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Travel, Teach, Live in Japan

Unique Japan
By:Richard Greaves

Japan is one the world's most enigmatic countries. Still rooted in an ancient tradition that makes life into a series of rituals, it is nonetheless one of the most dynamic and modern nations in the world. Here's a look into some of the unique marvels that make this fascinating country tick.

Few things are more Japanese than sumo wrestling. Like most Japanese traditions, sumo is very ancient and has its origins in the Shinto religion. Even in its modern form, the event contains many ritual elements derived from this long past. One example is the use of salt for purification.

Like many things in Japan, the rules of sumo are simple, but the techniques can be complex. The match begins when the wrestlers stand facing each other on the raised clay platform called the dohyo. They then scatter handfuls of salt into the dohyo as part of an ancient purification ritual. They then assume a crouch down and size each other up, waiting to launch their assault. The aim of the sport is for one wrestler to force the other out of the circular ring known as dohyo or to make contact with the ground with any body part other than the soles.

Life for sumo wrestlers (rikishi) is very strict. They must live in heya which are communal training camps and they have to follow strictly regimented lives with everything from diet to dress stipulated by tradition.

Each year sees six Grand Sumo tournaments known as honbasho). Three are held at the Sumo Hall in Ryogoku, Tokyo in January, May, and September. Then there's one in Osaka in March, one in Nagoya in July and one in Fukuoka in November. These events run for 15 days.

Another quintessentially Japanese phenomenon is that of the rock garden (karesansui), known in the west as the Zen garden. Buddhism arrived in Japan via China in the 5th century. It gradually evolved into the Zen form with the focus on meditation rather than the study of scripture as the way to enlightenment. One aid to meditation is the Zen garden, in which the harmonious arrangement of gravel, sand and stones leads the mind into a contemplative state.

The best place to see Zen gardens today is in the ancient capital city of Kyoto. One of the most interesting of the Kyoto temples is Ginkakuji, the Silver Pavilion. The gardens of Ginkakuji contain well-known rock gardens with raked gravel and a conical moon viewing hill added in the 17th century.

Finally, we'll look at the onsen, the famous hot springs of Japan. As a volcanic group of islands with high precipitation, all parts of Japan are blessed with abundant geothermic hot water. Other than promoting relaxation and boosting the circulation, the minerals in the hot water also have health-giving properties

This led to the development of onsen towns as hot spring resorts many dating back over a millennium. Onsen take many forms. Some are indoor, others outdoor; some are mixed some are separated by sex; some belong to a ryokan (Japanese inn), others are public.

The marvels of Japan are many. After experiencing these three, you'll find many more waiting for you.

Richard has over 20 years experience in the travel industry and writes for Cheaper than Hotels. Cheaper Than Hotels offers cheap hotels in Japan http://www.cheaperthanhotels.com/Japan/.

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