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.

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