Sunday, January 29, 2006

Four Degrees Above Zero In Singapore!!

We arrived in town four days ago and were shocked to discover that Singapore is only four degrees above zero! No; not the temperature. The Republic of Singapore is located just 4 degrees north of the equator, which is at zero degrees latitude! That guarantees temperatures of minimal variation; it is typically 30 – 32° C during the day, although it is quite humid. At night the city cools to a relatively chilly 24 degrees, helped by light breezes that typically blow from offshore. This abrupt transition to mid-summer weather was made all the more dramatic by the fact that when we departed the temperature in Tokyo was barely above zero and snow was on the ground! We must have looked quite odd to the locals when we appeared in the Singapore airport; not only was I wearing long pants, but I also had on a sweater and my hockey jacket! Another definite bonus is that daylight in this part of the world extends to at least 8:30 pm!

Singapore is a Republic of some 4 million people, and is a thriving and prosperous port city that is the gateway to Asia. In my opinion, Singapore is the “third jewel” in the crown of the mystical and romantic seaports on the coast of Continental Asia. The other two are Shanghai and Hong Kong, both of which we have visited previously. What strikes one most forcefully upon arrival is the multi-cultural and multi-ethnic personality of the area: Singapore is truly one of the great crossroads of the world. While some 76% of the population is of Chinese background, there are large local populations of Indonesians, Malaysians, Indians, and Pakistani. This spicy mixture of humanity has been successfully integrated on a solid British backdrop of institutions and customs, and all of this is now being overlaid by a very strong American culture. The result is a heady mixture of all of these ingredients; the like of which I have never encountered in any of my previous travels. At the time that Singapore became a significant trading port and Colony in the 19th century, the orderly and correct British overseers designated specific “quarters” for their emerging trading port, and these ethnic areas still thrive. There is the Chinese Quarter, the Indian Quarter, and the Arab Quarter; each featuring appropriate streetnames, cuisines and buildings. I am not quite sure what the final Quarter is, but it must contain significant portions of British, Australian, New Zealanders, Americans, and some of the many other people from around the globe who flock to the area.

Yes, the locals tell us, Singapore is ‘fine place’, indeed. In fact, they add, there is a fine for urinating in public, a fine for failing to flush a toilet, a fine for picking flowers in a public park, a fine for littering, a fine for spitting in public, a fine for double-parking, a fine for lighting fire-crackers, and until recently, even a fine for chewing gum!

With its heritage of the very British sense of Proper Conduct and respect for orderliness, there are some very harsh laws in effect here in Singapore. A sentence on the Entry Form that must be completed by anyone entering the Republic indicates in bold red letters that the punishment for importing drugs is DEATH. And they mean it, too! Remember, only a few years ago Singapore caned an American who vandalized cars, despite attempts made by President Clinton to intercede in order to avoid corporal punishment, which is offensive to many North Americans. Yet, despite all the diversity and the density of the local population, this beautiful port city is orderly, tranquil and harmonious to the eye of the visitor.

The local food has been truly excellent, which might not be a total a surprize, given the make-up of the population. While it was not unexpected to find some excellent Thai, Chinese and Indian food here, we also had some of the best Mexican Food I have ever eaten, which we thoroughly enjoyed while dining outdoors under the city lights on the banks of the Singapore River at Iguanas Restaurant on the scenic Clarke Quay. Likewise, we enjoyed outstanding, (and authentic) British-Style Fish & Chips at the Fisherman’s Wharf; complete in all details down to the furnishing of Malt Vinegar, chilled mugs of Tetleys Bitter Beer, fresh-made Tartar Sauce, and even authentic Heintz 57 Ketup! Mexican and British foods; truly rare treats in this corner of the world. (Us; enjoying a post-dinner chat with the owner of the Fisherman’s Wharf; Mr. Morten Uttrup).

The local newspaper, the Straits Times, is another gem we have discovered here. It is chuck-full of interesting articles about Indian and Asia, and it has intelligent and articulate articles that inform, educate and provide both analysis and insight into the goings-on in the world. Admittedly, the newspaper concentrates on the local area, but I have found the quality of the writing and breadth and depth of the articles outstanding, in sharp contrast to the very narrow scope of reporting and the shallowness of the articles that appear in most North American papers. However, to most North Americans the residual influence of the British also yields many odd and unexpected expressions contained in the newspaper. Here is a sampling; ‘hard standing’ means ‘parking’; one does not ‘get off’ a vehicle, one ‘alights’; the locals will not know what you want if you ask for a ‘cab’ – a ‘taxi’ is the correct word. You never ‘line-up’ for anything; you ‘Queue’, and a bicycle is a ‘push bike’ to differentiate it from a ‘motor-bike’. To ‘put your front foot forward’ means roughly to ‘go for it’ to us North Americans. The local slang for a fire engine is a ‘Red Rhino’; and when something is ‘thrown out of gear’ it is disrupted.

And, speaking of slang, while English is the universal language here, (although most locals speak a minimum of two languages and often three or four), it appears that there is a certain caché in using English slang in print so as to demonstrate your mastery of the language. At times this practise seems a little excessive; the newspaper is always reporting that something is ‘given the nod’; there is talk that local investors hope to ‘rope in’ a ballooning company for the tourist trade; a witness at a court case was reported as suffering ‘a bad case of the jitters’, and victory for a visiting team was not ‘on the cards’. (Me; relaxing poolside at Raffles Townclub, Singapore, where we are staying).

Local transportation has its high and low points. The subway here is fast, reliable, modern, cheap and entirely comfortable with air-conditioned, roomy coaches that whisk passengers all over the island. Taxis are cheap, but often play ‘hard to get’ when the governing rules can be used to advantage. Waiting for a ride at a Taxi Stand is usually very effective, until it is closing time for the shops, (about 9 pm). We recently waited for a taxi for 1.5 hours, while just behind us cabs eagerly pulled up to the curb for passengers who had either booked a ride in advance or who had cellphones and called the dispatcher for pickup. Likewise, the little snits would scream to a stop to pick up anyone who hailed the cab from the sidewalk. All of these circumstances allow the driver to charge a premium on the normal fare, those patiently waiting at the Taxi Stand were simply being ignored for the moment while the feeding frenzy continued. Likewise, we discovered that the drivers will take a ‘Siesta’ around 11:15 in the evening; they are entitled to charge a similar premium after midnight, and the interruption of service guarantees a ready supply of eager customers!

Cars are very expensive in Singapore; a Toyoto Camry will cost about $85,000 CDN, and that doesn’t include another $35,000 simply to get the government-issued Certificate of Entitlement (COE) that is necessary before you can purchase a car. Small wonder that that the locals refer to the COE as a Certificate of Extortion! At the left: A colourful local taxi hardstanding at the Hilton.

Oh well, even Paradise has the odd rotten fruit! Speaking of fruit, a Pina Colada with my name on it is calling; gotta go!

Doug-San (not currently) in Japan
Saying ‘Buy For Now!’

Friday, January 20, 2006

Nippon News - Volume 2 Issue 6

Tidbits From Japan
[to follow much of this material you will have to enlarge the photos by double-clicking on them]
It snowed here in Tokyo last night; the first time this season. There will be a huge traffic jam, and all of the flights and the trains will be late. However, the snow is not liable to last long; the people in Kyoto indicated that we were extremely 'lucky' to be there when it snowed! Our string of luck continues to hold, with it being the worst winter in some parts of Japan in the last 60 years! We are off to Singapore and to Malaysia in the next few days, so this will be the last post for a couple of weeks. As a result, below are photos and descriptions of the many, many things I have come across during our travels here.
  • not sure about the dogs all poofed up, but I can only say, you have to see some of the two-legged creatures that are found in Akihabara, Shibuya and Ginza. I will have to take a few snaps of the latest in fashion trends here in Japan (stay tuned for a future edition).

  • My daughter, Della, holding up an egg boiled in the sulpher spring from an active volcano found about two hours south of here. It is black on the outside, but entirely normal inside!

  • A couple of my daughter's friends, (one lives here the other is visiting), posing for a photo during their hike to the top of the active volcano. Note the strict warnings on the sign (by enlarging it by double-clicking on the image of the sign), and then carefully study the intrepid trekkers. Oh, the immortality of youth! Like, bring it on, Dude!!!

  • You say you lost your Giant Panda somewhere in the train station and don't know where to find it? Easy! Just direct yourself to the Giant Panda Waiting Area!! (And they even give you helpful directions on the sign!!)

  • Stuck In The Translation Machine #1. Along with the beautiful packaging found here in Japan, it is also common to dole out a bit of complementary philosophy by printing something profound on the bag. This first one, God gives us relatives - thank God we can choose our friends, works, but number two seems to have somehow gotten into the spin cycle in the translator device. It says Whenever it is with you, it gets used to a gentle feeling to. Hmmm. Gotta think about that one!
  • feeling tired, listless, moody? Seem to have lost your 'edge'? No problem, just drop by your local Stamina and Hormone Drug Store and pick up something to pick you up! (WARNING: Side affects might include dizzyness, vomiting, nausia, bankruptcy and heartburn. Do not take if you are alone, or with others).

  • Need to wet your Whistle? We have just the thing for you; a bottle of Whistler Water. As the lable says, it is 'glacier fresh', and it comes in a nifty plastic bottle embossed with the Canadian Maple Leaf. Makes me homesick!

  • Whats-It #1. [left] Got any ideas as to what you might use these handly little things for?

  • Is it just me, or would you feel a little uncomfortable riding an airliner piloted by the Two Airline Pilot Dudes featured in local advertising? And remember, this is how they look on the way TO work; can you imagine what they look like after a hard day at the office?

  • Speaking of Airlines, here is a sign for a local air carrier; Air Do. Of course, all of the english-speaking people here refer to the company as Air Do Do. The Japanese are puzzled by this reference, but when you explain it to them they absolutely crack up over it!

  • Stick It In Your Mouth #1. We weren't sure what this really was, but we decided that Jay would give it a go. It turned out to be a choclate filling inside a bread loaf. Sort of a cross between a pastry and a sandwich. Actually, it was very good - you get the sandwich and the desert in the same mouthful!

  • the infamous River Chicken Menu. This is the menu at the local Japanese Yakatori restaurant - no tourists here! You had better speak Japanese, or be really good at Charades! (and be prepared to live with the consequences). At least this one had an English translation available, many do not. This gives one a tantalizing view of the many tasty treats favoured by the patrons. Among these you will note; Neck, Chest's Gristle, Heart, Knee's Gristle, Skin, Gizzard, and the ever-popular Limited Stick For Day! While this page was off-limits to us, we did have a great meal here!

  • Wet Your Whistle #2; me, at the beer counter of a local market. I am holding some of the offerings from the Kirin B
    eer Company, in the 2 litre and in the 350 mil size. Japanese beer is very good!
  • the subway on a busy day. However, this is NOT CROWDED as it will be during rush hour. Note the handy plastic head-wackers placed freely about, and the gratitutious advertising that provides hours of entertainment trying to figure out what it says!

  • Stick It In Your Mouth #2. The Japanese adore sweets, and flock to pastry shops, bakeries and specialty stores to feed their craving. This is a line-up outside of a Chocolate Store in the Ginza shopping district in downtown Tokyo.

  • I had already realized that the Japanese were fanatics for cleanliness and tidyness, (but I could never figure out how, when you can never find a garbage can!). However, even this one blew me away. It is a plastic-wrapped fire hydrant, complete with a sign warning all dog owners to keep ther $#@%^&'ing dogs away!

  • A Beauty Museum???? (read the fine print on the sign) We weren't even going to ask, let alone look!!!!

  • Stuck In The Translation Machine #2. OK; first of all, I want to make it clear that I think you should cut someone some slack when they try to write in another language, but try these two little gems out. The first says IT IS A FRIEND WHOLLY. An animal and relations will become good. Nature has given us various things. Therefore, we have to value nature. OK so far? Well it goes on: The sun gives us the light of a life. Rain gives the water of a life. I'm still with you, so far. However, we don't quit there: All also of an animal and a plant are friends. The life which is useful to earth is connected as one ring. NATURE AND THOSE WHO LIVE.
  • the Paradox of Japanese Culture #1. This photo was taken in Akihabara; in the very heart of the electronic district. Here you can buy the most advanced computers, HD-TVs, cam-corders, I-pods and digital cameras. And what do they use to haul away all of the packing in which all of these high-tech toys come?

  • What's It #2. This one is difficult; can you guess what it is?

  • Hmmm. The sign, obviously for a barber-shop, says that it is FOR YOUR SMILE. I thought that would be a DENTIST!

  • The Paradox of Japanese Culture #2. This is a scene from a busy pedestrian mall. And what is built just ABOVE the shops? A Shinto Shrine!

  • What's It #3: An easier one. What do you think the little gadget at the right does?

  • a coin-operated bicycle pump [left]

  • some sort of a weird sea-weed cartoon figure at the local market [at right]

  • the control panel of a high-tech toilet. [below] If you were in a hurry, what would you press? Let's see, this baby has a bum-wash (complete with temperature-adjustable water pressure), a Bidet option, a temperature-controlled heating element in the seat to ensure your comfort, the ever-popular music option while you wait, and even a deodarizer for emergencies. There are more controls near the floor, but I had no time to investigate!

  • a high-tech robotic dog from Sony that can be yours for only $6,000 CDN. It comes when you call it, can sit, stay and obey other commands (unfortunately, only in Japanese in this model). Also, it loves to be cuddled, scratched and played with; when it is happy, it wags it's tail. Batteries are extra.

  • Wet Your Whistle #3. Me, with a 4-litre container of whiskey. No, we did not buy it.

a restored version of the prototype for the famed Nissen Z-80. This one is the 1969 Fairlady; sold only in Japan! Proudly on display in the automotive dealer showroom in downtown Tokyo.

  • an example of the elaborate packing that the Japanese love. This is a Block Print I was given for my birthday. The framed print was first bubble-wrapped, then put inside a custom-fit cardboard container, then wrapped with the heavy paper, then firmly tied with cord, and topped with one of those handy plastic carrying handles. There is even a biography of the artist thrown in, as is the business card of the vendor. Now, if we had told the man that this was a Gift-O, he would have really gone to town with fancy paper and wrapping, and no doubt included an elaborate bow and a blank card, ready for signing!

  • As for the What-its, - item Number 1 are hot-pot mitts! - here my son Scott holds a pair. The second Whats-It is actually a paper towel dispenser. The roll goes over the carrot, and the blue Bugs Bunny figure snugs up to it. As the towel is dispensed, Bugs gradually turns away from view, until all you can see when the towel is gone, is his tail! Number 3 is a nifty sesame-seed grinder/dispenser. You turn it upside down, rotate the little wheel and, Pesto, fresh ground sesame seed for your ramen!

In closing, I have to once again comment on the unbelievable kindness of the Japanese people. Just yesterday two examples of this generosity occurred. Shopping in the Ginza District, Sandra went into a Komino Store to enquire as to where she might be able to purchase the special display clips that are used on the merchandise in the window. There and then the owner of the shop insisted that Sandra take a complete set as his 'gift'. Later, we went for supper at a Japanese Curry Restaurant that Jay has been going to fairly regularily for the past year. We were there some weeks ago, when Jay had asked the owner for a post-dinner drink of Sho Chu (a traditional Japanese distilled spirit). Apologizing profusely, the owner explained that he had no Sho-Chu on hand. However, when next we appeared at his estalishment, he took the opportunity to present Jay with a complimentary bottle of top-quality Sho-Chu to take home with him and enjoy! Incredible! A photo of the owner with Jay, and a second one with his wife, are below.

Anyway, that's it for now. I will be back in February with more stories, photos and stuff!

Doug-San in Japan

Saying Sayonara for now.


Sunday, January 15, 2006

Nippon News Volume 2 Issue 5

The Sumo Is Greater Than The Parts!

IMPORTANT NOTES ABOUT PICTURES: you can usually get a larger photo for viewing in any blog entry by double-clicking on the image. Also, for this particular edition, the quality of photos is not up to the usual standard, given the distance from the ring, (the actual view is seen by the overall scene in photo #5), the fact that the subjects were often moving rapidly, and the difficult interior lighting available.

Sumo! You have to love any sport where the name of a competition is a 'basho-o'; (at least, that's what it sounds like when pronounced!) This sport is one of the enduring icons of Japan. And so. with the 15-day New Year National Tournament now on in Tokyo, we simply had to take in the action. This uniquely Japanese form of wrestling has a simple objective; two fighters square off in a 15-foot circle, and try to either throw the other out of the ring, or force a part of your opponant's body (other than the feet) to the ground. Most 'fights' are over in seconds; there are no weight or age categories, and there are only six such tournaments held annually; (three in Tokyo, and one each in Osaka, Nagoya and Kyushu). To Western eyes, this is a strange sport, indeed. But to dismiss Sumo without understanding it would be a great mistake; it is filled with ritual and deep meaning, and it is a facinating blend of the physical, mental, social, historical, and spritual makeup of the Japanese people themselves.

Sumo is to Japan what hockey is to Canadians, (except that I suspect that most Japanese have never wrestled Sumo style). The sport has historical roots stretching back for some 1,500 years, and has existed in its current form for more than 400 years. The original form of Sumo had religious significance; it was meant as a ritual dedicated to the gods with prayers in order to assure a bountiful harvest. These matches took place within the grounds of shrines, and were performed along with sacred dances and dramas. Eventually, the wrestling matches became a favoured method of training fighting men for the defense of the shogun. Finally, in 1603, with the outlawing of punching, kicking, eye gouging and choking, the wrestling matches became more of a sport for entertaining the masses and has remained as such ever since.

The bouts take place on an 18-foot square clay platform (called a dohyo) that is raised 2 feet and with with loose sand piled on top. Inside of this square, the dohyo, a 15-foot inner circle, is inscribe by burying rice bags in the clay to leave a raised lip that serves as the actual fighting ring. Two more bags are placed in the middle, to mark the start position for the fighters (the rikishi). The rice bags at the north, south east and west sides of the circle are set back slightly; this was originally to allow drainage for outdoor matches, but this is retained now for tradition since these features are incorporated into the tactics used by the rikishi, (fighters). A view of the Doyho, (ring); with a figher preparing in his corner, sponsors parading their signs and the ring being swept. The judge is at the right.

Tokyo boats a stadium tailor-made for Sumo with tickets going for $80 each for a seat about mid-bowl. The best seats, naturally, are ring-side, but the issue here is that all of the seating in the lower bowl is confined to simple matts; very uncomfortable for those not used to sitting that way for long periods of time. Sumo is an all-day event, with preliminary matches by the lower ranks starting about 8:30 am, and concluding at 6 pm with the elite division. The outside of the stadium is conjested all day, with admiring throngs gathered to witness the arrival and departure of the wrestlers. The exterior of the stadium is decorated with colorful banners bearing the names of the top wrestlers. The special drumming tower and banners outside of the stadium [at the right].

Inside the stadium it is a relaxed affair, with people watching the matches, strolling around to visit the concession stands, souvenier shops and the on-site museum; lounging in the sun on the upper deck for a break, or going down to the entrance gate to view the arrival and departures of the Sumo. The wrestlers are very much visible; we rode the subway train with one of them, while others sit in the foyer or around the lower concourse before or after matches. While some will talk to fans and pose for pictures, I note that people are very respectful of them and will not disturb them if they appear to be focused on their competition. [Left] Me, watching a Sumo and his valet arrive at the stadium.

The concessions sell soft drinks, beer and cold sake at very reasonable prices. There is also popcorn, hot dogs, sausages, steamed buns and even french fries. More traditionally, there are Bento Boxes available; these contain a variety of cold Japanese delicacies such as rice rolls and fish. If you like, there are restaurants onsite for Ramen (noodle soup) or a choice of hot meals. Souveniers include everything from beer glasses, t-shirts, playing cards, calendars, to special chocolates shaped like wrestlers!

Meanwhile, the stadium also features large pictures of the winners of the past 32 tournaments hung from the rafters. Directly above the Doyho is suspended a large wooden structure that looks like a Shinto Shrine; a visible reference to the origins of the sport. Hung from each of the corners of the roof are large tassels representing each of the seasons. The competitors are ranked by ability; not age, weight, height or any other ciriteria. There are strict codes of behavior, dress and even hairstyle accorded to each of the classes of fighters, with the top man, (or men). alone allowed to carry the title of yokozuna (i.e. the top dog). In the 400 years of Sumo there have been fewer than 70 men awarded this exhaulted level; the person must have won at least two consequetive National Tournaments, have turned in consistent winning performances in recent years, and be a man of suitable qualities to even be considered for this title. The title of Yokozuna is granted for the duration of the Sumo's career; if he begins to lose consistently he is expected to retire. However, if you make to the top of the heap, you can expect an income of $28,000 (CDN) a month, and plenty more from your many private sponsors for endorsements, appearances and the like. Pretty good, even if you have to wear only a towel!

There are 4 lower classes of the elite level; with Ozeki being next only to the Yokozuna in rank. This is followed by Sekiwake, Komusubi, and then by Maegashira. Only some 40 fighters in total of the 800 make up these ranks; the rest are lower on the scale and are accorded less distinctive hairstyles, fighting dress, and other privleges. In such a tournament, fighters have one bout on each of the 15 days, and the schedule is only made up 2 days in advance, in order to ensure that an overall winner can be declared in each of the categories at the conclusion at the conclusion of the tournament. The elite division fieaturing fighters of the top five ranks begins about 4 pm, with entry onto the dokyo of all competitors who will wrestle on that day in a ceremony called the doko-iriori [ring entering]. Each contestant enters by rank wearing a colorful silk cermonial apron called a kesha-mashi given to him by a supporters group or sponsor when he achieved an intermediate level ranking. Costing a minimum of $5,000 each, these aprons can become astronomical in price as the wrestler advances; becoming adorned with gold, silver and precious jewels. Above, the rikishi wearing their colourful aprons [kesha-mashi] prior to the final round for the day.

After a short cermony honouring the gods, the fighters then adjorn from the ring, allowing the yokozuna to make a grand entrance, accompanied by two other fighters, one carrying a sword. Joining them in the ring is the referee-in-chief, wearing his special komono and carrying his symbol of office, the fan with the red tassel. On his head the yokozuna wears a massive, 35-pound hemp headgear found in Shinto shrines. As the others crouch in the ring, the yokozuna will then perform with the greatest dignity the dohyo-iri; a ritual that will also be performed by each of the fighters before their bouts. First clapping his hands to attract the attention of the gods, the fighter then raises both hands with palms outstrectched to show that he conceals no weapons. Next, he raises one leg as high as he can, and firmly stomps the ground to drive evil spirits from the dokyo. This same process is repeated and after a bow the yokozuna retires from the stage. The Yokozuna and his retinue, performing the dohyo-ri before the final round of competition for the day.

There will be a single judge in the ring, who will preside over the competition and who will call the winner of the bout. He is supported by four other judges who side on the sidelines and observe; they can confer at any point to determine by vote the winner of a fight. The ring judge wears colorful clothing from the Edo era and carries a fan with a silk tassel and wears special sandals to signify his rank. The two fighters then appear, clad only in their silken loincloth, called a mawashi. As a symbol of their standing within their category, rikishi of the top quarter of their group are entitled to wear tassles with small balls attached to their loincloth. Each fighter also wears a special hair-do and topnot signifying their rank and standing. All of these costumes and hair-do's come from styles popular in Japan in the 1600's and unchanged since.

Immediately after entering the doyho each rikishi goes through a series of ritualistic movements. To cleanse f=both body and soul he smmbolically rinces his mouth with water, (offered by the winner of the previous bout), and wipes his body with a towel. Then he will repeat the doko-ririo by clapping and raising his hands and then feet, and stomping the ground [at right]. The top category of fighters alone is allowed to throw salt onto the dokyo to insure against injury. The Sumo then squats on his mark in the middle of the ring, and both fighters repeat the ceremony simultaneous, each trying to psyche out the other with the force of the movements and the agility of their extremeties. The referee oversees the ceremony, holding his fan at the side. With both fighters squatting, the bout will begin once both touch their hands to the ground while the referee is holding his fan towards the men. However, this pre-fight phase is full of false starts, restarts, and features the men glaring at the other, striking the ground forcefully, and otherwise attempting to gain the psychological advantage over their opponant. The men have just 4 minutes to begin the actual bout, and most take full use of it. At left, a fighter throwing salt onto the ring as a ritual to avoid injury.

With both men crouched and the referee holding his fan at them, the instant the second man puts his hand on the ground they will each lunge at the other, attempting to grasp their opponant's loincloth. Pure power might win with one man bulling the other out of the ring or even picking the fighter up and depositing him on the other side of the circle. There might be a side throw with a fighter tossing the other into the crowd or on his back. At times a fighter might side-step a lunge and push the opponant to the ground, or onto his back. There could be a standoff with each man grabbing the other mid-ring and maneuvering for advantage. A fighter might be even be perched on top of the rice-bag, but unless he is force beyond it, the contest continues. Slapping and tripping in allowed, and in the end the judge points to the winner, who then squats in the ring, while the other bows to the victor, and departs. At the elite level the judge awards a cash prize to the winner, who will then leave the ring with a bow to the doyho before retiring. At right, the set position.

It is all great fun, with favourites winning and losing, and the crowd cheering on their fighter, as, one-by-one, the daily contests take place. Normally, all of the top fights take place in the last half-hour; from 5:30 until 6:00 pm. . At the end of the day, the yokizuna again enters the ring, to be handed a bow by the judge. This he twirls, balances, and uses to entertain the crowd for a few minutes, to thank them for coming. this again is an old ritual that first occured when a champion was awared an actual bow as a prize.

At the end of the day, special drummers outside the stadium play from a tower that is constructed near the stadium. Much of the crowd then adjorns to one of the many nearby bars and restaurants, (many of them owned by former Sumos), to eat, drink and celebrate while reliving the contests and speculating on the day to come. Sumo is supreme here in Japan, and I would recommend it as a very unique sport to watch for anyone lucky enough to be able to attend such a tournament. Above; the clash, and then, (directly above), the ending, which in this case is the outcome of a throw.

Sited along the way:

In Japan, even the ordinary is often interested. In this case, shopping in the local supermarket:

  • an exterior shop of a corner store with six, (count-em), vending machines available for your use;

  • a fresh pastry; the Japanese absolutely love their sweets. Pastry shops are everywhere, but not a single Tim Horton's!

  • an individually-wrapped carrot on display; the Japanese insist on top-quality food, and are willing to pay for that privledge;

canned coffee; you just pull the little ring to open it and a catalytic reaction delivers you instant and hot coffee at any hour of the day or night. This particular one, made by the Aishii Brewing Company, is called Wonda Shot & Shot. (I think it shoud have a question mark at the end of that phrase). It has alcohol in it, and the label notes that it is 'The Fine Taste For Over 30's Crowd'. I guess we 'oldsters' need that extra 'push' to get going in the morning!

  • Fish? Nope! More doughnuts - just shaped like fish!

  • Two 3-packs of sliced bread. Who would want 3 slices? Well, remember that four is an unlucky number in Japanese culture! Thats why! I have seen packages of 5,6 and 8 slices; all without crusts! But NEVER 4 slices.

  • I am not sure what this is, but it tastes G-G-G-R-R-E-E-A-A-T!! Tony The (Asian) Tiger is obviously bilingual.

Doug-San In Japan

Saying Sayonara for now!