Sumo wrestling is a big part of Japanese culture and is actually Japan’s national sport. If you have a ‘Japan Bucket List’ of any description, then watching a bit of sumo is likely to be on there.
Of course, the ideal scenario would be to get tickets for a tournament. There are three main tournaments in Tokyo every year, held in January, May and September. But what if you happen to visit Japan outside of these three months?
My answer is – visit a sumo stable.
Sumo stables are where the wrestlers live and train together, and you can go along and watch their morning practice. It’s not really touted as a tourist attraction as such but we went along to one and were able to watch the wrestlers through the window.
We went to the Arashio-beya which is around a minutes walk from the A2 exit of Hamacho Station on the Toei Subway Shinjuku Line. Practice takes place between 7.30am and 10am. Their website does have a Japanese script and a phone number to call so you can check in advance if the practice is on the next day, which I did but unfortunately I couldn’t understand the response despite following the script! I can’t remember if we asked our hotel to call on our behalf or just showed up but it all worked out ok.
You’re unlikely to stay and watch the full length of training as it can feel a little crowded by the window standing among the wrestler’s bicycles and other gawping tourists, but it’s definitely worth stopping by for the experience.
No Japan bucket list would be complete without a stay in a ryokan, so here is my guide to a Japanese ryokan experience.
What is a ryokan?
A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn. You may have seen them on tv or in books, they’re the ones with paper screens, low tables and futons instead of beds.
How do I choose which ryokan?
Ryokan aren’t cheap and the ones that are cheap are most probably not that authentic. We started by looking on Tripadvisor at some of the best ryokan in Kyoto but found many were fully booked for the time of year we were looking at (April – Cherry Blossom season). One of the most famous and historic ryokans is the Hiiragiya which was slightly out of our budget, so in the end we opted for Hiiragiya Bekkan (annex) an authentic but more wallet-friendly option.
Other things to note when choosing your ryokan, is whether it includes a private bathroom or any meals, as of course this will affect the price. Our room at the Hiiragiya Bekkan included a private toilet and sink but shared bathing facilities (more on that later) and it also included a kaiseki meal (Japanese haute cuisine) in the evening and breakfast the following day.
The initial experience
When we arrived at Hiiragiya Bekkan we were greeted by friendly and enthusiastic staff and as is custom in Japan, we were asked to remove our shoes at the door and wear the slippers provided.
We were shown to our room which overlooked a pretty Japanese garden and then we had to remove our slippers. I can’t quite remember how many different pairs of slippers we had, but if you’ve been to Japan you’ll know how much they love their slippers!
We were shortly served three different types of tea – matcha, sakura and Japanese. The Japanese tea was nice but the matcha and sakura are a bit of an acquired taste.
After tea we changed into the yukata (cotton robes) provided and spent some time relaxing and soaking up our surroundings!
Upon arrival at the ryokan we chose a time we would like to have dinner and promptly at this time we received a knock on the door from our maid (for lack of a better word) bringing us the first course of our meal.
Some ryokan have communal dining areas, but the other thing that attracted us to the Hiiragiya Bekkan was being able to dine in the privacy of our own room.
Dinner at the ryokan was a seasonal menu and brought to us course by course. I didn’t really know what much of it was so I took a photo of the menu. It started off ok and I enjoyed the first few courses but I’m so glad we had this meal as part of a ryokan experience rather than at a kaiseki restaurant as I really struggled with a few of the courses. Sadly the bamboo shoots and the deep-fried bean curd with sea urchin weren’t to my taste.
In Japan, bathtime is a bit of a ritual. So after dinner we were ushered off to the communal bathrooms. Similarly to pre-booking a dinner time slot, we also had a bathroom time slot too. A friendly old man had prepared our steaming hot bath for us and then gave us our privacy and left us to it. Basically in Japan, bathing etiquette dictates that you perch on a little stool and then soap and rinse yourself with a handheld shower before getting into the tub. The tubs are then for soaking once you are squeaky clean. Our tub was wooden and square, which was different but we had already had previous experience with onsen (hot springs) bathing which I will write about another time.
After our hot, relaxing baths we toddled off back to our room where our maid (who may or may not have been a ninja) had switched our room around from a dining room with low table to a bedroom with futons! The futons themselves were fairly comfortable, however the Japanese pillows, which I believe are filled with buckwheat, weren’t the most comfortable pillows I’ve ever slept on, but they certainly weren’t the worst!
In the morning
The morning routine was almost like a reverse of the night before. We awoke early and went for our shower/bath and while we were soaking ourselves, our room was being whipped up from a bedroom back into a dining room, ready for breakfast.
Breakfast included an assortment of Japanese nibbles, the fish was delicious, however I struggled to stomach the rest of it. As I’m not much of a breakfast person anyway (yeah yeah I know it’s the most important meal of the day!) and by this point in our trip I just fancied something quite boring like toast. I know. I am a terrible travel blogger for saying that.
We checked out fairly early as we were due to travel on the Shinkansen back to Tokyo and upon check out we were presented with a gift – a neat box with chopsticks inside! Very sweet and thoughtful!
Advance booking is recommended as the ryokans are quite small and have limited availability.
In order to not have to worry about lugging our big suitcases with us for our one night stay in the ryokan we used a luggage forwarding service, quite a common thing to do in Japan and something that can be arranged at your hotel. We used this service a couple of times during our trip, so we had our luggage sent from our Kyoto hotel (where we stayed before our ryokan visit) to the hotel we would be staying at after departing the ryokan. Very efficient and helpful!
Follow ryokan etiquette regarding the removal of shoes, showering before bathing etc. And be sure not to place anything in the sacred alcove (pictured below with the wall hanging and flower arrangement).
Apparently today is National Pink Day. Hello, did no one tell the Mean Girls because today is Thursday and on Wednesdays we wear pink!
Oh yes if there’s two things I love it’s a Mean Girls quote and the colour pink. So in honour of National Pink Day I thought I would share with you not one, not two, but TEN pink themed photographs taken by myself or by my husband’s fair hand.
This pretty picture was taken during the cherry blossom season at the canal in Naka Meguro, Tokyo. If you’re thinking of visiting Japan in spring then check out my post Cherry Blossoms in Japan to see where else I saw the sakura.
Florida, USA Taken at the Magic Kingdom theme park at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, I captured the castle lit up in pretty hues of pink, purple and orange while the firework show was taking place. The firework show is a must-do for any Disney theme park visit.
Peradeniya, Sri Lanka
These charming orchids caught my eye at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Sri Lanka as they remind me of the singing flowers in Alice in Wonderland. Actually, they are pretty proud of their orchids in Sri Lanka!
If you follow me on instagram then you’re probably sick of the sights of this car but in my defense it’s not every day you get to ride around in a fuschia pink 1952 chevrolet!
Lake Tekapo, New Zealand
I love this photo. I was obsessed with these lupins and this lake during my brief visit to New Zealand. To be fair, all the scenery in New Zealand is like some sort of instagrammer’s dream. But seriously, look how pretty these pink and purple lupins are against the blue of the sky and water!
Las Vegas, USA
I have no idea why we didn’t stay in the Flamingo hotel given that I love flamingos! Nevertheless we did go and have a nosey about and I took this photo of the bright lights in all their glory.
Port Douglas, Australia
I heart Port Douglas. If I could retire there I probably would. We took a walk along the beach at sunset and I captured the soft candy coloured hues of the sun setting in the sky. Bliss!
Wellington, New Zealand
Another New Zealand pic, another botanic garden. The weather was not great in Windy Welly but we cheered ourselves up with a little look around the gardens and snapped a few colourful flower shots!
Kind of an obvious one this, but the shop is called Pink Latte so it already earnt its place in the gallery by that alone. I didn’t buy anything in here but you betcha I dragged hubby through it so I could look at all the Kawaii going on in there!
Yep Japan makes it in the gallery for a third time! But this photo is a little bit special as it has little ol’ me in there with my pink clothes and pink hair standing infront of a pink bush with my boring yet functional black bag. Doh.
I hope this post left you feeling tickled pink! If orange is more your bag then click here. Or if blue’s more your hue then you might like this pinterest board.
Today is Good Deeds Day and as you know, my good deed for 2016 is my volunteer work at my local cat rescue centre. It’s only cleaning pens, monitoring and socialising the cats for a couple of hours a week but I like to think it makes a small difference to the cats’ well being and also helps the awesome, hardworking staff out a bit too.
So as a bit of a tenuous link I thought I would post some photos of cats around the world that I have met…
This kitty cat was sleeping on the bizarre green chair outside the shop at the Monumento al Campesino (farmers monument) on the Spanish island of Lanzarote. I was drawn to him/her because this sweetie looks alot like the cat I had growing up.
This adorable trio were among several other cats hanging around outside the Bahia Palace in Marrakech, Morocco. I just wanted to bundle them all up and take them home with me because I felt sorry for them, I just hope someone at the palace is looking after them!
Special mention to this cat who I met en route to the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. The guides wanted us tourists to stop and buy pottery and trinkets from the shop but I was more interested in making friends with this cutie.
This pretty kitty was one of the pampered felines at the Cat Cafe I visited in Tokyo, Japan. There were lots of lovely cats there but I chose to feature this one here as it was the only cat who sat on my lap and took treats from me, the rest were too busy snoozing!
Although shout out to this cheeky kitty, who although slept the entire time we were at the Cat Cafe, looked so adorable poking its tongue out!
This beauty is Pickles the Hobbiton cat. After a rough start in life, Pickles soon found a wonderful new home – at The Hobbiton Movie Set in Matamata, New Zealand. We went to get a drink in The Green Dragon Inn after our tour of the set and found Pickles curled up on a chair infront of the fireplace. It was a hot day so I really didn’t need to sit infront of a blazing fire, but the lure of petting a snoozing kitty was just too much to resist!
This sweet creature was one of the resident cats at the hostel we stayed at in Alice Springs, Australia. I think the owner said her name is Tink and she’s an impressive 21 years old! We didn’t see much of the other (much younger cat) at the hostel as she was out exploring but Tink could often be found chilling out in the kitchen or garden.
This fur baby was probably my favourite. Her name is Friday and she lives on Robinson Crusoe Island in Fiji. We found her chilling on the decking outside our bure one morning and she kept on coming back for a fuss. We more or less made her our island cat and she even came to say goodbye to us when we left.
This purrfect post is dedicated to all the Crazy Cat Ladies and Gentlemen out there x
I decided to get involved with this week’s photo challenge simply because it gives me the opportunity to show off four photos I have taken, in four different places, representing each of the four seasons.
Clockwise from left: Spring in Japan – cherry blossom season, a celebrated springtime event. Summer in the Maldives – a clear blue sky and turquoise seas always evoke memories of summer. Autumn in Iceland – cloudy skies and a mix of green and brown countryside show autumn is upon us. Winter in England – nothing says winter more than snow!
If you would like to join in the fun, then check out the rest of the submissions on The Daily Post.