Buck Woodward@www.1Wrestling.comの日本旅行記
■投稿日時:2001年2月3日
■書き手:Buck Woodward  (ex:http://www.1Wrestling.com)

Part One
They say that getting there was half the fun. Well, in this case, it was
more like "getting there is a pain."

Our story begins a day or two prior to leaving for Tokyo, when I learned
that New York could very well be hit by a blizzard. I had already planned to
change my direct flight (JFK to Tokyo, leaving at 11:00am on Dec. 30th) to a
connecting flight (New York to Chicago to Tokyo) leaving at 9:30am from
LaGuardia, so that I could meet up with George Mayfield, Bill Pancoast and
Tim Noel and fly in together, rather than arriving in Tokyo alone. However,
the thought of getting snowed in and miss my vacation was a little too close
to being a possibility, so I instead found two flights leaving Newark for
Chicago at 6:15 and 7:15 that morning. I figured I could get out of New York
before the storm (scheduled to hit at 8am) came in, and fly right over it to
Chicago, which had already seen the worst of it pass by. I'd have a huge
layover, but better to be bored in an airport for a few hours than miss the
trip.


December 30th, 4:00am. I wake up after a few hours sleep and look out my
window. No snow. Less than a half hour latethe streets of Staten Island
would be covered in a blanket of white. I headed to Newark with snow falling
from the sky like no tomorrow. I was worried, to say the least. I got to the
airport at 5:30am, and found out that all passengers for the 6:15 and 7:15am
flights that were present would be put on a plane and gotten out before the
snow got worse. Well, the plane was still practically empty, but I would
have gladly sat between Big Sal E. Graziano and Rikishi if it got me out of
New York.

Buck travel hint: If you're tall, like me, try to get a seat in an exit row.
Your seat may not recline, but you get tons of extra leg room.

I got into Chicago, where it was also snowing, although not nearly as bad as
New York, and proceeded to stretch out by the gate for the flight to Japan
and hung out for five hours. Eventually, they began boarding what was also a
pretty empty flight. I would end up with a whole exit row to myself. Of
course, as I got on the plane, one thought kept popping into my head.

Where the hell was everyone else?

Now, Tim Noel was flying up from Virginia, and he was supposed to have a few
hours between arriving and departure, but I hadn't seen him in the airport.
George Mayfield, the mastermind behind this trip, was flying in from
Highspire, Pennsylvania, and according to the arrival board, should have
been in at that point. Bill Pancoast, flying in from Connecticut, also had
not made it yet. Thankfully, George and Tim boarded the plane shortly after
I had gotten settled in, with George just arriving in time for the flight.
Tim, it turned out, had been in the airport for sometime, just in a
different area than where I was hanging out. Bill Pancoast, unfortunately,
got stuck because of the storm, and as I write this, he still has not made
it to Japan. Hopefully Bill is okay, and will be here soon.

The flight over was fairly uneventful. Essentially, it was:

1. Talk wrestling.
2. Eat.
3. Sleep.
4. Repeat.

Fourteen hours or so seems like an excruciating amount of time to be on a
plane, but if you get three movies, you have two full meals and a few
snacks, and toss in some nap time, reading and music listening, and it
really isn't that bad. If the plane was full, I might think differently, but
it wasn't, so I lucked out. I left Chicago at 12 noon on the 30th of
December, and with the time change, landed in Tokyo's Narita airport at
about 4pm on the 31st. Again, the flight being empty came into play, as it
took less than 20 minutes to get the bags, go through customs, and go to
exchange currency. From there, we took a limousine bus into the heart of
Tokyo, and grabbed a cab to the hotel.
Now, a few people have made jokes about the hotel I would be staying at, and
yes, it is run by the YMCA. However, I did not come to Japan to sit in a
hotel room, and rather than pay $150 a night for a room I would barely use,
I paid a third of that for a room with the following essentials:

1. A bed I could fit in.
2. A shower I could barely fit in.
3. An American toilet (as opposed to the hole in the ground that is the norm
here.)

This room is to sleep, shower, store my stuff, and type these reports.
That's all. Back to the trip.

After checking into the hotel and taking a few minutes to unpack, we were
off to the Tokyo Dome hotel, a huge, absolutely incredible, new hotel that
was opened less than two years ago, right next to the Tokyo Dome (Duh!).
There we met up with Masanori Horie, little Masa (not related, they just
have the same name) and Robert, and talked a little wrestling. Since Bill
hadn't made it in, George opted to take his ticket to the EWP show that
night, which was scheduled to start at 11:30pm. However, we wanted to grab
some food first, so it was over to that exotic Japanese restaurant,
McDonald's.

Here, we ran into a little problem. It turns out that a group called the
Kinki Kids (sort of a Japanese Backstreet Boys or N'Sync) was playing four
shows at the Tokyo Dome over the course of New Year's Eve and New Year's
Day. Well, the second show had just gotten out, and the McDonald's was
packed with teenage girls. In fact, the line to the counter stretched down a
flight of stairs. When we finally got to the counter, George attempted to
order a Chicken McNuggets value meal, which they refer to as "sets" in
Japan. However, they don't sell a Chicken McNuggets meal by itself. They
sell it with a sandwich, as if the Nuggets were a side dish, like fries
(which you also get). He got a Fillet-O-Fish and got his Nuggets. As for me,
I got the Big Mac set and two cheeseburgers, and was proud that I got to
order across without messing up, until I told him the order was "to go." It
was then I learned that "to go" and "take out" were not synonymous here.
Luckily, little Masa was nearby to help me out.

After finishing our food, Tim headed to the hotel in an attempt to battle
jet lag, while the rest of us went to the subway station on our way to the
EWP (Onita) New Year's show. In honor of New Year's, they had a special
subway ticket for $10 (all money will be U.S. unless I say otherwise) that
could be used all night, instead of buying a new ticket every time. After
about a half hour, with one train switch, we were at Differ Ariake, a nice,
small arena. There were seats on the floor, and staggered seats on one side
of the building, and a stage with seats on it on the other side (which is
where we were) and a ramp extending from the stage to the ring. The
wrestlers came out from there, which was to my right. There was also a video
wall in one corner showing everything. At the merchandise tables, to my
amazement, was NO Atsushi Onita merchandise. Not even photos. The DDT crew
had merchandise, and so did the luchadors, and to my surprise, there were
Gurentai Japan shirts in XL. Most shirts in Japan don't come in an American
XL, so this was rare. Turns out, the lucha guys were heading to California
for shows soon, so they had shirts in that size with them. Also at the
merchandise tables was a gentleman selling tons of old merchandise. Videos,
shirts, posters. I picked up a 1995 New Japan video/book set, and inquired
about the price. I figured it would be pricey, seeing as it was in very good
condition, and was a "collector's edition" type of item. The price? $1.
That's right, a video and book for a buck. I spent more than that on the Dr.
Pepper I bought at a vending machine a few minutes later. By the way, Japan
is the vending machine capital of the worldarettes, soft drinks, beer
(that's right, beer vending machines) are everywhere. You can't walk a block
without passing a machine.
We settled down for the show, and met two fans from the United Kingdom who
had traveled here for the week of shows. One had emailed me right before I
left, and said he would look for me at the shows. Well, considering how few
6' 4" Americans there are a Japanese indy shows, I imagine I was pretty easy
to find! The show itself was advertised to start at 11:30pm, but the first
match would not begin until midnight, with the idea that it would be the
first match of 2001 (even though there was also a show five hours away at
the Osaka Dome that same night. This meant that the show opened with the big
draw, a 10 man no-rope barbed wire match with Atsushi Onita's team battling
Shoji Nakamaki's team. People can say what they will about Onita's ability
in the ring, but if there is a more charismatic wrestler out there, I
haven't seen him. The crowd was in the palm of his hand from the moment
"Wild Thing" started blaring, and if you get a tape of this match, you'll
probably notice two Americans "marking out" behind Onita as he goes to the
ring. That would be me and Tony Brown, who had arrived in Japan a few days
earlier, and met us at the show. They counted down to midnight, and the
brawl was on. Not an amazing match, considering the bloodfest most barbed
wire matches turn into, but very good, especially when Onita took center
stage. Onita's team won, but were laid out after the bout. Still, that
didn't stop Onita's post match speech and water throwing celebration. After
that match, there was an intermission while the barbed wire was replaced
with ring ropes, and I noticed some fans leaving. Like I said, Onita had the
crowd in his hand, and once he was done, it was just another indy show.
However, those that left missed a good angle.

Tarzan Goto, who had a falling out with Onita back in 1994 in FMW, walked
into the building wearing street clothes, and drinking from a bottle, as if
he had just stumbled in from a New Year's Party. Goto issued a challenge to
Onita, and stumbled from the building. Onita confronted Goto in the parking
lot outside the building, and it looks like Onita's next show may have a
hell of a draw, as Goto vs. Onita for the first time in over half a decade
will bring plenty of fans, I would think. After sticking around for two more
matches, tag bouts that included Sasuke The Great (Masao Orihara) and Super
Astro, we decided to bolt. After all, I had only been awake for about 38
hours (except for a few moments of dozing off on the plane)! We took the
subway back, checked out some of the New Year's nightlife, then hit the
hotel for some sleep.

One day down, a lot more to go!


Part Two
My first night's sleep in Japan was a long one, and one my body was grateful
for after being up for so long. When we all did get up, it was off to Shrine
with Masa. For those not aware, New Year's is a huge holiday in Japan. Many
stores and offices close down, and everyone takes some time off. Everyone
goes to Shrine to pray for health and prosperity in the new year. To be
honest, I was expecting a quiet little place with people praying and
leaving. Instead it was more like a huge street fair, with people selling
food and trinkets and running side show games. It was a very festive
atmosphere. The Shrine itself was a pretty impressive structure, with people
tossing money onto its steps, clapping twice, then praying. I also saw a
series of wooden bars with strips of ribbon tied to them. I was later told
that people would write down their fortunes or wishes for the new year and
tie them to the racks. Needless to say, this was a really enlightening part
of the trip. We absorbed some more culture when we took a walk through
beautiful Kanemaru Park, which surrounds Budokan Hall. For you music buffs,
the Beatles caused quit a stir when they were booked to play a concert here
in the sixties, back when the hall was used strictly for sumo. Now, rock
shows are held there all the time (remember Cheap Trick, Live at Budokan?),
and as we went past the building, they were setting up merchandise for a
group called Hotei Fetish. As we walked through the park, we found out that
at 9pm, the park must be cleared of all people. Turns out the other end of
the park is right across from the Emperor's palace, and there has been a
long standing fear of a sniper trying to take a shot from the park at night.
Of course, there's still the moat, huge wall, and the armed guards to go
through if you really wanted to get at him.
After more sightseeing, we headed over to another exotic location, Sizzler,
and had dinner. Lots of wrestling talk, as you would expect a bunch of
wrestling fans to be doing, and Masa also gave me a very cool gift: a black
and white picture from an All Japan show from the early 80's with Giant
Baba, Genichiro Tenryu, Bruno Sammartino, Dory Funk Jr., Terry Funk, King
Tonga/Meng, Mil Mascaras, and Jumbo Tsuruta. I'll scan and post it on the
site when I come home. The Kinki Kids had another concert letting out as we
headed into the Tokyo Dome Hotel, and young girls were everywhere. We hung
out for a short time, and soon the All Japan workers from outside of Japan
began arriving. Working for All Japan on this tour is Mike Barton (the
former Bart Gunn), Jim Steel (the former Jungle Jim), George Hines (the
former Jackie Fulton), Kamala 2, Johnny Smith, Cedman, Psicosis, Halloween,
and Damian 666. In addition to that, a lot of indy talent from around Japan
is now used to fill out the cards, including Gran Naniwa, Darkness Dragons,
Muhammed Yone, and others. After talking with some of the workers, we headed
back to the hotel, where, unfortunately, there was still no word on Bill
Pancoast. We didn't know if he had made it out of the east coast, had gone
home, was in the air, or what was happening.
Well, that's it for day two. Sorry it's so short, but it was truly the calm
before the storm, as the next three days will consist of going to six shows,
starting with All Japan in the afternoon, and Big Japan in the evening. The
day after that will be All Japan in the afternoon, and All Japan Women in
the evening, and the third double header will be All Japan Women in the
morning, and New Japan's huge Tokyo Dome show that night.


January 2, 2000
Let the madness begin!
Tuesday morning saw us head over to Jonathan's for breakfast. Jonathan's is
a half American/half Japanese restaurant, where you can get adventurous with
your order, or you can play it safe and get scrambled eggs and bacon. After
having the eggs and bacon, I wish I hadn't played it safe. Not very
impressive. Unfortunately, this would be the last chance to hang out with
Tony Brown, as he had a family emergency he had to attend to, and he was
flying back to the U.S. that day. Tony is a class act, and we all miss not
having him here. Tony, hope everything goes as well as it can.
We made our first of many visits to Champions before hitting Korakuen Hall
for the first show of the day. Champions is this great wrestling video and
merchandise store, and to say George Mayfield has built up a good
relationship with them is an understatement. When you get off the elevator
to walk into the store, a sign was hanging above the door that said "2001: A
Space Odyssey, Welcome Back George." We only made a brief visit though, as
we wanted to get settled for the 12:30pm All Japan show.
Giant Baba may be dead and gone, but he is still everywhere. He was on the
show poster for this tour (fittingly, the New Year's Giant Series 2001) and
was also on the poster for their big Tokyo Dome show on Jan. 28th. His
likeness is on the tickets, and they still sell tons of merchandise at the
shows, from shirts, hats, statues, flags, and books, to solid gold trading
cards. Walking into the hallway outside Korakuen, I had a surprise waiting
for me. It turns out, some of the Gaijins (American workers) have their
t-shirts available in "LL" which for us means XL. Finally, Japanese
merchandise in my size, even if it is the American workers! I picked up a
couple of Stan Hansen shirts, which, given his impending retirement (he's
not even appearing on this tour) on the 28th, will probably be one of the
last times his stuff will be available, unless Motoko Baba (Baba's widow and
the boss now) decides to sell his merchandise forever too. I also picked up
a copy of the program for the tour, which brings us to a little story.
Motoko Baba has a reputation, and not a good one. One story that has made
the rounds is that she refused to bring Sean "Val Venis" Morley back to All
Japan because on his first tour, he asked Giant Baba how much a T-shirt was.
Well, after I got my program, I went to Taiyo Kea, who was signing
merchandise behind the gimmick table. Usually, one wrestler from the
promotion will sit and sign if you buy merchandise. I'm not into autographs,
but since the opportunity presented itself, why not? I went to hand him my
program, but had it grabbed from my hand by Mrs. Baba herself. She opened it
to the page with Kea's picture on it, and held it for him to sign. Kea
signed it, and she handed it back to me, while Kea said hello (we had met
the night before at the hotel). Then Titepped up to get his program
signed. He tried to hand it to Mrs. Baba, who said "No more." Motoko Baba
snubbed Tim! Kea was still signing stuff, but Motoko wouldn't let Tim get
the autograph (not that it mattered, since he had gotten it the day before
at the hotel). For the next day or two, we all wondered why Mrs. Baba
wouldn't let Kea sign Tim's program.
This is all Tim has to say on the matter: "Lest I burn a bridge with All
Japan, I have no comment."
For the show itself, we had second row ringside seats, with our backs to the
hard camera. All Japan's TV and video situation is a little up in the air,
so I don't know where it will be seen, but the back of my head may play a
prominent role. Not a lot of fans over 6 feet tall here. The show itself was
a combination of the traditional All Japan hard nosed style, and a healthy
dose of lucha libre. Because of the split with Noah, All Japan has had to
rely heavily on independent workers to fill the gaps in the undercard.
Here's some quick thoughts on the card, since you've probably seen results
elsewhere. I'll do more in-depth commentary at a later date on all the
shows.

All Japan 1/2: Hiroshi Hase vs. Masa Fuchi was a great opener. For someone
who only wrestles a few times a year now, Hase is still fantastic. Fuchi
deserves a lot of credit for becoming a serious wrestler again after
spending so long in the comedy matches. They did a lot of mat wrestling,
with a few comedy spots mixed in. Hase was in control for the most part,
hitting a lot of his trademark spots. The match ended in a 20 minute draw,
and was a great opener. … Kamala 2 didn't seem to fit in with a lucha
match, as he teamed with Damian 666 against Psicosis and Halloween, but they
did a lot of comedy to make it interesting. Still, it seemed weird to see a
lucha match in an All Japan ring. … The six man tag featuring indy workers
was good, with Kanda & Mochizuki stealing the show. … Johnny Smith defeated
Cedman, and if you ever see the tape, you'll notice all the "gaijin" fans
tossing streamers in for him. …. Negai and Kakihara are two of the stiffest
wrestlers you'll ever see, as Kea and Yone found out. They had Kakihara and
Kea really going at it, before and after the bell, so I got a feeling
something will be building here. … Tenryu, even at this age, looks amazing.
He must have a time machine. The real breakout star of this match was George
Hines (the former Jackie Fulton), who had some of the biggest pops of the
night, and tons of crowd support. … The heavyweight battle royal was good,
and they eliminated Kawada and Tenryu first, opening the field. Since
pinfalls and submissions are used in the battle royal, there were a lot of
spots where someone would hit a suplex, only to have all the other wrestlers
piling on him for a pin. Hines was one of the last three men, and was
probably the favorite, but in the end Mike Barton (aka Bart Gunn) eliminated
Araya for the win. Bart has really found his niche in the All Japan
no-frills style.
After the All Japan show let out, we did a brief shopping run, then went
back to the hotel to unload before heading back to Korakuen for the Big
Japan show. I was surprised how well the group drew, considering it's usual
"name" players like Abdullah the Butcher and Mitsuhiro Matsunaga weren't on
the show. They used a video projector to show interviews and entrance
montages for the wrestlers, which was a nice touch. They also had an auction
before the show, which was a bit of a joke, since most of what they
auctioned off was things from other promotions. Some of it bordered on
ridiculous. What would you do with old turnbuckle covers anyway? Of course,
the real humor came when the CZW bunch appeared on the video screen with
Rockin' Rebel. That's right, the early ECW mainstay, Rockin' Rebel. I
traveled halfway around the world to see Rockin' Rebel? All jokes aside, he
looked to be in good shape. Here's some thoughts on that show.
Big Japan 1/2: The opener was very "eh", although Matsuzaki looked good. …
Winger vs. Fantastik was funny, as some of the lucha guys that had worked
Onita's show had come to sit in the crowd (without masks), and were yelling
at Winger in Spanish all night. … Benkei has the kind of cult following I
will never understand. … Abdullah Kobayashi does bear a striking similarity
to the original, but there's no comparison to the true Butcher. … Men's
Teioh defeating Kamikaze was probably the best match of the show, for me. …
With no Honma, Shadow WX and Yamakawa didn't stand much of a chance against
Zandig, Kasai and Rebel. However, when the match ended with no one using the
staple gun that was hung above the ring, I knew something was up. Then the
lights went out, the music hit, and out came Kintaro Kanemura to the loudest
pop of the night. The match that followed, with Kanemura and Co. beating the
CZW guys, was a really good brawl.
After the show, it was a quick trip to Jonathan's for some more food (I went
Japanese, and still don't know exactly what I ate), and tons of wrestling
and music talk. Turns out, there are a lot of Metallica fans in this
country. Hanging out with Big Masa, Sato and the rest, it's easy to see why
George keeps coming back here. Just a great bunch of guys.
Now, a few notes about some emails. First, to all concerned about me because
of the lack of reports, thank you. To those that emailed bitching about the
lack of reports, tough. This is my vacation folks, I'm not here to do real
time results. If going to two shows a day, shopping, dinners, ceremonies,
meetings, sight seeing, and more means these reports don't get out quicker,
I'm sorry but that's the way it is. Other than showering and sleeping, I
haven't been in my hotel room much. When I get home, there will be many
stories and things to write about, but for now, these reports will have to
do. Hopefully, I'll get at least one more report sent in before I leave, but
I make no promises.
Look at it this way, the fact that I haven't been sitting around typing
should tell you what a great time I'm having!

Part Three
Okay, so I’m flying home from Tokyo, thinking to myself, “when I get home,
I need to finish the report on my trip.” Then I get home, visit with the
family, catch the end of Steve Austin vs. Kurt Angle (great match , by the
way) and go to sleep … for 16 hours. Jet lag and exhaustion had me out for
the count. Other than watching the ECW pay-per-view and sorting through all
the Japanese merchandise I purchased, not much was accomplished on Tuesday.
Wednesday was spent going through the email that had piled up, then came
Thursday, and that whole WCW thing, topped off with the usual workload and a
Chyna conference call. So now, finally, I get to finish these reports.
For those that missed the beginning of the story,
Click here for part one.
Click here for part two.
Okay, everyone up to speed? Then let’s go!
January 3rd began on a sad note, as Tony Brown had headed home the day
before to tend to a family matter, which I’m very happy to say has turned
out much better than originally anticipated. On the flip side, Bill
Pancoast, after three days of being bounced around the United States, had
finally made his way to Japan. He had missed New Year’s, and three shows,
but at least he got to fly first class! Actually, after being snowed in
Connecticut, Bill was taken to New York, where he finally flew out of JFK,
only to have engine problems over Alaska, and had to fly into San Francisco
before finally getting to Japan.
We had breakfast at McDonald’s, and here seems as good a place as any to
tell you a story about the Golden Arches in Japan. George Mayfield, who has
been here 17 times, likes hotcakes and sausage. However, for years and
years, they never sold hotcakes and sausage together. So George would have
to order hotcakes and a sausage McMuffin just to get what he wanted. Well,
as we went up the stairs to McDonald’s, what is featured in a huge picture
next to the menus? That’s right, the all new, “Hotcakes and Sausage Set”!
George is now convinced that his years of complaining has changed the way
Japanese McDonald’s do business. We even filmed him next to “his” item.
After all those years of him coming here, I wouldn’t be surprised if he
wasn’t a factor in them selling the set. They certainly aim to please in
this country.
Onto the next double shot at Korakuen Hall, where today’s lineup was All
Japan in the afternoon, and All Japan Women in the evening. In between, we
hit the Tiger Mask store (the sign just says “wrestling shop” but since
the sign also has a picture of Tiger Mask, that’s what I’m calling it).
This store had tons of old programs and magazines, as well as a huge
collection of masks. Here’s my quick thoughts on this double shot.
All Japan 1/3: Masanobu Fuchi defeated Gran Naniwa in the opener. I get the
feeling Naniwa is going to be picking up a lot of work here, since they are
so low on juniors. … The six-man with Darkness Dragon, Mochizuki and Kanada
against the luchadores (Psicosis, Damian 666, Halloween) was a great lucha
style match, with Damian stealing the show with his comedic antics, which
included sitting in the first row during the match. … Araya & Okumura
defeating Yone & Hijikata was solid. Hijikata has some stiff kicks. …
Kamala vs. Cedman looked horrible on paper, but the match turned out to be
much better than expected. … Muhammad Yone won the junior battle royal, but
once again, Damian was the star. … Mike Barton & Jim Steel defeated Johnny
Smith & George Hines in a pretty unique match, considering all four spoke
English, so we could understand everything that was being said. Once again,
George Hines had a lot of crowd support. He lost both of his matches, and
the battle royal, but All Japan would have to be deaf and blind not to see
how much the crowd has taken to him. … Then there was the main event. To
see Toshiaki Kawada, Genichiro Tenryu and Hiroshi Hase on the same team was
quite a site. It would be unthinkable a few years ago to see them together.
I was a little surprised that Kea and Kakihara didn’t have some kind of
blow up, given the way they had torn into each other the day before. George
Mayfield, in an act of skill, grace and … dumb luck, caught Hase’s T-shirt
as he came to the ring. Now, Hase still wears his old New Japan shirt, and
you can’t buy it anywhere. The only way to get the shirt is to catch it
when Hase tosses it out, and George did. … One more All Japan note. The
match before intermission, they toss balls out to the crowd. If you catch
one, you can bring it to the gimmick tables for a free souvenir (in this
case, a huge foam Giant Baba hand). That’s a fan friendly gesture I’d like
to see other promotions pick up on.
Next up was All Japan Women. Admittedly, I have not followed the women’s
scene in Japan as much as others, although I have picked up my viewing of
Arsion recently. Still, I wasn’t expecting much from the AJW show, and
ended up being more than pleasantly surprised. Of course, the show was also
responsible for drilling a song into my head that I still can’t shake. See,
Nakanishi, Takahashi and some of the other AJW workers double as a singing
group, the Kiss Girls. They have a song, and the promotion plays it over and
over (and over) before the show, during intermission, and after the shows.
Just in case you forgot it, the girls come out and perform it for you during
the show! By the time the second AJW show was over, I could take no more. I
gave in, went to Champions and bought the damn CD.


All Japan Women 1/3: Nakanishi vs. Takahashi showed another difference
between Japan and the U.S. Tag team partners wrestling each other without it
being a breakup (or a set up for a break up). … I have to say, the midget
wrestlers in All Japan Women crack me up, especially Mr. Buttaman, who bears
a striking resemblance to a former WCW announcer. Maybe they should call him
the “best looking little man in the business.” … Interesting that most of
the undercard matches (Wakizawa vs. Terashita, Hotta & Watanabe vs. Inoue &
Fuji) were over ten minutes. Can you imagine a U.S. Card where every match
went that long? … Shimoda & Maekawa defeating Toyota & Noumi was a good
appetizer to the main event, and it was cool to see Toyota live. She must be
ageless, because she is just as good now as she was when I first started
watching her. … I was never a big Kaoru Ito fan, but she earned my respect
and then some with her WWWA title defense over Etsuko Mita, who is one of my
faves. Words cannot do this match justice. If you think women’s wrestling
is hair pulling and cleavage, get this tape and get a clue. This was the
best match, male, female or otherwise, I have seen in a long time.
Incredible mat wrestling, wild brawling through the crowd, and near falls
that had the usually reserved Japanese crowd popping like an over inflated
balloon. At one point, Mita hit her finisher, the Death Valley Driver, on
the floor. It her double stomp from the top rope to the concrete, and
the match still continued. Mita with three consecutive DVD’s. Ito kicks
out. Ito with a series of top rope double stomps to the stomach. Mita kicks
out. This match went almost 30 minutes, and I think the crowd was as
exhausted as the wrestlers when it was over. In my opinion, the best match
of the week, although the following night, another match came damn close to
topping it.
During intermission, and after the show, Takako Inoue was signing copies of
her new photo book “Make Love.” These photo books are huge in Japan, and
Takako, who is absolutely gorgeous, has made quite a bit of money with hers.
Without being vulgar, let me just say that the term “adult material” does
not begin to describe these photos. Hot stuff, folks. And to save you all an
email, yes, I got a copy, and no you can’t look at it.
After the show, I met Bionic J of Arsion, who had anded the show. Since
Bionic J is an American (she was trained by Al Snow), she’s able to go to
other promotions shows, while the native workers are not, since the press
automatically assumes that an angle must be in the work. I’ll talk more
about her in the Arsion section of this report, but I will say now that
meeting her was a true highlight of the trip. In fact, we spent so much time
chatting in the hallway of Korakuen, that I skipped dinner and headed right
back to the hotel, stopping at an AM/PM (kind of like a 7-Eleven) to pick up
some ice cream to eat in bed (people who have read Mick Foley’s book will
get that one).
January 4th started early, and this was Dome day. You can’t truly
appreciate the amount of hype that goes behind the New Japan Tokyo Dome
shows. Newspapers cover the event like the Superbowl is covered here. I’ve
been to “big” shows in the U.S., but when you start talking about 65,000
people in a baseball stadium, the term “big” takes on a whole new meaning.
Early in the day, the merchandise stands were already being erected, and
watching them unload all the stuff that would be sold that day was an
impressive sight. Of course before the Dome show at 4pm, there was an All
Japan Women’s show at Korakuen Hall to attend.
All Japan Women 1/4: This show featured mostly singles matches, and they
were damn good ones. … Matches like Fujii defeating Chie show that there is
a future for this company once the current headliners step down. … Ito
looked good against Maekawa, although this was not the barn burner that her
match the day before was. … Wakizawa vs. Noumi was excellent, as Wakizawa
retained her All Japan Singles title. … Takako defeating Watanabe was cool,
but to be honest, I spent more time checking out Takako then paying
attention to the action. Sue me. … Toyota vs. Hotta was a fantastic match,
and I was surprised that Hotta went over Toyota in a singles match, although
it made a lot more sense after the main event. … Mita and Shimoda defeated
Nakanishi and Takahashi for the WWWA Tag Team Titles in a two out of three
fall match that came real close to beating out Ito vs. Mita for best match
of the week. Nakanishi is going to be a major player as an aerial wrestler.
At one point, she was battling on the floor and whipped towards the stage.
In what seemed like one fluid motion, she sprung onto the stage and launched
back into a perfect moonsault. Takahashi could become a major power wrestler
when she gets older. However, the night belonged to Los Cachorras, as Mita
and Shimoda took the first fall, which ran long, then in a rare angle, took
the second fall when Hotta ran into the ring and turned on Nakanishi, taking
her out. The post match melee, where Ito and Co. hit the ring and brawled
with Hotta and Co., while Toyota watched from the aisle, should come off
great on video. Some of the fans were angered by the angle, but I didn’t
care. I had just watched my favorite tag team win the titles!
The AJW show ran longer than expected, and since I was weighed down with
merchandise that I really did not want to carry all around the Dome show, I
headed back to the hotel to make a drop off. I made it to the Dome as they
were running down the lineup for the day. Thankfully, I had missed all the
boring speeches and ga-ga that goes on before the show. As I said above,
watching wrestling in a baseball stadium with that many people is a unique
experience. I had great seats, with a perfect view of both the ring and the
huge video screen. The stag setup used for entrances is massive, and is
reminiscent of a Rolling Stones concert more than a wrestling show. This
Dome lineup, unlike previous years, was stacked, so I didn’t have to sit
through any Yasuda or Ohara matches. Thank god for tournaments.
New Japan1/4: The show started with a surprise, as Satoshi Kojima and
Kensuke Sasaki had a better match than I ever thought they would have.
Kojima was busted open hardway, and worked really hard, concentrating the
attack on Sasaki’s arm, trying to disable the lariat. Sasaki’s victory was
hardly unexpected, but they put on a good bout first. … Hiroyoshi Tenzan
defeating Yuji Nagata was an upset to me. Not that I think Nagata is higher
on the ladder than Tenzan, but with Toshiaki Kawada has the opponent in the
next round, I thought Nagata made a more logical choice to have a good match
with him. I was wrong. … Fans in the U.S. may love NJ Juniors, but it’s
obvious the Japanese fans look at them as being a step below the heavys.
Tanaka & Kanemoto had a really strong match defeating Takaiwa & Makabe, but
there may have been more people on line at the concession stands during the
bout. … Iizuka vs. Ka Shin was okay, but seemed to be missing something to
me. … Sasaki vs. Chono, a headline match in itself, showed me just how
popular Chono is. The body may have slowed down, but the pop when he came
out was absolutely huge. Sasaki getting the win practically guaranteed a
rematch of the October Tokyo Dome show in the main event. … Kawada vs.
Tenzan was good, and all the All Japan fans had a good laugh when Kawada
came back from Tenzan’s chops (the fans yell “shhhoo” every time he does
the double chop) with a high kick. … Muto & Ohtani defeating Liger &
Nakanishi was great, but it was way too short. I’d have tacked another ten
minutes onto this match easily. Ohtani has put on some weight, but he still
pulled off the springboard dropkick. Muto came out with a hood on, despite
having already revealed his now bald dome at the Inoki show a few days
earlier, and his new look was featured in several papers. Ohtani getting the
win over Liger with a cobra is, I’m assuming, the signal that he isn’t a
junior anymore. … This crowd was rabid of Hashimoto vs. Choshu. There was
definitely an age division amongst the fans here, but both men had tons of
support. The match was the classic “battle of attrition”, with Choshu
hitting lariats and Hashimoto responding with kicks. Then, with the crowd
going nuts, Tatsumi Fujinami stopped the bout. I was confused, and so was
everyone else. The official decision was that they were not wrestling, they
were fighting and battering each other, so the bout was called off. At
first, I thought Fujinami was going to pull an Inoki and start yelling for
them to “Fight” but it never happened. Nakanishi had a little shovefest
with Hashimoto, but that was it. Some fans actually threw garbage towards
the ring, and I can’t remember the last time the usually reserved Japanese
crowd was so angered by a match result. It was the cover story in the papers
the next day, and a lot of locals told me this type of angle has been done
before to build up heat, but to me, it was just cheap. … After the cruddy
ending of that match, it was up to Kawada to pull another good match out of
Kensuke, and he did, although one could argue that the October bout was much
better. Sasaki got his win back, and his IWGP title, which he had vacated
after losing to Kawada in October. Now, we’ve got the perfect setup for a
third singles meeting between the two, although they will team at the Tokyo
Dome for All Japan first.

A few more notes about the Dome itself. They have these young Japanese girls
wearing VERY short shorts, with mini kegs strapped to their back selling
beer in the crowd. Now that’s a marketing concept I can dig. Also, its
amazing how quickly the place empties out. I’d say within 30 minutes of the
show ending, the place was a ghost town. I should also point out that,
unlike large sports/entertainment gatherings in the U.S., I didn’t see any
fights in the stands, or guys getting thrown out for being rowdy, even after
the Choshu-Hashimoto screwjob.
After the Dome show, it was off to Ribera’s. Now, if you’ve ever seen
Japanese wrestlers outside the ring (or Vader during his Starrcade press
conference where he signed to fight Flair), you’ve probably seen a Ribera’
s jacket. Ribera’s is a steakhouse that is very popular among wrestlers,
and the whole restaurant is decorated with pictures of wrestlers who have
dined there. In fact, you can’t buy the jackets, they are given to
wrestlers as gifts, with the understanding that they will wear them around,
thus giving the place promotion. A lot of us went over for this dining
experience. It was me, George, Tim, Bill, Kurt (who is from New Jersey, but
does business in Japan), Little Masa, and Scott Farrell & Phil Jones who
traveled from Europe for the shows. Scott and Phil have traveled over to the
States for wrestling as well, so the next time you bitch about having to
drive to a show, think about what these guys go through! Anyway, back to
Ribera’s. I tore through a one pound steak that was absolutely delicious,
while taking in the atmosphere. Pictures of everyone from Mike Tyson and
Owen Hart (together) to Andre The Giant to Bruiser Brody to Balls Mahoney
line the walls, and there’s even a WWF Championship belt encased in glass
at the front of the restaurant. A great time was had by all as we ate,
talked wrestling, and looked forward to some extra sleep, since the three
days of double shots were over.

January 5th was spent relaxing and shopping, then it was time for Arsion.
This women’s group, which splintered off All Japan Women, has quickly
become my favorite promotion to watch. Unlike AJW, they don’t do a lot of
brawling in the crowd here. Rather, the matches are just solid in-ring
action from start to finish. Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of
pin-up girls to gawk at here, but when the bell rings, the bouts stand up on
their own merits. Plus, I got to “mark out” for the American and throw
streamers during Bionic J’s match.
However, before going to the show, there were book and electronic stores to
hit, as well as steaks to eat at Cowboy’s, which also has a wrestling theme
to it’s restaurant. Then it was back to Korakuen for the show.
Arsion 1/5: The show got off to a fast start with Gami, Tamada and Takase
defeating Ai Fujita (who is gorgeous), Yamagata and Chapparita Asari, who is
simply spectacular. You’d never guess looking at her small stature how
incredible she is in the ring. … Mariko Yoshida defeated Bionic J, despite
my crys of protest. … Piko defeating Linda Starr in a “mask vs. loser
leaves” match was no surprise, as Linda needs to leave the country to renew
her visa. … Candy Okutsu’s retirement match was pretty moving, as she lost
to her friend Michiko Omukai, and was then beat up by a bunch of the other
girls. Sort of a violent farewell. That was followed by the ceremony, and
Scott got into the act, as he presented her with a bouquet of flowers (and
despite his fears, did not trip over the ropes getting into the ring). It
was sad to see someone retire so young, but better to leave the sport now,
then risk serious injury (she’s retiring due to a head injury) that can
ruin your life. … Mita and Shimoda gave Ryo Miyuki a violent introduction
to Arsion, as she had to team with Aja Kong in her debut against my fave
team. She was a mess by the end of the match, but she showed some heart in
defeat. … Major upset in the main event, as Hyuga & Mary Apache defeated
Ayako Hamada & Akino. Hamada has been pushed to the moon as the top star,
since Arsion is working on getting a TV deal, but no one is above being
defeated. Great capper to a great show.
After the show, we headed over to the Korean Barbecue for dinner. For those
that have never been to one, a Korean Barbecue is where a gas grill is built
into the table, and you cook your own meat. We had five people, so we
ordered a plate of five, and tore through the slabs of marinated beef in no
time. So we ended up ordering two more plates “for five.” Gami and Tamada
came by while we were eating, and actually called out George by name, which
had him floating on a cloud for the rest of the day. Bionic J then joined
us, and we had a great conversation about the business and the differences
between Japan and the U.S. You have to respect her dedication to wrestling.
She lives in Japan practically year round now, pursuing her dream, because
god knows you can’t make a living as a female WRESTLER in the U.S. unless
you can double as a lingerie model. I have a lot of respect for Bionic J for
following her dream, and the sacrifices she made to make it happen.


January 6th started with a tour of Tokyo, courtesy of Sato and Yoshi, who
drove us around town in their van. We stopped at the American Wrestling
Shop, which was like a trip back in time. All the old WWF figures, WCW
shirts and other things that are sitting in basements and attics across
America are for sale here. It was wild to see the equivalent of a U.S.
merchandise museum in Japan. A few of the more interesting items included a
WBF hat, a Hulk Hogan lightswitch, and a Young Stallions shirt. (How many of
you even remember who the Young Stallions were?) . They also had a pair of
Steve Williams wrestling boots, where I found an amazing discovery: Dr.
Death has bigger feet than me, and I wear an size 12! We then hit the New
Japan store, which is sort of like WWF NY for New Japan, without the
restaurant. After stocking up on MORE merchandise, including the poster for
the Tokyo Dome show, it was off to Differ Ariake for the Noah show.
Interesting to note, the original Tokyo Dome poster had a picture of Jushin
Liger in the design, but once Hashimoto was announced for the show, his
picture replaced Liger’s.
Upon hitting the Noah show, I stood by the merchandise table and had someone
bump into me. Now, considering how polite the people are in Japan, I was a
little surprised by the shove, and turned around to find that I had just
been bumped into by Mitsuharu Misawa. In hindsight, I should have sold it
more. After that brush with greatness, I bought a Noah hat, to discover the
tag inside said “Made in the U.S.A.” Go figure, I’m in Japan buying a hat
that was probably made an hour from my house. I met up with George, who was
chatting with 2 Cold Scorpio, who was relaying how he would be working more
weeks for Noah this year, and how he had a blast on a recent Australian
tour. He also mentioned coming back to the States to work at Tod Gordon’s
wrestling fantasy camp this summer. Scorp looked in really good shape, and
may have added some muscle. Of course, the show was a tag team fest, since
they just held their big singles show the previous week. Still, with a
roster like Noah has, you know the shows will be good.
Noah 1/6: Takashi Sugiara made his debut, losing to Tamon Honda. Nice debut,
although Honda may not have been a good choice to debut with. … Mitsuo
Momota & Rusher Kimura defeated Haruka Eigen & Satoru Asako in the usual
comedy match. Anyone that criticizes these bouts just doesn’t get it. They
’re not supposed to be taken seriously. It was enjoyable, although it was a
shame that Asako had to be used in the comedy match, since he has so much
skill. … Akira Taue (who’s Giant Baba impression is not doing anything for
me) & Jun Izumida defeated Inoue & Hashi in a bout that saw Hashi bleed a
gusher after Izumida busted him open hardway with a headbutt. … The next
three bouts were all upsets, as the team with the “star” lost, although
the star never did the job. Still, just seeing Akiyama, Misawa and Kobashi
live was a thrill. Those guys are the cream of the crop. … Takayama & Omori
defeated Scorpio & Vader in the main event, which was just a great tag
match. Vader belongs in Japan, where he can do his monster bit and not have
to worry about being misused by bookers that don’t understand that a bully
heel can get over just by mauling people.
That night, it was another trip to Ribera’s, and time for another steak.
This time, thanks to a long standing friendship with the owner’s, and a
little compensation, we walked out with that rare treasure that makes other
Japanese wrestling fans (in the States) jealous … Ribera’s jackets! George
also got a bottle of wine from his friends, which may not seem like a big
deal, but the label of the wine features a photo of the one and only Bruiser
Brody. I believe George may actually be giving up the bottle as a giveaway
on his website, and it does make quite the collectible.
January 7th would be the last full day in Japan, and it would also be the
day when our little group would split up. Everyone had their own plans for
the day, and after a week in Tokyo, I was confident in my ability to get
around without getting lost. After getting a little extra sleep, and packing
some of my stuff, it was off to Korakuen for the FMW show, which my fellow
gaijins had opted not to attend. With no Hayabusa, FMW loses a lot of its
appeal, and the show was okay, until the main event, which was one of the
best FMW matches I’ve seen in quite sometime.


FMW 1/7: The show opened with an 8 person battle royal, which seemed
destined to go to Hisakatsu Oya, until Kyoko Inoue pulled out the win. It’s
hard to believe how big Kyoko is, or that her and Takako are sisters. …
Jado & Kaori Nakayama vs. Ricky Fuji & Flying Kid Ichihara showed the basic
problem with the company. Nakayama is too small to be believable against the
men, but with the exception of her and Kyoko, there are no women in the
company. They’d both be better off in AJW or Arsion, I think. … Chris
Candido looked thinner and less muscular than in his WCW run, but had a
great match against Azusa Kudo, doing old Terry Funk spots to the delight of
the crowd. The win, where Candido was lifted for a powerbomb, then punched
Kudo, falling on top for the pin, came out of nowhere. … Kintaro Kanemura
had a good match with Pat Tanaka, including putting Pat through a table from
the entranceway in the upper area of Korakuen. It should be noted that Pat
and Chris had arrived at 9:30 that morning to wrestle on a 12:30 show, and
both still put on strong performances. … Goemon (Koji Nakagawa) and Onryu
defeated Hideki Hosaka & Mammoth Sasaki fir the Hardcore Tag Titles when
Goemon hit Sasaki with a flying bodypress from the stage to the floor. Onryu
only did one of his “dead man spots” but it was still cool, as he lied
still in the ring, getting pinned, then jetted one hand up to grab the ref’
s arm as he counted the pin. After the match, Hosaka broke up with
Sasaki. … The main event, with Masato Tanaka & Gedo defeating Tetsuhiro
Kuroda & Kodo Fuyuki, was incredible. Even Fuyuki had his working shoes on,
while the other three are arguably the best workers in the company. There
were tons of false finishes, until Tanaka hit the Roaring Elbow on Fuyuki,
who fell into Gedo’s reverse legsweep for the pin. Tanaka and Gedo took the
WEW tag belts and left, while Kuroda and Co. turned on Fuyuki. Proof that
FMW will always follow a great match with a goofy angle, Fuyuki was tied to
the ropes, had a bra and makeup put on him, and Kuroda started calling
Fuyuki “Grandma.” Kyoko and Chocoball Mukai made the save, more because it
was Kyoko’s bra they had stolen than any love for Fuyuki. Ahh, only in FMW.
That night, with Tim attending the Battlearts show, and George off visiting
a friend, me and Bill Pancoast, with Little Masa leading the way, headed to
Mr. Danger’s steakhouse. Mitsuhiro Matsunaga, one of the true masters of
the death match, has got himself one jumping restaurant, as the place
actually had a waiting list to get in. The decor is as unique as the man
himself, as the walls are adorned with barbed wire baseball bats, rifles,
Laurel & Hardy statues, and a Santa Claus playing the saxophone doll, that
would occasionally move and play. Like I said, it was unique. Right above
our table was a framed picture of Matsunaga and Mr. Pogo going at it in a
Fire Death match. Mr. Danger himself was manning the grill, and his steaks
are as good as his matches are wild. We picked up a couple of Mr. Danger
T-shirts (They had XL, thankfully), and Matsunaga then emerged from the
kitchen to greet the Americans. He posed for pictures, signed a few
autographs (with no prompting) and handed us a stack of Mr. Danger stickers.
He went out of his way to make us feel welcome, and we appreciated it.
We went back to the hotel, as snow fell from the sky. Yep, a week after
escaping the New York blizzard, the snow had caught up to me, but by this
point, I didn’t care. I was nearing the end of one terrific vacation, and a
little snow was not going to get me down.
January 8th was soon upon us, and the first priority was to get to the post
office and mail home some merchandise (and dirty clothes), since there was
no way I was going to be able to bring it all home on the plane. One
problem. It was “Adult Day”, a national holiday, and the local post office
was closed. However, the main post office was open, so after a quick cab
ride, all packages were sent, and we were then off to the Hard Rock Cafe.
The Hard Rock was located in the Rippongi section of Tokyo, which is where
all the American businessmen stay. In fact, if not for the street signs, I’
d swear I was in Manhattan. After lunch, it was back to the hotel to grab
the bags and head for the airport. I was cutting it close, but I was sure I
’d have enough time. Now, thanks to a slow cab driver, I was running late.
I boarded the T-Cat, which is the bus that takes you to the different
airport terminals, and ran into another problem. At the first stop, a
gentleman took what seemed like hours to walk from the back of the bus to
the front. Then at the second stop, another gentleman had about 21 pieces of
luggage he had to take off the bus. By the time I got to the United
terminal, time was against me. I got an agent to rush me to the front of the
line, only to find out that they were closing the door to my plane. There
was an attempt to call and hold them (and the T-Cat operator had assured me
the plane would be held) but the plane was off, and I was screwed, or so it
seemed.
The rather unfeeling ticket agent told me “It’s gone” and offered me no
alternatives. I responded with a kind, gentle “Well, when is the next
flight out.” He informed me that the next direct flight to JFK wasn’t
until the next day. I said that was unacceptable. I was not going to spend a
whole day in the airport, and besides, if Dave and Bob had to run the site
another day without me, god knows what would happen. I knew there were
connecting flights from Tokyo to either San Francisco or Chicago that could
get me to New York, and told him so. The agent then said that because of the
type of ticket I had, I would not be able to switch flights. I had to wait
for the direct. (By the way, Travel Treat in New York, the agency used on
this trip, sucks. If anyone is reading this, don’t use Travel Treat. I
assure you, I will NEVER, E-e-e-ever, use them again.) Now, I took matters
into my own hands. I told the ticket agent I wanted to be flown out, NOW. He
told me it would cost $2000 to buy a new ticket. I grabbed the credit card,
and was ready to pay out (and take care of it later), when Mr. Happy behind
the counter entered my frequent flyer number. I guess the amount of business
I give United changed his heart, because the next thing I knew, I was on a
connecting flight to San Francisco then on to New York. Total cost to me:
$75. It pays to fly, folks.
So, now, I’m back home, rested, and back to work. However, I have tons of
memories, and tons of merchandise from my trip to Japan. In my next column,
I will talk about all the goodies I picked up in Japan, and will also throw
a few more stories at you.
Will I ever go back? If I have the chance, I'll definitely be going back.
I can’t say enough about the people I met in Japan. The treated me first
class the whole time I was there, and went out of their way to make me feel
at home. I’ve been all over this country for wrestling, and I don’t think
I’ve ever met nicer people than I did in Tokyo. And that includes the
Americans that I hung out with while over there. If you are a Japanese
wrestling fan, and you have the money to do it, I highly recommend going
over there to check out some shows. George is running his first “open to
the public” trip to Japan this May, and I can’t think of a better tour
guide to take you through the country.
You can contact George about the trip through his website at
www.mayfieldmayhem.com.
And while I’m plugging…
You can get Japanese tapes and merchandise from Bill Pancoast at
www.Tucoldvideo.com
You can find out more about Tim’s TV show, Wrestling Power, at
http://members.aol.com/wrespowr/main.htm
You can read Masanori Horie’s excellent columns at
http://www.geocities.com/masanorihorie2000/(his current article has a great
picture of Candy Okutsu's retirement ceremony).





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