Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Tokyo's Grand Sumo Tournaments

There are six grand sumo tournaments in Japan every year, and Tokyo hosts three of them. This year I got tickets for John's birthday, Raku got her husband tickets for Christmas, and we all went last Saturday.

John and I weren't sure if would actually be fun. I've never even watched sumo on TV before, and I had read there is lot of ceremony compared to the amount of time actually spent fighting, but we both had a great time. Tickets let you in for the whole day, and the matches get progressively better throughout the afternoon. We decided to arrive at 2:00pm, which would give us four hours. I wondered if that would be too long, but I could have easy watched more.

If you're thinking about attending a sumo tournament, after selecting a date you'll need to decide what type of seat you want. Ringside seats are the most expensive and hardest to get. You would be right up in the action, but there's also the risk that a sumo wrestler might go flying straight at you. We saw people forced to scramble out of the way several times. Behind the ringside seats are the box seats. Boxes can accommodate up to four people, and you must purchase the entire box. We were tempted by how close they were, but these seats are just tatami mats with small cushions. You'll essentially be sitting cross-legged on the floor for hours with no back support. Additionally, the space looks very cramped for four western sized people. We opted for the western style seats, which are on the second level. Although we were further away from the action, we were very comfortable, and the view wasn't bad from above at all. I would definitely recommend the western seats, but try to sit as close to the front as possible.

Tickets sell out quickly, so it's important to buy them early. Raku and I planned which we wanted in advance, and then bought them as soon as they went on sale. We used this website, which accepts US credit cards, and were very satisfied with it. They assign you the best available seats within the section you select, so be sure to look at a stadium map (available here) ahead of time. Because you don't select your specific seats it's important to purchase all your tickets together if you're going with a group. Our purchase went through eight minutes after sales went live and we got seats in the second row. If you use this website you'll receive a confirmation email that tells you which seats you've been assigned and allows you to pick up your tickets from a machine at the stadium on the day of. Both the website and the machines can be used in English.

Inside the stadium food and drinks are sold at fairly reasonable prices. They even have girls selling beer our of kegs on their backs like at baseball games. A draft beer from a girl cost 600 yen, you could get them for 500 yen if you waited in line at a counter yourself, or 380 yen for a can. Even better, you're allowed to bring in any food or drinks (including alcohol) that you want.

For a fee of 100 yen as well as a refundable 2000 yen deposit you can rent an fm headset that will have an English broadcast from 4:00 to 6:00. (You could also bring your own if you have a portable fm radio and headphones) We all rented them, but ultimately found them distracting. The hosts were a little too chatty and offered more information about the officials than the actual wrestlers.

But what about the actual matches?  They were really fun to watch. Each match is incredibly short lasting as little as a few seconds up to about a minute. Before the match starts wrestlers will stretch and show off, throw salt into the ring to purify it, and generally try to intimidate their opponents. As the matches get more competitive wrestlers will go to greater and greater lengths to psych their opponents out, lining up in the ring but then stepping back to stretch and throw more salt more than once. As this happens the energy in the crowd builds with people cheering for their favorite wrestlers. We found ourselves swept up in the fun, clapping cheering, and gasping along with the crowd.

At 2:00 the seats were only half full, but by 4:00 is was packed!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Going to the Doctor in Tokyo

Confession. I'm scared of the doctor. The idea of seeing a doctor here in Japan scares me even more. I've been really lucky to be so healthy while we've been living here, but today I finally had to go to see one.

I was worried about being able to communicate, which seems important in a medical situation, especially being allergic to some antibiotics. I wanted to be able to see an English speaking doctor, but I also wanted to be able to use my national health insurance. A lot of the fancier English clinics only take private insurance.

Tokyo Midtown Medical Center has English speaking doctors, takes walk-ins, accepts national insurance, and is affiliated with Johns Hopkins. Exactly what I was looking for! The clinic is on the 6th floor of Midtown Tower in Roppongi. It's clean, friendly, and professional, and I was very happy with their service. The receptionists, doctors, and even the pharmacists on the same floor all speak English. Within an hour I was able to complete the paperwork, see a doctor, and fill my prescription. I'm still in shock over how affordable it was too. With the national insurance the doctor visit cost 1370 yen and the antibiotic was 770 yen. That's a total of $18.44 at today's exchange rate. 

I still hope I don't need to go to the doctor again any time soon, but I feel so much better just knowing that this clinic exists. If you're looking for English speaking doctors in Tokyo that accept national insurance I highly recommend Tokyo Midtown Medical Center.

Tokyo Midtown Medical Center
Hours: M-F 9:00-7:00, Sat 9:00-12:00, closed Sundays and holidays, Walk-ins Welcome
Phone: 03-5413-7911
Address: 9-7-1, 6F Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Crisp Salad Works in Azabu Juban

I have a new favorite salad place - and those are hard to come by in Tokyo! While I was away over Christmas I learned that Happy Salad, our old salad place had closed, so I was delighted to learn another salad restaurant not too far from us opened the same month.

John and I went this past weekend, and I have to say that Crisp Salad Works is better in every way! You can pick from a selection of recommended salads, or build your own. The ingredients are all very fresh and chopped up right in front of you. They also state that their dressings are all gluten free, which is great if you have a restricted diet. The prices were very reasonable, and the whole staff spoke English. They even ask if you want your salad to be dressed lightly, medium, or heavily.

The best part is that unlike Happy Salad there are lots of inviting tables to sit at inside, so it's not a take out only place! I thought the decor was very attractive. It felt spacious and relaxing, and I definitely want to go back. I ordered the caesar salad and John got the hipster, both of which were very yummy, though John wished his salad had more cheese on it.

My only complaint is that they serve the salads with spoons! If you ask they have forks behind the counter, though they say they advise eating it with a spoon. I don't know why, but that totally drives me crazy. But I would still go back.

If you're looking for a healthy and delicious meal I definitely recommend the place!

Crisp Salad Works
Hours: 11:00-10:00 Mon-Sun (Closed 3rd Monday of each month)
Phone: 03-6435-4386
Address: 1-10-10 Mita, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Home in Tokyo

I've been back in Tokyo for nearly a week now, and being back feels the same mixture of strange and normal and strange-that-it-feels-normal that being back in North Carolina did. I'm absolutely thrilled to be back in my apartment. We stayed with a lot of generous and wonderful friends and family, but living out of a suitcase and a toiletry bag for a month can get tiring. And it feels good to be back to walking around more. I didn't realize how much I enjoy all the walking I do everyday. It's been amazing to be reunited with Raku, texting just wasn't the same. But I miss my family and the sense of comfort that came from being in a familiar place.

Now that I'm back I want to jump right back into being home, getting into my writing, blogging, and exercising routine. And I also want to take advantage of the opportunities I have here. For John's birthday I gave him tickets to a Sumo Tournament next weekend, so that should be a good start.

But before I sink back into Tokyo life entirely here are my final thoughts and observations about things that have changed in the US since I left.

  • It seems like everyone I know is using snapchat. I still don't really understand why it's better than just texting pictures?
  • Beards have become really common on guys in their twenties and thirties. Weird.
  • Bourbon is so trendy!
  • Microbrews have just continued to explode. I honestly can't understand how the market isn't over saturated already.
  • Apparently "bae" has become so overused of a word that it has/needs to die. I never even knew it was a word (other than in rap music back when I was in college).
  • Central air, which I have complained about missing for two years straight was amazing. But I felt guilty for using it! Why heat a whole house when I'm just in one little spot? Maybe the grass will always be greener on the other side.
  • Sriracha is everywhere. When I left is was getting some attention, but now every restaurant has a sriracha salad dressing, sriracha mayo is available at Subway, and Pizza Hut is even brushing it on pizza crusts.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year!

I can't believe the last year has come and gone so quickly!

John and I are still in North Carolina, so we haven't rung in the new year just yet, though Tokyo already did a couple hours ago. Being here has made me realize how much I've learned and continued to adapt to our life in Japan over the past year, and I hope that continues in the next year.

My New Year's resolution for this year is to be a little more relaxed and to go with the flow, embracing all the opportunities I have. With life being a little more complicated in Japan I've gotten in the habit of over-planning, over-researching, and thinking everything through before I do it. A lot of times that's necessary living in a foreign country and not speaking the language. But I realize that sometimes I take it too far, spending more time planning for things than I do enjoying them.

For the next year I want to find all the joy I can in our crazy adventure of a life, and I hope that all of you find joy in your lives too!