In Japan, Journey Back in Time
Thinking about a trip to the land of the rising sun? Here are two unique ways to experience the country's authentic side.
Get a Grip
Two huge guys shoving each other around in a ring may not tick traditional western boxes in terms of what constitutes a “proper” sport, but sumo is nevertheless a pretty amazing spectacle with deep cultural and religious links in Japan. It’s also one that will earn you bragging rights forever if you can blag ringside tickets at the hallowed Ryogoku Kokugikan arena in Tokyo.
You can go one better than this thanks to the Palace Hotel Tokyo, which is offering a couple of “Grappling Tokyo” packages. This doesn’t include you getting into the ring, you’ll be relieved to hear. Instead, the off-season experience (only available for the two weeks leading up to each sumo tournament) includes a behind-the-scenes tour of a sumo wrestling training stable and the chance to chat with the fighters over a lunch of traditional chanko nabe (a protein-rich broth containing mostly meat, designed to bulk them up), prepared by the wrestlers themselves. Yes, you heard right—sumo dudes will cook your lunch.
The experience includes two nights’ accommodation, breakfast, private transportation, a sumo sports broadcaster as your personal guide, a translator, a seat at the morning’s wrestling practice and finally, lunch and picture-taking with the sumo wrestlers themselves.
Meanwhile, during the tournament season a similar deal is offered, except you can’t dine with the sumo boys as they will be busy trying to hurl each other out of the ring. Instead you will get the chance to actually watch the action from a safe distance. There are three grand sumo tournaments a year held in Japan’s capital, with the next set to start on January 11.
Rates for the Grappling Tokyo experience start at ¥627,000 ($40,120) for the off-season lunch package and ¥500,000 ($32,000) to attend the tournament.
1-1-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, 100-0005, Japan, (+81) 3-3211-5211, tiny.cc/hk-grapple.
Kimono, You Know You Want to
For a less physical yet no less fun experience, the Agora Place Asakusa is offering the chance to totter around the picturesque, old-world Tokyo district of Asakusa dressed in a kimono, with hair coiffured geisha-style.
The “Let’s Enjoy Asakusa” package includes two options: “Asakusa Kimono Stroll” and “Tour Asakusa by Rickshaw.” For the stroll, specialist staff members trained in the art of kimono dressing will recommend a kimono to guests, who will then get it fitted, along with matching accessories such as tabi (traditional separate-toed socks worn with sandals) and hair arrangement in a choice of styles (traditional Japanese, retro early-modern, upswept contemporary). Guests can then enjoy a stroll around Asakusa, soaking in the atmosphere of old-time Japan while taking a zillion selfies.
For the other option, a rickshaw driver who knows Asakusa like the back of his hand will whizz you around the district, visiting all the best spots before ending up at Nitenmon Gate, the oldest part of the Sensoji Temple.
Asakusa Kimono Stroll package is priced at ¥20,500, ($1,300), covering two guests, kimono rental and dressing, tabi rental, hairstyling and one night’s stay. Tour Asakusa by Rickshaw is ¥17,500 ($1,120), including two guests, the rickshaw ride and one night.
Agora Place Asakusa, 2-2-9, Kotobuki Taito-ku, Tokyo, 111-0042, Japan, (+81) 3-3842-8421, agoraplace-asakusa.com.