Wannabe wishlist

Wannabe wishlist

Taking on tokyo

Wannabe wishlist

In Tokyo, in a blink I lost the best possible job option. No, not because I’m inept, inefficient, slipshod, or sloppy. Blame this dead loss on god. I’m countless centimetres shorter than the required 185 cm. Many stones lighter than the average 148-kg weight. I cannot skip breakfast and slurp on the stew of fish and vegetable, then nap and wake up fatter. No, I cannot check in at a heya (training stables). I had one qualification, but that is irrelevant: I can drive a car;  but the job strictly prohibits driving. The only thing I qualified for is the mandatory topknot — I can tie my long hair into the gigantic topknot. But then the big gender-bender dashed my hope. Only a man can become a sumo wrestler.

Of national sport

In Tokyo’s Sumo Museum, I was staring at photographs of sumo champions I could not be. They stood framed in wood. Their midriff could double up as my work desk; their rippling biceps larger than imagination. On the wall were hand imprints big enough to write a novella on; shoe sizes double my tiny feet. A purple silk kimono stood upright. And two sculpted men tried to push the other out of the mud ring. In this museum, the history of Japan’s national sport comes alive through black-and-white photographs of all former sumo champions, silk clothing, trophy replicas, paintings, and a traditional wooden red/black suitcase in which sumo wrestlers carry their personal belongings while travelling for wrestling bouts. The most fascinating is a lock of hair that is ceremonially snipped after a sumo wrestler gives up his career.

With the aim of preserving the history of Japan’s national sport, the Sumo Museum was opened in 1954, together with the completion of Tokyo’s Kuramae Kokugikan Sumo Arena. In 1985, the museum was moved to its present location when tournament sumo returned to Ryogoku with the opening of the Ryogoku Kokugikan (sumo stadium). Today, the museum possesses 3,700 sumo Nishiki-e (multi-coloured woodblock prints), 500 sumo dolls, Banzuke (official ranking list), and Kesho-mawashi (a silk belt with a heavily embroidered large apron with thick tassels worn by upper-ranked wrestlers). In the museum that also serves as a research centre, the exhibits are changed six times a year.

Exhibits change in the museum, but two large murals on the exterior walls eternally weather the vagaries of Tokyo’s weather. The murals depict the wrestlers, referee and spectators watching a bout. The excitement is palpable in the line-drawn faces of the audience and the grit of muscular wrestlers. By the gate are cutouts of a sumo champion holding a Japanese kimono-clad woman in his arms. I could stick my neck in the head hollow, but I held back that desire.

Having lost a lucrative career to a chromosome fault, I drove to Ueno Park, one of the largest public parks in Tokyo. Opened in 1873, this first Western-style park in Japan houses several museums including the Tokyo National Museum, the National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and the National Science Museum. To meet my favourite Thinker outside the National Museum of Western Art (NMWA), I walked past a gurgling fountain and a path flanked by a thousand sakura (cherry) trees. During the cherry blossom season, the park is crowded with hanami (cherry-viewing parties). In autumn, there were no flowers in bloom. Instead, the yellow, red and burnished orange of the leaves lent a painter’s hue to the landscape.

Stunning architecture

A crowd had gathered by NMWA, a public art gallery designed by Le Corbusier (the man who laid out Chandigarh), which is clad in prefabricated concrete panels sitting on U-shaped frames, supported by the inner wall. So stunning is the building that at its opening, The New York Times suggested that the building itself presented an “artistic significance and beauty” that rivalled the paintings inside. At the entrance, Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker sits amidst hedges and shrubs, still pondering over life and its paradoxes. Inside, there are paintings by Marc Chagall, Paul Gauguin, Paul Cézanne, Pater Paul Rubens, Vincent van Gogh, among several prominent artists from the 14th to early-20th century.

Founded in 1872, the Tokyo National Museum is the oldest and largest museum in Japan. Comprising multiple buildings, each like a separate museum in itself, it houses treasured art objects, historical documents and archaeological objects of Japan as well as other Asian countries. Of the 1,16,000 artefacts, 87 are national treasures. The National Science Museum leaps into the world of science and natural history with hands-on physics and robotics experiments, and an impressive collection of mounted animals.

In Tokyo, I catalogued career options. In Sumo Museum, I yearned for the stamina of a sumo wrestler; in Swords Museum, I could pick nimble-foot and wrist-play tricks; in NMWA, The Thinker could have untangled angst; in Tokyo National Museum, I could clasp my hands and beseech the Buddha for peace. In Tokyo, I spurned all this. By the pond laden with pink and white lotus, I held my palm out toward the sky. Sparrows sat on my fingers and fed on rice grains. That moment in Tokyo, I wanted to be nothing else, no one else. Just a happy sparrow.

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