Sunday mass at “The Church of the Assumption” in Toyama, Japan

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I was in Toyama for 3 weeks during February 2017 and was looking for a Catholic Church to attend Sunday Mass. After some searching, I found “The Church of the Assumption” in Toyama City Centre.

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I could attend Sunday Mass’s on two Sundays 5th Feb (10am Service in Japanese) Sunday 12th Feb (2pm Service in English). The Sunday Service is in English is held only every second Sunday of the month. There were two Indian Nuns who can speak English and were extremely welcoming. For those driving there is plenty of free parking space in front of the Church and paid parking in the vicinity of the Church.

Contact number: 076-421-3508

Address: 5-10 Sannomachi, Toyama, Toyama Prefecture 930-0064, Japan.

Visited February 2017

Sumo! Japan’s national sport

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My interest in Sumo started when it was televised in the UK Channel 4 in the 90’s watching the likes of Chiyonofuji and Konishiki the Hawaiian. When I visited Tokyo this April, I was very fortunate and privileged to visit the Tagonoura sumo stable to watch sumo wrestlers training. I arrived with a Japanese friend who was an avid fan of sumo at the stable around 9am and left around 11.30am.

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I was informed that there are six divisions in sumo: makuuchi (maximum 42 wrestlers), jūryō (fixed at 28 wrestlers), makushita (fixed at 120 wrestlers), sandanme (fixed at 200 wrestlers), jonidan (approximately 185 wrestlers), and jonokuchi (approximately 40 wrestlers). Wrestlers enter sumo in the lowest jonokuchi division and, ability permitting, work their way up to the top division. A broad demarcation in the sumo world can be seen between the wrestlers in the top two divisions known as sekitori and those in the four lower divisions, known commonly by the more generic term rikishi.

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Wrestlers are promoted or demoted according to their performance in six official tournaments held throughout the year.

There were 8 wrestlers training that day, some senior and others junior. Three top wrestlers from the Tagonoura stable that attended the training were well known. I was very surprised to have such close access to these wresters and later when I watched the sumo basho on TV, I was able to recognise them. They were extremely friendly and I am able to speak to them after the training session.

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Kisenosato Yutaka, born July 3, 1986 as Yutaka Hagiwara is a sumo wrestler from Ibaraki, Japan. He reached the top makuuchi division in 2004 at the age of just 18. His highest rank to date is ōzeki, which he reached in January 2012.

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Takayasu Akira, born February 28, 1990 made his professional debut in 2005, and reached the top makuuchi division in 2011, the first wrestler born in the Heisei era to do so. His highest rank has been komusubi. He is renowned for his Fighting Spirit.

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Takanoyama Shuntarō born 21 February 1983 as Pavel Bojar is a sumo wrestler from Prague, Czech Republic. He is the first man from the Czech Republic to join the professional sport in Japan. Due to his light weight, he has difficulty in beating his opponents, despite his skill. However, in May 2011 he earned promotion to the sekitori ranks. He made his debut in the top makuuchi division in September 2011.

I thoroughly enjoyed my morning at the sumo stable watching the wrestlers train. Hardest part was to stay still and quiet for 3 hours as it was considered as etiquette when attending the training session.

 

Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) in Japan

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We visited Japan in April 2014 and it was the best time of the year to view cherry blossoms. We were in Toyama city where we saw Cherry blossoms along the Matsukawa river and on top of a hill close to the city. Stunning!

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Cherry Blossoms are also commonly known as Sakura in Japan. The cherry blossom (sakura) is Japan’s unofficial national flower. It has been celebrated for many centuries and holds a very prominent position in Japanese culture. There are many dozens of different cherry tree varieties in Japan, most of which bloom for just a couple of days in spring. The Japanese celebrate that time of the year with hanami (cherry blossom viewing) parties under the blooming trees.

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I would recommend visiting Japan during the Sakura blooming season.

Snow Monkeys at the hot springs of Jigokudani

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Jigokudani Yaenkoen (Monkey Park). You might not have heard that name but you have probably heard about a place in Nagano where the winter Olympics were once held and where you can see “snow monkeys” (Japanese Macaque) taking an onsen (bath in a hot spring). I had often heard about those monkeys and seen them on TV but I until now, did not get an opportunity to get there (seems like this place is as popular amongst Japanese people as it is for foreigners, so Hiroko even did not know where these hot spring monkeys were. Most of the visitors we saw at the nature part were from outside of Japan.), and I now wish I had found out about it earlier….

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The Jigokudani Yaenkoen park opened in 1964 and since then many thousands of people from around the world have visited the park to observe the lifestyle of the Japanese Macaque. The Japanese Macaque (Macaca fuscata) is a monkey species native to northern Japan, and is the most northern-living non-human primate, surviving winter temperatures of below -15 °C. They have brown-gray fur, a red face, hands and bottom, and a short tail – and often seem remarkably human like.

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In the wild they spend most of their time in forests and feed on seeds, buds, fruit, invertebrates, berries, leaves, and bark. The monkeys have a body length ranging from 80 to 95 cm. The males weigh around 10-14 kg while the females are usually around 5.5 kg.

The park is located in the Yokoyu River valley, which flows down from Shiga Kogen. At an elevation of 850 meters, the area is called Jigokudani (“Hell’s Valley”) due to the steep cliffs and hot water steaming out from the earth’s surface. It’s also a fairly harsh environment in winter with snow on the ground for a third of the year, but it is also a paradise for the couple of hundred monkeys that live there. We’re lucky too, because we can enter their world and watch them enjoying themselves. Watching the monkeys play, take a leisurely onsen – or even swim in the onsen – is a lot of fun. All the time the monkeys basically just ignore their human watchers and just get on with whatever it is they want to be doing. You can imagine that these monkeys are very polite as Japanese people! They never try to steel or attack you.

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We saw baby monkeys, too!

Well worth the trip and much easier to get to than you’d think (though it may be a bit tough if you visit in winter as the way to the park is quite steep). The entry fee is only 500 yen (around USD 5) per person to enter the park. This was certainly a highlight of our one week stay in Japan in April 2014

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If you are in the area, a visit to see the monkeys of Jigokudani is highly recommended.