Konichiwa (こんにちは), Let’s See & Eat Japan. (Pt.7)
It’s a long way to the top, if you wanna eat it all.
Day 7, Tokyo: Meiji Shrine (明治神宮) in Shibuya, 2015 May Sumo Tournament at the Ryōgoku Kokugikan (両国国技館) & Tokyo Sky Tree.
BACKGROUND: Having been a complete coincidence, I had found out after Googling, ‘Things to do in Japan in May’ that our trip would fall within the peak Sumo Tournament season. Before getting to Japan, I made sure I booked tickets online to ensure my friend and I secured our seats. These tournaments have been known to sell out well in advance. So, it was only right to dedicate this day to those courageous men, clad in brightly coloured Keshō-Mawashi with hair slicked back in a neat, uniform bun.
DESTINATION: A visit to the famous Shinto Meiji Shrine in Shibuya. The Sumo tournament wasn’t set to start until 3pm, so we decided to take advantage of the early morning and take a look at Tokyo’s most famous Shinto shrine. Unlike other shrines within densely populated areas, the Meiji Shrine is surrounded by lush and serene greenery as well as impressive wooden structures and gardens. It is just a 1 minute walk away from Meiji-Jingumae ‘Harajuku’ station and also happens to be adjacent to the very famous, Yoyogi Park.
You walk through a wide gravel road completely enclosed by large trees and then approach a massive, man-made wooden Torii gate:
This trip really was a string of fortunate events/accidents. Call it serendipity if you want, but there were quite a few events and occurrences that happened which we weren’t aware of when planning this adventure.
Given the type of venue that it is, we were lucky to catch a wedding procession/photoshoot happening at the shrine. If you hadn’t noticed, the image at the start of this post shows the wedding in action, just as the images below:
MEAL: Sneaky Matcha Ice Cream cone at Meiji Jingu Bunkakan (杜のテラス). Of course we couldn’t visit a shrine and not find something to gnaw on. We sound like we deliberately hunted for a snack, but it was quite the opposite. When exiting the shrine, you actually pass a cafe on the way out (should you follow the signs and directions around the area). We spotted a little match ice cream picture with ‘¥350' plastered at the bottom of it. By this stage it was around 10:30–11am and we figured, “Why the heck not?” It wasn’t too sweet but wasn’t intense either. With all the matcha offerings we had and were about to have during this trip, this would be considered ‘average’. Nothing too special, but it was there and it served its purpose.
Rating: 5/5. This was a perfect start to the day. As soon as you enter into the Meiji Shrine precinct, you immediately escape from all the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. You then find yourself in a peaceful, untouched area of tranquility and peace.
DESTINATION: Ryogoku, Sumida, Tokyo. As we had yet to activate our 2 week JR Rail pass, we relied on the Tokyo Metro network. Coming from Meiji-Jingumae station, we needed to hop onto the Fukutoshin Line, and then change at Higashi-Shinjuku to get onto the Oedo Line. The Oedo Line would take us straight to Ryogoku Station. This train trip is approximately 30 minutes all up.
MEAL: Steak + Hamburger Steak Lunch at Steak Kuni, Ryogoku, Sumida. By the time we arrived in Ryogoku, we immediately walked towards the Kokugikan (Sumo Hall) to check out the venue and the external decorations. But first, as always, sustenance is required! Literally just across the road from the Kokugikan was a restaurant covered in posters of steak.
On offer for lunch are some lunch combo sets. We both order a cut steak + hamburger set which totals to approximately ¥1,800-2,300 each.
The meat is served on a sizzling plate with rice, some corn, carrots and potato, as well as a signature Terriyaki-style dipping sauce. While not the best cut of meat for the steak, both the hamburger and the steak were seasoned well and were cooked to medium rare- my favourite!
What was even better than the food was the fact that there were fellow sumo wrestlers dining at the same place. Whether they may or may not have been eating to ‘bulk up’ for an impending fight/training, it was awesome to be dining among them!
Rating: 3.5/5. A tasty and convenient steakhouse. Their steak and hamburger offerings kind of remind me of ‘Pepper Lunch’ which is a Japanese-style rice+meat restaurant fast food chain available back home. Upon further inspection, it looks like Steak Kuni is a part of the same group which also owns Pepper Lunch! There are probably better places out there if you are craving steak options, but if you need something quick and relatively flavoursome, Steak Kuni is a good choice.
DESTINATION: May Sumo Wrestling Tournament at Ryogoku Kokugikan, Ryogoku, Sumida, Tokyo.
It was finally time to watch the beginning of the tournament. Entering into the building, there are friendly ushers available at every door. There are 4 main entries; North, South, East and West. Your ticket should contain which section you’re in as well as well as your seats.
This was our view:
This photo just doesn’t do it justice. To some, this view may seem like we got the ‘nosebleed’ seats, but they weren’t actually that bad. In fact, where we were seated gave us a great view of the entire stage as well as the procession of wrestlers and the crowd. On this day, there happened to be a group of school kids who appeared to be on an excursion to the Kokugikan. They were ferociously chanting just like the rest of the crowd and had even brought along some massive posters of their favourite wrestlers. Fantastic!
Matches typically last 30 seconds to a minute, but there are plenty of traditional etiquette and processes that occur before, during and after each match. We decided to stick around until the final bout so we could see the top-ranked wrestlers battle it out. Throughout the rounds we soon realised that the sumo wrestlers weren’t limited to being Japanese despite being a Japanese tournament. There were opponents from Australia as well America participating!
Rating: 4.5/5. The traditional rituals and processes may become a bit boring for some, but the entire experience overall was nothing that you’ve ever seen before. It is still very much a thriving and exciting sport which has maintained much of its tradition and customs despite the rise of the digital age.
DESTINATION: Dinner at Tokyo Skytree. Having been completed in 2012, Tokyo Skytree has quickly become one of the major tourist attractions in Tokyo. Technically classified as the largest ‘tower’ in the world, the building itself has its own metro station and serves as a major broadcasting/communications tower. If you do go, be sure to check out their lighting schedule so you can see the tower in different colours!
Once inside, there are copious amounts of white lighting used around the area- giving you a feel as if you’re in a Japanese commercial endorsing all the products inside. It’s quite spectacular! The food court contains attractive glass displays of freshly made products ranging from traditional sushi + sashimi, katsu sandwiches, as well as portable desserts such as tarts, eclairs, taiyaki etc.
Since we arrived quite late, close to 9:30pm, most of the food vendors were closed. What we were able to purchase were a couple of small sushi bento boxes which were on special due to closing as well as a pre-packed Pork Katsu sandwich. Both of these items were nice, but nothing to rave about.
DESTINATION: Dessert from Max Brenner Chocolate Bar at Tokyo Skytree. Max Brenner is known around the world for its premium and delectable chocolate offerings. Back home, one of their biggest sellers are the belgian waffles drizzled with the chocolate of your choice and served with bananas/strawberries. Why do I know so much about these guys? It’s because my fellow travelling partner worked for them!
So…to do a little investigating, we decided to check out what the Japanese Max Brenner had to offer. And I’m so glad that we did. Not only did they carry their best sellers, but they also offered some specific Japanese-type desserts! In the name of the Matcha gods, my friend and I purchased the following:
Yes, we would be bleeding out Matcha tonight.
Rating: 4/5.It could have been all the novelty of eating pasta which was classified as a dessert and not a savoury dish, but we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly! I don’t even like white chocolate, but despite it being drizzled on the pasta, it tasted awesome and threw our heads into a spin.