Archive for October, 2008

Do you know how a sumo match works? Basically, the loser is the first one thrown out of the ring or the first one to touch the ground inside the circle with anything other than the soles of his feet. Now imagine for a moment that you’re watching a sumo match; except instead of a pair of 350 lb men, the competitors are 350 lb shrines carried on the shoulders of forty men. Now imagine that there are men standing on top of these shrines taunting the other team as they crash into each other at a full run. Does what you’re imagining look about like this?

This is a picture I took yesterday at the Matsuyama Mikoshi festival, just before impact. A mikoshi is a portable shrine, a spiritual vessel used to carry around the patron god of a normal Shinto shrine once a year when it’s paraded through the streets of the surrounding neighborhood to bring its inhabitants and businesses good luck.
Speaking of good luck, the chosen route for my neighborhood’s shrine took it right past my apartment on Monday night. I took this picture and video leaning out the window by my stove.
They’re louder than I expected, but I still have no idea what they’re saying.
The men’s shrine was followed shortly by these two teams of cute (kawaii!) kids carrying their smaller versions.
 
Surprisingly, they left the shrine in the empty lot next to my apartment overnight before the matches Tuesday morning. Here’s the team about to maneuver the shrine into the place.
 
Here’s the team actually setting it down.
 
And there it sat until morning.
 
So I took some more pictures.
 
Most of the actual matches took place early in the morning on Tuesday. The crowds were thick on every available viewing place.
 
What does it actually look like in action, you ask? Here’s a video I took of an actual bout taking place. You can see the initial charge with the whole team pushing on the backs of the men in front of them, the initial impact when the shrines hit each other, the teams slowly turning while each team is trying to push the other backwards (100 men in a giant disorganized pirouette…), and the shrines and teams pulling apart when the match is over.
 
The winners were happy enough to do some crowdsurfing from the top of their shrine.
 
After the bouts were all over, there was a closing ceremony with all eight of the shrines that were in the day’s competition.
 
There were also some food vendors set up to catch the foot traffic.
 
I bought a frankfurter on a stick and fresh french fries from two of the stands. Then, feeling rather weighed down by the grease, I stopped by a Lawson’s convenience store (it’s so much easier to just say “conbini”) and grabbed an onigiri rice ball and a drinkable carton of active-cultured yogurt. Walking away from the site, I was surprised to see some of the contestants and other event participants leaving in the backs of open-bed trucks.
 
Overall, a highly enjoyable and exciting festival.

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Horse Meat Sashimi Last night I ate at a new restaurant with some JET folk. Like most restaurants in Matsuyama, the menu was in Japanese. Some restaurants have pictures, and luckily, this one had many.

One of the things I try to do when I eat out is try many different kinds of food. If I’m eating out and can’t decide between two dishes, 99% of the time I’ll choose the one I haven’t had before. In fact, it was just recently that I had to start relaxing that guideline, as I ran out of untried dishes in the restaurants in my neighborhood. I like takoyaki, I’ve eaten whale sushi, I eat raw eggs over my gyudon, and I do actually eat plenty of squid, despite my earlier experience with squid heads. I’ve even had natto recently that I didn’t mind at all. (For the record, the only thing I refuse to eat is shrimp in the shell. I don’t mean “peel and eat,” I mean “eat the shell with the shrimp”— unlike Ms. Semba, who sees it as another opportunity to get Calcium.) I’m an active and avid explorer of the culinary landscape of Japan. ๐Ÿ™‚

Anyway, we went to a yakitori restaurant in the Okaido shopping arcade I’ve mentioned a number of times. I couldn’t read much of the kanji on the menu, so I just ordered by picture. I wanted a sushi dish to go with my chicken skewers and gyoza, so I ordered what looked like a deep red fatty tuna.

When it came, I was a little surprised at how much more it looked like beef than the picture. Not the squeamish one though, I plunged in after a brief moment to consider whether I trusted the restaurant’s preparation. I was interested to see what beef sushi tasted like.

It tastes exactly like you think it does. You know when you open a plastic tray of (fresh) raw beef from the supermarket, and you can smell the beef? It tasted about like that. Not really all that appetizing, but not enough of a turn off to not finish the three pieces I got.

After the meal, I was flipping through the menu to see how much I owed for my three small dishes; and relaxing after my meal, I realized I could read more of the kanji than I originally thought. Looking up at my beef sushi, I couldn’t find the character for “beef.” After a few puzzled seconds, I realized what it did have though, was the character for “horse.”

Yes, I ate horse sushi. My stomach turned just a little bit at the realization.

I’m happy to report that I’m feeling no ill effects of last night’s meal- not that I really anticipated any. Overall, I’d say it’s worth trying just to do; maybe order one dish between a couple friends so everyone gets just one piece, though. I was piling on the wasabi when I thought it was beef. I think I would have needed twice as much had I known it was horse.

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