(A paper press pass on a piece of rope, and all the in-depth access you’d expect from such a document.)
In Japan you should never take anything for granted. That stuff for sale at the outdoor fair that looks like beef? Don’t assume. Go ahead and ask. Go ahead and be the dumb foreigner, because at least you’ll be the dumb foreigner who knows what he’s putting in his mouth. If you don’t ask, you’ll end up stopping midway through your first bite with the distinct feeling that you are eating some part of an animal that you never planned on tasting outside of an extreme survival scenario.
That’s when you might want to ask the nice Japanese teenager sitting next to you if she knows what it is. Unable to find the English words, she’ll do a translation search on her cell phone before proudly telling you, "Guts!" See? You wish you had asked first.
This is one of many things I learned while in Tokyo for the Fields Dynamite!! New Year’s Eve event. Another is, this is something that every MMA fan, if they have the means and the opportunity, should experience at least once before they die.
For starters, there’s the production value you hear so much about. In Japan, they don’t just introduce a guy and play whatever Tupac song he’s chosen for his entrance music; they make a true multimedia presentation out of it. Perhaps no one made better use of this than Akihiro Gono, who, as we already know, loves to make an entrance. His walk-out this time was like a mini-concert, which is fitting since Dynamite’s main ratings competition on Japanese TV is something called "The Red White Song Battle," — essentially a free concert featuring famous musicians, couched as a competition between an all-male and all-female team of singers.
This year, as usual, it killed MMA in the ratings, but not before Gono showed a little of his characteristic flair. Seeing this display on TV is one thing. Seeing it in the Saitama Super Arena with 45,000 people is another.
When I asked Gono in his post-fight interview how long it took him to rehearse this entrance, a smile crept across his face. Via a translator he said he’d been waiting for that question and was surprised it came from "a non-Jap." Weirdly, it may have been my proudest moment as an MMA writer.
Another thing you want to know if you head to Japan for the big New Year’s Eve show is that while we Americans think of it as a holiday built around getting trashed, followed by a day of watching football and vowing to get trashed less often this year, to the Japanese it’s more of a religious holiday. People stay home and watch TV with family on NYE, which is why the competition for viewers is so intense. On New Year’s Day, many Japanese visit shrines and purchase good luck charms for the coming year, but my own personal favorite discovery was another New Year’s tradition — Sasuke.
Sasuke is basically a more intense and much more interesting version of the imported obstacle course shows you see on cable TV. It starts with 100 participants — most of them celebrities, some in costume — who never even come close to finishing the first stage. This year Genki Sudo was among the competitors, though he didn’t make it past the dreaded "jumping spider" phase.
As the competitors are eliminated and the stages progress the Sasuke course becomes almost absurdly difficult. The people who excel at it are mostly regular guys — a mechanic, a gas station manager, a delivery man, etc. — who seem to spend much of their free time getting very good at these particular feats of strength and concentration.
(Asahi beer, Suntory whiskey, and taking a child’s video game way too seriously. All in a day’s work, people.)
Finally, in many areas of life it seems as though the Japanese are light years ahead of us. Things like heated toilet seats and fog-proof bathroom mirrors are examples of technological innovation at its finest. But my two favorite new things were 1) beer sold in vending machines, and 2) crazy Japanese video arcades.
Sure, that may sound like the fantasy world of an alcoholic twelve-year-old (you throw in the ridiculously short skirts worn by the city’s young women and you’re really on to something), but just try and tell me that you don’t want to get buzzed on vending machine Asahi and head out to play some drumming-themed video game that you never quite grasp the instructions to. If you don’t like fun, I guess that’s your problem. Best to stay the hell out of Japan and leave the all-day MMA events and fried pork cutlets to the rest of us.