Wow time flies eh? I’ve been really rubbish at keeping this blog up! I wanted to update it after our summer holiday but we were straight back in to school and it feels like it’s been full on since then, so any down time has been used to chill out with Ash, study Japanese and re-read Harry Potter (well good!). Anyway I’m going to try to pull my socks up and get all updated!
Ash had said since we moved to Japan that he really wanted to see a sumo match. I was happy to go along but really didn’t know what to expect, or if I would enjoy it. But hey, when in Rome eh?
As luck would have it the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament is held for two weeks every July at the Aichi Ken Prefectural gym. Ash and I broke up from school for the holidays in mid-July so couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go if possible.
Sumo is an ancient sport with its origins dating back 2000 years. It has roots in Shinto Buddhism and is rich in history and tradition. I could write about the history of sumo and the intricacies of a sumo’s life but this would turn in to a super long blog so I’ll try to keep it as succinct as possible.
Sumo is one of Japan’s most popular spectator sports and is considered by many to be the national sport of Japan. Consequently the large annual sumo event tickets do sell out fast. Fortunately we’d read online that it would be possible to get cheap on the day non-reserved tickets if we turned up early enough.
We woke up early on Friday 25th July and caught the train/subway (it’s a train line that turns in to the subway line) to Nagoya. As we were leaving the station we caught our first peek of a sumo wrestler! He was all dressed up in a bright yukata and looked a little strange as he merged with the morning commuters heading to city hall scanning his travel card at the gates. We realised then just how big these guys were going to be!
As we followed the path up to the gym we could hear a drum beating in the distance. Once we were closer we could see that the drummer was at the top of a wooden tower. This is sumo tradition. Sumo tournament organisers beat the drum to announce that the sumo matches will be happening soon. This and the fact that the hall is situated very close to Nagoya castle made this feel very atmospheric.
We could see more wrestlers in colourful yukatas entering the gym and started to get really excited.
We arrived at the ticket office around 8:30am and managed to nab some of the final cheap seat tickets. The event didn’t start until 10:00 and we had some boring driving license related errands to run so set off to sort those before returning to the gym.
We came back to start watching matches at 10:00. The trainee non-ranked and lower ranked fighters are the first to wrestle so apart from us and a few old people the arena was pretty empty for the first hour or so. We wandered around the venue for a while taking it all in. It was really impressive. There were fighters milling around being interviewed by newspapers and getting ready to wrestle.
Sumo (相撲 sumō) is a competitive full-contact wrestling sport where a rikishi (wrestler) attempts to force another wrestler out of a circular ring (dohyō). A rikishi loses a match when any part of his body other than the bottoms of his feet touches the dohyo or when he is pushed or thrown outside of the ring. This means that matches are often over quite fast and makes sumo a really exciting sport.
With the day ticket you’re allowed to leave the gym once and return so we went to Kamimaezu for a delicious chicken lunch at a Brazilian restaurant and returned at about 1:30pm to find the arena bustling with people ready to watch the higher ranked players.
From about 2 o’clock, the senior division arrived and an entrance ceremony took place. The higher ranked sumos all wore unique exquisitely designed colourful silk aprons and did processions around the stage. It was quite amazing to watch. The fighters varied in size but were generally enormous!
After the procession had finished, the “yokozunas” ceremony began. A Yokozuna is a grand champion (the current yokozuna is actually Mongolian). Once in the ring the champions clap their hands and stamp their feet.
The matches later on in the day were really exciting! A big part of the fight focuses on the wrestlers playing to the crowd and trying to psych each other out/intimidate each other before fighting. They puff themselves up, turn their backs on each other and throw salt across the ring. It was really entertaining. Because we didn’t know anything about sumo Ash and I decided to choose a fighter for each match, bet on them (sportsmans bets of course!) and keep a tally of our scores.
The final match was great and the wrestler who Ash had chosen won. To our surprise the crowd roared and everyone in the expensive sections (which are tatami style with cushions to sit on) threw their purple cushions towards the ring. We were gutted that it was finished!
I can’t recommend sumo enough. It’s such an interesting and unique event and is a great part of Japanese culture. I hope I get the opportunity to go again whilst we’re in Japan,
Over the last weekend of January Korea celebrate Lunar New Year so everyone gets a four day weekend. Ash and I went to Japan for a job interview in Osaka so were lucky enough to be able to spend a little bit more time sightseeing in the city. We hadn’t had time during our trip in September to visit the Shinsekai ‘New World’ district. It was built before World War 2 and features traditional styled restaurants and Tsutentaku Tower at it’s centre.
We were staying in a very cheap hotel with a traditional Japanese room (futon mattress on the floor) in the area so made the most of being nearby. After the interview we only had one full day of sightseeing so we focussed quite a lot of our attentions on this area. Shinsekai is apparently considered to be quite a seedy and dangerous area but we didn’t get that feeling at all. The buildings were beautifully decorated and there were lots of izakaya’s (small bars where you can buy beer and assorted plates of tasty fried nibbles).
Here are some pictures of the area by night.
As it stands we’ve been offered a job in Japan and we move there in mid March! I’m going to miss Korea a lot (especially the food) but am super excited about starting the next chapter of our travelling adventure as I’ve fallen in love with what I’ve experienced of Japan so far.
So I haven’t actually posted properly for AGES and part of the reason is because I went home to England in February.
I was finally going to have the chance to experience what it’s like to holiday in your home country. I’d lived in South Korea for almost a year and it was time for me to come home on a 3 week holibob.
I’d spent 5 months getting really excited about seeing my family and friends. The only downside to this trip was that Ash and I had been given different holiday dates from our separate schools, which meant he’d been back from his 3 week holiday for 4 days and then I left for 3 weeks!
I left our apartment early and caught the KTX faster train to Seoul. Met my NZ friends at Seoul station to say goodbye as they were leaving Korea and then got the train to Incheon airport.
I had to catch two flights. The first was 11.5 hours. I got off in Amsterdam shattered and waited a few hours for my connecting flight to Birmingham, England. After a one hour flight I was back in England. It was very surreal understanding everything I was reading, not being shoved around with my suitcase by brightly coloured ajummas or having children gasping at me.
Anyway I’ve tried to summarise my activities in to a little diary. So, here’s what I got up to:
Wednesday 30th January – Arrived home, met by my sister Liz and niece Brogan and driven from Birmingham to Coventry. Got very excited when they gave me a packet of Salt and Vinegar Walkers and a bottle of Lucozade. My parents were still on holiday so was met by my other sister Sharon who showered me in late Christmas gifts and more Lucozade. Ate my first crisp sandwich in a year and went to bed (tried unsuccessfully to sleep through due to jetlag).
Thursday 31st January – Chilled at my parent’s and saw both of my brothers (Desmond and Kevin). Went for my first pub dinner, at The Greyhound in Coventry with lifelong friends Lisa and Jennifer and their husbands and another lifelong friend Annie. Ate Steak and Ale pie with mash potato and drank a proper yummy cider!
Friday 1st February – My lovely friend Craig came from Manchester to Coventry en route to his holiday. Took him sightseeing in Coventry, had lunch and laughs and sent him on his way. Went out for dinner with my brothers, sister and their (grown up) children in the evening but was so jet lagged I couldn’t even drink alcohol!
Saturday 2nd February – Caught an early coach up to Manchester for big friend’s reunion and party time! First I went to Laura and Steve’s for lunch and played with their gorgeous toddler Amber. Then to Alan and Nailah’s little girl Poppy’s first birthday party. Then to the apartment building where a few of my friends live and my wife Julesy made me dinner.
Later in the evening we went to The Kings Arm pub in Salford, one of my faves in Manchester. There a big group of us had drinks, caught up and had fun. Afterwards we went to Bohemian Grove, a club night at Islington Mill, where I got extremely drunk and emotional!
Sunday 3rd February – Licked my hangover wounds and then went to meet some friends I met through Ash: Ant, Annie, Katy, Dave, Meg, Joe, Ian and Lorna, for a smashing Sunday lunch at Gorilla (owned by Trof for those in the Mancunian know). Collapsed in the evening and ate lots of cheese.
Monday 4th February – Went for lunch with my old workmates. My parents were staying at my aunts near Manchester after flying back from their holiday, so I caught the tram over and had a reunion with them! They drove back to Coventry with me in the back later that evening.
Tuesday 5th February – Stayed in Coventry with some friends and family.
Wednesday 6th February – Met my old school friend Krysy for lunch and a catch up.
Thursday 7th February – Once again caught the train to Manchester. Met my friend Jess for lunch and had dinner with some buddies before staying at Jules’ house, ready to go on our weekend country getaway the next morning.
Friday 8th February – Woke up unbelievably excited. Jules and I went to meet Tracey at the train station. We were going to a mansion in the countryside just outside of Chesterfield to meet up with about 20 other lovely friends for a weekend of fun and frolics together. Arrived and the house was AMAZING! Met the owner who was a bit weird but nice.
Anna and Jules made us all a mean chilli that evening and we ate it around a very grand dining table in the dining room. After that we all got very drunk, danced around to 90s music, frolicked in the hot tub, investigated all the rooms in the house and whoops, got told off for having a sub woofer speaker on too loud It was a late one!
Saturday 9th February – Pretty much everyone was feeling hungover and rough so most of the day was spent lying down and groaning. Anna, girl Rowan and I decided to investigate the local village and pub but made a wrong turn (the house is between two villages) and ended up in a weird area being stared at!
We finally walked to the right village and met some of the others for hair of the dog in a local pub before going back to the house.
Saturday night was the main event of the weekend and we had a fancy dress party after dinner. I have never laughed so much as when we were all sat in the front room watching ‘Take me out’ in fancy dress. The theme was circus/freak show and everyone got in to the spirit. Click on the gallery and take a look at our costume pictures, there are some right corkers. I love my friends but they are a bunch of weirdos. Thanks to the amazing photography by Rowan Williams. Copyright Rowan Williams.
My BFF Jules led an amazing spoof exercise class to 90’s music and we danced around with Clarky’s bike light used as a make shift disco light! It was so much fun! To top off an already amazing night, my friend Tim, had told me he couldn’t come. However at 11pm on the Saturday I got a brilliant surprise when he turned up, having caught a late train all the way from London!
Sunday 10th February – Said some hungover sad goodbyes and spent the whole day snoozing and feeling rough!
Monday 11th February – Cleaned the house and left. Went to collect a Geocache with Jules, Tim and Tracey, then said our goodbyes at the train station and went back to Coventry. Got to spend a bit of time with my parents that night but nowhere near enough.
Tuesday 12th February – Caught yet another train, this time at lunchtime to Brighton via London. I went to visit Ant and Annie who had not long moved down from Manchester. In the evening we went to watch Brighton Hove Albion vs Blackburn and got a bit tiddly!
Wednesday 13th February – Walked in to Brighton centre with Annie. God I love Brighton, with its cool little shops, beautiful architecture and vast choice of delicious restaurants. We waited for Ant to finish work at lunch time and went to an amazing cheese shop/restaurant in Hove. Stuffed ourselves absolutely silly with cheese and wine, ate some delicious cheese in truffle oil and also some absolutely disgusting Stinking Bishop. We were lucky that the table next to us were having a lesson about cheese so we could listen in on the experts who knew literally everything.
Afterwards we walked along the sea front, played games in the amusement arcade on Brighton Pier, ate delicious ginger biscuit flavoured ice cream, went for a Fish and Chips dinner and then went to see Robin Ince do stand up. He was excellent but we were so tired Ant and I kept nearly falling asleep!
Thursday 14th February – Ant walked me to station and I caught the train back to London to meet Gemma. Went to a really good light exhibition at The Hayward Gallery with her, Laura and girl Rowan and then for a mooch and tea and scones at The Tate Modern.
We met Tim later for a very romantic (not!) Valentine’s dinner at a little Italian restaurant, before spending the evening in the pub and then back at Tim and boy Rowan’s (who we woke up!) drinking and dancing- on a school night too. I think Tim and Gemma might have hated me the next day. Rowan definitely did! Sorry ginger brother from another mother!
Friday 15th February – Spent about a million hours trying to get back to Coventry where my dad picked me up over half an hour late. Chilled with my parents and sister at home and my nephew Kyle bought my beautiful great niece (I know right! I’m too young to be a great aunt!) Lola, who is three round and I played shop with her for ages. So cute!
Saturday 16th February – Did a bit of shopping with Liz and my brother in law Fred, before meeting my niece and her boyfriend. Most of my extended family went out for curry and some drinks that night. My brother Kev wasn’t there though and that’s why I think it ended up being a tame one 😉
Sunday 17th February – Spent the day catching up with my family.
Monday 18th February – Went shopping for souvenirs and emergency supplies like HP sauce with my sister, then took my parents out for a farewell lunch. Managed to have a quick natter with my mate Jen who lives up the road in the evening too!
Tuesday 19th February – I’m probably a bit silly for doing this but on Tuesday I caught another train up to Manchester and spent three hours in agony getting a tattoo on my leg. I love it though! Shame I can’t flash it too much in Korea. I managed to quickly meet Craig and Jules before getting my train home for goodbye hugs. Then spent the evening with my parents and getting visits from my brother’s family.
Wednesday 20th February – Up at the crack of dawn to get my flight back to Korea for my second year teaching.
It’s crazy how quickly those three weeks went. I had an amazing time but as you will have read above it was crazy hectic. I’d have liked an extra week to spend more time at home but cest la vie! I think I pretty much managed to do everything one would want to on a trip to England. Spent time in the Midlands, went to The North, experienced cool cities, stayed in a mansion in the country, went to see a football match, spent a lot of time in pubs, went to the seaside and played in amusement arcades, visited London, went to art galleries and walked across tower bridge. I even rode a red London bus!
Thanks to everyone who made this trip perfect. It’s made me value my family and friends even more (I wasn’t sure that was possible) and has made me realise that it doesn’t matter if I live on the other side of the world they will always be there for me!
Kanyakumari – The edge of India
We arrived in the early evening after a 22 hour train journey and a few hours of standing at open train doors taking in the breath-taking scenery of lush paddie fields, streams, enormous lakes and dense forests. We needed to find somewhere to stay and although Kanyakumari is a really small seaside town, it’s really popular with pilgrims, so there are a fair few hotels. We found a cheap hotel, dropped off our stuff and went to find some food. The sleepy town was even more sleepy at night but we found somewhere to eat and then had an early night.
We woke up early the next morning so we could get down to the ocean so Ash could get some pictures. As we walked down towards the sea we saw lots of beautifully coloured houses and fishermen bringing their really bright and vibrant boats in. The view was unbelievable. There was a lively fish market taking place in the small harbour too and in the ocean a short distance from the shore there was a giant statue of the hindu goddess Kanyakumari and a temple. Already, lots of pilgrims were taking the ferry to visit the shrine. Ash got some really good pictures here which do a better job of demonstrating the beauty of that morning than I can.
We grabbed a tasty breakfast of thali with buttery roti bread and then headed to Baywatch, a water park which also boasted to being India’s first waxwork museum. We arrived, paid at the ticket booth and were led through a door into a small building and found ourselves in the museum. In three tiny rooms there were various waxworks which one could be forgiven for not recognizing. There were of course some famous Indian stars but also Charlie Chaplin and a scary looking Michael Jackson amongst others. We were led around by an old guy who would stop us in front of each waxwork and tell us their name, it was really entertaining.
Next we went in to the swimming park. Obviously as we were in India I had to go in to the pools totally dressed. The wave pool had a rope cordoning off male and female and it felt really strange not being allowed to stand near Ash! Some little girls came in on my side and were staring at me as they gradually paddled closer. All of a sudden they all started splashing loads of water at me haha. Little madams! We spent a couple more hours on the water slides and watching a group of boys dancing Bollywood style in some fountains, until I felt my alabaster skin could take no more of the intense midday sun.
We walked around the main centre, did some gift shopping and took some more pictures. At sunset lots of people, including colourfully dressed women went down to the shore and paddled in the water. A group of boys sat on rocks and got repeatedly pounded by waves whilst screaming and laughing and a woman walked through the crowd with her very beautiful little shaved headed girl sat on a ceremonial pony. They were all great sights to see in this great place. Kanyakumari is the place where the Arabian sea and the Bay of Bengal meet the Indian Octhree seas meet and was a really special place to visit. It felt quite off the beaten western traveller trail.
We boarded a train the next day for a four hour trip north to Kollam in Kerala. I never tired of these train journeys as they gave us a glimpse of the fertile Keralan countryside, its culture and its people.
One night of luxury in Kollam
We arrived in to Kollam about midday. We’d spent most of our time up until then sleeping on trains (or platforms), or budget (but nice) accommodation. However, in Kollam we planned to rent a houseboat for one night and live the high life. After wandering around for ages with our big heavy backpacks we found the boat area and Ash bartered with some agents to get us a deal. With a deal struck we were led to our boat. It had a balcony, a lovely bedroom, and an open sided living room/ dining area. There was also a chef and a driver. Usually we wouldn’t do something like this as I don’t like the thought of servants but we felt this was different. These were all small local companies who made a living and who would have been out of pocket had we not booked a boat that day.
We sailed out into the peaceful Kerala backwaters and watched expert river fishermen using nets and swimming in the water, families going about their daily business on the river banks and lots of beautiful birds. As the sun went down that night we sat on our porch/dining room and listened to the sound of the backwaters whilst eating the most amazing dinner. We couldn’t stay up too late that night due to having to turn the lights off a ten and were so full of food we put our heads down early.
I woke next morning to a very poorly Ash. He had started feeling a little bit rough the night before but we both presumed it would pass. He had barely slept and I felt partly responsible for his condition. You are warned not to drink the water in India but we had totally forgotten that the street stall fruit juices were made with ice cubes which could be bad for us. Before we got on the boat we’d both ordered a fruit juice but in the end Ash drank both of them. I think this might have tipped him over the edge – sorry Ash!
I tried to tell the cook that he wouldn’t want breakfast but when we went to the dining room there was a gigantic meal laid out. Ash, who is usually a human bin couldn’t touch it and although I stuffed myself silly I barely made a dent.
In the morning the backwaters really came alive. There were people bathing their cows, more fishermen and little children running alongside the river. As part of the boat trip we were going to be taken out on a tiny row boat by a local fisherman on a trip through the small canals to see more of what life is like there. We passed lots of tiny houses, someone climbed up a tree and sold us a freshly picked coconut each and our guide pulled a water lily up from the river as a gift to me.
When we got back they had prepared lunch. Although it was only for me (they realised Ash was sick and gave him tea) it was still too much. They dropped us back in Kollam and we caught a train to Ernakeuleum a little further up the coast and arrived exhausted in the early evening.
That night we planned the next leg of our journey. Because we weren’t doing any more sleeper trains we could book more easily with less advanced notice.
We had come to Ernakeulum for a specific reason, to visit Fort Cochin…
My sentiments exactly. Live life to full and follow your dreams. We never know what is around the corner
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