This past weekend, being a four day weekend, I had the opportunity to take advantage of some of the activities the office of student services sets up for the student body every semester. The office plans numerous group activities throughout the semester, most of which I knew before coming to Japan that I wanted to experience regardless, but they often are given cheaper group rates for the activities than I would expect to pay if doing the activity on my own. A lot of tourist-y things are pretty expensive in Japan, so having the privilege to still be able to some of them at a lower expense is really nice.
Anywho. I began my weekend by attending a sumo tournament. I showed up in time to watch the entire final tournament, which is more or less the most significant part of the day-long event. I was first impressed with the amount of people who attended the event, and the arena was significantly bigger than I imagined. A lot of the fans were also really into the competition; frequently people would shout things at the wrestlers, some times in really absurd ways, but it was interesting to see how some people really followed the sport. For some reason that I don’t understand, I didn’t think that people might actually do that despite sumo often being on television.
The actual wrestling that takes place is very short lived. Each match between wrestlers didn’t last longer than maybe 10 seconds, sometimes much shorter. Before the wrestlers began they went through a series of traditional and repetitive actions, such as throwing salt and stomping the ground, which I learned has to deal with purification and awakening the gods for support. Much of the event was really ritualistic and it was interesting to see how even today the traditions of the sport have not been lost over time.
After sumo I had a few free hours before beginning a five-hour trip to Nagano, where I spent my time skiing for the next two days. Before the trip I hadn’t skied in about seven years, and to be completely truthful I’m not a huge fan of skiing (or the cold, or the snow), but for the sake of what could be a rare lifetime opportunity I signed up for the trip. Besides, I knew that between my fits of whining about snow going up my sleeves or down my collar I would secretly be having fun anyway.
The lodge where we stayed is located within walking distance from the numerous slopes that make up the entire resort, which was really convenient considering how walking in ski boots for too long can become a pretty painstaking chore. The first day it snowed, and it snowed, and it didn’t stop snowing. Though it was beautiful and somewhat enchanting, it made it pretty difficult to see where you were going and there wasn’t much of a view from the top of the slopes.
The second day the snow let up and the landscapes that became visible were absolutely stunning. I found myself trying to stand still on skis on the middle of a slope to snap a picture more than was probably convenient for the people attempting to ski around me. I think the pictures speak for themselves in that it was worth it. On each of the days I went skiing I probably spent an equal amount of time sleeping; I found skiing to be much more exhausting than I remember it being some seven years ago. Despite being in Japan, the experience was not as different from what I remember as I thought it may have been. If anything, it was kind of comforting, as skiing is a pretty popular activity where I’m from in the Poconos, and even though I was asked a few times where I was from, I didn’t really feel like a foreigner.