Section 1- Lost in Shibuya and Sorta Lost in Ariake
It’s Saturday, August 12th. Alex and I are dressed in shorts and t-shirts owing to the August heat. Despite Alex’s protests along the lines of “what will we do when we GET THERE” and “no really, you think we can just walk right in and get anywhere?”, my mind was made: we were going to the New Japan headquarters come hell or high water.
This map makes it all look so easy. Get out of the train station, cross the busiest intersection in the world, go to the left of fashion magnet Shibuya 109, hang right, find the 8 story building with an AM/PM convenience store in the bottom and go to the top floor. Hey, I found Shin Kiba 1st Ring on my own, it’s gotta be a cinch! Nope; not only did we fail to find it but we were thoroughly lost on a couple occasions following our meal at TGI Fridays (hey I can only eat so many bowls of rice in a week).
In hindsight what I believe happened is that the ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“left at 109′ didn’t directly mean along the left of the building, but instead a street going in front of it. That particular area has streets going every direction imaginable. We wound up headed in the wrong direction by a couple blocks. While in Shibuya we saw ads for famous Japanese bands, a used American clothing store featuring 12000 yen ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“80s metal t-shirts and 70000 yen Cub Scout uniforms, and even a Takada Monster Army restaurant with the greatest menu ever and Iron Chef Kawada. It was on a totally out-of-the-way street but Takada seems happy with it. Lots of shiny buildings and several false alarms due to the number of AM/PMs on the bottom of office buildings later, we gave up. Who knows if they were even open? Bah.
Two days later while on our way to Haneda airport to catch a domestic flight, I decided we should take a brief detour and stop by Ariake, home of the Differ Ariake arena which houses NOAH’s headquarters. We found the mighty Ariake Coliseum, we found Tokyo Big Site, we even found what felt like the world’s largest grouping of tennis courts, but we didn’t find Differ Ariake. Zach Arnold informs me that if I’d simply crossed the street from the coliseum I would have found it easily; I blame the fact that it wasn’t on the Ariake map. Thus we went 0-for-2 on finding headquarters. Pictures from that adventure are linked to later on.
Section 2- Glass half full in Ryogoku
The card was announced weeks in advance: New Japan was headlining a Sumo Hall show with Kojima vs Nakanishi. That took balls, especially since unlike NOAH booking Akiyama vs Masao Inoue in April there were no changed plans (Kobashi vs Sapp being cancelled) to explain the weak card. Having seen how things turned out I would have shuffled the B Block around to get Kojima vs Tanahashi in that slot, but who knows how much difference that would have made. New Japan announced 7500 in the 11500 seat venue; Meltzer pegs it at 4000. I would say the number is close to 5000, but eyeballing Sumo Hall is tricky because the lower level is 4-person carpet patches instead of chairs. One easily-seen thing was how many open VIP seats there were, including front row!
One of the Aussies was there (in the middle towards the right with red hair), and he mentioned buying an ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“emergency ticket’ for a mere 2000 yen, half what we paid for the cheapest seats available in the weeks before. Usually prices go up, not down just before a show. Bottom line is that New Japan drew significantly fewer people than they did for last year’s penultimate G-1 show, which was itself a very poor showing, and even this record-low Sumo Hall G-1 crowd was somewhat inflated. Arena pics from about a minute before the opening bell: one (note the covered areas above and below), two, three, four. Pics from just after the start of intermission: one, two, three, four, five, six. Sadly the top level of Sumo Hall sucks for getting action pictures when the lights are turned down so the only other shots I got are of the G-1 trophies.
The show itself was in many ways more enjoyable than its 2005 counterpart. The four undercard tags ranged from fun (Akebono/Yamamoto vs Yano/Ishii; Koshinaka’s butt-butts) to good juniors action. Taguchi even did his dance. Chono Collection AT might not mesh seamlessly but they have style, while the heat for Choshu and Chono stood in stark contrast to the crickets received by new IWGP champ Tanahashi. That situation worsened the next day.
The two lesser G-1 bouts were inoffensive but forgettable. Nobody expected much from Tenzan vs Makabe, and Liger vs Bernard had to be short since Bernard was advancing. Main event was harmless fun, with many a ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“hooooo!’ from the crowd before both Kojima and Nakanishi caved in and yelled it. The highlight by far was Nagata vs Kanemoto, as one would expect from the announced card. Nagata has improved greatly this year, showing more fire and focus than has been seen since he lost the IWGP in 2003. Kanemoto for his part brings plenty of underdog face heat, and he does much better when there’s someone else to control the psychology of the match. They went thirty minutes without significant lulls in the action, helped by the fact that the crowd bought into the prospect of Kanemoto getting counted out. Nagata’s use of the rarely-effective Nagtalock II (crossface) was a bit puzzling to me but I’d rather have that instead of both guys running through finishers left and right.
A decent show overall, I’m very glad we went for 4000 yen seats instead of 10000 yen. Oddly enough for all the business woes this show just might have turned a profit, if Akebono is going at the discount price he should.
Section 3- G-1 Finalie
7000 yen seats positioned us just three rows behind where we were last year. Unlike last year where the sell-out forced us to crowd into one patch of super-thin carpeting, this year’s final didn’t sell out and we were able to sit in a random empty section a few seats away from what we were assigned. New Japan claimed 11000, but that would only be possible if they sold every single non-covered seat. They didn’t. Meltzer said the crowd was 6500, and I would put the number somewhere between that and 8000, which is a serious decline from selling out every year before. And who knows how many ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“emergency tickets’ were bought. This picture was taken at the start of intermission, you just try making out the empty from the full.
Alex and I arrived late following an excursion on the Rainbow Bridge. We missed the opening juniors tag and Kojima beating Kanemoto, and walked in during the intros of Tenzan vs Bernard. Solid big vs little heavyweight match, though even Bernard shouldn’t kick out of the Tenzansault at 1. Liger, Jado & Gedo vs Tiger Mask, El Samurai & Taguchi was also solid, if unspectacular. Koshinaka/Makabe vs Yano/Ishii was forgettable so of course they booked it four times on the upcoming tour. Nagata/Tanahashi vs Iizuka/Yamamoto was good for Nagata and Yamamoto, but the contrast between the heat of Nagata and Tanahashi was fascinating. Even with a two-thirds full house Tanahashi has no heat, it’s positively Rikio-esque.
Next, the ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“freak show’ match of Chono Collection AT & Takayama vs Choshu, Akebono & Nakanishi. Takayama got the best ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“first introduction’ heat of the night, no surprise. I really would have liked to see it go longer and thus milk all the combinations, but it was good for what it was. Last but not least the main event, where Tenzan was backed by the New Japan roster minus Chono (on commentary) and Tanahashi (watching from one of the entrances). The string of good G-1 finals continued here, as Tenzan and Kojima managed a much more spirited performance than their 2004-2005 series. Crowd got nice and hot for Tenzan, significantly increasing his pops from the Bernard match. Good pacing, good execution, good nearfalls, best big Tokyo show main event New Japan has had in a while. Post-match Tenzan was showered with gifts: one, two, three, four.
Much better show than the night before, and the final was better than the year before if not quite as nuclear-hot. I’d put it right up there with the Nagata vs Bernard NJ Cup final for top NJ heavyweight match of ’06.
Section 4- Festival Gate & Osaka Pro
Not only was I able to see wrestling every day while I was in Tokyo, I would have been able to see a show every day from the 1st through the 13th. The same cannot be said about Osaka, especially if you take out the shows Osaka Pro runs every week at the Delfin Arena in Festival Gate mall. You know, a place for the whole family. The mall and the area around it aren’t nearly as happy as Osaka Pro’s roster. Festival Gate has few open stores, and thus Osaka Pro doesn’t have much foot traffic to milk for ticket sales or merchandise. They do apparently have a podcast though.
4000 yen got Rich Golden and myself front-row seats, unlike the chumps who had to sit on the floor with their kids and the biggest mark in Japan. How big a mark was he? Hand-made signs for every wrestler on a show that wasn’t taped/broadcast. He also is a mark for Euro-metal so that did make up for it somewhat. 200 fans made it in total, and the place looked pretty full. Opener was a solid young lions match featuring Billy Ken Kid in the role of the veteran. The chops in that match were incredibly loud, and it really brought home just how close to the ring we were. Next up, a match too far down the cardin my opinion: Ebessan II vs Takaku Fuke vs Super Delfin. Fun comedy match.
Third was Kamen getting mostly squashed by GAINA, who is a weird mix of thickness from muscle and flab. During intermission I got Super Dolphin’s autograph; weird seeing the recent ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“ace’ of the promotion sitting at the merch table. Fourth match was Flash Moon vs Mineo Fujita, my first time seeing either, and it was decent. After that match the evil Monster Boss & Monster Henchman beat up a ring boy until Miracle Man & Rasta Man made the save. I thought ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“Rasta Man’ was ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“Masked Man’, with ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“masked’ being said in a Japanese accent. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“Rasta’ in a Japanese accent sounds like ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“rastu’. Rasta Man was undaunted by the size difference. JUST LOOK AT THAT MONSTER OUTFIT FOLKS. Takoyaki-Da, who had been shilling the show outside, cowered at ringside while wearing his Monster-proof helmet. Rasta Man pinned Monster Boss and everyone went home happy.
This was a ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“small’ Osaka Pro show, missing many of its veterans like Tigers Mask, Black Buffalo and Super Dolphin. Despite this it was a good time thanks to the proximity to the ring. And Takoyaki-Da.
Section 5- The shills are alive with the sound of linking
My non-wrestling tourism report. If you enjoyed Tour-o-resu you’ll enjoy it. Features the Ariake pics referenced above.
Parting Shots: Climb aboard the OH! train