We dragged ourselves out of bed at some ungodly hour of the morning and set off on one last trek to Ojikamiya subway station, muscles still aching after our obstacle course adventure the previous day, backpacks loaded up with all of our stuff plus acquired souvenirs. Riding the subway with all of our stuff in the middle of the morning rush hour was not the most fun thing we did during our time in Japan, but it was necessary in order to make it to the bus station in Shinjuku in time for our 7:30AM departure for Osaka.
Why were we taking the bus to Osaka, you ask? Isn’t Japan the land of super high speed bullet trains that can whisk you across the country in a matter of minutes? Well, this is true. There are bullet trains that run between Tokyo and Osaka, and they only take around two and a half to three hours. However, that convenience comes with a hefty price tag. A one way ticket from Tokyo to Osaka runs a little over $130. Our bus tickets, on the Willer Bus, were only about $58. Sure, the trip took around eight hours, but we got to see some scenic countryside and experience a Japanese highway rest stop, which we would have missed out on entirely had we taken the bullet train.
The bus itself was luxurious, especially compared to long distance bus services in the US like Greyhound and Megabus. The seats were big, plush, and very comfortable, equipped with a footrest and reclining capability. Each seat had a TV screen and headphone jack that was packed with free entertainment for the long ride. Honestly though, the entertainment portion ended up being a bit of a disappointment. The audio was imperceptibly quiet and the screen was hard to see because of the glare from the sun. The coolest feature was a giant quarter dome that could be lowered from the top of the seat, like the hood on a baby stroller, to shield your head from the sun. This made for relatively easy nap time.
The ride itself (the parts I was awake for at least) was fairly scenic. Every hour or so we stopped at a rest stop for a potty break. The rest stops were some of the cleanest and most well maintained I have ever seen. They put the Pennsylvania turnpike to shame. We arrived in Osaka at around 3:30 in the afternoon and headed straight to our AirBnb. It was a studio apartment just a few minutes walk from the Osaka train station. Like the last place, we simply picked up a key from a lockbox and had the place to ourselves for the next seven days. It was also another great bargain at around $20 a night. We grabbed a delicious dinner of gyoza and ramen at Gyozaoh! before turning in for the night.
Our first full day in Osaka we woke up early to head down to the March Grand Sumo Tournament! There are only six sumo tournaments each year, and every tournament is in a different city. When we realized our trip would coincide with the March tournament in Osaka… let’s just say that this pretty much determined Osaka as our second destination. We had seen online that they sold a limited number of cheap tickets for the day at the door starting every morning at 7:45. I had come down with a case of the travel flu (this happens often to me, and not to Alana for some reason…) and wasn’t feeling so well, but Alana dragged me out of bed and down the stairs to the train station (she knew how much I wanted to see the Sumo matches). It was a cold, rainy day which didn’t make me feel much better, but our AirBnb was well stocked with umbrellas so we didn’t get too wet on our morning commute.
The line wasn’t too long when we got to the arena, and after a short wait we had our tickets in hand! They cost about $21 each.
If you want better/guaranteed/more expensive seats you can book them online ahead of time at http://www.sumo.or.jp/En/. The website has dates and information for all of the upcoming tournaments.
We then popped down the street to the nearest Family Mart for breakfast. Remember those heated beverage displays I mentioned in a previous post? Well I stocked up on some heated bottles of ginger/honey/lemon tea and vitamin C drink which helped finally bring me to life for the day.
We sat in our seats (the day-of cheap tickets were for the four corners of the highest section in the arena) for most of the morning. In the beginning, while lower ranking matches were going on, most of the seats were empty. The atmosphere was pretty muted, but it gave us a good chance to closely observe all of the different parts of the matches.
Finally, some action! (I apologize for the poor picture quality. This is the best we could get from our seats in the nosebleed section.)
We took a break at around noon to get some lunch. We found a great Indian restaurant not too far away that had a ton of delicious lunch specials on offer for less than $10 (fairly cheap for our non-convenience store meals so far). We hustled back to the arena under our umbrellas in time for the junior matches which started at 2:15. When we returned to our seats the arena was teeming with avid spectators, and the crowd was much more lively. We couldn’t help but get caught up in the excitement of everyone shouting and clapping. The announcer would call out the names of the two wrestlers in a high pitched, nasally voice, something of a Japanese “Lets get ready to rumbleeeee!” Then there was some squatting, clapping, and stamping, as well as some thigh slapping. The wrestlers would then assume their starting position, similar to a lineman on an American football team. I’m not sure what actually signaled the start of the match. Sometimes the wrestlers would go through several set ups in this starting position before finally setting both hands on the ground in front of them and launching into each other.
At one point I took a break to grab some vending machine coffee and happened to see one of the senior wrestlers moving from the locker room to the arena. There was a crowd of spectators lining the either side of the hall, cheering and taking pictures as he walked by. A few things struck me about the experience: for one the wrestler was Caucasian. I’m not sure what country he was from, but he definitely wasn’t Japanese. He was also huge! And not just in the really fat sense. I’m about 5’10” and I felt like I had to crane my neck to look up at this Sumo giant as he walked past.
The matches in the morning had seemed to drag on at a slow pace, but the afternoon flew by. The next time I checked my phone it was already 6:00 and there were still a few senior matches to go. The matches were very fast, often lasting less than thirty seconds. Typically once the wrestlers collided, on would either be pushed out of the ring or quickly knocked off balance. There were a few really exciting moments where a wrestler would be at the edge of the ring, seemingly just holding on by his toes, and suddenly work his center of mass under the opponent and toss him out of the ring. Of course there were also plenty of times when the wrestler on the edge just got overpowered and tumbled out first.
After the tournament ended we took a walk around to some local shopping malls, but for once neither one of us was feeling particularly shoppy (read as: Alana only wandered through a handful of stores instead of all of them). On the way back to our AirBnb we stopped at Lawson for some budget dinner ($9.50 for the two of us).