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Sumo, Nara, and Indian food in Japan

In Puru Nima, an Indian restaurant in Shinsaibashi. Indian food is quite popular here - the restaurants are a savior for vegetarians (though I've resigned myself to missing the 100% vegan target, probably ingesting some ghee in something I order), and the menus all seem to have English.

Yesterday I daytripped out to Nara, one of my favorite places. Nara was the first "permanent" capital of Japan, though that lasted only a few decades (before that, it changed with each emperor). Paid my respects to the Daibutsu at Todaiji, the largest bronze Buddha statue in the world, housed in the largest wooden building.

Also visted Shin-Yakushiji, a temple dedicated to the Medicine Buddha and to the "Twelve Divine Generals", fierce spirits that drive disease out of the body. I visited both on my first trip over here, and really wanted to see Shin-Yakushiji again, a small temple but good energy (I felt blessed to see it right before starting my shiatsu training, a good omen). I bought a souvenir print of the Buddha and the 12 generals, which I think will go well on the wall of my treatment space (maybe I'll arrange a loan to The Well "from the collection of Tom Swiss"). I think I might return there to get some omiyage (souvenir gifts) for my shiatsu friends.

Nara has a certain feel to it that I like, a certain maturity, like it's had its day as top city and is satisfied to let others have their turn; not that it's done with its own good times but more that it doesn't feel a need to compete. Of course, this is a subjective subliminal impression unsupported by any actually facts.

The tame deer of Nara Park are cute. In ancient times they were apparently viewed as messengers of the gods, and so protected by past imperial decree and by present law. Visitors give them food handouts - and sometimes the deer get a little greedy. I had to rescue one poor young woman who got surrounded by deer who started nosing in her bike basket after a small bag of groceries.

Nara is also interesting to me because I visited on both my first and second trip to Japan, and on my second one had the interesting experience of recognizing a fairly nondescript streetcorner in a foreign country as a place I had been before.

Today - sumo! My friend Eric has become a fan during his years here, and the tournament is in Osaka this spring. It was the first time he's been to see it live, mine too of course.

Quite a sight. The bouts run all day, about 10:30 am to 6:00 pm, starting with the lower ranked rikishi (there's my new word for the day, rikishi are sumo wrestlers) and working up to the champions. These guys are tough. Not all of them have the build we stereotype, by any means - some of these guys were not much bigger than me. And since there are no weight classes in sumo, small guys might have to fight opponents twice their size. Didn't see any mismatches quite that extreme today, but I'd say there were some where one guy outweighed the other by 20% or 25% - like someone my size going up against somebody 200 pounds or more. (Which, actually, I have done in dojo sparring, but that's a different proposition that a grappling competition.)

The match occurs on a dohyo (ring, platform) that's about a meter off the ground . Sometimes rikishi are thrown off it. There's no padding; the dohyo is packed clay (assembled for the tournament, in a special Shinto ritual) and the floor below is wood. You win by pushing your opponent out of the ring, or by throwing him or breaking his balance so that some part of his body other than his feet touches the ground. Striking with an open hand is allowed, and it looked like some of these guys hit pretty damn hard.

This was the tenth day of a fifteen day tournament. Fighters in the top divisions have one match each day, and a toll of minor injuries was obvious from taped knees, elbows, and ankles.

We bought cheap seats, but the place was empty early on for the amateur bouts, so we moved down to great seats for those. I took many photos.

Bought a little stuffed rikishi toy to send home to Mom - thought it and some photos might go over good with the kids in her class.

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