On Thursday, July 6, 2017, I turned 28 years old. It’s finally hitting me that I’ll turn 30 one day and that was always going to be the day I was old and had my shit together. That’s obviously not going to be true in either respect. I called my mom first thing in the morning so that she could wish me happy birthday and she complained that it wasn’t my birthday there and so technically I hadn’t been born yet and so I wasn’t really 28. So I decided to celebrate for 36 hours, which was the best choice ever.
For my birthday here I made yeasted waffles, which were delicious (although more annoying than usual because it turns out that my circuit breaker can’t boil water, cook waffles, and melt butter in the toaster oven all at the same time. Needless to say, I flipped a switch, didn’t notice, and couldn’t figure out why my waffle was still batter. It worked out in the end). I spoke to my dear friend Meg and her sweet baby and my mama (she told me it wasn’t my birthday yet and I had to keep celebrating until it was for her too). I tried calling my dad but missed him (he made a valiant effort to connect with me later but I was off having adventures). Soon it was time to head into Nagoya to have lunch with girlfriends.
We met at an Indian resturant and it was amazing. Jenny got me a birthday bow because she couldn’t find a tiara. The naan was huge and the food delicious!
I met my friend Torey’s two kids for the first time. They were awesome and did a great job contributing to the adult conversation and made me laugh! Val had just gotten back from Fuji so updated us on that trip, Danielle had returned from a long weekend in Taipei so we heard about that, and I continued to get to know my new friend Jenny! Jenny and I think we might be married to the same man. They have the same crazy rare sports car here in Japan (both which need repair work), they like hiking, there are always tools all over our house, and several other similarities. It’s been fun to get to know other women who are married to engineers. I really don’t think it is something you can understand until you’ve been here. Anyways, I digress.
After lunch Jenny and I continued on to an exhibit of work by Munakato Shiko, a famous wood block carver and screen painter. We couldn’t take photos, but this website has some up. Somehow google changed the name of the temple we were trying to go to, so we went to the wrong place, and ended up at Hongan-ji Betsuin. We poked around and there was a small sculpture exhibit outside the prayer hall. Inside the hall there was a lecture going on, so we didn’t want to disturb them too much and go inside (although the shrine was gorgeous!). There was one piece I really liked of a piece of drift wood that was curved like a leg and had been fitted with a tight leather boot that zipped up. It was really delightful. Eventually someone we asked was able to tell us we were in the wrong place and directed us to Higashibetsuin Hall, where the exhibit was actually held. Of course we went into the temple and couldn’t find it (although the temple was pretty). It was in an accessory building outside the temple complex…. So Jenny became well acquainted with my habit of getting lost. We finally reached the exhibit and I really enjoyed it although it wasn’t at all what I expected. The screens almost looked modern, not at all what I would have expected from the 1940s. His art blocks of bodhisattvas were stunning. I was so impressed by the ability to express motion through an art form which is so permanent and unforgiving. The way he did hands and feet was wonderful.
Then I demonstrated my skill in getting lost again by managing to find the dead end of the circular loop line. I have talent. We eventually got home. I went to the store, found a lovely cake that is supposed to be for Tanabata (a holiday that has to do with constellations representing lovers that are forbidden to meet except for once a year), and had a wonderful steak dinner with Brian.
Which leads to the next 12 hours of my birthday, celebrated on July 7th. I met up with several friends from CCEA, the exchange group I belong to here. We met at the station and walked to Sooji Temple. There we were treated to a real treat, Sumo Practice! Hakkaku-beya is run by the current president of the sumo association. That means that they have an excellent location!
A little bit of background, made with my limited understanding and research. Sumo wrestlers live and train in groups, called a heya in Japanese and a stable in English. They are based in Tokyo but during the grand tournament they move around the country, also to Nagoya, Osaka, and Fukuoka. In each location they have apartment blocks they live in with a training ring outside. They move in about two weeks before the actual competition (which lasts 2 weeks) and have practices in the morning that are open to the public.
It took forever for them to set up each time. One would squat down, the other would start to and then walk away. Sometimes they would throw some salt into the ring. Then they would squat again, decide they weren’t ready, and get up again.
They occasionally helped each other retie their loin cloths.
We watched them spar with each other for about two hours. They practiced holds, and pushed each other across the ring to strength train. We were in the front row and they occasionally built up momentum and teetered right in front of us. It was a little scary! They are LARGE men!
Then they stretched. I was so impressed by how flexible they are! Those are the center splits!
After the practice was over the sumo took photos with us! They were really nice. It turns out that they are supposed to embody the virtues of Japan: strength, dignity, honor, and discipline. They practice two hours a morning, eat a big hearty stew, and drink all the beer they can. When there aren’t competitions, they do charity events and date famous women. Not too shabby of a life.
I didn’t get a photo of him, but the most important sumo wears a white belt. After practice, two guys helped him out of it in front of all of us! One held a towel in front of him for modesty while the other unwrapped it while he stood still. He then carted away this huge wad of sweaty crotch fabric. Gross. I would not want that to be my job! A little later we saw them spreading the fabric out to air out. It’s 3 meters long, so about 15 feet, by a little over 2 feet wide.
It was so much more athletic than I imagined. The younger guys hadn’t bulked up yet and you could see their muscles rippling. Many of them had their hands and feet taped. They were bruised and scrapped, which was no wonder after watching one of them lift the other by the belt and slam him to the floor.
We then went over to Nittaiji Temple, which was built around 1900 because the king of Thailand agreed to send a few of the remains of the Buddha. I believe it is the only place outside of Thailand known to have the actual remains. They’ve been historically dated and placed and everything. Crazy. Anyways, the temple is nice and has a thousand year old statue that the king also gave to them. The shrine that holds the remains is actually off site and they told us you can’t actually see it. It was a little bit of a let down. Still, it was nice to have the opportunity to talk to a monk.
After the temple we went to a garden/museum called Yokiso. It was the former estate of the founder of Matsukaya, which is an upscale market and department store. The garden was lovely and the house was stunning. It was very art deco.
It was such a delightful two days!