Archive for March, 2010

A useful survival guide..

Posted in japanese concepts with tags , on March 27, 2010 by mikele

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My brother gave me this book before I left for Japan, and I can say it’s been quite an inspired gift! [check it out on amazon]


Trip to Katsuoji temple

Posted in diary with tags , on March 22, 2010 by mikele

Today I rode my bike all the way up to the scenic Katsuoji temple. Tiring but definitely worth it!

In the mountains north of the plain of Osaka, in the city of Miho, nestles Katsuoji, nicknamed “The Victory Temple”, but “victory” seems too narrow a word to encompass the hopes of all her modern pilgrims.

Japanese military leaders have prayed there for victory, but most come, now, to pray for more personal triumphs: passing exams, finding a job, getting a driver’s license. No aim is too great or to small.

The idea of winning is not at the temple’s roots. Katsuoji’s history began with twin brothers who were Buddhist priests and chose to retire from the world and devote themselves to prayer. It was not too long before the world came after them.

Checking out the local doctor..

Posted in diary with tags , , on March 20, 2010 by mikele

As usual, if I live in some place for a longish period I end up checking out the local healthcare system, for one reason or the other. Japan makes no exception, but I have to say it’s been a quite interesting experience too…
Well I payed quite a lot for it (doctor: 6500 yes = almost 40 pounds) and on top of that the medicines (4000 yen = 30 pounds) … but in theory the health insurance will reimburse me.
Obviously no one at the local doctor ambulatory speaks english… but luckily a nice lady from my hotel helped me fill out a ‘good health’ declaration in japanese..

declaration of good health

The doctor’s office was super technological (and full of mangas too); but the piece of ‘equipment’ that most impressed me is this automatic slippers dispenser..

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Essentially, you walk into the clinic, take off your shoes, push the button and get a fresh new pair of slippers!

The other quite unusual thing is that there is not separation between the reception / waiting area and the room where the doctor visits the patients. Pretty weird; it wasn’t difficult to see what was going on in there, or to hear some scared kid crying. Then I found out that they also have another room at the back which is used for more ‘intimate’ visits..

reception desk doctor's room

After a while they called me to the (almost public) visiting room, the doctor took a sample of my tonsils’ infection and told me to wait for 10 mins. He spoke some english so it was no prob to understand him at all.
My prize was a japanese style face mask. Now I feel much more integrated 🙂

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That was it. Bad infection he said – but a week of antibiotics and some chinese medicine (at the bottom) should fix me up..

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Osaka’s Aquarium

Posted in diary with tags , , on March 15, 2010 by mikele

Took a trip to the Osaka Aquarium the other day, and although it’s a bit expensive (2000 yen, almost 15 pounds) I think it’s really worth it. Basically it’s a big building that you can explore from top to bottom. Most of the tanks inside span for the entire height of the building, meaning that you can easily see the same marine life from a number of viewpoints..

KAIYUKAN Aquarium is one of the largest aquariums in the world. Its theme is partly based on the new Gaia Hypothesis advocated by Dr. James Lovelock.
Focusing on the Ring of Fire (Pan Pacific Volcanic Zone) and the Ring of Life (Pan Pacific Life Zone), KAIYUKAN Aquarium respects the dignity of life and natural environment. A Japanese word KAIYUKAN literally means “Playing in the Sea Pavilion.” In this aquarium, visitors can enjoy creatures as if they are playing together in the sea.

My camera died half way through the visit .. but still I managed to take some good shots:

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Sumo day

Posted in diary with tags , , on March 15, 2010 by mikele

Sumo (相撲 sumō) is a competitive contact sport where a wrestler (rikishi) attempts to force another wrestler out of a circular ring (dohyō) or to touch the ground with anything other than the soles of the feet. The sport originated in Japan, the only country where it is practiced professionally. The Japanese consider sumo a gendai budō (a modern Japanese martial art), though the sport has a history spanning many centuries. The sumo tradition is very ancient, and even today the sport includes many ritual elements, such as the use of salt purification, from the days when sumo was used in the Shinto religion. Life as a rikishi is highly regimented, with rules laid down by the Sumo Association. Professional sumo wrestlers are required to live in communal “sumo training stables” known in Japanese as heya where all aspects of their daily lives—from meals to their manner of dress—are dictated by strict tradition.

I didn’t know much about sumo before today, but now I had breakfast with one of the strongest fighters of the world, Baruto Kaito. How did that happen? Well basically one of my colleagues who just got here in Osaka has been following Sumo for various time now, so before arriving in Japan he worked out a few things in order to meet up with these guys… and obviously I just happened to be at in right place at the right time. How lucky!

The Osaka Sumo tournament has started yesterday, so when we went there last Friday there was excitement in the air and also some press people hanging around the stable with video cameras and stuff.

So we set off pretty early in the morning in order to reach a remote dojo in Sumimodo, Daito City… a couple of trains and a taxi get us there..

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The ‘sumo traning stable’ looked pretty modest, it’s essentially a garage next to some kind of iron factory. Quite surprising, considering that Baruto Kaito is number 6 in Japan. Later I discovered that these guys are supported by that factory… their ‘home’ stable is in Tokyo but the way sumo work is that each time there’s a tournament (6 times a year or so) they move to the tournament location for a month and practice there. That means that sumo fighters travel quite a bit around japan; in the picture the building with the stairs is where their dorms are in osaka..



Around 7:30 am the young wrestlers come out of the building for preparing the practice room.. the young ones are normally in change of all sorts of ‘logistic’ stuff…. my friend Bill takes the chance to immortalize the moment..

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After a while other wrestlers come down and the morning practice gets started

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…. it’s 20 past eight when the big star Baruto joins the team. He gets into the dohyo and starts doing some stretching.

Baruto Kaito (把瑠都 凱斗, born November 5, 1984 as Kaido Höövelson) is a professional sumo wrestler from Rakvere, Estonia. Making his debut in May 2004, he is one of only two Estonians ever to join the sport in Japan, and the first to reach the top division, in May 2006. After suffering a number of injury problems in 2007, he reached the third highest rank of sekiwake in November 2008, and he has earned four special prizes for Fighting Spirit and one for Outstanding Performance. On 7th day of the first Sumo tournament 2010, Baruto defeats Yokozuna (Grand Champion) Hakuho. Mongolian Yokozuna Hakuho recorded the most victories in last year.



He’s a giant, almost two metres tall and 180 kilos heavy. He didn’t do much during the training, understandably because of the coming tournament, but instead he was punching a sack and giving advices to his younger mates. After a little while also the stable master (the trainer) gets into the room, followed by a bunch of journalists..


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… the training goes on with various more or less unusual warm up exercises ….

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… then some fighting practice mainly for the younger ones…



Eventually we got out, where the press and friends greet the most famous fighters…

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.. while the younger ones head off to the showers…

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… so we take advantage of the moment too!!!


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.. despite their dimensions and (maybe) fame for being good at kicking your ass .. I have to say that these guys are really really nice and friendly…. since Bill and Baruto had already met in another occasion, the estonian giant invites us for lunch.. (it’s 10am, maybe I should say breakfast)..


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Other resources:

  • Past the pain and language barriers – Estonian not thrown by new language, life and sport. Article and interview to Baruto from the Japan Times.
  • Hakuho off to flying start in Osaka. Recent article on the first days of Osaka’s March 2010 tournament.
  • Toilet etiquette

    Posted in Weird and funny with tags , on March 15, 2010 by mikele


    I ran into this type of bathroom warnings more than once already. I know that the ‘japanese style’ toilet (i.e. a ‘squat’ toilet) doesn’t have the seat – but it’d be quite a dexterous (and monkey-like) act to crouch down on top of a westerner toilet wouldn’t it?

    National Museum of Art, Osaka

    Posted in diary with tags , , , on March 10, 2010 by mikele

    I went to the museum last sunday and saw quite a lot of interesting stuff. I wrote a review of it here.

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