Hiro raises his bare thigh and slams his foot to the ground and scattered wrinkles over his man's mount of a body.
He bowed to his opponent and, in a vision of manboobs and giant wedgies, joined in fights; wrestling, pushing, heaving and tugging until one emerges victorious.
Suddenly it's my turn. I step into the ring and stare ahead of the sumo wrestler a few feet away – all 26 of him. A moment later I was pressing against his folded flesh, my face alarmingly close to his armpit as I squeezed with all my might. My feet crawled to the salt-strewn floor while Hiro – a wrestler for 22 years – sat there crying.
Breathtaking: The Kumana Hongu Talsha Shrine is set amidst spectacular Japanese scenery
I'm in & # 39; the small town of Katsuragi, considered the birthplace of sumo. Located an hour from Osaka in the Kansai region, this is a corner of Japan that has just become more accessible thanks to new directions from British Airways.
This service from Heathrow to the second city of Japan is big news. Although not as big news as the & # 39; s Emperor of Japan, Naruhito, that & # 39; s this week on & # 39; a throne succeeded in his father's abdication, Akihito.
Kansai is an area of misty mountains, scattered with fields of distance, tropical beaches and tea plantations, that will appeal to visitors who do not want to explore what lies outside the capital of Tokyo. After Hiro has slowed his pace (& # 39; You have great potential, & # 39; he grabs), it's time to move on to Osaka.
Home to three million people, the city is a patchwork of 16th-century castles and 21st-century glass skyscrapers. From my room on the 36th floor of the Conrad Hotel, the view of Dotonbori district, the main restaurant and entertainment area, is dizzying.
Two women wear traditional Japanese costume. Osaka occupies the extreme southern tip of Kansai and holds the key to much of Japan's ancient spiritual heritage
One of & # 39; the newest five-star addresses in & # 39; a city, this 164-room hotel gives off a vibe of Lost In Translation – think Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson – and is filled with 389 works of art, including one by local young turned famous sculptor, Kohei Nawa.
And although Osaka is certainly worthy of a few days' exploration, it's the experiences that don't wait in the distance that prove to be the real temptation.
Traveling south, urban sprawl gives way to rural scenes that have no surprise and fun. For a long time we were surrounded by the crumpled, green peaks of the Kii Peninsula. These mountains are the gateway to Wakayama.
This city occupies the extreme southern tip of Kansai and holds the key to much of Japan's ancient spiritual heritage. For centuries, it has attracted the greatness and goodness of Japanese society and not just the views.
Nick Boulos says that Osaka, pictured, is thoroughly worthy of a few days' exploration and that the experiences that await further notice also prove a true aunt
For more than 1,000 years, everyone, from emperors to humble peasants, has been walking these summits in search of peace and purification. Along with the legendary Camino de Santiago of Spain, the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage ranks as one of & # 39; s major pilgrimages in & # 39; e world. A network of trails, it has several options, from gentle walks for hours to tedious multi-day treks.
Opting for the easier and shorter route, I feel the frenzied pace of Osaka (and London) slipping away as I cut through silent bamboo forests and inches along paths that cut wooded ravines. I pause to enjoy panoramas sprinkled with cherry blossom. I'm feeling calmer at the moment.
The climax, a rather spectacular and unexpected one, is our arrival at the great Shinto shrine of Kumano Hongu Taisha, the sacred ground where all the paths meet. The silence of & # 39; the forest is broken by the rhythmic chiming of bells and the flapping of flags in & # 39; e wine.
A map showing the location of Osaka. British Airways has just started direct flights to the city
10 THINGS TO DO IN OSAKA
1. Osaka is famous for its street food and one of & # 39; s best areas to enjoy is Ura-Namba with its use of small covered streets and a charming chaotic atmosphere.
2. The Dotonbori Bridge area is the place for karaoke. Expect garish neon lights that don't reflect on the Dotonbori channel.
3. The Namba Yasaka Shrine has formed an entrance like a giant lion's mouth.
4. At 300 meters, Abeno Harukas is the tallest skyscraper in the country. Take a lift to the observation deck for the best view. Tickets are £ 10 (abenoharukas-300.jp).
5. You will see the yellow and black colors of the Hanshin Tigers baseball team everywhere. The atmosphere at games is electric (hanshin.co.jp).
6. The coolest places for beer are Beer Belly (beerbelly.jp) and Craft Beer Works Kamikaze (cbw-kamikaze.com).
7. Spa World is a massive attraction with onsen (hot tubs), swimming pools and slides. It's a lot of fun. Admission is £ 8.30 (spaworld.co.jp).
8. Osaka is famous for its budget & # 39; capsule & # 39; (as pod) hotels with small, windowless rooms. & # 39; Rooms & # 39; are from around £ 20 (booking.com).
9. Universal Studios Japan has rides, shows and theme areas, including the magical Wizarding World of Harry Potter (usj.co.jp).
10. The Cup Noodles Museum is a & # 39; sanctuary & # 39; for ramen noodles, that & # 39; s their history and & # 39; evolution & # 39; include. Admission £ 2.
For more information visit insidejapantours.com and theculturetrip.com
I watch as worshipers cross the gravel courtyards, clap their hands twice (to announce their arrivals to the gods) and bow their heads in prayer. This is a special place I will not easily forget. Junomine is located just below the road, in the valley and dissected by a stream of cured thermal waters. This is known as an onsen village, centered on natural hot springs.
These healing waters were discovered 1,800 years ago and became an important part of the pilgrimage by providing hot water purification.
It is still possible to enjoy a spiritual soak by stripping, as desired, for a dip in the stone splash bath in a plentiful barn. Comes for two enough, it provides a very intimate experience.
I feel rather British for such endeavors, so choose a river dip in & # 39; thermal rock pool & # 39; a Kawayu Midoriya. A spa hotel that dates back to the & # 39; s, it models & # 39; a traditional hostel, the ryokan.
Expect shoe paper screens, legless chairs and futon beds. When I visited, guests walked around in matching bright green kimonos – sporting them even at dinner. No trip to this part of Japan would be complete without the glittering jewel in his imperial crown, Kyoto.
Reached in 15 minutes drive from Osaka by Shinkansen Bullet Train, this enchanting city was the capital of the & # 39; nation until 1868. It retains much of its old character, in & # 39; Particularly in Gion's neighborhood, where once there are geisha's scratched between teahouses in their elaborate silk costumes and wooden bags (traditional shoes).
From the comfortable Ritz-Carlton hotel, it is a pleasant 20 minute walk along the Kamogawa River to Gion.
Initially it seems a bit soulful and touristy. But delving into the backward stretches restores my beliefs. Here, I discover abandoned gardens and tea houses that serve fragrant tea of cherry blossom and sit with older population paintings of watercolors of a pagoda.
Hunched over their palettes, they look long and hard and produce thoughtful tassels. They seem lost in their individual reverence, drinking in beauty. It perfectly matches my experience.
British Airways (0344 493 0787 / ba.com) returns four times in a week from Heathrow to Osaka from £ 793. Abercrombie & Kent (abercrombiekent.co.uk) offers a seven-night trip of £ 2,500 pp based on two parts, including flights with BA, accommodation, transfers and some guidance. More information at seejapan.co.uk.
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