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Random Thoughts III.

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Quick cut and paste of my Facebook updates (aimed at non-wrestling friends) during my Tokyo trip. I'll be doing a piece for FSM and then when that issue is off sale, I'm hoping to do an e-book covering the trip and also giving some practical tips on visiting Japan for wrestling.

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I have been awake since 7am yesterday, spent nearly two hours sat on a grounded plane while engineers tried (and failed) to get the in-flight entertainment working, conducted multiple transactions with a hybrid of English, grunting and Japanese, bought two of the Japanese version of an Oyster card when I meant to get one, avoided the crush of 55,000 teenage girls going to the equivalent of a One Direction concert, queued up for a backstage meet and greet event when I just wanted to get a ticket, successfully navigated a five-screen Japanese terminal in a convenience store to pick up a reserved ticket, drunk something called a Tory Highball that was £1.20 a can and 7%, seen a wrestler I last saw at Wolverhampton, and gone to a wrestling show that included a woman getting run over by a bike but narrowly avoiding an attack with a giant Chupa Chup. And so to bed.

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So, slightly less non-wrestling wackiness today, other than eating a burger in curry sauce with chopsticks in the Donkey Pocket Kitchen. Went to three wrestling shops, one of which has so much stuff it's more of a museum, it puts moving two car loads of magazines into perspective ("too soon" - Liz), a highlight being a dinner plate from iconic Japanese wrestler Antonio Inoki's wedding, yours for only several hundred pounds.

Went to two shows and saw the world's fattest wrestler (32 stone) and arguably the world's oldest active wrestler (75), along with a match based largely around bottles and buckets of water, a man being fishhooked with an actual fishhook, a man stopping mid-match to do some Star Wars impressions to set up a pun, and a ring full of Japan's equivalent of pine cones.

I then decided to try being spontaneous and went a long way out to a specific bar for the sake of a two-year long game I wasn't playing, but it was shut. I then decided to go and see the famous crossing late at night, so got the train to Shinjuku, stopping only to turn a chocolate ice cream into an Alan Partridge homage. The crossing wasn't at Shinjuku, probably because it's Shibuya Crossing. I went there but took the wrong one of the 16 exits and failed to find it before having to get the last train back, so decided to stop in the decent-looking bar by my hotel but that was shut. So I decided to get a beer from the 7-11, and you'll never guess when that shut. Back to itineraries tomorrow...

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Day 3 in Tokyo and if you thought it was time to get on with some exploration and sightseeing, think again: New Year's Eve was triple-wrestling show day, with 29 matches in all. The first was mainly just a 'normal' show, except that despite it being a womens show, a man turned up for a match and did a receation of Muhammad Ali-Antonio Inoki.

The second show was in a converted/empty pharmacy at the end of an alley. It was about 12 foot by 20 foot and the squeezed 70 people in around the edge of the room, with a few unlucky ones standing outside (the windows had been removed from the frame.) No room for a ring, so they wrestled on a crash mat and any 'top rope' moves had to be done off the windowsill (and in one case, through the window frame.) They also handed out handwarmers at the end, then after the last match the wrestlers did a song and dance, everyone got given a cup of tea, and then they gave away a signed drawing to the winner of a rock-scissors-paper elimination contest among the crowd.

After a quick tendon curry, I went over to the final show of the year which had a 16-team tournament and finished at 12.40, with one of the matches 'luckily' ending on the stroke of midnight so everyone could celebrate. This show wasn't too weird, though there was an awards ceremony and newcomer of the year was won by a ten-foot-tall panda. Oh, and I spotted some graffiti left by Phil Jones and Oliver Hurley in 2001.

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Just the one show today in Tokyo. Could have been three, but the first was at the oddly-specific 7.50am and out of town. I had reservations to the second but gave it a miss because A) The only location details I had was 'basement of Shinjuku station' which is not much help in the world' busiest station. B) It would have been very tight for time. C) It turned out to be aimed at a very particular audience (the promotion is called 2-Cho, short for 2-Chome, which is the equivalent of Canal Street Championship Wrestling), and while I have no philosophical objection to a match where elimination is by pinfall, submission or having your trunks removed, I'm not paying £35 for the experience.

The one show I went to was very normal and would only interest people who'd be impressed that I saw Hideki Suzuki in his 9th match of two days. However, the show did mean I finally achieved my goal of seven shows in seven days. In fact I did 7 shows in 71 hours...

I then went exploring in Shibuya where I found the famous crossing this time. I also found lots of places which will be better to visit when they aren't shut for New Year's Day. I also discovered that not only does the supposedly futuristic Tokyo still have record stores, but people actually rent CDs.

I then went over to Shinkuju where I decided I was tired of looking for recommended restaurants and instead had a craving for meat on a stick, which was exactly what I got in a tiny (four foot wide including kitchen?) hole in the wall in the charmingly named Piss Alley. I also made a genuine effort to go to a bar that Carol Anne Rogerson insisted I go to, but it was shut. But I got the distinct impression the regulars would have enjoyed 2-Chome.

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Well, kind of an ordinary Tokyo day today, in the sense that going to shows in the local arena at noon and 6.30 is now just what I do in life. Nothing too wacky to report from the first show, though back in the mid-90s in our fanzine we used to mock a wrestler called Masanobu Fuchi for being clearly very old and dubbed him Masanobu Forty. Hilarious stuff then, but not as funny when I finally see him wrestle in person and I'm 41.

No major excursions today as jetlag came back with a vengeance, so I trawled the local shops, including one with a floor of board games and a basement full of wrestling books and magazines. All fine except I keep having to remember I can't read Japanese. I also went hunting for Liz's request present of 'utter tat' from a 100 yen store (everything 70p) but clearly went to the wrong one as it was all genuinely useful stuff, like a bargain priced version of The Range.

The evening show had some normal wrestling matches and then a main event billed as a Deathmatch. If I explained what happened, you wouldn't believe me, and if I posted the pictures, I'd have my account shut down. Let's just say it was violent.

After that I went to Ribera Steakhouse, the legendary hole-in-the-wall favoured by visiting American wrestlers who get given a special jacket to wear that's the sign of making it in the business. I'd love to tell you more, but it was closed. Once I'd traipsed back in I was looking for food at 11pm, tried to find a big bowl of authentic Ramen noodles, and mistakenly wound up in the Japanese version of Little Chef.

Better luck tomorrow.

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Pretty much hit the wall with jetlag today after two nights of only a couple of hours sleep, so only limited Tokyo wackiness. Two shows, but this time in a different venue, effectively a metal barn on an industrial estate at the end of the line in Tokyo Bay. Unfortunately neither was particularly good, which may explain their venue. It's safe to assume that will be rectified tomorrow with the big show of the holiday.

I had planned to walk around Odaiba (the area near the venue that has all the futuristic buildings from Tokyo skyline scenes) and walk over the famous Rainbow Bridge, but it was bordering on freezing, so I went back to Shibuya and had lunch at a restaurant that cooks anything you like as long as it's made with beef tongue. So I had beef tongue ceasar salad (chunks and slices) and then beef tongue braised in wine. Stuff out of a Prince's tin can this was not!

Even better, after I started eating and then they took pity on me and brought over cutlery, a combination of embarrassment, immersion and zen somehow meant that after 41 years I suddenly was able to use chopsticks. It remains to be seen if this will continue...

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Today was the big day, with the major Japanese wrestling show of the year at the Tokyo Dome, 300 yards from my hotel. So obviously I stopped off at another show *on the way*. This was a womens promotion show (the fourth of the trip) with five serious athletic contests, one match where a vegan and a cannibal settled their differences, and one match where a gay sex pest from a men's promotion had the tables turned when his usual ploy of confusing homophobic opponents failed because he was wrestling a woman.

From there it was slightly more sporting action at the Dome where the paid attendance was 34,995 and the queue for merchandise outside looked to be about an hour long. And based on a sample I counted in the queue, there were likely a good 2,000 North American/European people there.

Fantastic show that lasted six hours and wasn't a minute too long. Three British guys were on the show, and one of them is wrestling in a school hall in Bristol next weekend. 
No real wackiness to report, other than the terrifying looking smoking area which was simply an enclosed glass box with a couple of hundred people puffing away and trying to watch a TV screen through the clouds of smoke.

And so tomorrow is the final day, thought I have managed to schedule a show for on my way to the airport...

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And so we come final day, a chance to catch up on the Tokyo people expect. Started out in Ginza where all the posh shops are, but I was there for wagyu beef. (http://www.ginzano.jp/steak/en/ginza/menu/) Multi-course buffet with the main event being as much steak as you like. I was upstairs in the chef's private room with 11 other Japanese people and put in a credible mid-table performance. (A skinny girl was the only one for whom the time limit had to be enforced.) Wagyu beef (basically tanned rather than cooked) was simultaneously not quite as amazing as I hoped and yet still by far the best steak I've ever had, with melt in the mouth no cliche.

Next, Akihabara, or Electric City. How to describe the area? Imagine if Maplins opened a massage parlour on Blackpool seafront and you might come close. Utterly bizarre mix of shops among all the flashing neon, and I was glad that I climbed five flights when I saw a sign for "Backdrop" as I correctly guessed it was a wrestling shop (or rather a section of a shop.) Also went to a five-story games arcade including a whole floor of variations on dancing and instrument playing rhythm games, with noise that put Vegas to shame.

Then to Shibuya for a trip round Tokyo Hands, an eight-floor mix of Hobbycraft, the Range and an old-fashioned department store. And finally on to Shinkuju for the last show of the trip, this time in a converted nightclub, a perfect intimate venue for the second best show of the week. That made a total of 14 shows from 11 promotions in five venues in eight days.

From there it was straight to the airport (well, via a convoluted trip to reclaim my baggage from another railway station) where I got the bad news that there's no food on the flight and the good news that instead we get to hang out in the expensive tickets airline lounge where we get private sofas with power sockets and full access to a selection of food (curry and rice please) and an unlimited bar including wine, sake and beer, the latter of which is delivered by an automated pouring machine.

See you on the other side and pics to follow.

Oh, and anyone who said "You'll be sick of wrestling when you come back, NOPE." In fact I've got two shows next weekend (a third sold out when I was on the plane out), and I'm about to use the 50Mbps Wi-Fi to catch up on the other show from Tokyo tonight...

And a few highlight pics:

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Excellent stuff, Lister. Me and the girlfriend have been talking about going to Japan. I want to go early January but she keeps banging on about seeing cherry blossoms. 

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Fantastic read John and some quality pictures. Really looking forward to the e-book whenever you get round to it, so please pimp it in the wrestling books thread if/when done.

@SpursRiot2012 - just for info, Okinawa (tiny island off the south) tends to get cherry blossom end of Jan, Tokyo is realistically March/April. 

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2 hours ago, SpursRiot2012 said:

Excellent stuff, Lister. Me and the girlfriend have been talking about going to Japan. I want to go early January but she keeps banging on about seeing cherry blossoms. 

I will say, we did Tokyo in January a few years back, and it was stupidly cold. Amazing, but bloody cold. Unless you're going specifically for something in Jan (Wrestle Kingdom for example) then it might be worth going when a bit warmer.

It is amazing though @JNLister's post just makes me so want to go back. Lister, did you go to Dropkicks, the bar run by DDT in Shinjuku? Or the Antonio Inoki themed restaurant nearby? Both were massive highlights of my trip alongside Todoukon.

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30 minutes ago, mim731 said:

I will say, we did Tokyo in January a few years back, and it was stupidly cold. Amazing, but bloody cold. Unless you're going specifically for something in Jan (Wrestle Kingdom for example) then it might be worth going when a bit warmer.

Would be a shame to go all that way and not see some Japanese wrestling but I could always go around the time of some other show. Definitely going to be going. Maybe in 2019. 

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Go to Osaka in June and you can catch Dominion. I might be a little biased since I live here but I’d say there’s actually way more of interest to see and do in this part of Japan. 

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8 hours ago, SpursRiot2012 said:

Would be a shame to go all that way and not see some Japanese wrestling but I could always go around the time of some other show. Definitely going to be going. Maybe in 2019. 

Oh for sure, that's the one thing I was unable to do in Tokyo, which will have to be remedied next time. It is a cracking place though, can't recommend Japan highly enough.

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7 hours ago, DavidParis said:

Go to Osaka in June and you can catch Dominion. I might be a little biased since I live here but I’d say there’s actually way more of interest to see and do in this part of Japan. 

Yup, based on my trip in 2006 I think Osaka was defo up there as one of my favourite places. I started in Tokyo, but eventually had a great trip starting in Kyoto, down to Osaka then along to Himoji. 

Does Osaka pro still run from inside the leisure centre/shopping mall, near the water park/onsens? I remember it was basically a really tiny store front, leading in to a really small Osaka pro shop, then through a single door/curtain near the counter leads to their mini arena.

Was great fun. A few of the wrestlers well incredibly chuffed to see westerners, to the point the wanted photos, which seemed very odd, but they were all cool as fuck.

Edited by Kaz Hayashi

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15 hours ago, mim731 said:

I will say, we did Tokyo in January a few years back, and it was stupidly cold. Amazing, but bloody cold. Unless you're going specifically for something in Jan (Wrestle Kingdom for example) then it might be worth going when a bit warmer.

It is amazing though @JNLister's post just makes me so want to go back. Lister, did you go to Dropkicks, the bar run by DDT in Shinjuku? Or the Antonio Inoki themed restaurant nearby? Both were massive highlights of my trip alongside Todoukon.

Didn't do Dropkicks. Ironically I was on my way to Inoki's bar for a pre-DDT drink on the last night but stopped off in a department store for present buying (which is where I found that calendar) and spent so long I didn't have time.

Relatively lucky with the temperature (as in a couple of days I went with jacket undone and no hat), but there was definitely one afternoon when I had to abandon outdoor plans. I don't think I waited in any significant queue during the whole trip, but it wouldn't have been much fun. 

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21 hours ago, SpursRiot2012 said:

Excellent stuff, Lister. Me and the girlfriend have been talking about going to Japan. I want to go early January but she keeps banging on about seeing cherry blossoms. 

Sakura Genesis (the former Invasion Attack) is probably your best bet. It's always at Sumo Hall in April and is one of the big NJPW shows (arguably the biggest outside of Wrestle Kingdom/G1). 'Sakura' is a reference to it taking place during Tokyo's cherry blossom season.

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I always thought Jimmy Hart'sFirst Family were a bit shit back when but when you see them now, the fucking size of Hugh Morrus, Jerry Flynn, Barbarian and Brian Knobbs. If they came apomg now, they'd look like four Strowmans.

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