- Chapter 51: Sumo, Sake, and Some Naked Dudes in a Pool.
Chapter 51: Sumo, Sake, and Some Naked Dudes in a Pool.
Japanese Onsens are peak male bonding, ya know.
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Tuesday, March 14th
Tanmaye and Toni had headed to Hakone a day before us to bike around with Marcos, and now Ben, Brody, and I were headed there too. I had purchased our train tickets the night before, and we left for Tokyo station to catch our ride.
We were seated in the front car, and because the front end was largely transparent, we had an insane view of the Japanese countryside the whole way there. I wrote the last blog post on the way there, while the other two chilled in the row behind me. For a country that's quiet in literally all public places, the locals were chatting away on this train.
Hungry upon arrival, we first went to a coffee shop (smelled like an old attic) and a noodle shop (the line was insane), before settling on a Japanese curry spot. And it was incredible. Top-tier grub. At lunch we discussed renting a car to drive around to see Lake Ashi and hopefully Mt. Fuji, and we decided to check the Nissan rental spot nearby.
They were sold out, and we went to the Airbnb to drop our stuff off and scheme. I checked online, and to my surprise, there actually was 1 minivan available at the shop. We almost booked it, before deciding to grab a taxi or bus to Lake Ashi instead. We got in the bus line, boarded the bus, and immediately jumped off at the first stop (which was, ironically, next to the Nissan shop) because we realized a quiet, standing-room-only bus for an hour would be abysmal.
We went back in the Nissan shop, asked to rent the one available minivan, and the dude working there started glitching hard. (There were a lot of glitching incidents over the course of the trip. I think, because Japan is so orderly, any action out of the ordinary is super poorly received by the local populace.)
There was a car available, per their website, but he kept just shaking his head. Ben and this dude exchanged translated voice messages back and forth over some translation app, but after 15 minutes, we left the shop dejectedly.
We thought about trying the bus again, or maybe just heading to a local Onsen (hot bath/spa), before an empty taxi drove by. I flagged him, we got in, and we headed to Lake Ashi. The bus would have been trash, shout out to a well-timed cab.
Lake Ashi was super pretty, surrounded by mountains with a view of Fuji on a clear day (unfortunately, no views of Japan's highest peak were had due to a partly cloudy sky.)
We walked a mile or two around the lake, checking out various observation decks and paths in the woods, spotting the occasional pirate ship floating around the water (they have hourly pirate ship tours).
We then made our way to a small village/shopping area, Ben and I ate some trash mochi soy-cicles, and we tried to figure out how to get back. Unable to find a cab (we were miles from town at this point), we walked in a nearby hotel (super nice spot right on the lake) to see if they could call us one.
The receptionist was super chill and hooked us up, and we hit the hotel bar for 30 minutes while we waited. Views were immaculate.
Once the cab arrived, we headed to the main Onsen in town for some relaxation.
For those who aren't aware, an Onsen is a Japanese hot spring that you can bathe in. Clothing isn't allowed, so it's just you and the homies chilling naked in the pool.
Brody, Ben, and I checked in, headed to the locker room, stripped down, tried (and somewhat failed) to act mature and not laugh at the absurdity of this whole thing, and rinsed off in the outdoor showers (you had to bathe before hopping in the water). This Onsen was bumpin', with like 60 naked dudes vibing in the water. There were 7 pools (6 hot with varying temperatures, 1 freezing) and a sauna hut.
After some time in the hot tub, I hit the cold pool (WARNING: SHRINKAGE) to reenact the good old days of mandatory football ice baths while Brody headed to a hot tub in the corner, where he sat, unmoving, for the next 45 minutes. Ben joined me in the Arctic Ocean, then we pool-hopped for a bit, hit the sauna, and dried off in human-sized dryers.
Sorry kiddos, no Onsen pics.
We were only 1.2 miles from home, so we decided to walk back and grab food on the way. We hit a dank steakhouse, where they cooked a multi-course meal in front of us, Japanese steakhouse style (we are in Japan, you know), and met up with Tanmaye and Toni at the crib (they had 7-11 for dinner).
The boys hung out for a bit before calling it a night, another travel day awaits.
Wednesday, March 15th
I got up, grabbed some 7-11 coffee and snacks, then Tanmaye went for a hike, Ben and Toni booked a pirate ship tour to catch a glimpse of Fuji, Brody slept in/gamed, and I slung some emails before we headed to Kyoto.
Toni and Ben were in luck, Fuji was looking pristine this fine morning:
Brody and I bounced at 10, where I posted up to work on some stuff at the train station cafe while he wanted to try the noodle spot we'd passed the day before (it was trash, he discovered). The two of us waited for an hour, then Brody said, "What are we waiting for? Let's just get to Kyoto."
He was right. We grabbed the Hakone train that would take us to the main station, where we bought our Kyoto tickets. We hopped on a 12:35 train with zero switches, but arrived in Kyoto at the same time as Toni and Ben because they took an express line.
The crew checked in at the Airbnb (super Japanese vibes, great spot), and we walked around looking at temples and stuff all afternoon. I also ate grilled bamboo. It wasn't great. Toni super some "super fire" pics with his camera. Big artsy guy. Also, a ton of folks were wearing kimonos, which I just realized look a lot like the Star Wars robes.
We found a super cool speakeasy-esque bar, deleted a few cocktails, then set out to find dinner. Our search for dinner was tough: we tried 12 different restaurants only to strike out, then we walked in, and subsequently left, another spot after realizing that it was terrible, before I found an Italian spot on the map.
"Why get Italian food in Japan?" You might ask? Because Italian food is fantastic.
I ran ahead to make sure we could get a table, accidentally walked in the place below the Italian spot, and we went to the correct spot once the rest of the crew arrived. The long, weary journey was worth it. The Italian food freaking slapped: pasta (gas), pizza (super gas), and a slew of appetizers.
After dinner, we headed to another bar before Manu (aka "El Guapo") and Agustin (formerly known as "El Tanque" then "Bebe Tanque" and now "El Bebe") told us to pull up at some club for Laura's birthday.
The Argentines have a nickname for basically everyone. Mine is "Bebe Grande" or "Big Baby," because JC thought I looked like a baby after wearing a toga for Halloween (see below). Agustin is Bebe Normal and I'm Bebe Grande when we're hanging out. Nicknames are weird.
Feat. Baby Tank and JC
Agustin and Manu are also JC's roommates, and JC was a primary character in the critically acclaimed Chamonix blog, so it would have been criminal to not hang with them in Japan.
We arrived just in time to wish Laura a "Feliz Cumple!" and Manu grabbed us a round of High Balls (so good) before we said what's up to everyone. What was originally going to be a chill night became quite the opposite of a chill night as we were out til like 4 AM.
Guille, Manu, Toni, Big Baby
When I got back I tried to figure out our clothes dryer (I had washed clothes earlier and we had a 2-in-1 washer dryer), I failed to figure out the dryer, I spent 20 minutes frustrated that I couldn't figure out the dryer, and I finally just hung my clothes on a rack to dry (which was actually impressive given that this was happening post-club at 5 AM).
Sumo tournament tomorrow, buckle up!
Thursday, March 16th
If and when you go to Japan, there are a lot of things you can do: eat dank food, go skiing in the north, visit shrines and memorials, and buy some Pokémon pillows. However, there is one thing that you have to do: go to a sumo wrestling tournament.
Sumo is the national sport of Japan, with its origins dating back ~2,000 years. Its modern format took shape in the 1600s, and now the Japan Sumo Association holds six 15-day tournaments each year. There is a certain irony to sumo: the country with the world's lowest obesity rate reveres its most obese figures, and we decided to join thousands of spectators in Osaka.
The boys had a big night out celebrating Laura's birthday the night before, and we probably slept 4-5 hours before Tanmaye made the rounds to wake us up around 9:45. The tournament was starting in Osaka at 10ish, but the senior-level wrestlers wouldn't take the arena until 3:45.
I finished updating some newsletter stuff, then we showered, got dressed, and tried to taxi from Kyoto to Osaka (failure, none of the drivers would take us from city to city), before settling on taking the train.
Peep my new Shiba Inu sticker
We linked up with Guillermo, Marcos, and Juan Ma at the train station, and made our way south.
Ben and Brody got off at the wrong stop (because Guillermo gives trash directions), but all eventually made it to the arena.
I was starving: from taxi issues to difficulties navigating the train station, we didn't make it to the Osaka arena until almost 1. I was this close to grabbing McDank's before we went inside, but Toni said, "They have fire food inside that we can crush, just wait."
Once inside, we realized that they had zero food.
The arena probably fit thousands of people, and we had a box situated 20 rows from the front. When Tanmaye told us he got a box, I pictured a "box" in a basketball or football arena: an isolated room with comfortable seats overlooking the game.
This wasn't a box. It was more of a square. We had two 4'x4' squares surrounded by foot-high guard rails, each with 4 cushions to sit on. So we were going to be 8 deep in two toddler play pens.
It was hysterical.
Considering that I was 3 minutes from dying of hunger, I went to McDonald's, scooped Samurai burgers and Teriyaki chicken sandwiches for the boys, and headed back to watch the matches.
And let me tell you, there isn't a sport in the world more entertaining than sumo. 400 lb beasts struggling against each other in a 10 ft circle? Sign me up.
This dude was white
Here are the rules of sumo: you fight another man one on one, and the goal is to either A) force your opponent outside the arena or B) have any part of their body, other than the soles of their feet, touch the ground.
The ring is elevated about 3' off the ground, and there is only ~1' of space outside the ring before it drops off, meaning that we got to watch four hours of 400-pounders get launched, flipped, and tripped off the edge, and the judges and photographers were smothered more than once.
Sumo has ancient roots, and the pre-match festivities include tons of symbolism: the ref wears a Shinto priest robe, the fighters through sacred salts into the arena, and the robes they wear during their introductions are adorned with different symbols and animals.
The matches themselves were electric: some lasted 2 seconds, others lasted a full minute. Larger athletes would try to bullrush their opponents, blowing them backward out of the arena. Smaller competitors would finesse their opponents, leg sweeping, side stepping, and twisting them to the ground.
Slapping, grabbing, and tripping, are all legal, leading to some wild slap fights and grappling matches over the course of the afternoon. We watched, I don't know, 60 matches? Including some insane finishes such as one where one wrestler, millimeters away from stepping out, spun on his toes, using his opponent's momentum to pull himself back in the ring while slinging the other combatant into oblivion.
After a few matches (and beers), some of the guys started betting on the wrestlers.
"100 yen on red" (referring to the color of their mawashi, or outfit)
"100 yen on black"
And the bets got more and more outrageous over the course of the day.
"500 yen that the match is under 7 seconds!"
I abstained from drinking for most of the time here, not because my body is a temple, but because my body would likely have rejected all forms of booze after last night's antics. However, as the rest of the crew grew more jovial (read: ridiculous), I could tell that we were reaching that point where my sobriety would make it impossible to relate to their booze-influenced jokes and wise cracks.
And also, I knew this experience would be 10x more interesting if I was sipping on some sake.
Now fully back thanks to a partially digested McDank's burger, I bought some warm sake and indulged in the festivities. And Toni was right, it was 10x more interesting watching these meat balls toss each around.
Brody and I had bet back and forth most of the day, and I was 1,500 yen ($11) in the hole against him and Tanmaye as we reached the final match.
"3,000 yen to fade whichever guy you pick," I told him.
"...Okay. I'll take the one on the right."
"Word, I have the one on the left."
It just so happens that the guy on the left was the Lebron James of sumo, and he bodied the other guy in 0.8 seconds. The art of the deal.
We left the match, sake'd up, and I grabbed a McFlurry (so good) before Brody, Toni, Tanmaye, Ben and I headed home. Ben and Tanmaye grabbed dinner, Brody met up with some other folks, and I hung out with Toni for an hour before he linked with the LatAm folks for Laura's birthday dinner.
Unrelated, but I swear the LatAm crew celebrates their birthdays like 100 times. In January, we went to a club for Manu's birthday, then there was another party for his birthday, and I think he had a birthday dinner, and also a birthday brunch. And probably a birthday breakfast. And a birthday lunch. And probably another birthday party. Idk.
We fully intended to "send it" tonight, so I woke up at 10:30 trying to will myself to go out. However, morale was at an all-time low, and I was secretly relieved that no one wanted to go out. Ben and Tanmaye came back and passed out, Toni said they probably weren't doing much, and Brody was headed back when Maeve texted me asking if I wanted to go out with her and four other girls. A tough sell, considering I was in sweats and it was 11 PM, but also, I wouldn't want to waste a Thursday night in Kyoto!
Then Guillermo texted me and said to meet at the same bar that Maeve had mentioned, and I was fully prepared to "send it." Then Maeve and company bailed, and I, lowkey glad that they bailed, got back in bed.
When Brody and Toni got back, we had a nice wholesome family-friendly guy-talk session, then passed out.
Friday, March 17th
Today was, admittedly, a slow day for your boy. Ben and I grabbed breakfast at a local cafe at 8:30, then we split up to wander around Kyoto for an hour and catch up on some phone calls with the folks back home. I saw this cute-ass pup on my stroll.
Also, Japanese dogs just look so... Japanese. No idea why. But you can look at a Shiba Inu and instantly know, "Yep, that pup is Japanese."
When I got back to the crib, the other four went to explore, and I went to a Starbucks down the road to work on some stuff. I grabbed a cinnamon roll, and I thought the barista said they would bring my coffee to my table, so I posted up upstairs. This Starbucks was super Japanese: most of the tables were low to the ground, surrounded by mats.
I realized, 20 minutes later, that there was a separate coffee bar where I needed to get in line to grab my coffee. I walked up, saw 10 people in front of me, took the L and left. I did, however, find an even better coffee shop with some 10/10 lightly powdered crispy donuts on the way home, so the L was actually a W in disguise.
I spent most of the day working on stuff from the crib, taking a break mid-day to walk around town and grab some lunch, and the rest of the crew got back at 5-ish. Tanmaye brewed some homemade high balls (read: he poured whisky and soda in cups, though he did use perfect proportions), I picked up more McDanks (I love McDanks, the Samurai burger is insane), and then we played Kaboo, the most entertaining card game on the planet, until like 11.
The weather sucked, so our plan was to card game it up until we headed out for the night. Taka, the legend himself, happened to know the owner of a local club in town, and he told us to say, "We know Taka," at the door.
Honestly, meeting this dude was, without a doubt, the best thing that happened to us on the trip. We got to the club before 12, and the owner or manager or someone greeted us and took us through the club, then to a secret bar within the club, then to a secret bar within the secret bar within the club, then to a table at the back of the club.
I'm now firmly convinced that every club has like 4 secret bars for special clientele.
We kicked it at the club til like, I don't know, 3ish? Then the boys, got more McDonald's (It's getting ridiculous) headed back to the crib and played more Kaboo til 5 AM. Just good, family-friendly fun.
Saturday, March 18th
No early wakeup this morning, finally.
I got up at like 10, and Tanmaye and I hit the same donut/coffee spot that I visited the day before, Loose Kyoto. Great spot, highly recommend. When we got back to the crib, we decided to visit Arashiyama, an area on the outskirts of town with bamboo forests and monkeys.
We entered the park, and after 20 minutes of climbing, we hit the monkey area. The animals freely roam, climbing on the ropes at the edges of the paths and hanging on the roof of the tourist center here. You can actually feed the monkeys through the fence in the center, too.
Tanmaye told us a bunch of stories of how annoying monkeys were when he was growing up in India: one time when he was in school, a monkey was perched in their window. Their teacher said to leave it alone and it would be fine, and five minutes later, the monkey jumped in the classroom, grabbed her by the face, and slapped her.
Monkeys are insane.
We saw a bunch of little monkeys playing with each other, and some big monkeys try to create some more little monkeys.
After watching some monkeys and taking a very-sus group picture on a massive banana, we headed down to the down for some food. I had a crepe, some chicken wings, and a Kyoto beef skewer.
Gas, gas, and incredibly gas. Then we headed to the bamboo forest, which was a forest. Of bamboo. Toni took lots of good pictures of the bamboo, and the boys, and the buildings, and then Brody and Tanmaye bought some chopsticks from a local store.
Brody made the entire establishment glitch when, as he approached the register, he decided to switch out his chopsticks for a pair like Ben's.
When we got back to the crib, Brody, Tanmaye, and Toni went to some world-famous sushi place, while Ben and I took a nap and made plans to get a prison workout in around 6:30.
Workout didn't happen, as we didn't wake up til like 7:30.
Now what happens is actually quite interesting: Tanmaye and Brody had a 10 AM flight from Tokyo back to NYC on Sunday, so the plan was for them to take a train to Tokyo after dinner, grab a hotel, and fly out in the AM. Ben, Antonio, and I were going to head back in the AM for our 7 PM flight.
But Brody half-jokingly said that he and Tanmaye might go out in Tokyo, and we should all join. And I thought about it and realized that it would be pretty dumb to waste our last Saturday night, wouldn't it?
So at 7:42 PM, I found a hotel right next to the Tokyo train station with 2 rooms left. And we saw that there were like 4 more bullet trains from Kyoto to Tokyo tonight. Antonio said that we were dumb for even thinking about it, and he was just going to chill in Kyoto.
But Ben and I thought it was an excellent idea, the stars had aligned, and "Why not us?" So we booked the hotel, threw our stuff in our bags, told Toni we would catch him in Tokyo in the AM, and grabbed a cab to the train station. We arrived at 8:34, got train tickets at 8:38, stepped on the train at 8:45, and were going to arrive in Tokyo at 10:50.
Incredibly efficient turnaround. Unfortunately, the train was standing room only for non-reserved seats (us), but fortunately, we managed to snag seats 30 minutes in after the first stop.
So here I am now, writing this blog on said train while sitting next to an unconscious Tanmaye. I will finish this blog sometime tomorrow before we fly back to NYC. Never waste a Saturday night, right?
~Fast forward to 6:25 AM Monday morning where my sleep schedule is screwed, and I'm now finishing this blog~
This last-minute maneuver to Tokyo, which Ben affectionately dubbed "The Tokyo Send," or TTS, was dumb, ill-conceived, and precisely what we needed for our last night across the Pacific. We had procured two bottles of 7-11's finest Japanese whisky before hitting the train, and we were left with much less than two bottles when we arrived at Tokyo station.
The hotel was a 10-minute walk from our arrival point, and after we checked in, I headed back to the station to grab my bodyweight in McNuggets and fries for the boys. We showered, changed, then Tanmaye headed to a cocktail bar with Guillermo and Marcos while Brody, Ben, and I made our way to the final destination: 1 OAK.
1 OAK is exactly the place that you would imagine Western European and American tourists to go: loud remixed pop, rap, and alt-rock hits, confetti raining from the ceilings as the beat drops to every song, scantily-clad bottle girls putting on their best fake smiles while serving Grey Goose at a 100x mark up to a table of past-their-prime late-30-something British guys, bathroom attendants who expect $10 tips for helping you with the soap dispenser, and hundreds of materialistic folks looking to feign that they're having the best night of their lives.
It was perfect.
There was a 40-person line to get in, but in fake-it-til-you-make-it fashion, Brody posted up by the bouncer, said we had a group of three, and got us in within two minutes. Once inside we stored our coats, grabbed a round of drinks upstairs, then headed to the main club section below.
The next four hours were a blur of high balls, tequila shots, and the occasional "WHERE ARE YOU FROM?" "OH NO WAY, I'M FROM NEW YORK." "NO, NEW YOOOORK. LIKE, IN AMERICA."
At one point I chatted up a nice Vietnamese chick, but I quickly realized that she was only nice to me because I was a potential client (do with that what you will), and I politely declined her offer before resuming my white guy fist bumping on the dance floor.
Guillermo, Tanmaye, and Marcos arrived around 3, and I joined them upstairs for a bit before we decided to experience Tokyo's best early-morning activity: the Toyosu Fish Market.
At 5 AM every day, locals arrive to bid on quality tuna and other fishes: apparently, it's one of the top tourist attractions in Tokyo. The lights flickering on the club was our sign to bounce, so I grabbed a vending machine coffee and we grabbed some cabs to the market... just to find that the market was closed today.
Distraught, we ubered back to the hotel, arriving around 5:45, and called it a night (morning)?
Sunday, March 19th
Brody and Tanmaye left at 6:30 for the airport (they had early flights), so Ben and I got our own rooms for the night. Thank goodness, sharing a double bed with him after the club would have been disgusting. Ben headed out to grab a coffee around 11, I stored our bags for a few hours and met Toni for lunch, then the three of us headed to a local park to see the cherry blossoms.
Toni, being the king of camera, wandered around for an hour, while Ben and I chilled in the park. I used my newly acquired pokeball pillow as a headrest and finished The Sun Also Rises. I'm still not sure if that book actually had a plot, but it was a good read.
After a few hours in the park, we returned to the hotel, scooped our bags, and made our way to the airport, where we embarked on the 15-hour journey back to the US.
My circadian rhythm is more erratic than a kitten chasing a laser pointer right now, but it's good to be home, where I slept 3 hours.
All in all, Japan was 10/10. Good food, good vibes, and good dudes to travel with. Catch us in Colombia in May.
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