Every November the world of sumo makes it's way down to Kyushu. Going to a sumo wrestling tournament is probably on *most* foreigners bucket list, including mine. However, the sumo following in Japan is mostly older people. When I told my coworkers about my plans to visit Fukuoka for sumo, they were often shocked. They were happy that I was attending and showing interest in Japanese culture, but none of them had actually attended themselves. Only one of the teachers reacted with excitement. She told me how big of a sumo fan her seven year old daughter is. Her daughter is too young to read the kanji of the athletes' names so she recognizes them based on the color of their mawashi (the belt the sumos wear during matches). The sumo event held in Fukuoka started on Sunday, November 13th and lasted for two weeks ending on Sunday, November 27th. I attended the sumo tournament on Saturday, November 19th.
After my visit to Fukuoka, I have now visited all of the prefectures in mainland Kyushu. Fukuoka is the most populated prefecture on my island with a population of 5.1 million people. Fukouka City itself has a population of 1.4 million placing it at the 8th most populated city in all of Japan. Fukuoka is known for it's shopping (*yay consumerism*) and night life. Even though it is a very populated city, it felt like there weren't many things to do besides eating and shopping.
My two friends and I arrived in Fukuoka on the evening of November 18th. We stayed in an apartment building for the weekend that was quite close to the river walk. After getting settled in, we went out in search of a late dinner. Immediately we stumbled upon Fukouka's famous yatai. Yatai are food stalls. In Fukuoka city, chefs set up stalls every evening along the Naka River. These stalls are set up with very limited seating. Food is served until they run out of servings (or customers) and then the chefs take down their stall and begin to prep for the following day. It requires so much work, but it is quite a cool sight to see all the different stalls and people eating in close proximity.
November 18th happened to be the first day that the city illuminated their Christmas lights so it gave the food stalls some extra ambience. Even though the food stalls were exciting, we ended up not eating there for several reasons. First, the wait for a seat at any of these stalls was long (especially a wait for three seats). Secondly, the only food sold at these stalls is yakiniku (various grilled meats) and since one of my friends is vegetarian, it wasn't accommodating for us. Finally, in order to fully enjoy the experience having a good grasp of Japanese is necessary, which none of us have.
So instead, we ate at a British themed pub where we enjoyed some cocktails and I ordered fish and chips.
The next morning I searched for my Geography Mug. Starbucks in Japan has a limited geography series that is offered in some of the prefectures. I have been collecting this series since I first discovered it in Nagasaki. However, I was unable to find the mug in Fukuoka. I faced the same problem over the summer when I was looking for the mug in Kumamoto. So I am wondering if this is a series that they are starting to get rid of. We did end up eating breakfast at Starbucks. I had a breakfast sandwich and a white mocha. Starbucks in Japan does have limited holiday drinks, but they haven't introduced the peppermint flavor here... yet.
Afterwards, we explored the city a bit. We visited Sumiyoshi Shrine which is one of the oldest Shinto shrines in Kyushu dating back to around 1,800 years ago with the current buildings being constructed in the 1600s. At this shrine there is a sumo statue.
The lines in his right hand is the kanji symbol meaning "power" so it has become a tradition to rub his hand for strength. He also bears six pack abs, which, doesn't look similar to any of the sumos I have seen...
Afterwards we visited a park. While trying to take pictures children were chasing pigeons and causing them to fly right at the camera. So needless to say, it was not the typical peaceful Japanese garden experience, but, kids will be kids.
Afterwards we headed towards the Kokusai Center which was on the other side of town and where the sumo tournament is hosted. The tournament is an all day event. Matches start around 8:00 a.m. and end around 6:00 p.m. Matches started with the beginners in the morning, intermediate athletes around noon, and the professionals in the evening. We reached the center early enough to catch the intermediate matches and we got to watch as the arena gradually filled up.
As soon as you arrive to the Kokusai Center you are greeted with various food and drink stalls. I didn't eat anything because I was still full from breakfast, but, to my surprise, there were some sumo wrestlers walking around the stalls.
Our seats were in the back of the stadium. I was allowed to bring in my camera and, after many attempts with camera settings and dealing with limited light, I was able to capture some pictures that I really like!
I had a lot more fun than I initially anticipated and hope to go again this coming Fall. If I am able to make it to another match, I hope to sit in seats closer to the ring! I was surprised at how smoothly the event moved along, and I never felt bored like I tend to while watching American football and baseball. I also thought it was cool that advertisements are carried out on flags in between matches as opposed to displaying them on electronic signs. Since the sport itself is traditional, the advertisements definitely made the event feel more old school. This event was primarily attended by foreigners and older Japanese citizens. It was the most amount of foreigners I had seen in one place in Japan since my arrival. This could be due to the fact that the border had officially opened back up to tourists in October.
At the end of the event, we waited for the crowd to dissipate before heading out. When we got outside there was a huge crowd waiting to get on the bus. So, we walked a bit, grabbed some snacks at a conbini, and then hopped onto a bus.
We took the bus to Fukuoka Tower. Fukuoka Tower sits on the outskirts of the city limit and is 768 feet tall. On the observation deck you get a full view of the city on one side and can see the ocean on the other. I should mention that if you are afraid of heights you might want to skip Fukuoka Tower or you might end up hating your friend that dragged you along (you know who you are and I am still sorry!).
Afterwards we went out to dinner. We went to Kushikatsu Tanaka which is a very high energy franchise that serves various tempura meat and vegetables. At some point throughout the meal, your server comes over with a die for you to roll. Depending on what it lands on you can get free desert, a free meal, or, like we got, a larger size drink.
Kushikatsu Tanaka just opened a location in my city, and I hope to take my sister when she visits this Spring!
We ended the night at the river walk again and I attempted to take some more night pictures. As I continue to learn more about lighting, I need to get more nighttime practice in.
The following morning we visited one of the Gundam stores in Fukuoka. Gundam is a "military fiction" animated series that features robots. The franchise sells models that you can put together yourself and it has become popular across all ages.
We continued to explore a bit and found both a dance contest...
... and a Christmas market.
In addition to my beer, I had some overpriced gnocchi for lunch - it was good though! The Christmas market would have been more enjoyable in the evening because of all of the string lights and other displays.
Afterwards, we continued to walk around the city and stopped at another shrine, some shops, and played some games in an arcade. Before heading back home, we made one more stop at the second Gundam store in Fukuoka.
There are three giant Gundam statues in Japan with the largest being in Yokohama (which will only be there until March of this year because of its cost of maintenance, but I am hoping that they end up keeping it for just a bit longer so that my sister and I can see it when we visit Tokyo in March!). This particular statue was added to Fukuoka in April of 2022 and moves his arms and head once an hour.
Fukuoka was my final vacation in 2022 and I am looking forward to exploring more in 2023. Hopefully my travels will include an international vacation for my 30th birthday at the end of the year!