Let's play a word association game, say "Japan" and what would you think of first? Sushi? Sumo? Samurai? Well, listed below is where to get some of the cultural action.
Let's start big. Sumo tournaments take place throughout the year across the country. The first one is held over 15 days in January at the National Sumo Stadium, the Kokugikan, Tokyo. Despite what some people say it is possible to get tickets as a limited number are sold each morning of a tournament. Anyone can buy these tickets, but they go on sale at 8:00 am and you must start to queue at least an hour before this. The tickets available are limited one per person and are for the seats at the back of the second level, so bring some binoculars. Occasionally tickets closer to the action may be on sale but you can always start the day by sitting nearer the front because the first bouts of the day are between lower ranked wrestlers, and many will not turn up for these. As the day progresses the higher up the ranks the bouts go and the more crowded it gets. You will then have to move back into your bought seat.
Sumo wrestlers have different ranks, yokozuna being the top one, followed by ozeki, sekiwake, komusubi, maegashira and juuryou in that order. Bouts take place in a dohyo - the ring where the gyouji (referee) overseas the action.
Sumo tournaments at Tokyo's Kokugikan take place in May and September, in addition to January. All last 15 days. The telephone number of the National Sumo Stadium is 03-3866-8700. It is a short walk from Ryogoku Station on the JR Sobu Line. Coming from Saitama use the Keihin Tohoku Line and change to the Sobu Line at Akihabara Station.
This is notable for its spectacular costumes, splendid stages, gaudy make up, old fashioned Japanese and all parts, including female, being played by males. English reservations can be made at Kabukizaka on 03-3541-3131. Take the Hibiya Line to Higashi Ginza. At this theatre an English translation is available of the play on a radio headset that carries the voice of a translator as it is in progress.
While Kabuki is lively noh is more restrained. Few props are used and the main cast members wear masks. It can be seen in several places across Tokyo. Shibuya has the Kanze Noh Theatre. Leave Shibuya Station from Hachikoguchi exit. Their address is 1-16-4 Shoto, Shibuya-ku. Phone 03-3469-5241 in Japanese.
This uses elaborate puppets to tell stories on stage. Bunraku can be seen at the National Theatre of Japan where kabuki can also be watched. Call 03-3265-7411. Take the Hanzomon Subway Line to Hanzomon Station.
This is Japanese flower arranging and it is an art which has particular styles. Local community centres have classes. Please call them for more details.
This is a banjo like instrument with three strings which is often used in bunraku and kabuki. It has "concerts" in its own right. At the big ones dozens of people play on stage to the accompaniment of special chants. Check local community centres for small performances or even where to learn to play.
The city of Sayama is famous throughout Japan for its tea and so there should be no problems wanting to learn the art of the tea ceremony (sado). The tea is made in a particular order and routine in a ceremonial tea room. Sado often takes place outdoors as part of local festivals. Call your local community centre for more details.
Another Japanese art that can be done locally shuji (calligraphy) takes its elegance from the shape, method of drawing and strokes of Chinese characters on paper. Washi, a special type of Japanese paper is used with sumi (Chinese ink) and fude (a special type of brush). Check locally for places to practice shuji.
This is situated near Hyde Park and Inariyama Station. There are displays of how Sayama used to look in years gone by, artifacts and exhibits housed in a spacious building. Open Tuesday to Sunday from 9:00 am - 5:00 pm. Admission costs Y150 for adults. For inquiries call 042-955-3804.
The Saitama Modern Art Museum
Saitama Kenritsu Kindai Bijutsukan. A small art museum that has exhibitions all year round. From Kita Urawa Station's west exit it is about a five minute walk. Call 048-824-0111 for opening times and admission prices.
Saitama Citizens Galleries, Libraries and Community Centres
Citizens' Galleries offer exhibition space for free to all budding artists, sculptors, photographers, etc. Libraries and community centres may also have such areas available and can be contacted for more details.
Citizens Gallery Kawagoe
For all inquiries contact the Saitama Citizen's Centre, Kawagoe branch, 2nd Floor, Toda Honkawagoe Building. Call 0492-44-1110
Irumagawa Tanabata Festival
It is held on August 6th and 7th in Sayama. There are small stalls, decorations over various parts of the city, parades and fireworks. It is one of the biggest festivals in Saitama and usually about 200,000 people visit over the two day period.
Usually the second weekend in October it is held over a two day period as well. The festival is famous for its large decorated floats, known as dashi in Japanese. These are accompanied by dancers and musicians in masks and gaudy make-up. The festival has the usual stalls of food and fun but the central action focuses around the floats. They are pulled through the city by men, women and children until they make their way through the huge crowds, to Honkawagoe Station where the climax is reached. Don't forget to look around Kawagoe as well. It has many old buildings and temples.
Chichibu Night Festival
Another huge festival where the crowds of people could take your breath away. Held on December 2nd - 3rd it is famous throughout Japan. There is a very big fireworks display, a never ending number of massive floats and enough noise from drums and shouts to be heard in Okinawa. If you want to stay over night book months in advance.
Chichibu Spring and Summer Festivals
Not as big as their winter counterparts but worth a visit. The summer festival's fireworks are held on a river while the spring one is the smallest of the three. Still, to see the beautiful Chichibu region at different times of year and its changing scenery are excuses enough to go.
When summer comes, fireworks festivals begin across Japan, and their big, in fact huge. One of the most spectacular has to be the Three City one held by Omiya, Urawa and Yono. (They are soon to become one city). The festival is held at the Arakawa Sogo Undou Koen, near the river. You can take a bus from Kita Urawa Station to get there. Be sure to go early to grab your spot, as with any such festival. Usually held on the second Saturday of August.
Koshigaya has a firework festival held on the first weekend of August near the city hall. It is a ten minute walk from Koshigaya Station. Call 0489-66-6111 for more details.
Other places of interest
Here are a few more places within "reasonable" reach of Sayama.
Asakusa Temple - Asakusa,Tokyo (also good for souvenir shopping)
Chichibu National Park - Saitama-ken (lots to do including rafting)
Hakone - Hakone, Kanagawa-ken (scenery to make your mouth water)
Iwatsuki "Doll Town"- Iwatsuki, Saitama-ken
Kamakura - Kamakura, Kanagawa-ken (temples, Buddhas and plenty of culture)
Nikko National Park - Tochigi-ken (beautiful all year round, especially in Autumn)
Old Mound and Water Park - Gyoda, Saitama-ken
Omiya Park and Shrine - Omiya, Saitama-ken (see the crowds at New Year!)
Showa Kite Museum - Showa-machi, Saitama-ken
Ueno Park - Ueno, Tokyo (park, zoo, museum, galleries)
Coming up soon...
...you will be able to find out about the Japanese Method of Counting Years. Also,every significant date, every festival and full cultural notes on The Japanese Year .
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