Sumo Basho 2011

Akita Sumo Basho 2011

The 7th annual Akita International Sumo Basho took place on June 5th at the Akita Budokan in Akita City. Myself and Allie signed up for the laugh and had what turned out to be one of the best days of our year here in Japan.

The tournament is run by the AJET community in Akita Prefecture and invites all foreigners and Japanese people in Akita and surrounding prefectures to experience sumo following traditional rules and guidelines.

Nappy's on

A fantastic tournament that had us laughing and laughing and laughing.

A normal match goes like this, two names are called one from the West Wing and one from the East Wing, you step up to the ring, step over the line of salt, bow to each other, walk closer, squat down, have a stare off (or blow kisses like me and Allie), stand up, the referee orders you to take your positions, you squat again but this time place two fists behind your line on the ground, then sumooooooo. The idea is to either push/ lift/ shove your opponent out of the ring or if any part of their body (apart from their two feet) touches the ground you win. Grabbing of clothing/ hair is out of bounds and the girls decided on the day that the bone breaking kick to the knee should also be a no no no…along with the throat grab! The matches don’t last long at all, a minute or two, one mistake and you’re a gonzo.

Sumo pre-match squat

 

Sumo pre-match pose

Sumo

We arrived bright and early on Sunday morning, a little nervous to check out our competition but mostly excited for wearing the nappies, or in correct terms a ‘Mawashi’. We really only came for the nappies and also thought it was a fantastic opportunity to do something that we would never get to do anywhere else in the world…grab love handles, wedgy our opponents and slap our thighs!

Allie getting dressed into the Mawashi

 

So after four rounds of provisional heats I was undefeated and Allie had lost just one fight. We couldn’t stop looking at each other and roaring laughing. With absolutely no prior training (other than a few tips the morning of the tournament) we had no idea what we were doing, then again neither did the other girls but it still came as a huge surprise that we headed on to the semi finals. After a tie breaker and a semi for Allie and a semi final for me, we were destined to sumo each other in the final.

Allie winning another heat

Our job as finalists we were told is to ‘get the crowd going’ and to pump both ourselves and the crowd up. So here we are two best friends from Aomori in a foreign prefecture (Akita) told to rev up a crowd of complete strangers. This was too funny for us to handle.

Being a finalist means that the lead up to the match is a little different. After the step over the salt and bowing, you squat and do a kind of arm dance, then a long long stare off (which was almost impossible for us through our laughter) then you have to back out of the ring and shout at the crowd and do weird stuff like slap yourself. This was actually great fun but we went a little crazy and when we walked back into the ring to sumo I was totally out of breath.

Aomori-shi Represent at the sumo final 2011

I tossed Allie (sorry AL) outa the ring and took the Gold trophy, while she settled for a proud silver.

Aomori take gold and silver at Sumo Basho 2011

Delighted with ourselves we headed back up North giggling obnoxiously…very unaware of the week long muscle aches that followed.

Well worth it though, what a memory!

For more photos you can check my Facebook album throug http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150195418876426.315739.504801425&l=41aff447b9  even if you don’t have facebook you can still look! 

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Osorezan, The Gate Way to Hell

Lake at Osorezan

Mount Osore (恐山, Osorezan) is a region in the center of the remote Shimokita Peninsula of Aomori Prefecture, Japan.

I heard about Osorezan on my first few days here in Aomori. Some people say it is a must on the ‘Aomori to do’ list. It’s bizare location meant it took me 9 months to eventually visit or maybe it was a little bit of the fact that its known as ‘The Gate Way to Hell’… but it was worth the wait (and ignoring the name) , this place is incredibly beautiful and mysteriously creepy all at the same time.

Osorezan

Osorezan, Vocanic Sulphurous Landscape

Wikipedia says…’According to popular mythology, Mount Osore (literally “Mount Fear”) marks the entrance to Hell, with a small brook running to the neighboring Lake Usorisan that is equated to the Sanzu River, the Japanese equivalent to Styx. The reputation is not surprising, given that the very volcanically-active site is a charred landscape of blasted rock filled with bubbling pits of unearthly hues and noxious fumes.’

Osorezan

It  sounds first off pretty horrible when you read the above, the Japanese equivalent to the Styx especially is not an attractive thought. But this place is really not so horrible and haunted at all. It’s smells pretty strong from the sulphur but your nose adjusts surprisingly quickly and I found myself not even noticing it after the initial blast. The sound of the sulphur bubbling in some open earth pits is freaky alright but quite exciting too and the steam that billows from the cracks in the earth intensifies these feelings of fear matched with excitement. The stream and lake seem like normal, sitting perfectly still between the surrounding mountain hills, but then you see areas of blubbling water, yellow sulphur deposits at the edges and then of course the strong eggy smell hits you with a force. Either way these bubbles and stuff cannot take away from the natural beauty of this perfect lake.

Bubbling Lake at Osorezan

Lake at Osorezan

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Sulphur Lake at Osorezan

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Osorezan- Pinwheel for a Child

The peaceful silence of this place is captivating.

The landscape is charred and chipped yes but has a back drop of lush green which gives it a nice balance of good and evil. The ground below you may contain the devils brew but up above it is comfortably warm and cozy, it was just like walking around on under floor heating.

Osorezan Temple

Hear no Evil, Speak no Evil, See no Evil

Osorezan

There is in fact an onsen (natural bathing house) on site but I could not bring myself to climb into the yellow steaming pit after hearing the boiling noises only meters away and there was also the fact that the image of the bodies in the ‘Dantes Peak’ film kept flashing in my mind.

Onsen at Osorezan

Sulphur Stream at Osorezan

Would it be weird if I said this was one of my top favorite places in Japan? It is more beautiful than any other place I’ve been and although it smells bad and the name describes it as something very much un-desirable I would wonder if this is hell, what is heaven’s equivalent?

Osorezan

Osorezan

Osorezan

Mini Buddhas at Osorezan

Jaqueline, Allie, Josie and I at Osorezan

Sulphur Lake at Osorezan

Offerings at Osorezan (Gate Way to Hell)

 

 

 

 

Osorezan

Shiriyazaki, Aomori

Shiriyazaki Lighthouse, Aomori

The last weekend of May on our weekend trip to Shimokita we had two goals, these hairy horses and the lighthouse was our first. “Shiriyazaki Lighthouse” (尻屋埼灯台, Shiriyazaki tōdai) is a lighthouse located on the outermost extremity of Cape Shiriyazaki, the northeastern-most point of Honshu, in Higashidōri, Aomori Prefecture, Japan.

Shiriyazaki Lighthouse, Aomori

Shiriyazaki Lighthouse, Aomori

Shiriyazaki, Aomori

Shiriyazaki Lighthouse, Aomori

The lighthouse is surrounded by free-roaming wild horses that are very tame and friendly. The area is famous for these lovely animals which are also known as “Kandachi-me” which literally means “horses standing in the cold wind.”

Shiriyazaki Wild Horses

We arrived late morning to find most of them flaked out on the damp grass snoozing. These wonderful animals stay outdoors all through the year, battling the most extremes of weather from the freezing snow blizzards and tons and tons of fallen snow all winter long to scorching hot humid summers. They seemed to be at perfect peace during this spring Saturday, happy as Larry with the luke warm damp day. They are fairly hairy and have huge bellies, no doubt the bellies are in preparation for a sudden change in weather which can be expected at any time. These horses are true survivors, not even a slight chip on their shoulder from the miseries they battle, no obviously cranky ones at all, the gentlest of creatures. Among the huge bellied creatures were brand new baby foals, I couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for them born into a family of the most enduring of creatures. They will soon be big and hairy though and I hope it won’t be as miserable for them as I imagine. Gambatte (GOOD LUCK)

Shiriyazaki Wild Horses

Shiriyazaki Wild Horses

Shiriyazaki Wild Horses

Shiriyazaki Wild Horses

Shiriyazaki Wild Horses

Shiriyazaki Wild Horses

We drove through hours and hours of green, the GREENEST of GREEN. The mountains are carpeted in a think fluffy layer of forest that had us drooling with greenness.

Shiriyazaki GREEN

Hidden inside the carpet are many wonderful creatures, unfortunately we never made it to the area famous for monkeys but we spotted a ‘Marten’ (we think) and a ‘Kamoshika’ which are like mad hairy goat animals that stand and stare a lot. Click here for Wikipedia. They are timid animals but they wait a while to check you out before doing the skidaddle. We managed to catch him for a quick photo shoot but then Allie got a little ambitious and stomped too loud and he scampered. This cute fella was missing a horn.

Kamoshika

 
 
 

Josie and the Kamoshika

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Unfortunately just us, no kamoshika!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Yokohama, Aomori

Rape Seed Blossom at Yokohama

Yokohama Rape Blossom…yes unfortunately that is what they call it, ‘Rape Blossom’. Pretty unfortunate name alright but it is pretty damn beautiful so you forget about the dreadful translation quickly. It is in fact ‘Rape Seed Blossom’ that they produce rape seed oil from, but that’s not what they call it. I’m not sure why they dropped the vital ‘seed’ in the name but sure that’s how it goes.

Rape Seed Blossom at Yokohama

Yokohama town is about half way up the west side of the Shimokita peninsula which is East Aomori. On a weekend road trip to Shimokita we passed through Yokohama on the return leg to stop and view the Rape Blossom. The country-side for the majority of the journey is rolling green hills, mountains and fields and then without any gradual notice or warning there is an almighty burst of yellow, the brightest and most amazing of yellows. It was rainy and grey when we hit this booming yellow, at first we were disappointed it wasn’t lovely and sunny for us to frolic among these sweet smelling lovely’s but I think it worked to our advantage (they do in fact smell fantastic) .The yellow was even more beautiful with the grey clouds and misty atmosphere, it stood out like a beacon of hope. Fields and fields of yellow could be seen in strips beaming out among misty grey green clouds and fields. Yellow is such an understated color, so powerful.

Rape Seed Blossom at Yokohama

Rape Seed Blossom at Yokohama

Rice Paddy Field Yokohama

Yokohama has fantastic ‘Rape (seed) Blossom’ which is a proud thing to be famous for, not only does it pretty much own the color yellow but it has THE best doughnuts going. I would almost call myself an anti-doughnut person, they’re just not my thing but these little warm beauties I scoffed and munched barely lifting my head for the yellow fields. This delicious (tofu made) doughnut shop was 110% worth the pit stop. For all the anti-tofu people out there, don’t shy away it’s not like drinking wheat grass or anything horribly healthy like that. The tofu in them is probably what every other doughnut in this world is missing.

Tofu Doughnuts Yokohama

Tofu Doughnuts

Tofu Doughnut Sugar

Don't miss this place!

Dine’d, Wine’d and Full to the Brim

'Shirako' May

A fantastic Japanese dinner, with my good friend (and Japanese adopted father) Atsushi San was enjoyed last Thursday May 26th at ‘Shirako’ Restaurant in Aomori City, Japan. This may have been one of many wonderful feasts we shared together yet each time is so different, so full of wonders, and every bite is so far from tasting like the last.

The restaurant was quiet on this Thursday night which meant lots of opportunities to chat to the chef, a culinary artist as well as a chef come to think of it. A few visits ago he told me all about the puffer fish he gets from Tokyo with his special license, I got a bit worried when I saw it belly up on the bottom of the tank. Apparently they are very temperature sensitive and the poor guy was too hot so went into semi hibernation.

Puffer Pal Having a Snooze

He told me he was a very happy man as ever time a dish came back from me it is always scraped clean, he said it makes him his happiest. I told him if I could I would also eat the plate, if he had made the plate then I would eat it…let’s hope he doesn’t take me literally and go and make a plate, then of course …I’d have to eat it!

Sea Urchin

Shrimp Cake Dish

Tai Fish (Sea Bream) Sashimi

Fish Fillet with Cream Mushroom Sauce, 'A Western Dish'.

Japanese boiled veggies with a tasty lump of Miso sauce

Every time I eat the oysters here the size of them blows me away, they are truly monstrous, my mouth is maybe getting smaller or else the spring oysters are fatter, either way I’ve learnt it’s important to take a huge breath before the big swallow.

GIANT Oysters

Atsushi San at Shirako

It’s become an important tradition to pause before the last hurah. Dishes one through six come consecutively one after the other, sometimes even overlapping, you receive and you eat.  In Japan at traditional diners and enkai’s like this you take a pause after the main batch of dishes, this is to allow the food to settle before you finish with a ramen/ soba/ udon hit to fully satisfy the belly and of course a treat as a sweet ‘congratulations you made it’.

Ramen Noodles

Congatulations Dish

Bright, White, Tiny Beauties

Ikebana May

Droplets of pure white among bold jungle greens. This week I repeatedly heard the Ikebana Sensei say ‘jungle’ then again it could all have been in my head. It made sense though, I believe she was referring to the large jungle-esque leaf we were playing with. The after school Friday peace rituals of placing and re-placing these flowers until they look their prettiest has become a wonder of day dreaming for me. You day dream while you arrange and you day dream about arranging. Watching others grasp a perfect slot between countless attempts of ‘this way and that’ is really very satisfying. Finding your own slot is an un-beatable feeling of satisfaction.

I used to think sport was my only way, my only hobby, but this art of flower arranging is just as effective for releasing those knots of tension in your body, and a good bit less sweaty. It is just as good as a hot bath too.

Ikebana May

 
 

Ikebana May

 
 

Ikebana May

Ikebana May

Ikebana May

Ikebana May

a recognition, being you

 
 
 
 
 

Invite (back)

“a recognition, being you”

Photography and Etching Print Exhibition by Christy Bahr & Hannah Leggett.

Held at Gallery Novita on Shinmachi Street in Aomori City. Open from Friday, June 10th running for the weekend and closing Sunday, June 12th.

The gallery is open from 10:00AM – 6:00PM. Its easy to spot, opposite the Sakurano department store.

We’d love to see you there, please come check it out!

‘Haru’ Cafe

Haru Cafe

 

‘Haru’ cafe in Namioka town is a wonderland, isn’t it just perfectly beautiful?

Haru Cafe

 

Haru Cafe

 

Haru Cafe

 

Haru Cafe

 

Haru Cafe

It’s a sweet little spot where you can enjoy a cup of coffee and a slice of cake, or simply pay 300yen (3euro) to walk around and enjoy the atmosphere. Though the cake option  is a far better choice than no cake option, obviously.

Haru Cafe

 

Coffee and Cake at Haru

 

Haru Cafe

Upstairs is a small museum of old school home appliances. A load of what (at first glance) looks like old boxes and chunk of plastic but on closer inspection are in fact ancient tellies, radios, irons, clothes washers, sewing machines, ovens ect. It was like being stuck in my gannies world, amazing little collection of trinkets.

Washing Machines

 

Haru Cafe

 

In Japan you will usually enter a cafe through a curtain like this

 

...and be welcomed into a place like this

 

by a warm hearted chatty owner like this

 

Haru Cafe

 

Haru Cafe

 

Haru Cafe

 

Thanks again to Chika in Namioka station who gave us a map and bikes so we could get to this beauty of a spot!

Mark, Sonomi, myself and Chika

Namioka Desu

Namioka Tour Trio

 

A beautiful little town tucked on the bread line of Aomori City, technically speaking according to the ‘important people’ it is in the city, but it’s pretty far out and really nothing like the/a ‘city’. It’s beautifully peaceful, a gem of a town to be able to take a 15minute train journey to. It is a picturesque little village…with plenty of cute smiling old grannies.

Obachan (tending to her rice field)

 

I had found a café in the Aomori ‘café book’ and this was essential the moral of our trip, but it blossomed into much more. Arriving into the train station a friend who works there was not only delighted about visitors but she was brimming with helpful tips. Free rental bikes, maps and recommendations in hand we set about on a bike-road trip of Namioka. First stop was the ‘Castle’, turns out there is actually no castle, but it was deadly anyways, we caught the end of the sakura which was beautiful. It was pretty much just a really nice hill. Still one should never expect a big castle in such a small idyllic little spot, what were we thinking? I stupidly actually had an image of Hirosaki castle in my head, way over-imagined that one!

The Castle

 

Sakura Namioka Sakura Namioka

 

Sakura Namioka

 

Sakura Petals

 

We biked then to ‘Haru’ café followed by a very bizarre onsen experience. It consisted of one ridiculously hot pool, which made me go extremely red, extremely fast, along with several head rushes. This was surrounded by a few wash spots which were all taken up by gossiping obachans when we walked in. Even though you strip naked and stomp around among plenty of other nakeders I have never actually felt awkward at an onsen, but I felt a liiiiiiitle awkward here. There was no-where to hide or shelter from the gawking grannies. Myself and Sonomi had to share a little wash bucket when one became free and I genuinely could not get into the actually bath, it was unbearably hot. So I did get in, eventually, after some serious coaxing from Sonomi and followed by a cold splash before changing I can safely safe I felt amazing! So turns out when things are awkward or uncomfortable over-hot you must persist and you will be rewarded a glorious glow.

Namioka is a lovely little spot.

Sakura Petals

 

Namioka ❤

Eaten bread is forgotten…baking bread is always remembered

 

Focaccia

 

A second last bread bake included Focaccia which for me is always a winner…have a tissue ready for your dribbles 😉

May Pan was four focaccia , blueberry buns, another weird jelly treat and some crispy cookies.

There is mashed potatoe powder in the focaccia, ‘weird?’…I thought that too. But don’t diss it till you’ve baked it. Yea it’s amazing. The blueberry buns have blueberry syrup, which will be tricky enough to find but worth the hassle. The blue buns are also topped with a ‘topping’ layer and the left over ‘topping’ mixture makes cheapo cookies.

Focacia before, durings, after;

Egg glazing the 'before' Focaccia

 

I need one of these at home, I resorted to using a make-up brush last week (an un-used one of coure)

 

Focaccia

Next is dem berryblue buns

 

Blueberry buns with topping .

 

The topping is soft, slightly sticky and sweet, the inside is half between a soft muffin and bready bread.

 

BB Bread Buns

 

Left over topping mix

 

With the left over topping mix you make the below (image) from the above…we didn’t expect such intense expanding so it was more like one giant holy cooky instead of lots of minis, regardless we tore em up and devoured them worryingly fast!

Topping Cookies

 

Half Way

 
 

Macha Tea Jelly

 
 

On top of the macha green jelly is in fact more jelly...not ice cubes

 

Pan Class wouldnt be complete without some crazy jelly treat. This one was fairly gritty from the macha tea that settled on the bottom, but regardless it was rather refreshing as a dessert. Of course the ‘An Beans’ made their way into the dessert in some way, this time used as a sprinkled sweet flavor to contrast the cool jelly.