Saturday, February 13, 2010

Grand Sumo Tournament - Tokyo

On February 5th Sumo's Grand Champion Asashoryu resigned following a long line of sumo code transgressions culminating in a drunken assault outside a nightclub. (please stop for a minute and imagine defending yourself against a drunk sumo).

On Feb 7, 2010 there was a one day knock out sumo tournament held in Tokyo. After years of failing to make it to Sumo (including one set of unused tickets) we finally made arrangements to go. It was a fantastic event. We had high hopes and it was even better than expected.

We arrived at about 1:30 not long before the main event was to start. There were some lesser bouts and demonstrations before that. We saw some tiny kids from Tokyo International School fighting with sumos. Then there was a parade of the competitors. Then the knockout event started.

There were lots of great bouts. The we've always rather liked the Bulgarian sumo Kotooshu (yes, there are lots of foreign sumos). He made it to the final round. But our new favourite is Takamisakari from Aomori. He really wound the crowd up with lots of aggressive posturing before each fight. When he lost there were cushions thrown all over the place. The final winner was Goeido who knocked out the Mongolian favourite in the semifinal.

The Winner Receives his Ticket

We were seated in the outer ring in the downstairs section. Great seats I think. We paid about 6000 yen each in blocks of 4. They were more like 10,000 yen each, but we got a discount through our company. Imagine the size of cushions in a Japanese restaurant and then image a small section with 4 of those together for 4 people. It was a tight fit. Go with people you don't mind being jammed together with and/or get more than 1 seat each. On the other hand we weren't uncomfortable with 4 in our box.

Since it was our first time at sumo so I can't say how it compared with other sumo tournaments. My impression was that since this was not part of the regular tournament schedule the competitors were more relaxed and we saw some horsing around by the sumos that I don't normally see on TV.

There was one foreign guy with his girlfriend (Japanese, I guess) who were dressed in yokata. They looked really cool. That might be fun for next time.

Friday, February 12, 2010

St. Michael's Church - Nasu, Tochigi. Class Act or Kitch Wonderland?

Map Location

We've driven past St. Michael's many times. Its a rather kitch looking castle that fits into its Nasu Tokyo visitors paradise environment. We've never been tempted to go in. After 2 very positive visits it seems we have to admit we were mistaken.

Coffee Shop
We stopped in hoping to have our lunch there. We know their sister restaurant in Nasu Garden Outlet to have rather good Italian food. We were too late for lunch but had very good desserts and ok coffee there for not much more than 1000 yen a head. The service was great.

So we decided to have a meal there. Warning: Its not as cheap as the places we normally write about. When we went they had set menus for 6000 and 9000 a head and an a la carte menu. We all ordered the 6000 yen set menu. It was excellent quality with interesting dishes and diverse tastes, well worth the money. The restaurant was beautiful and the service very attentive. We felt very out of place in our Nasu hiking gear. We're going to need to go back for good photos. Next time we have a plan to stay up in Nasu and go there. The food would definitely pair well with a good wine.

Event Venue
I still think the chapel is a bit kitch. The main building is pretty nice and the dinning hall is great!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Okushiobara Kogen Hotel - Okushiobara, Tochigi

Map Location

We are very excited about this ryokan. We just popped in for a day onsen. We'll be back to stay the night some time pretty soon. This is a beautiful area in winter.

They have some little private onsen rooms. We booked one for 2500 yen for 40 minutes. We already knew the water was very good in this area (some of the best in Nasushiobara area). They have 3 private rooms that all look to be different in style. There are also larger baths that we did not visit for (I think) 800 yen a visit (separate men's and women's).

The guy at the front desk spoke pretty good English.

The winter rate for a ryokan stay is a bit over 10,000 yen per person for 2. It includes a Hunter Mountain ski pass.

More photos

Cassi Onsen - Tochigi

Map Location

We went to Cassi onsen in the middle of winter. It was a nice winter retreat. We came from Nasu along route 290 and were very, very glad of 4 wheel drive and snow tires. I think overall its much smarter to drive in via route 289 in winter.

We stayed at Gohoushou. Its a good, though not remarkable onsen.

Food was good.

Onsen was better than good and beautifully lit at night.

More Photos

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Shionoyu Onson - Shiobara, Tochigi

Map Location

We drove through here ages back while exploring. Onsen areas often look a bit run down, but this place really has a gone bust look to it. There are a few broken down onsens there slowly going to seed. We never thought to go there.

Anyway, by chance we ended up spending a midweek night at Myougaya Honkan (the remaining ryokan). Wow! What a great place. I don't think we really got the photos to do it justice.

There are two distinct parts to Myougaya Honkan. The main building is a modern building and unremarkable. Our rooms were here and they were also pretty standard ryokan/hotel rooms. Normal tatami rooms with futon beds. The view from the rooms down onto the river was very good though.

The rest of the complex is old wooden buildings. The dining area is here. Also there is a covered stairway down to the onsen area.

The food was first rate. Fairly simple kaiseki. The best were the beef cooked on a hotplate and some sashimi (aiyu I think).

The highlight was the riverside onsen. There are men's and women's indoor hot tubs. When we were there the outdoor onsen was mixed in the evening and women only in the morning (6AM - 8AM). There are different pools of different temperature. You are right by the river and can dip your feet in it if you like.

Midweek, peak season (they told us its more expensive when we went in November) it cost 9000 yen each for 4 to a room (I think 2 to a room is 11k each).

More Pictures

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Fish by the River, Otawara, Tochigi

You see these places by the river all over Japan. Little hole in the wall open restaurants.

There is one in Otawara: Map Location

The first time we went here was in mid summer. Here's how it works. You go up to a window and there is a Japanese menu on the wall. For us with our basic Kanji reading and good Kana it was the most impenetrable menu ever. But we finally managed to place an order. You have to know what area you are sitting in and tell the lady your table number when ordering. (hint, local river fish are called Aiyu. You want to eat them!)

There are some guys with a charcoal pit cooking fish on sticks and thats what we ordered. It was very good. We understood from them that we should come back in September when they will be catching fish in the river and cooking them right there.

This we did, and on that trip they had set up a giant fish trap on the river. The fish was fantastic. It cost 2000-3000 yen a head for a hole in the wall restaurant. But its worth it.

Its also possible to get your own charcoal pit with seating area around it. For a group that would be fantastic.

Yumoto, Tochigi

Map Location

If you've been to Tochigi there is a good chance you've been to Nikko. You might not have been the lakes up above Nikko though. They are well worth a visit. First up is a quite large lake called Chuzenji. We'll blog about that some time. Its quite a nice place. But even further up in Okunikko (deep Nikko) there are some very nice areas. Today we'll write about Yumoto.

View from the lake walk

Yumoto is a small town by a lake. Its quiet and picturesque. There is some nice walking nearby too. Its a nice place for a slow paced weekend getaway. Its also has a small ski field. We've never been there is winter.

Yumoto Town

There is a nice walk around the lake. It takes about an hour. There is a waterfall at one end and you can also go down to the bottom of that.

Also a bit further south is the Okunikko park. There is lots of good walking in there. Its a kind of wetland that looks a bit look Oze.

We stayed at Itaya hotel. We had a traditional Japanese room with a nice meal for 16,000 yen a night per head. It was nice, but next time I think we'll try a different place.

Onsen at the Itaya