Rob and I spent the last three days exploring Tokyo. It’s a massive metropolitan area with over 40 million people. The first two days we were here were holidays, so everything was a bit quiet. The third day, we finally got the real packed in the subway like sardines moment.
We flew in at 3 am and caught some sleep on a very comfy airport bench. Haneda has one of the best airport sleeping set ups we’ve encountered this far – long padded benches with no armrests. After checking into our hostel (Anne Hostel Yokozuna) at Ryogoku (yay semi-double bunk beds with curtains.), we explored the Ueno and Yanaka areas along with a free trip up the observation towers of New Tokyo City Hall. For dinner, we found the 280 yen/plate izakaya and tasted a variety of yakitori. Returning to the hostel, Rob and I intended to get to bed early so we could line up for sumo tickets but ended up chatting late into the night with the large group of younger Americans staying there too.
Somehow, we managed to pry ourselves out of bed at 6 am and wait in line for 2 hours in the cold to get two of 300 non-reserved sumo tickets that allow you to sit in the very back row. We were 194 and 195. We bought the tickets and went back to bed for a few hours since better bouts started at 2 pm.
We grabbed a quick lunch and made a fast visit to a store offering one of our favorite Japanese goods, replica food. Rob has watched a number of videos showing how to make the stuff and it’s pretty amazing what the artists can do. This shop sold tons of different food varieties. They would even customize your tempura shrimp with breading and tail type. It was all expensive; restaurants must think hard before getting the replica for a new dish.
Arriving at the sumo tournament, we picked out seats on the opposite side (the ref’s back was to us but we saw the wrestlers facing each other) then went to try out the chanko-nabe or sumo stew filled with cabbage, carrots and meatballs. At 250 yen per bowl, it was a great deal (it’s a super efficient setup – get soup, eat at a table in the hotel banquet-like room then separate your trash and leave). I wish we had gotten a second bowl like the guy we shared our table with.
We caught most of the second tier bouts before watching the parade of upper level fighters called the makuuchi. Most matches were quite short, some ending as a smaller opponent outwitted a larger one by avoiding a charge and letting the opponent’s momentum take him out of the ring. The seats around the ring are akin to poncho seats where you might end up with 400 lbs of sumo wrestler in your lap. The highest level of sumo is called the yokozuna of which there are three. One got defeated, so many spectators started throwing their seat cushions.
We finished the day with our best dinner in Japan thus far, regular spice, regular numbness ramen recommended by Lonely Planet.
On the fourth day, we had to pick up the campervan in the afternoon, but squeezed a few sights into the morning, including the Tsukiji fish market and the Tokyo national museum. The fish market was once you get into the inner market (no tourists before 9am.). There are motorized carts, motorcycles, hand carts, etc. that are moving rapidly down the aisles; the lady in front of me wasn’t looking and almost got mowed down. The whole market is a mess of small aisles with tanks and coolers as well as bandsaws that they use to break down the massive frozen tuna. Normally there are tuna auctions at 5 am (tourists line up starting at 3:30am to get in), but they were closed to the public while we were there.
The National museum had a number of the woodblock prints that I love including many of the famous ones featuring Mt. Fuji.
By the time we were finished, we had to grab or things and train to Narita to pick up our home for the next four weeks at Japan Campers.