I should note that all of this so far has taken place in Asakusa. I haven’t even been to other places in Tokyo yet!
7:30 AM — Breakfast
When the guys wake up, we’re going to the world famous Japanese fish market, where tuna are auctioned off for as much as $1.76 million. Tomorrow, we’re planning to go see sumo wrestler training. Right now, well, I’m writing this.
Only At A Hostel
I love hostels. They are so much fun and it’s so easy to meet awesome people. But they can be a little… interesting. Right now, for example, a couple entered into the bathroom together after making out on the couch in the common area. I bet they’re just going to wash their hands together. (Luckily, I’ve got headphones.)
The fish market plans were canceled yesterday. The guy was going to go with said he needed more sleep because another guy in his room had a few too many and urinated on the lockers in his room.
So I found myself in the common area wondering what my plan B was since it was a bit late to go to the fish market. An American girl living in Japan came into the common area and said her brother missed his flight, so she had some time to kill. We went to a place called Ueno, walked around in the park, and then found a zoo! It was only 600 yen (a stark contrast to the $48 I paid to see the San Diego zoo), so we went for it.
My new friend had to pick up her brother at the airport, so I knew what I had to do.
My first task was to hop on the subway and go to a random place.
The Slightly Magical Dinner
As an endcap to my time in Ginza, I sought out a restaurant without an English menu (to ensure it was fully non-touristy). I found an Italian place. After struggling to figure out what to order with the help of a gentleman who knew a bit of English, I sat down and enjoyed a fine pizza. But it wasn’t very good. The middle part was soggy. The experience, however, was very good.
As I’ve done when dining alone here, I studied my Japanese language app and tried my best to joke around in another language.
In Japanese, I asked them not to put wasabi on my pizza. I could tell that they appreciated my effort to speak their language. When I left the place, all the employees (even the cooks in the back) said goodbye in unison and it made my night. The Japanese are good-natured and happy people.
Day 4: Sumo Day!
Yes, my friends. This day was all about sumo wrestling. Before I set off, I didn’t want to eat anything crazy, so I stepped into a Denny’s. Yes, Denny’s. My meal was surprisingly good and cheap, and it even included some traditional Japanese food!
After breakfast, I went to Ryogoku, the area with the most “sumo stables” (where sumo wrestlers train). I saw one sumo walking around with a posse. He looked famous, and quite comfortable in his robe.
But it wasn’t enough. I wanted to see them train!
When I arrived at a sumo stable via Google Maps, I walked up to its sliding wooden doors. There was no signage of any kind, so I did what any obnoxious tourist should do—I opened the door you see below.
Immediately after I opened it, about 20 sumo wrestlers looked at me. There were no tourists watching. There were no stands for people to watch. It was 20 Japanese sumos and one American tourist. To put it succinctly, I bowed out.
Not long after that, I found another sumo stable, and… gadzooks! There were sumos talking out in front of the building! I snuck in a quick picture before approaching them.
I bowed to the large men, said “Konnichiwa,” and immediately transitioned into English like it wasn’t weird. I gestured with my hands, asking if I was allowed to go into their facility and watch. After some blank expressions and a full tablespoon of awkwardness, I thanked them and left. Here’s what I learned afterwards.
Certain Japanese sumo stables can be visited and the practices watched, but not all of them, and they’re often restricted to Japanese citizens. (My experience above verified the fact that it’s not a tourist attraction.) Afterwards, a tour guide at the hostel told me she was taking a hostel guest to see sumos train, and that she could because she was Japanese and would know the proper etiquette.
If you’re ever in Tokyo and wish to see sumos train, I’d recommend asking a local about it and see about calling the stable the day before you wish to arrive. I don’t think it’s impossible to see them train, but it might take a little bit of preparation to make sure you visit the right place at the right time.
Sumo wrestlers weigh 400-600 pounds. They eat 10,000 calories per day and their favorite meal is something called Chankonabe, a hot pot stew of meat and vegetables. Being in sumo central, I was easily able to find a place that serves the traditional meal.
I also went to the Edo Tokyo museum, which was only 600 yen. I’m not into museums much, but this one was fantastic and fascinating. I went on a (free) two hour English tour alongside a pleasant older British couple. I was genuinely interested to learn about this period of Tokyo history (1600-1850), but not nearly as much as this British couple. It made me wonder how I might change as I age. Will I be more interested in museums?
At the end of the night, I ate at Sometaro again with a few hostel friends. It was just as delicious as the first time. We talked about soccer (futbol).
Afterwards, we went to another hostel that has a bar inside. We laughed because there were 14 guys and one girl. That’s not a favorable ratio, gentlemen.
It was 11 PM and I was exhausted, having been awake since 5:30 AM, and so I went back to the hostel to sleep. The day was a success, and I realized that my sumo mishaps made this trip more memorable and interesting than if I had just seen sumos train. Such is the positive paradox of travel. When things go well, who can complain? But when things go poorly, they will be your best memories.
I didn’t just see sumos train, I interacted (poorly) with them!