Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Thoughts from Osaka: Cosplay, Sumos & Universal Studios

Dear Osaka,

Thank you for the last three days. You were great. What a wonderful intro to an incredible country. Your city streets were alive with excitement and eye-candy. Of all that we did and saw, three things stand out. One was planned, the others spontaneous.

First: Universal Studios, Japan
The Harry Potter fans that we are, how could we resist visiting Japanese Hogwarts?

Spot-on view of Hogwarts across the Lake.
Shayna finding her wand. Photo-op only.
From the reviews and blogs I saw online, I was a little worried that we were throwing money down the proverbial toilet when we decided to head to USJ. With Hogsmead our main motivation, we decided against the Express Pass (an extra 200 USD) and planned to get their early in order to beat the crowds. Everywhere said that even if you arrived at the park an hour before opening, it might take you a couple hours to get into the Harry Potter section. The park's general opening times are listed online, but vary from day today.

Somehow we got lucky.

We arrived at USJ around 7 on a Monday morning and joined the throngs of people standing at the gates. Around 720/730, the express pass guests were released into the park. We could see them running through the bars toward their desired rides. Then, at 745, they let us in, too.

New Hello Kitty Crown?
Shayna and I booked it to Harry Potter World, expecting to get a timed ticket at Central Park first (as said online), and yet we were ushered right in. We waited maybe 40 minutes for one ride and then explored all the shops, ending our time in Hogsmead by 930. It seemed almost too easy.

We continued our exploration of the park, stopping here and there as we walked through different sections and laughing at some of the items sold in the shops and booths. A lot of people were wearing different head gear (hats, headbands, crowns). It was definitely a fun atmosphere, although Shayna and I found that the actual number of rides was a little discouraging. Two or three per-section and yet five or six shops to bleed you dry…

Still, no regrets.

Second: the Cosplay
Who are these people? No idea. Ha.
During our first day in Osaka, we found out (by accident) that there was going to be an Anime/Cosplay Festival on the morrow. We couldn’t believe our luck. Apparently one of the biggest—if not the biggest—Cosplay event in Japan was happening the following day with full sections of Osaka’s streets blocked off. 콜! And off we went.
This was part of the main street that held a parade, but a number of side streets were also full of characters and spectators. 
A couple of characters posing for cameras.
Identities unknown.
We had no idea what we were walking into (and I have too many photos to add to this post! Ugh!). The hostel worker shrugged it off as a festival, yes, but it was not like the other festivals I've attended. If there was order, it was not translated. There were a few moments where I turned around, momentarily panicked because I thought I had lost Shayna in the fray.

The streets were packed and the costumes impressive. Professional photographers crowded around some of the more impressive costumes and the cosplayers themselves posed with mini-signs asking for twitter followers or Instagram or something (the signs were mostly in Japanese but that’s what it looked like). While we didn’t know all of what was going on: What was the general layout of everything? Was there a central hub? Were there theme areas? Was there a costume contest somewhere? Despite these and other questions, it was still a wicked experience, especially as cosplayers ranged in ages, genres and nationalities. It was cool seeing how people put time and effort into assembling different costumes.
The Spider Crew.
We only wish we knew more of the costume characters. There were some western characters and the timeless classics (Marvel, Harry Potter, Dragon Ball, Sailor Moon...), but there were so many that we didn't know. Both of us are a little rusty when it comes to the current trends in anime and manga.
Another unknown, but a wicked costume.
Third: Sumo Spectating
When Shayna was in Korea back in February, she mentioned in passing that it would be cool to go to a Sumo Match. She did a bit of research and learned that (a) there is this tournament happening during the entire month of March in Osaka and (b) it was really hard to get reserved seat tickets (especially as a foreigner), but that General Admission tickets could be bought for same day admission first thing in the morning.
Waiting in the rain for tickets to go on sale! No idea what the banners actually say...
Fast forward to arriving in Japan. After learning that most Japanese people have Sunday off (and thus the line gets more competitive on Sunday mornings, we joined the ticket line Tuesday morning at 7am, already behind a good number of people. We stood in the spitting rain and cold until the tickets went on sale at 745am, procured a ticket (2100 yen), and then waited until 815 for admission. The bouts started at 845 and continued all day with the better, more advanced matches scheduled for mid-afternoon to late afternoon. Many people, once they have their ticket, head out to do other things, returning later. As we were leaving Osaka in the afternoon, we wanted to watch as many matches as we could.
We got tickets! General Admission is only in the four corners of the area (dark purple seats).
The area was fairly empty when we came but slowly started to fill-up as we watched. It was like watching a sleeping dragon slowly awaken as more and more energy arrived with each guest. While we couldn’t stay, we wondered what it would have been like at the peak during the Intermediate and Senior level bouts.
Around 830 when things were still being set up. Really, nowhere had a "bad" view. Just a "bad photo" view.
Each bout was brief. One referee-like person sang an opening and then the two opponents stepped into the dohyo. Then, the second referee-like person presided over the match. On each side of the dohyo sat judges. The north, east, and west sides had one judge each while the south side had two judges and the “next” ref. On either side of the east and west judges sat the contenders for the next two bouts. Upon entering the ring, the sumo wrestlers would face SE/SW (respectively) and perform a couple stretching/squat configurations before returning to the center to face each other. Some bouts lasted mere seconds, others lasted a good minute. At times, the two wrestlers seemed evenly matched and would be locked in what looked like a strange hug, neither moving. And then wham! One would go flying out of the ring.
Watching a bout.
I don’t think I’ve spent so much time watching half-naked men before in my life. I’m also positive I left with more questions than when I entered. Why do the "refs" change so frequently? Why are they always in different robes? What do the strings represent for the sumo wrestlers? Are matches by weight or experience? And those are just the tip.

It was a really cool experience and I would consider going again, hopefully with someone who could help explain the finer points of the sport. That, or after I do more research.

All in all, Shayna and I are stoked for the next phase of our trip. Onward to Nara and Kyoto!

Thanks again, Osaka. For the crowds, the costumes, and the half-naked men.

Love and Hugs

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