Having scaled Mt. Fuji yesterday, we’re pretty tired, so we decide to just hop on a train and see where it takes us. We end up going to Fukushima, north of Tokyo (Fukushima town that is, which is quite far from the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, which is on the coast, both are in Fukushima Prefecture though). We linger a bit on the platform to film the trains as the shoot past at some 250 km/h. The elderly station master sees what we’re doing and comes up and explains that in just a few minutes an experimental train will be passing at full speed. The test train doesn’t disappoint and we film it woooshing by in excess of 300 km/h, pretty cool!
At ground floor we encounter the largest tomatoes I’ve ever seen, much larger than my fist! Makes sense though, the region is well known for their nutritious soil and excellent produce. We each buy an delicious looking peach and head outside to eat it. It is easily the most tasty peach I’ve ever had and so incredibly juicy that a 3 dm wide puddle has formed in front of me as I ate it! Heading downtown we come across some sort of police ceremony, they seem to handing out honorary decorations, but what catches our eye is the hilarious design of the police cars, where you have a crest featuring a Power Ranger-esque silhouette. We should totally have that in Sweden!
The Fukushima city center is rather dull though and after a couple of hours we’ve walked around most of it. As we start looking for a place to have coffee though, we hit paydirt. The wonderful ‘Blue Beans Coffee’ café really cares about coffee, and watching the owner ceremoniously preparing our cups is entirely mesmerizing. I just love how seriously the Japanese take their handicraft! Afterwards we find a second hand store with lots of cool stuff where I buy a pair of the classical ‘ninja boots’ with a separated big toe for a measly 40 sek. We finish up by dining on tempura and soba at a place where the water interestingly enough tastes heavily of iodine…
The following morning we have tickets to the Sumo tournament in Nagoya, just a couple of hours away by Shinkansen. As we make our way through Nagoya station we suddenly spot a sign saying “SCMaglev”, intrigued we start investigating where it leads (since we’re all huge geeks, seeing an actual maglev train would be awesome!) and in the end figure out that it leads to some sort of exhibition hall where old and current trains are exhibited. After a short deliberation we decide we have few hours to spare before the highest division sumos go on so there’s plenty of time to go and see some trains.
Turns out that the exhibition is pretty far off out in the 10 km long Nagoya harbor, but now we’re committed and seeing the giant harbor is kind of cool too. The exhibition hall is really nice, but what strikes me is how old all the record trains are, most records were apparently set back in the 20th century! Most of the record breaking trains are here and you even get to walk through them.
The next hall is much bigger and features trains from every epoch in railway history. Here too you get to wander through them and along the walls are various information displays and models. One really cool one is demonstrating how they do on the fly rail replacement. There are also huge dioramas and a little movie theater that’s supposed to simulate what it’s like to ride on the fastest maglev trains. It’s super lame though and so is the train driving simulator next door. I’ll never go for a train conductor job, that’s for sure!
Time for Sumo! The seats we have are furthest up and in the cheapest category, but the view is still good and we arrive just as the second highest division is about to go on, perfect timing! It’s a very cool spectacle where you first get to see all the contestants parading around the ring and doing a ceremonial dance of sorts before the first bout starts. Sumo matches tend to be very short, rarely running over 30 seconds and most time is actually spent in the set up, where the wrestlers try and psyche each other by interrupting the set up to wipe their forehead or something similar. It doesn’t take long to pick up the rules, but it of course pays to have read up in advance. I find it really enjoyable at any rate.
When it’s finally time for the highest division you again get the parade of wrestlers, but not before a short commercial break! The commercial break is actually wonderfully done; a bunch of heralds enter the ring each carrying a old-timey banner with writing on them. I’m sure those are all names of sponsors, but to us who are unable to read them, it just looks like an entirely natural part of the competition. I wish all advertising was as organic a part of the setting as this! The highest division has a surprisingly high proportion of non-Japanese wrestlers, more than a fifth of them actually! But it makes sense I guess, the highest division wrestlers earn lots of money so that will of course draw the best from all over the world. There’s one guy in particular that really catches my eye as he amazingly enough weighs less than a 100 kg, this must be very hard when a lot of his opponents weigh over 150 kg! Disappointingly enough he loses his bout even though he throws his opponent very nicely. In Sumo, the only thing that counts is who goes into the floor first and since he is unable to turn enough to land on top he ends up losing.
The Hakuhō vs. Kisenosato is really something, reigning yokozuna Hakuhō puts on a real show by remaining ice cool while his opponent Kisenosato makes two false starts in a row. You hear the audience gasping theatrically at the second one when Hakuhō clearly marks his displeasure by walking up close to Kisenosato before returning to his mark. As the bout finally starts, Hakuhō nimbly sidesteps Kisenosato’s fierce rush and sends him sprawling flat on his stomach. Awesome win by the yokozuna!