The Hamarikyu Garden is located near the Tokyo port area, in the luxurious financial district of Shiodome. Initially the villa of the Shogun Tokugaga, famous for duck hunting, it was remodelled as a park in the 40s. The Hamarikyu Garden contrasts heavily to the modern skyscrapers seen behind. Walking from the Shiodome station, one transitions from a futuristic display of luxury to a peaceful and unpretentious garden.
Sumo is more than a sport. It is deeply rooted in tradition and spirituality. The life of a sumotori is strictly regulated. When in lower ranks, sumo wrestlers must be obedient to their seniors. Wrestlers live in stables, large living complexes that feature, sleeping, eating and training facilities. Several times a year, all wrestlers meet at the major tournaments.
I had the chance recently to attend a Sumo tournament held in Tokyo at the Kokugikan. Upon arriving at the Ryogoku station, one notices the Sumo wrestlers getting off the train and the large posters of sumo wrestlers in the station. The stadium itself, the Kokugikan, is quite peculiar. The seats are divided into two sections. The upper one consists of normal seats. The lower one has what is called a masu-seki. It is a flat space with cushions large enough to fit four people. The sumo stage is at the center, under what looks like the roof of a shrine hanging from the ceiling. The sumo ring is indeed a very sacred place. The ring itself is covered in sand and is encircled by a rope.
Sumo matches are very short. Most lasted a several seconds and rarely exceeded a minute. When the two wrestlers put their fists on the ring the bout starts. They accelerate rapidly towards each other and hit with a phenomenal force. From then on, wrestlers try to force their opponent out of the ring or to fall on the floor. Once the bout is over the sumo wrestlers withdraw and two new wrestlers come for the next match.
Sumo tickets are sold for a whole day of competition. The day starts with the lower ranks and ends with the best wrestlers. Between every division, a ceremonial cleaning of the ring is carried. Most spectators come to watch the upper divisions so it is generally quiet in the morning. Before the uppermost division, Yokozunas, the best wrestlers, performs a special ceremonial entrance.
The Asakusa Culture Tourist information center is located in front of the famed Sensoji temple. The center, which provides visitors with plenty of information on the neighbourhood, is quite popular thanks to the free observatory located on the upper floor. From above, one can see well the main hall of Sensoji as well as Tokyo Skytree and Asahi’s golden poo.
Hoppy dori is a famous drinking street of Asakusa, located just west of Sensoji temple. Many drinking establishments and izakayas are located on that street which was once the meeting place of choice for those who wanted to gamble on horse racing. Hoppy is actually a drink made of a mix of a diluted beer-like soda and schochu. It was a popular beer alternative among gamblers in the days when beer was less affordable. Nowadays the street is popular among both locals and tourists visiting Asakusa.
Tokyo tower was built in 1958 and is an iconic symbol of Tokyo. It measures 333 meters and has a look similar to Eiffel tower but with a red and white look. It is now surpassed in height by Sky Tree (634m) but offers a different perspective on the city that makes it entirely worth visiting. The observation deck offers a superb view of Tokyo’s city-scape. One can also see very well the Zojo-ji temple located nearby.
Shibuya crossing is the busiest intersection of Japan. The area, thanks to the many restaurants and other forms of entertainments, attracts a large crowd. The place is also quite famous among foreigners, who like to take selfies and videos as they cross the intersection multiple times. What’s so special about this crossing is that when the predestrian signal turns white, you can cross in any direction and hundreds of people flood the intersection at the same time.
Todoroki Valley is an oasis of nature in the middle of Tokyo. The valley, which is about 10-20 meters deep, was dug over time by a small river. In the summertime temperatures remain surprisingly colder in the valley thanks to the cold water and the shade provided by the large trees. A path follows the river and eventually leads to the Todoroki temple and a small teahouse. Next time you can’t bear the intense summer heat, head to Todoroki valley for a refreshing encounter with nature!