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Lessons Learned (Sometimes the Hard Way) in the Land of the Rising Sun

(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.



Cagepotato Comments

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robthom- January 8, 2010 at 3:15 pm
Looks more like a shoelace IMO.
I've got my MP3 player hanging from the same thing (I'm kinda broke like that).
NorthSouthDudesOnly- January 6, 2010 at 1:36 pm
Wed, 01/06/2010 - 10:54
Ive never seen Ninja Warrior, but in Canada on G4TechTV we get UNBEATABLE BANZUKE! Awesome show.

I wish in the US g4 was still clinging onto techtv/not entirely shitty.
SiDeBuRnZ- January 6, 2010 at 10:14 am
so how long DID he practise for his entrance?!?!?!
nova123- January 6, 2010 at 9:31 am
Great read. I definitely want to visit Japan, and see some good fights.
DAN THE VIKING- January 6, 2010 at 7:54 am
Ive never seen Ninja Warrior, but in Canada on G4TechTV we get UNBEATABLE BANZUKE! Awesome show.

Ben, where the hell do we see these interviews your always going on about?
I wanna know how f'n long he rehearsed that shit.
So that I can try to beat his time.
BackbaconBilly- January 6, 2010 at 6:20 am
LOL, remember when the guy did the backflip before the SnF and landed on his neck? too funny!
Robocop Didnt Tap- January 6, 2010 at 6:10 am

Love me some Sinkers N' Floaters

OpShut- January 6, 2010 at 6:08 am
.....Great stuff as always, but that massively excessive forearm hair confirms our suspicions on BF......the long ago abandoned love child of Robin Williams and Gilda Radner has finally been located and identified....
agentsmith- January 6, 2010 at 5:15 am
If "Sasuke" is anything like "MXC", I'm in.
Carl Sagan- January 6, 2010 at 3:46 am
With high quality press passes like that, it's clear that K-1 is in it to win it. They're using a prudent business tactic to cut costs. Just print it at home and use old shoelaces.
AussieJosh- January 6, 2010 at 3:33 am
I have been to Jap before but only for 8 hours. And i spent five of them sleeping in a hotel room and the other three at the airport! :( In parts of Europe Beer is also sold in Vending Machines! :)
tmanifold- January 5, 2010 at 7:51 pm
You pretty much hit on my japanese experience. Turns out they take the vending machines in at night (at least in 96). Long story short you end up with 2 drunk 15 years lost in downtown toyko for 2 hours. They japanese people we met weren't as nice at night. And the heated toilet seats are like 15 years old, you think we would have them by know. It was a hilight but it took me a week to get to use it...stupid rice!
NorthSouthDudesOnly- January 5, 2010 at 7:00 pm
"you throw in the ridiculously short skirts worn by the city's young women and you're really on to something"

Go on...
itsgalf- January 5, 2010 at 6:03 pm
Japan is the shit, son
The Clinch- January 5, 2010 at 5:59 pm
I went to Japan last June and caught Dream 10 while I was there. It was awesome, only disappointment was the Crocop situation, that could have been something else...

I had a great time in Japan as well, the people were a little shy, but nice. The language barrier was there, but everything worked itself out. Seemed to me that fellow foreigners were the ones dishing out the dirty looks most of the time, didn't catch any mean mugs from the Japanese that I noticed.
Lek- January 5, 2010 at 5:58 pm
1st of all - gave me chills to watch the video of the entrances - I can't imagine how much better to be there in person.
2nd of all - I lived in Thailand for awhile, and I gotta say, I think a lot of Asian countries have more fun / better entertainment- everything is so over the top - video game arcades, entertainment, malls there make malls in the US seem so damn boring.... I KNOW how much fun you had.
Levi Jones- January 5, 2010 at 5:57 pm
They have that drumming game at my local GameWorks.
allelbows- January 5, 2010 at 5:54 pm
Looks like you and I had the same seats! Press always get stuck pretty far or in the back room, I'd heard you weren't expecting that and I realized I forgot to tell you!

But it looks like you had a time of it anyway. Hope you were able to connect with the other foreign press members for a little insight/help.
snicket916- January 5, 2010 at 5:52 pm
great article as're lucky mayne
schnetzler- January 5, 2010 at 5:49 pm

I hear you. I love Japan. I was stationed there for three years, met my wife there, and we're headed back in February for a couple of weeks. Don't think Dream is going to have anything going on at the time, unfortunately.


I never had any problems with the locals while in Japan, but everyone's experience can be different. The only exception for me, was almost throwing down with a Japanese metal band at a club who didn't seem to appreciate having gaijin in the crowd.
BigCountrysCholesterol- January 5, 2010 at 5:49 pm
Must have been a tough decision, choosing to whether to expense this event or that upcoming Shamrock/Petruzelli bout in Mexico.
Deadpanda- January 5, 2010 at 5:32 pm
You should go with someone that speaks Japanese, it'll change your view of the people.

My buddy is mexican/japanese so he looks Filipino (2nd class citizens in Japan), he also speaks fluent japanese. He says that most of the things people said to us were demeaning & in the rudest form the japanese language allows. They "love" white people like Peris Hilton "loves" that little dog she drags around for the image and they pretty much think that everyone else are dumb offish barbarians.

This is speaking in broad terms, I'm sure plenty are nice & tolerant, just not most.
cwr- January 5, 2010 at 5:28 pm
...wait, so how long does Gono rehearse his intros? Did I miss something?
BigCountrysCholesterol- January 5, 2010 at 5:21 pm
Awesome article.
NomadRip- January 5, 2010 at 5:03 pm
Ninja Warrior is the best show.