers provide. This young lady is a stylist but I’m not sure I needed a $40 more haircut.

After, I walked into Kichijouji for lunch. I looked around for a restaurant and found one that had pictures of fish in their ad so I went in. I ordered a whole grilled sanma fish (Pacific Saury). I’ve been eating sanma every time it’s an option since I saw it on a television show shortly after I arrived. I’ve had it sashimi style and fried, so a whole grilled fish was something I had to try. There is a picture of my lunch set on the right. It came with a bowl of rice, a bowl of miso soup, pickles, yuba, a small bamboo salad and some apple jelly.

The fish was the main event and it required some effort. You have to separate the meat from the bones and the bones are small and thin. If you missed some they weren’t too bad to chew. The fish had a great fish flavor. Savory and moist with firm flesh. I’ve had better miso soup but that wasn’t what I was there for. I enjoyed my lunch.

Sumo Update

My favorite wrestler, Homasho, has lost his first three matches. He’s been up against Ozekis each day and tomorrow he goes against Yokozuna Hakuho. His problem is that he’s too high up in the rankings. The higher you are the tougher your competition. He will probably go against the final Ozeki on day five so I’m thinking he’s destine to have an 0-5 start. I’ve never seen him beat an Ozeki or a Yokozuna. He does well against middle ranked rikishi but can’t get by the top guys.

Yokozuna Hakuho is 3-0 as are a few other rikishi at various levels. It is possible that the top guys give each other fits and they all have 2 or 3 losses. If a lower ranked rikishi goes undefeated against lesser competition he still wins the basho and could do it without going against the Yokozuna or any Ozekis. This has happened in the far away past but recently the Japan Sumo Association has moved lower ranked rikishi up in the ranks during the basho so they face tougher competition.

Three of the Ozekis lost today for the first time leaving the Big Bulgarian Basher, Kotooshu, as the remaining undefeated Ozeki. He’s the tallest man in sumo and quite a favorite with the fans. He’s enormous and I met him at a banquet after the basho in September of 2007. He is a full head taller than I am and has huge hands. He kept looking at me out of the corner of his eyes as if he suspected I was a Bulgarian bad guy who came to settle an old score. Maybe I was the paranoid one but he never smiled and didn’t say a word even when I congratulated him on winning a basho the previous May. It might have been my Japanese.

As soon as he became and Ozeki he became complacent. After about a year he had a losing record in one basho which meant he was kadoban and if he didn’t get a winning record in the next basho he would be demoted. The next basho he came out strong and angry. It is the only basho that he has won. He pushed everyone around including both Yokozuna (at the time) and ended the basho with a 14-1 record. His one lost was by a henka where his opponent jumped to the side at the tachiai and Kootoshu’s own momentum took him out of the ring. Henkas are a cheap way to get a victory and are generally frowned upon. They say winning by henka is worse for a rikisi’s reputation than losing the match in a straight on battle.

There are links to the Japan Sumo Association on my author page at my publisher’s website, www.pensmithbooks.com. You can also watch the sumo matches live each night by going to the live streaming video connection page. Sumo starts at 4:00 PM each day in Japan. That’s midnight in Arizona and the west coast for this basho.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

It's Sumo Time

Today is the first day of the September Sumo Basho (tournament). Sumo has been around for over 900 years and it is said that the existence of Japan from back in that time was decided on a sumo match. Two armies interested in owning the islands that are now Japan decided that instead of having a war they would have a sumo match to determine who would get the islands.

I’ve read that this history is disputed by some historians but it is an interesting story.

Today sumo is at a low point in its popularity with the Japanese people. Those who are most interested in sumo are relatively old and the Japan Sumo Association (JSA) is trying to cultivate a younger audience. This effort has received a number of severe setbacks over the past year or two.

First, there were allegations of match fixing by a weekly magazine. The JSA sued the magazine for defamation and won yet the magazine stands by its accusations. You don’t here much about this any more.

Second, the sport is being dominated by foreign wrestlers and has been for the past seven years. The wrestlers from Mongolia are very prominent in the sumo world. Since the last Japanese Grand Champion (Yokozuna rank), Takanohana, retired in 2001 there have been only foreign Yokozuna. It is felt that if a Japanese wrestler were to make a serious charge at becoming a yokozuna that the sports popularity would increase exponentially.

Each basho the wrestlers are ranked by the JSA according to how strong they are based on recent performances. This ranking is called the Banzuke. In the top four ranks of sumo (Yokozuna, Ozeki, Sekiwake,Komusubi) only three of the nine wrestlers are Japanese and almost half of the remaining wrestlers in the top division are foreign born.

The third setback was bad behavior by one of the Mongolian Yokozuna in January of 2010. Asashoryu had a reputation of being the bad boy of sumo. He’d been in trouble with the association a number of times but at the beginning of 2010 during the January tournament, which he won, he went out drinking and got into an argument with the manager of a night club he was at and ended up beating the manager up. The JSA had had enough and it looked like they were going to dismiss him so, Asashoryu retired.

The sad part of this is that there were two Yokozuna at the time. The other one is the current Yokozuna, Hakuho. Hakuho had the reputation of being the good boy Yokokzuna so there was a natural good guy versus bad guy rivalry that had been increasing the popularity of sumo since Hakuho was promoted. Asashoryu was a huge draw for sumo fans. During one of his suspensions the seats at the bashos were practically empty and when he returned after two bashos they sold out on most days. Because he filled the seats the JSA tolerated his behavior for a long time but the drunken fight in January was conduct unbecoming of a Yokozuna so he had to go.

But the biggest setback to date is the current gambling scandal. The story broke during the March basho in Osaka. Ozeki Kotomitsuki was said to be heavily in debt to the Yakuza (Japan’s Mafia) because of wagers on Japanese Baseball games. He had actually won a large sum on one wager and when he went to collect his winnings a former sumo wrestler who was part of the yakuza blackmailed Kotomitsuki for about $30,000. A week later he demanded $1,000,000 and at that time Kotomitsuki went to the police.

Kotomitsuki was suspended for the May basho in Tokyo and an investigation was held. It was discovered that a large number of wrestlers were betting on baseball and the betting racket is a huge source of funds for the yakuza. Most if not all of the wrestlers who were wagering were Japanese. Ten wrestlers and a number of the Oyakata (Stable Masters) were suspended for the July basho and demoted for this current one. Kotomitsuki was banned for life with no pension.

The public was outraged and the National Television Station in Japan, NHK, asked the public if they should punish the JSA by not broadcasting the July Tournament. The public said no, do not broadcast the tournament. Half hour recaps were shown each day and the JSA did not receive its broadcasting fee. This fee is the JSA’s major source of funding. Also, the Emperor’s cup was not awarded to the winner, Yokozuna Hakuho, at the July tournament.

So this basho that starts today has mixed levels of interest. The reinstated wrestlers are wrestling in the lower division. It will be interesting to see how they begin to rebuild their reputations. But the biggest story line is that Yokozuna Hakuho has won the last three bashos with perfect 15-0 records. Every basho since Asashoryu retired. That has never been done before. At the start of the basho he had won 47 straight matches which is the third longest streak in history. Second is 53 and the longest is in the 69.

Yokozuna Hakuho does not seem to have any serious challengers at this point. The second rank Ozekis seem to be content to have a winning record each basho but not put in the extra effort to go for Yokozuna status. To do so they must win two consecutive bashos and have won around 40 matches over three bashos. For this batch of four Ozekis to prevent Hakuho from winning at least every other basho is a difficult task to accomplish.

One of the Ozekis, Kaio, is one of the oldest men in the top division and has fought in over 1,000 matches. He is never a contender for the title and only wants to maintain his Ozeki ranking. This tournament he is classified as, kodoban. That means he had a losing record in the last tournament. If he doesn’t achieve a winning record this tournament he will automatically be demoted to the rank of Sekiwake. He has been manipulating the system for a number of years now. Once he achieves his eighth win of a tournament he quite often takes it easy in his remaining matches. Sometimes he mysteriously gets injured the next day and drops out. Many have called for his resignation because his sumo is not worthy of the rank yet many want him to stay so they can see his longevity records being set.

The bashos (tournaments) last for 15 days. Each of the wrestlers (rikishi or sumotori) in the top two divisions (Juryo and Makuuchi) has a single match each day of the basho. The lower division have matches every second day, half the wrestlers on one day and the other half the next. Whoever has the best record at the end wins their division. If the records are tied then there are playoff matches. In a lower division last year there was a seven way tie.

The matches begin each day at 8:00 AM with the lower division marching in for their matches in an almost continuous stream. At around 3:00 PM the second division Juryo wrestlers make an entrance with a ring entering ceremony. Juryo and Makuuchi division wrestlers are the only professional wrestlers in sumo and there are just over 60 wrestlers in those divisions.

The wrestler’s rankings appear as if there are two teams of wrestlers; one from the East and one from the West. This is a tradition that goes back a long time when the matches were between a group of wrestlers from Tokyo, the East, and wrestlers invited from the rest of Japan, the West (mostly Osaka). There is no team aspect to the rankings today but it is considered slightly more prestigious to be on the East side.

The Juryo wrestlers have more ceremony to their matches. They perform the salt throwing and the leg stamping activities and are allowed about three minutes to get their match underway. After the Juryo matches at around 4:00 the Makuuchi division performs their ring entering ceremony and after that the Yokozuna does his own special ceremony. Then the matches occur. The Makuuchi division rikishi get four minutes to prepare for their match.

This goes on for 15 days and the interest level increases each day based on the standings after each day. I will keep you posted over my next few blog entries as to what is going on. My favorite rikishi is Homasho. He is ranked Maegashira #2 from the East and he is up against the old Ozeki, Kaio, today. I will be reporting on Homasho every time.

I have a picture of Homasho and I together that you can see on the right of the www.Zonajin.blogspot.com page if you are reading this blog on that site. My friend that used to work at the DVD company and I were at the matches one day and as we left we spotted Homasho heading for a taxi. My friend took my camera and jumped into the open door of the taxi blocking Homasho from entering and asked if he could take a picture of me and Homasho together. My friend is not a big guy and he acted very bravely to get me that picture.

You can see the link to the Japan Sumo Association in my author page on my publisher’s website, www.pensmithbooks.com. Watch this blog for more information on the September basho in Tokyo.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Travel to the Nakasendo Highway

I just got back from two days in Miyota, a small town in Nagano Prefecture (State/Province). Nagano is where the 1998 Winter Olympic games were held. It is a mountainous area with plenty of ski hills. If you remember, this was the Olympic games in which after the American hockey team was knocked out of the medals they trashed their hotel rooms in the party that night.

On my trip, it was the first time in five weeks that I slept in a bed. I was really looking forward to it but then when I checked it out, the bed was a cross between a flat rock and level concrete. I didn’t sleep any better there than I do here on the floor in Mitaka. I have to admit that not bending down all the way to the ground to lie down was considerably easier with the bed.

The trip was very easy. A one hour Shinkansen (bullet) train from Tokyo station to Karuizawa then 14 minutes on a smaller train line to Miyota.

I lucked out with the hotel. The real town I wanted to see was, Otai, and it was about 500 meters from my hotel’s entrance. Otai was a small Post Town on the Nakasendo Highway in Japan. There were two main roads between Edo (present day Tokyo) and Kyoto; the Tokaido and the Nakasendo. The Tokaido was much busier because in earlier times, around 1600, the Nakasendo was designated for use by the Emperor and Samurai on business of national interest. Merchants and pilgrims were to use the Tokaido. As time went on the restrictions were relaxed and more people were allowed to travel the Nakasendo.

Miyota, the town where I stayed, was a tateba (rest stop with a tea house) that did not have overnight accommodations. In modern times a railroad station was built in Miyota but not Otai so Miyota is now a larger and busier town while Otai is gradually dwindling.

The Nakasendo traveled through Otai to Miyota and then on to the next Post Town called Oiwake. I chose Otai as the location for my third novel but since there are no hotels in Otai I stayed as close as I could get and that was Miyota.

I had difficulty finding parts of the Nakasendo. I don’t think many foreigners visit the Nakasendo in Otai. (Many go to a part of the Nakasendo north of Nagoya to the two post towns of Tsumago and Magome.) I walked on highway 9 which is listed as the Nakasendo Highway on modern maps but ended up in the next town without finding any of the buildings I was looking for, so I went back and walked a little further toward the middle of town.

I spotted a shrine and went to look around. I took some pictures and left to go back to the main streets. Along the way I met an older gentleman and said hello then told him I was looking for the old buildings. He pointed to a street light and told me to turn right. All this was done in Japanese so I was feeling pretty good about my language skills. I went to the light and turned right. I walked about a block and there stood the old gentleman again. I guess he knows a secret short cut he wasn’t willing to share with me.

He walked me down this street and stopped in front of a building which turned out to be the Honjin, main inn, of the old Post Town. It had a post in front that had a brief description in Japanese. I took pictures and asked if I could go in but inside the gate was a modern house where a family now lives.

The older gentlemen then indicated that if I stayed on the road I would see many more of the original buildings and he was right. I took some great pictures and thought I was going to just snap away like crazy but within a few pictures my ‘low battery’ warning came on. Big problem since the battery charger was back in Mitaka. Turned out not to be an issue but I didn’t take as many pictures as I wanted because I was conserving battery.

I got some great shots anyway. As I write this blog entry the battery is recharging and the picture posted to the right on the www.Zonajin.blogspot.com site was loaded later.

I was able to walk on the actual Nakasendo for a while because it was and is the road that these old buildings reside on. The Nakasendo at this point is now a paved road but only wide enough for one car and still has the curves and elevations of the original road.

The next day I took the train to a town called, Chikuma. It took about an hour. Chikuma is an agricultural area but I didn’t go there to find out how oats, peas, beans and barley grow. A Japanese author who’s historical novels I’ve read, Shimazaki Toson, lived in Chikuma as a teacher for many years. He wrote one book called, The Chikuma River Sketches, that described his life in the area so I was interested to see where he lived. I hadn’t realized that Miyota was so close to Chikuma when I planned the trip and therefore hadn’t refreshed my memory of the book and his time in Chikuma, so I didn’t get as much out of the trip as I would have liked. It was still interesting to walk where he walked in a place that had inspired him to write.

I did a little reasearh on Chikuma after I returned and the city’s website doesn’t even mention him and his history in Chikuma. Chikuma has a more famous history that took place around 400 A.D. but that’s not a period that I’m interested in.

The area which is famous due to its relationship with, Shimazaki Toson, is the area where the previously mentioned Nakasendo Highway is preserved, Tsumago and Magome. Shimazaki grew up in Magome and in fact his father was the last Honjin of Magome. The Honjin I mentioned in Otai is the main inn of the town and the main inn of all Post Towns was referred to as the Honjin. The manager of the Honjin had the official title of, Honjin, throughout the Tokugawa Shogunate Period and the Honjin was also considered the mayor of the town.

Shimazaki’s novel, Before the Dawn, was about the last years of the Honjin in Magome before the Meiji Restoration, when the Tokugawa returned power to the Emporer. The site of the Honjin in Magome is a museum dedicated to Shimazaki Toson. The Honjin of the novel's time period was Shimazaki’s father so the history is very accurate as Tosan himself was present during most of the events that occurred. The novel is considered a historical text and is often used as a reference because of the accurate depiction of life in the Post Towns.

An interesting option for tourists is to stay in Magome or Tsumago one night, walk the path of the original Nakasendo for the five miles between the towns and then stay the next night in Tsumago or Magome if they are really into that history. I advise that you check to see which way is downhill before you go. They have a luggage forwarding service so you don’t have to carry it with you.

After visiting Chikuma I rested at the hotel for two hours then at 5:00 I went for another walk. I wanted to see what it was like to walk from Miyota to Oiwake to experience what the travelers of old experienced. From the center of Miyota it is maybe 3 miles to Oiwake. At that time of day it is much cooler and with a slight breeze the walk is very pleasant. There was one draw back; it’s uphill all the way. (That's why I advise checking out the walk from Magome to Tsumago before you choose a starting point.) I walked for about an hour and when I took one more bend in the road I was met with a much steeper grade to the next bend so I decided I’d had enough of the experience.

I turned and enjoyed the downhill walk back to my hotel. I’d had a big lunch so I didn’t even stop to eat and I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve skipped dinner. Besides, breakfast was included in my hotel rate so I just had to find a way to sleep on the ‘granite-sleep-number-bed’ that was permanently set on 1,000 and I would wake up and eat in the morning.

The breakfasts were good, too! The first morning they put out ham and eggs as well as onion rings and French fries. Boring sounding isn’t it? I skipped those and instead loaded up on a few of the fried, whole iwashi (sardines, heads and everything), shumai (steamed dumplings), and some daikon radish salad. And yes, you eat the heads of the iwashi, all three dishes were delicious. The next day they served a fried rice noodle dish (the clear ones), salmon that was cooked in a vinegar broth and little half-moon, fried egg raviolis that were scrambled eggs with a fried pork mixture stuffing. I can’t imagine how they got them stuffed. Both days there was also miso soup and steamed rice but I didn’t eat either one. I really enjoyed this breakfast offering. It was light and tasty.

For lunch both days I ate ramen. Huge bowls of noodles, meat and vegetables. The first day I had the shio style which is in a white, salt broth. I’d never had it in that style of broth so I wanted to try it and I wasn’t disappointed. It was the best ramen I’d ever had until the second day when at a different restaurant I had a pork and garlic based broth with sprouts, cabbage and onions. That day I also had a side order of gyoza (Japanese ravioli, sometimes called potstickers). That’s why I didn’t eat dinner that night.

Both days at lunch I confirmed that ramen goes great with cold beer.

The restaurant in the hotel offered unagi (grilled eel) and I wasn’t disappointed in their preparation of the dish the only night I ate dinner. Unagi is reported to help cool your body in the summer and I needed cooling. Instead of cold beer I had cold sake and they were perfect together. The dish came with miso soup, pickles and rice. A nice balance of fat from the unagi and acid from the pickles and, just the right amount of food. The Japanese have a knack for that. Even though the portion is designed for the smaller body size of the Japanese it is sufficient for us larger Americans as well.

It was a great little trip and the only one I have planned for the entire three months of my stay. It was so easy to get where I was going that I will suggest another trip to my girlfriend when she comes to visit, perhaps to Tsumago and Magome.

There is more information about Japan on my author page at my publisher’s website, www.pensmithbooks.com.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Not All Domed Stadiums Are Indoors

It is officially the hottest summer in Tokyo since 1946 when they started the modern era of monitoring the weather in Japan. Tokyo has had over 50 straight nights where the low did not go below 78 degrees F (25 C) and the average temperature for August was slightly above 98 degrees F (35 C). Humidity is still up there although it has dropped minimally. Certainly no where near a comfort zone for people from Arizona. I have avoided going to any baseball games because I didn’t want to sit out in the heat for three hours sweating my way through multiple hand towels.

Finally I decided that a game in one of the domed stadiums would be a nice break. Three hours in an air conditioned environment watching an always entertaining Japanese baseball game. My friend from the Keio Plaza Hotel joined me. After we bought tickets for the sumo that begins on the 12th of this month, we had a sushi lunch and then grabbed the train to Saitama and a visit to the Seibu Dome to see the Seibu Lions play the Orix Buffaloes.

We made it to the stadium early and had a shaved ice sitting in the shade with a nice cool breeze blowing but I still smiled satisfactorily thinking of the nice air conditioned interior of the stadium. The stadium is a huge concrete ring that has a framework in the center over the field and there is fabric stretched over the framework. Here’s the catch, the entire dome is supported by huge sets of steel tubes and is open to the outside. There are no walls. You are actually sitting outside. We would be in the record breaking heat for the entire game.

The bowl of the stadium is carved out of a hill much like Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. In the top sections the cool breeze is quite evident but in the lower steam basket seats that I purchased, the breeze was rare.

My friend and I sat like a couple of overcooked Nikuman (steamed pork buns) for three and a half hours.

We were however, entertained by an interesting baseball game. All the scoring came in the bottom of the 6th inning but both pitchers got themselves into many jams and then pitched their way out of them. On the field it is baseball just like baseball in the US.

In the stands though, it is as far from being at a US baseball game as you can get. The first things you notice are the food stands. You can get udon noodles, yakitori, curried beef, rice omelet, yakitori, tempura, bento lunch boxes (we were going to have bento but at the end of the 6th they had sold everyone of them), gyudon (beef in sauce on rice) and katsu with ebi (fried pork loin cutlet with fried shrimp in panko; pickles and shredded cabbage; includes a bowl of miso soup) which is what we had. It was the best meal I’ve ever had at a baseball game.

There were also traditional baseball foods. Outside the stadium there was a truck selling hot dogs and brats. Inside I saw a person carrying what looked like a chili dog and I could smell sausage and sauerkraut coming from behind me. I saw a guy carrying a plate of small cocktail sized weenies that he had sprayed ketchup and mustard over. Of course there was popcorn too but it comes in a sealed plastic bag inside a red and white striped square cardboard container. You open the bag and dump it in the box I guess.

The beer vending in Japan is another interesting affair. Ninety nine percent of the vendors are young girls with nice smiles and high pitched voices. They chant out the name of the beer they are carrying in small kegs that they have strapped to their backs. They wear uniforms in the colors of their brewery so you know which brand they are selling as well.

There must be a rule that says they have to be in constant motion because these young girls are up and down the aisle with such frequency that you can always get your favorite brand because it’s going to come by real soon. You just have to wave and they’re in the aisle in seconds pouring you a cup. There are a few videos on Youtube that shows how the young girls switch their kegs. Do a search on Japanese Beer Vendors and you can watch the process.

However, the most amazing aspect and the biggest difference between Japanese baseball and American baseball is the fan participation. There is never a quite moment during the game for nine innings. The right and left field seats are occupied by a cheer band for each team. Numerous trumpets, at least 20 drums and a few tubas are blaring away the entire time that their team is at bat. The visiting team has a traveling band that makes as much racket as the home team so the din of banging music and chants is continuous.

The fans along side the band get into the routines and at times there are choreographed movements where they shuffle a few steps to left and then they turn and shuffle on back to the right. There are team songs and songs for specific players. The fans in the regular seats are all familiar with the tunes and the routines so they sing along as if there were out in the bleacher seats.

In 2006 my girlfriend and our friend from the Keio Plaza went to a Yakult Swallows game. We noticed that a large number of people were carrying clear plastic umbrellas tinted green and pink. There was a chance of rain and it had rained earlier in the day so we thought nothing of it. When the Swallows scored their first run we understood why the umbrellas were there. The fans in the entire right field section popped open their umbrellas so that there was a solid plastic canopy of green and pink over the section. Then the home team band started to play their “We just scored a run" ditty while the fans lifted, tilted and spun their umbrellas in time with the song. I believe it is illegal to take an umbrella to any kind of game in the US so you would never see this unless you were in Japan.

Another curious thing I noticed at the Seibu game was a vendor in the stands selling large blue balloons. When the people in front of us bought a pack I noticed they were listed as “Victory Balloons’. I’d seen balloons used in a special way before and so I guess they do it in most stadiums. During the seventh inning stretch the fans with balloons blow them up and they place small whistles in the opening. On cue at the end of some kind of spirit song they all let lose the balloons which go flying in all directions whistling a high shrill note that last for about 30 seconds and looks like a great blue cloud of flying worms.

It’s designed to cheer the team on to victory and everybody reloads at the end of the game if the team actually wins. We were eating our pork cutlets watching this so I didn’t get a picture. That’s how good the pork cutlets were.

Speaking of whistling, when a foul ball went into the stands you could hear plastic whistles being blow all over the stadium. It is a safety warning for people who may not be watching the action. I’d never seen this before.

There was one area of fandom where the Japanese fans were more passive than American fans and that was when they had a chance to get a foul ball. If it came deep in the seats they were like American fans but the people in the front rows didn’t seem to care. If a foul comes along the ground in America, the front row fans are jostling for position while reaching over the wall trying to scoop up a grounder; quite often falling over onto the field. The fans here didn’t even get up to look and a couple of times when the ball bounced into the front row, they just got out of the way to let it go by.

Japanese baseball is a tremendous event to go to. The fans love their team. The entire event from riding the train to the stadium, to eating the food, to listening to the fans and joining the crowd on the way back to the station is an event you won’t find in the US. I try to get to at least one game whenever I’m in Japan during the season. I’ll probably be going again when my girlfriend arrives and when my friend that worked for the CD/DVD company comes back from Paris.

He used to have a general admission ticket for the Yomiuri Giants. The ticket gets you in the gate and if it isn’t crowded you can take an empty seat. He managed to get us tickets, in seats, to the Giants vs. the Hanshin Tigers game a couple years ago. That’s like a Yankees vs. Reds Sox game in the US. It was sold out so he and the thousands of other GA ticket holders sat on the floor in the concourse and watched the game on television while it was going on live just through the entry way.

Interesting side story, his friend is a Tigers fan. The Tigers are from Osaka and his friend lives in Osaka but goes to as many Tigers games as he can. His friend actually works in Tokyo so he left work and went to the game. The problem was that the game went into extra innings and his friend missed his last train home. So what do you do when you’re stuck in Tokyo? You spend the night in the train station, catch the first train home in the morning (2 and a half hours each way), take a shower, change clothes and get back on the train so you can be at work by noon. Many Japanese view their commutes as a way to catch up on their sleep so I’m sure this fellow was well rested when he got to work.

I was shocked about this fellow spending the night in the train station and my friend told me that maybe he went to a manga (graphic novels or comic books) club. These clubs have every manga ever printed including the most recent ones and you pay by the hour to read whatever you want. The clubs have sofas, private reading kiosks, washrooms and even showers. My friend told me there are people in Tokyo who do not have a home but live in the manga clubs. The hourly rate is less that what they would pay for rent so they grab a manga, curl up on a sofa and sleep until it’s time to shower and go to work.

Japan is full of interesting situations that you just can’t imagine happening in America. Anyone who travels here has to be ready to accept that things are done differently than in America. I think travelers get the most out of their trip by embracing the difference and trying to live it while they are on their trip.

I hope you’ll check out my author page and read an excerpt from my novel, A Wind In Montana, at my publisher’s web site. www.pensmithbooks.com.