Before departing NYC, I was excited about a lot of experiences I was about to have in Japan. While I think Chazen would like me to say that I was most ecstatic about our company visit to Toyota, I have to be honest: I wanted to see sumo wrestling more than anything. That sentence doesn’t actually convey my enthusiasm—SUMO WRESTLING!!!!!!!!—is more appropriate. After all, how many sports are there with gigantic, well-fed men slamming their gelatinous bodies against each other while wearing something that looks nearly identical to a man thong?
I was not disappointed. The matches are actually quite short, rarely lasting more than a minute each, but they are incredibly exciting. Our group of approximately 10 CBS students rarely knew who to root for, or for that matter who was fighting, but we quickly determined a system for our cheering: go with the largest guy. We were saved from our ignorance of the sumo ways by a friendly expatriate that was sitting behind us at the arena. He had moved to Japan over 30 years ago from Syracuse, NY to pursue a career in martial arts and ended up staying. He and his Japanese wife are sumo fanatics, and gave us all sorts of relevant info on the sport.
Surprisingly, the best sumo wrestlers today are actually Mongolian. There are also a few Bulgarians who fight (apparently they’re not very good), but more interestingly, there is an Egyptian. All of these fighters take Japanese names and wear the same outfits as their native counterparts, but the Bulgarians and the Egyptian were very noticeable due to their extensive chest and neck hair. Our expat friend also gave us some good advice—to sneak up and sit in the press box right next to the ring. We did, and it was awesome.
After a few hours of this, we headed back from Osaka to Kyoto for our welcome Chazen dinner! It was very fun, and it was a good start to the next day’s festivities where we visited the headquarters of Gekkeikan, a leading Japanese sake distillery. The head of the international department walked us through the company’s operations and the state of the industry. Apparently domestic sake consumption has declined drastically over the past decade, while international sales have been growing—but not by nearly enough to offset the overall decline. That glum news did not prevent us from having a lovely sake tasting.
We then saw a series of historical sites that are central to Japanese culture, and rather than describe in words I have included a few photos below to give you a sense of what we saw.
I wrote this post on the shinkansen (bullet train), as we are traveling from Kyoto to Nagoya in order to go see the Toyota factory and their world-famous just-in-time production system. Needless to say the group is excited—especially as the visit is followed by a night in a Ryokan (traditional Japanese inn), including a karaoke session in traditional Japanese garb.
That’s it for now. Until next time—Sayonara.
P.S.—While I’ve chosen not to focus my blog posts on the state of Japanese bathroom technology, it is truly impressive. Nearly all toilets have heated seats and built-in bidets, and some even have a sink on top! Effectively a whole bathroom in one device; it is a sight to behold. Further, our hotel bathroom had a portion of the mirror that simply didn’t steam up right in front of the sink. This was fantastically helpful and my roommate and I are mystified by the technology.