Most of the world knows of the Japanese National sport – Sumo. Two huge men wearing nothing but a long cloth (mawashi)wrapped around their body – covering their privates – fight in a ring (douhyo). The object of the fight is to force your opponent out of the douhyo or cause him to lose balance and touch the ground. Like the gladiators of ancient Rome – anything goes, slapping, pushing, lifting (if you’re strong enough), pulling and so forth – though kicking is prohibited. Sumo wrestlers are divided into six different levels of skill. The top levels, in order of rank are – Komusubi, Sekiwaki, Ozeki and the top Yokozuna . Older Japanese follow Sumo religiously and attendances are high at matches. The national TV station, NHK, televises sumo everyday of the two-week matches. Sumo is held every three months at different cities around the country.
Pachinko is basically pinball. A mindless game played by thousands of Japanese daily. A game that is very popular among middle-aged male office workers – many sitting hour after hour staring at the ball-bearings spinning inside a glass case. In the 1970’s and early 1980’s, pachinko required an element of skill with which to win. These days, however, the machines are computerized – the player only having to sit and turn an “on” switch. So, why do the Japanese play this game? The answer is: because a high percentage of the Japanese population are compulsive gamblers. Pachinko is gambling, though not direct gambling. The object of the game is for the player to collect as many balls as possible. Unlike pinball, a pachinko machine has hundreds of ball-bearings flying around the glass case falling into various pockets. If a ball falls into the right pocket or pockets, it is returned to the player. The player then has the choice of either to send the balls back into the machine or scoop them out from the “feeder” and place them in a box. Over a period of time, the player accumulates hundreds, if not thousands, of ball-bearings. He or she, then summons a pachinko parlor worker who takes the boxes to a counter where the amount of balls collected is counted. Once all balls have been counted, the player is given a ‘present’ – usually a candy bar. With present in hand, he or she leaves the parlor, walks around behind the building where a small office, simlar to a box office at a movie theater, is found. The player hands the candy bar to a pair of hands that accepts it in return for cash. Not everyone however, wins at this game. Often, too often, people will spend a great deal of money playing. Customers to a parlor must first buy a set of balls and when he or she runs out – which always happens – more balls need to be purchased – around 2000 yen per set. There are many Japanese that are obsessed with this game and it has been the cause of many divorces. Day after day, hour after hour, pachinko players sit watching and hoping to return home that evening a few thousand yen richer.
A game similar to chess, shogi is played primarily by older men. Unlike the above pachinko, shogi requires use of the brain as each player tries to out-wit the other. It is a game of gambit, a game that requires patience and diligence. Senior citizens will play for hours in parks, shogi stores (see picture) and in homes. Elementary schools teach children shogi. Junior high schools and high schools, have shogi clubs – although membership is low. The game is complicated and this writer has no idea of how it is played. Recently, I taught a skillful shogi player how to play chess. After teaching the rules, I was sure I would win every game we played. Alas, apart from a few misses, he won every game and was hungry for more.
The City of Osaka, Japan. In the center of the city, lies Osaka Jo Park (Osaka Castle Park), a favorite place during spring for families, couples and friends to view cherry blossom. Under the span of cherry tree branches are picnics and BBQ’s galore. The samurai compared cherry blossom to life, in that cherry blossom, like our own lives, only lasts a short time and therefore should be treasured. April is Hanami (blossom viewing) season. It is this time of year when Japanese embark on new careers, begin new hobbies and find new challenges and the beginning of the academic year. Osaka, known in Japan as the city of merchants, of Osaka -ben (colloquiall Japanese) and Manzai (two person comedian acts). The Japanese of Osaka enjoy a variety of different kinds of entertainment, from studying martial arts, to following the City’s professional baseball teams. Enjoying the nightlife of bars, restaurants and nightclubs, keep the populace invigorated and fun.