There is, perhaps, no country in the world that balances traditional culture and futuristic ambition as well as Japan. Think temples, tea ceremonies and kabuki in Kyoto. Or trend-setting cafes, bullet trains and booming businesses in Tokyo. But there's a lesser known side to this incredible country, too. Take the coral reefs of Okinawa for example. Or the fun-filled ski resort area of Niseko. Whatever your image of Japan, it exists here, somewhere, mixed with the gracious hospitality of the Japanese themselves.

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Senshuraku in Tokyo

At first I thought: this certainly wasn't the Japan I'd studied in Grade 8. Tokyo seemed similar to other modern cities I'd visited - men and women in office wear hurried through the streets; trains carried passengers to their destinations; department stores displayed their clothes and shoes to happy purchasers. Where were the sumo wrestlers? A Saturday night basho invitation from a co-worker answered that question. The last day of the tournament, called senshuraku (the pleasure of a thousand autumns) was about to begin. The huge wrestlers with their ginko-leaf topknots, wearing beautiful embroidered aprons, gathered in a circle and were introduced to the cheers and boos of the audience. Each emerged later wearing their mawashi, to square off against an opponent. Excitement mounted as the rituals started: hand-clapping, foot-stomping and salt-throwing to ward off evil spirits and purify the ring - and intimidate the opponent. As the referee in his stunning silk kimono stood by, the wrestlers charged and the grappling began. It lasted only 30 seconds! The crowd went wild when the underdog pushed the favoured out of the ring. A lively debate in our crowd began - was the match fixed?

Submitted by:
Joanne B., Bewdley


Some years ago my husband and I visited our daughter in Toyohashi, Japan. Upon waking the next day, Wendy suggested she drop us off at Jusco department store for the morning, while she went to work. Since we didn't know a word of Japanese, Wendy reasoned that we would be safe within the confines of this huge store. After about an hour of marveling at the unique and tasteful merchandise, I could deny it no longer: I had to use the bathroom. What to do? We were surrounded by Japanese symbols, not one English word anywhere.

Toyohashi is one of the smaller cities in Japan. Most adults do not speak a word of English, and many have never seen a foreigner. We pointed to the word for bathroom in our phrasebook. Bowing deeply, a sales clerk brought us to the toilet paper and bathroom supply section. I was getting more desperate by the minute. Suddenly a huge smile of recognition spread over the clerks face as she looked at my husband who was jumping up and down while holding his crotch with a pained expression on his face. With another deep bow she quickly led us to our destination.

Submitted by:
Johanna P., Guelph