Checking Off the Puroresu Bucket List: Tim’s Trip to Tokyo

A surreal weekend in the legendary city illustrates an incredible history in professional wrestling that has reigned supreme for over half a century

Last summer, I had just begun graduate school at St. Mary’s here in Moraga, California when a friend of mine in class brought up something of great interest to me. Our school’s professional MBA program always took an international trip as part of their curriculum, and students normally chose between multiple trips, either to Asia or Europe. The most appealing of those was a week in Seoul, South Korea, where the exchange program would take place at the prestigious KAIST University and students would learn from some of the brightest leading minds in international business. While I wasn’t in the PMBA program (I’m in Business Analytics), there were spots available to others in the graduate business school who wanted them, and I jumped all over it. To most, it would seem like a grand opportunity to expand their minds and give themselves a chance to travel the world. To me? It put me two hours away by plane from Tokyo, Japan.

I’ve been wanting to visit Tokyo for as long as I can remember. Whether it was video games, anime, baseball, martial arts, or professional wrestling, I’ve loved so many things about Japanese culture that visiting there was one of the items on my bucket list, if not the item at the top of it. And if I were to subset that item, there had always been the idea of going to a show at the Tokyo Dome, Sumo Hall, Nippon Budokan, or the mecca of pro wrestling in Japan, Korakuen Hall. Let alone going to Ribera Steakhouse. Or MEETING one of these wrestlers I’ve enjoyed watching for so long.

This is how I got to do all of that.

Some Pre-Article Reading

Coincidentally, John Carroll just did an article at Voices of Wrestling talking about how you can go to Tokyo on the cheap. Obviously, my circumstances were a bit different considering I came from Korea and had a friend to stay with in Tokyo, so that was baked into my itinerary, but for those who are looking to go to Japan and need a primer on how to navigate around Tokyo, please read his article. It’ll go over how people who don’t know Japanese can do just fine getting around while also giving tips on how to save some cash along the way.

What to Do?

I had a week in Japan, giving me a good amount of time to do everything I wanted to do. The basic checklist above seemed easy enough. I figured the plan was simple: Go to a show, try and meet a wrestler, and go to Ribera. That’s something I could do in one day, especially considering I could eat at Ribera after the show.

First, which show? I had planned to stay an extra night in Seoul after the program was finished and leave on Sunday because flights were cheaper then, putting me in Tokyo on a Sunday, April 9. I would leave on Monday, April 17, giving me eight days to work with. The obvious choice was a New Japan show, but I wouldn’t find out about their schedule until closer to the tour, meaning I had to wait until March or so to find out the dates. My flight had been booked back in November so I was basically locked into my timeframe.

Thanks to the fine folks at Puroresu Spirit, I could keep track of the upcoming shows and saw that New Japan indeed was doing their normal spring tour. And they even had their big tour finale on April 9 at Sumo Hall! Sadly, I found out the show started as soon as I landed at Narita, and that by the time I even got to Sumo Hall, it would be more than halfway through the show. Sad face.

However, I found out that my back-up plan, the All Japan Champion Carnival, was indeed starting up during my time there, and it was at Korakuen! Sunday, April 16, noon. Perfect. I was staying with the manager of the Sonoma Stompers (who lived outside Tokyo), and I asked him to pick up a ticket for me since I figured it would be easier for him since he knew Japanese. It cost about 5000 yen (Or about $45) and put me across from the hard camera side. I had my show!

Ribera Steakhouse was easy enough. There were two locations in the southern part of Tokyo, with the original being in Gotanda. The second location was southwest of there in Meguro, meaning I had my choice with the preference being Gotanda. By train, it was somewhat easy to get to, so I just had to give myself enough time to get there after the show.

As far as meeting a wrestler? Well, I must give the assist here (indirectly) to Kassius Ohno. While I was in South Korea, he posted the awesome pic of him shaking hands with Toshiaki Kawada on his Instagram. I didn’t realize it then, but as I was planning my to-do list in Tokyo, he had met Kawada at his ramen restaurant, Menjarasuke. (Say it out loud (Men-jah-russ-kay), sounds like “Dangerous K.”) I didn’t know if I was going to meet him, but I figured it would be at least cool to go eat at his restaurant.

As a bonus, I was thinking about where to buy merch in Tokyo and saw a video that Ohno had done with Colt Cabana for Toudoukan, the pro wrestling shop with tons of awesome memorabilia on display. A quick look at Google Maps showed that it was right across from Korakuen, too! In addition, I figured that while I couldn’t go to Sumo Hall for Sakura Genesis, I at least wanted to go by and see the venue. I also wanted to see Nippon Budokan since it’s still famous and some of my favorite matches ever took place there. Seeing the Tokyo Dome was easy because it was in the same area as Korakuen.

So, my pilgrimage was set. I would head to Dangerous K’s ramen house, then on the day of the show, I’d see the Four Pillars of Puroresu Venues, enjoy the Champion Carnival, go to Toudoukan, and have a steak at Ribera.

A Welcome Surprise

I was staying in Sobudai in the Kanagawa Prefecture. If it sounds familiar to some, it’s the location of the United States Army Base, Camp Zama. It’s along the Odakyu Odawara Line, one of the older train lines in the Tokyo area that begins at the legendary Shinjuku Station and heads westward. Shinjuku is the main westward hub in Tokyo, connecting to seven different lines at once. By train from the Sobudai-mae stop, it’s about 45 minutes to Shinjuku if you get one of the Express or Rapid Express trains (which skip local stops and only hits the larger stops along the line). From there, you can catch a train anywhere in the greater Tokyo area that would take you less than a half hour to ride. Extremely convenient.

Even more convenient was the fact that Menjarasuke was on the way from Sobudai to Shinjuku! Since I could hit it up any time during the week on my way into Tokyo, I decided to go on Friday, the day of my first Japanese baseball experience. Knowing ramen can be filling, I decided not to eat anything for breakfast and got on the train headed for Shinjuku. Before I got on the train, I stopped at a convenience store and saw the cover of Weekly Pro-Wrestling and had to pick it up.

The Express even had a stop at where I needed to go, Seijogakuen, so I stopped off there and headed southeast towards Menjarasuke which was in nearby Setagaya. It was a 10-minute walk downhill, and when I got to the restaurant, the first face I saw walking through the door was Kawada’s, who greeted me as he was making food in the kitchen.

His wife then came out and showed me to the selection machine, which had all the dishes in Japanese, not a word in English. I had remembered in my research of the restaurant that there was a curry ramen with duck meat that was basically the house specialty, and knowing that, I figured it was the first thing on the menu. I clicked the button, handed Mrs. Kawada the ticket, and was shown to my seat to the left of the kitchen window.

Looking around, there wasn’t much to the place. There was about 20 seats in all, with a counter up front that had a TV showing the noon news. A foursome of gentlemen on their lunch break had just gotten there themselves, meaning Kawada was back there making ramen for all five of us at the same time. It felt a bit weird knowing I was there by my lonesome and the only American in the place (It was obvious to the Kawadas, too, I assumed) but soon enough I had my ramen in front of me, which was indeed the curry-based duck ramen I had read about. And it was good! I scarfed it down (remember, hadn’t eaten breakfast) and decided that after years of watching Kawada’s stuff either by tape or by YouTube or whatever, I should support him in SOME way other than food. He had a t-shirt and some of his Dangerous K sake on display, so I figured I’d buy one of each.

This is where the magic happened.

I stood up and let Mrs. Kawada know I wanted to get a shirt and a bottle of sake, which she was happy to do for me. I started getting the money out to pay it off and when I handed it to her, she asked me in broken English, “Like signed?” I wish I had a way to capture my facial reaction to that question. I said, “Yes!” twice to her (I think a third time in Japanese, as well, just because I was so excited) and sure enough, here came Kawada, smiling at me somewhat sternly and signing the t-shirt I bought from him. I told him he was my favorite wrestler ever, which he acknowledged while signing it, and then, remembering the picture he took with Ohno, I asked for a photo. Kawada obliged, and Mrs. Kawada took my phone. We stood next to each other in front of the entrance to his kitchen and Kawada thought to extend his hand out to me, and I responded, “Oh! Right!” The result is below:

He’s in his 50s, but damn it, if he wanted a run in the Tag League this year, he could do it. I thanked him again for the meal and the merchandise and bowed to both as I left, with both returning the gesture to me. It was an absolutely surreal experience, and the smile I had on my face as I walked back to Seijogakuen-mae was plastered there for the foreseeable future. Never in my life did I think I’d meet my favorite wrestler ever, let alone have him cook a tasty meal for me! Or sign something for me! It was a dream come true.

Just to give you guys an idea of how big of an impact that made on my trip, I got to see two exciting baseball games, including getting interviewed by one of the biggest newspapers in Tokyo because of my involvement with the Sonoma Stompers and because we have a Japanese manager. Yet even with all that going on, the idea of meeting Toshiaki Kawada superseded all of that. I had some great baseball-related fun on my trip, but this topped it.

Live from Budokan

I decided to wake up early enough on Sunday where I could get to the non-Korakuen Hall venues and get to the show in plenty of time so I didn’t feel rushed. It was my last full day in Tokyo, so getting a chance to trek around one last time was fun, as well. I decided to start at the Budokan, since it is in the middle of town and put me close to both Ryōgoku Kokukigan and on my way to Tokyo Dome City.

What I wasn’t prepared for was that the Budokan was in the middle of such gorgeous surroundings. It’s located in Chiyoda, the Imperial Palace Garden, a gorgeous, lush greenery that houses the Imperial Palace and the National Theatre of Japan. It’s in the northern part of the area, and when you enter, the cherry blossoms are in full bloom and the entrance takes you back to ancient Japanese times as you walk through this giant gate.

When you turn the corner, and see the Budokan, it’s striking to see something somewhat modern in the middle of such history and nature. Originally built for the judo competition at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, it soon became a fixture in rock-n-roll (“Live at the Budokan” became a big thing after the Beatles performed there and is still a mainstay for rock legends to play shows) and is still the home for all the national martial arts championships in Japan.

Of course, All Japan made the Budokan its home throughout most its tenure, with Pro Wrestling NOAH holding the mantle into the 2000s. It was the site of Kenta Kobashi’s last match in 2013, and due to it being so expensive to rent compared to Sumo Hall ($50k or so compared to $35k for Sumo Hall, according to Dave Meltzer), it’s no longer a hotbed for professional wrestling in Japan.

It’s still an extraordinary building in a beautiful setting, and I hope that at some point New Japan decides to run a special show there. Sumo Hall is most definitely their home, but even with All Japan stirring a bit, NJPW is the only company that has the capacity to run there unless WWE comes in with a show. It feels odd not to have pro wrestling there, though, especially with so much history emanating from this place.

Sumo Hall

After taking the Shinjuku line to the Oedo Line, I arrived at Ryōgoku Kokukigan. The legendary Sumo Hall has a history that goes back over a century, but not in the building people know about now. The original site was built in 1909, but due to occupation during World War II, the main sumo tournaments were held at the Kurame Kokukigan from shortly after the war (1953) until 1985, when the current venue was built. While it’s known for its sumo heritage, it has become the longtime home of New Japan Pro Wrestling and is the main site they run for their biggest shows.

It’s situated among a much larger facility dedicated to sumo, including the National Sumo History Museum right next door. The museum absolutely dwarfs the arena, sitting atop a stairwell in a fantastic piece of modern architecture. There are markets and shops around the area for people to frequent, but when I went to the entrance of the arena, it was gated off, denying me as good a look there as I had at the Budokan. It was as close as I was going to get all week to it, sadly, but my hope is to return someday so that I could be guaranteed a chance to see a show there, most likely the final night of the G-1 Climax in August.

The Japan Rail (JR) stop had a neat bit of decoration dedicated to the most famous yokozunas of sumo, and you could compare your height to them. Akebono was the tallest at 200 cm (6’7”), and I came up just short at 189. I found out later that evening that he had gone to the hospital after working a match for DDT, and sadly, he’s in a medically induced coma. (No updates since the initial report came out April 17.)

Finishing the Loop

A short train ride to the Suidobashi station later, I arrived at my final arena destination for the day. Tokyo Dome City is monstrous, housing the famous Tokyo Dome Hotel and a friggin’ amusement park within a giant shopping complex along with the eponymous arena and the nearby office structure that houses Korakuen Hall.

The history of the Tokyo Dome is basically commonplace at this point. Built in 1988, it has since become the home of the Yomiuri Giants and is the spectacle of all spectacles for entertainment. Pro wrestling has been dominated there by New Japan, but All Japan, Pro Wrestling NOAH, and even All Japan Women ran shows there in the past. New Japan has a regular alignment they now run there that seats about 40,000 people, but back when they really wanted to fill the place, they could fill the place at over 60,000, which they regularly did when Shinya Hashimoto was the company ace. It’s now the home of New Japan’s yearly Wrestle Kingdom show on January 4, which has become the highlight of Japan’s professional wrestling calendar.

It’s an incredibly imposing site, and if people are familiar with other domed stadiums in the United States and Canada (The Astrodome, Metrodome, and now-named Rogers Centre all are like the Tokyo Dome from a design standpoint) it looks just like you’ve seen it in photos. The Giants are on a road trip so it was hosting some type of convention (something similar was happening at the Budokan, now that I think of it), but it’s still cool to be in front of. And even though I’m not as big a New Japan fan now as I once was, it is still Too Sweet to see it in person.

Pro Wrestling’s Mecca and Japan’s Oldest Wrestling Tournament

Only a couple hundred feet away is the building that houses Korakuen Hall. A good-sized studio on the fifth floor, Korakuen is where Japan’s hardcore wrestling fans flock for all kinds of shows from stalwarts like New Japan and All Japan to smaller independent outfits. Since it costs about $10,000 to rent and seats 2,000 people, promotions can make a good amount of profit if they fill the place, and much like Sumo Hall has become for New Japan, Korakuen has become the main spot for independents to run big shows themselves. It’s not just wrestling, either. MMA, kickboxing, and boxing events have been held here over the years, and while its main draw is pro wrestling, you can find many a combat sport here to entertain you.

For All Japan, this means the kickoff to their annual Champion Carnival, which is happening in the 45th anniversary of the promotion. It’s a hyped-up event this year, with 14 competitors from multiple companies. The favorites include defending Champions Carnival winner Daisuke Sekimoto, reigning Triple Crown champion Kento Miyahara, gaijin monster Joe Doering (who is just returning from cancer treatments), and longtime company ace Suwama.

I grabbed some fried chicken and corn chips (think Bugles) and got my seat in the bleachers across from the hard camera. I accidentally read my ticket as seat 3 instead of seat 33, and a kind Japanese gentleman helps me to see I should be on the other side of the building, basically. As I do that, Takao Omori and Masa Fuchi are just finishing up an exclusive photo shoot for VIP patrons, and sadly I get stopped trying to go up and take a picture. I’m still on the high of seeing Kawada from Friday, but damn it, I wanted to tell Fuchi I had seen his old tag partner a couple days earlier!

One thing about Korakuen: The speakers are LOUD. I have mild tinnitus dating back to my Warped Tour days so I had to put in some earplugs with my seats right below it. I also notice on a quick trip looking around that I’m the only foreigner in attendance!!! It’s basically a sellout except for a few seats scattered here and there (including the ones around me, oddly), and the crowd is pumped from moment one. They had some promotional tie-ins beforehand, including an all-girl J-Pop band performing before they introduced the participants.

Yeah, It Was Worth It

 From the get go, you could tell All Japan wanted to start this thing off right. Dory Funk, Jr. read the proclamation for the beginning of the tournament after all 14 wrestlers entered. The biggest reactions were for Omori, Doering, SUWAMA, Miyahara, and Sekimoto, who CARRIED THE DAMN TROPHY WITH HIM TO THE RING. He actually put it over his shoulder and walked up to the apron with it, and it was hilarious to see four normal sized people haul it over the rope while he entered the ring. After Funk finished up, Doering did what any great heel aping Stan Hansen and Bruiser Brody would do: He started a brawl. Stare offs abound, including Doering with Dory for ruining the ceremony, and we were off.

THE CARD:

Jr. Scramble Premium 8 Man Tag Match: Atsushi Aoki, Hikaru Sato, Ultimo Dragon & Minoru Tanaka vs. Yohei Nakajima, Koji Iwamoto, Yuma Aoyagi & Atsushi Maruyama

8 Man Tag Match: Jun Akiyama, Dory Funk Jr., Osamu Nishimura & Yutaka Yoshie vs. Takao Omori, Masanobu Fuchi, Ryoji Sai & Dalton Drellich

B BLOCK: Naoya Nomura vs. Daichi Hashimoto

B BLOCK: The Bodyguard vs. Kengo Mashimo

A BLOCK: Zeus vs. KAI

A BLOCK: Kento Miyahara vs. Jake Lee

A BLOCK: Joe Doering vs. Daisuke Sekimoto

B BLOCK: Suwama vs. Shuji Ishikawa

The first couple of matches were non-tournament, including a juniors showcase that was a fine starter. I don’t think Minoru Tanaka ages, folks. There was nothing here too crazy and was a good way to get the crowd into it before the other non-tourney match. Dragon was definitely here to collect a paycheck. Good dive train. I was fine with it. Fiery Sato with the cross armbar on Nakajima to finish.

I was stoked to see an 8-man that featured Dory, Uncle Jun, MUGA MASTER OSAMU, and my favorite pink adorned fat wrestler ON THE SAME TEAM. Sadly, the match didn’t go that long and finished with a flash Nishimura Cobra Twist pin on Drellich after six minutes or so that didn’t seem to be the planned finish. Drellich is a Dory guy who doesn’t really have much to him. Some great stuff around Jun beating up the 63-year-old Fuchi where he earned some hearty boos from the crowd while he looked surprised. Fuchi also sold his ass off for Dory, which was funny to watch. Needed more Omori/Akiyama showdowns. Nishimura was actually the guy I would have hoped to meet somehow to ask him what he thought of Florida when he lived there for a bit, but alas. I didn’t get a photo of it, but Dory had his own table in the merch section and you couldn’t even take a picture of Dory sitting there without paying for it. Talk about getting your money’s worth.

Getting into the block action, Sai and Omori had already wrestled since it was their bye in the tourney, and I liked how the card was structured. Only two matches went longer than 10 minutes, but they built it up to really make the post-intermission stuff stand out.

Hashimoto/Nomura was spirited and quick, and while it’s been a while since I’ve seen Lil’ Hash, it seems like he’s starting to use his dad’s offense a bit more, which can only help. He’s definitely got the kicks down, that’s for sure, and he’s put on a little weight around the midsection. However, he’s not wearing red. C’mon, Daichi!!! Crowd was really into it, and we’re off to a good start in the tourney.

First extended look at The Bodyguard and yes, the word you would use for him would be “jacked.” Mashimo worked the match around taking out his legs to avoid the high kick for the finish, but it still allowed Bodyguard to show off him overcoming the leg attack to get in some of his power offense. He’s not a great wrestler, but he’s definitely fun to watch. Also, he’s 48!?!?? That’s crazy. And he had only started wrestling in 2009. Alright then. Match was plodding but at least told a story, which I can’t complain about.

After that was an intermission that featured bird mascots doing a dance and after a week in Tokyo and a feeling like I was starting to get the hang of Japanese culture, I began to question that feeling.

Post-intermission, the show kicked into high gear. Zeus, the runner-up to Sekimoto in the 2016 Carnival, had a very fun match with KAI, who I had seen and liked in my sporadic AJPW watching over the years. He had the highly-regarded match with Akiyama at the 2013 Carnival. One thing I realized after this match was that the distinct idea of having a sprint was heavy throughout the card, but they just expanded it in some matches. This was less than 10 minutes, but they packed a lot in, including a great spot where Zeus caught a KAI dive and turned it into a suplex. KAI also introduced Zeus to the “West” sign. The match did a good job of building around struggle spots, and also gave me the awesome photo you saw at the beginning of this article. KAI with the Meteor Impact for the win (wasn’t expecting that) in a solid match.

Miyahara/Lee was my favorite match, as the Nextream partners squared off in a stellar showdown. At 28 years old, 6’3”, and 240 pounds, Lee is someone I could immediately see All Japan rallying around, and him facing Miyahara seemed like the start of something between the two of them along the lines of so many generation rivals throughout Japanese wrestling history. Since his MMA return, Lee’s push along with Miyahara seems to be paying off, getting to the finals of the 2016 Tag League, but he still hasn’t broken out as a singles guy. This felt like that match to me. He was right there with the Triple Crown champ the entire way, and I thought with it being a tournament they might do the awesome thing of putting him over the champ in a meteoric push to signal his arrival in the tourney. His nearfalls, especially with his backdrop, was an electric moment of the show, but then when Miyahara won with his arm-trapped German, it didn’t lessen what Korakuen thought of him. When this card eventually gets released, definitely track this match down. It was the highlight of the afternoon.

Doering and Sekimoto then clashed in a great sprint that saw Sekimoto, giving away nearly a foot to Doering, use his unreal strength to move Doering around. They did a test of strength, Sekimoto got Doering up for the Argentine Backbreaker, did a deadlift into a gourdbuster, and got the Everest German for a great nearfall, but then Doering hit that awesome big man cross body that Bray Wyatt does where it looks more like he’s flinging himself at the guy. Then he hit a HUGE Revolution Bomb for the win, giving him the fall over the defending champion to begin the block. The Doering push is in full force.

The main event saw Ishikawa and SUWAMA have a slugfest, with Ishikawa looking spry for a 41-year-old. Ishikawa’s deathmatch scars were still extremely visible for sure, and he tried to muscle about SUWAMA a bit to start. Ishikawa got more of the match, but SUWAMA got to shine bright late. With Ishikawa both a Big Japan and DDT mainstay, Korakuen was behind him, making for a tremendous last few minutes. However, I wasn’t exactly happy that SUWAMA decided to go with a shoot headbutt only a week after what happened with Katsuyori Shibata at Sakura Genesis. I know that’s been a thing in Big Japan with the Strong BJ and what not, but it didn’t really vibe well with me. SUWAMA eventually hit the backdrop hold on the big fella for the win, but visibly didn’t look well going to the back. There was some selling there, but still. Really don’t understand how shoot headbutts are still a thing after what happened with Shibata. Great match, but the headbutt took me out of the finishing stretch a bit.

Overall, the show was a lot of fun and should be considered a shot in the arm for All Japan to see them have such a vibrant crowd to start the Carnival. Subsequent shows since then haven’t been kind to my prediction of a Doering super push, as Miyahara has been the man in his block, but it was still fun to see a show live up to the reputation of Korakuen. Part of me wishes I was into All Japan more to have a better understanding of where everyone was at that point, but such is the life of a grad school student.

The Mecca of Merch

Afterwards, the crowd filed out and either took five flights of stairs or waited for elevators. When I exited, I got a coffee and walked back towards the Suidōbashi station towards Toudoukan. There were a ton of cosplayers walking about in various costumes, and it didn’t even seem that odd to me considering I was in my third week abroad. Was prepared for anything at this point.

Walking in to the store, it’s a somewhat small shop, but it’s filled to the brim with memorabilia in glass cases and aisles filled with action figures, shirts, posters, DVDs, and much, much more. It’s hard to overstate just how insanely packed this place is with gear, and since I was basically there for the shirts, I had my eye on wanting shirts from guys like the Three Musketeers, The Four Pillars, Jumbo, etc. Problem was that I wear an XL, and there weren’t many shirts there in my size, so I was basically beholden to whatever XL they had available and then I made my choices.

Luckily, I did pretty well for myself. I found a G-1 Climax 25 shirt (the final is one of my favorites from this decade) but was wowed by the other two shirts I ended up purchasing: A signed Blue Panther shirt and a Larry Sweeney shirt! Both were must buys considering my love for Panther and Twelve Large being one of my faves before his untimely death. I found out that a majority of the shirts were signed, meaning a long time at the store could unearth some ridiculous gems, I’m sure. I found a Misawa shirt in my size, but it was from his memorial show, and I got sad just looking at it, frankly. Couldn’t bring myself to buy it.

I also bought a couple shirts for my PPW broadcast partner Eric Ritz and went to pay. As I walked out the door, one of the employees there stopped me and presented me with a couple of free gifts: a leather All Japan wallet and an All Japan keychain! Totally awesome stuff, especially considering I needed a new wallet. Since it was close to 5 p.m., it was time to head to Ribera to finish the day off right.

The Wild Wild West

Everything you’ve heard about Ribera, from the photos on the wall of old wrestlers wearing the satin jackets to the giant steaks to wrestlers coming in from time to time…it’s all true. I didn’t confirm it because I didn’t see it until I was paying, but I’m pretty sure I saw Masakatsu Funaki at the back of the restaurant eating. (And I would have probably died if he was eating with Sakuraba; the other guy WAS wearing a hoodie…)

I waited outside for a few minutes for a seat, which allowed me to check out all the photos of the guys that adorned the signage. The usual guys were there: Hansen, Murdoch, Brody, Abby. You saw the Road Warriors, Undertaker, Sting, Dusty Rhodes, Rick Rude, Eddie Guerrero, and so many more just all over the place once you got inside. Even The Rock made it onto the wall, showing off the jacket he was given as a gift. Just wall to wall, even the ceilings had framed photos on them. I walked around as best I could to take a look at them all without interrupting a meal since the place was packed, but there are some stories, I can imagine.

I got a steak and a bottle of Kirin and sat at the bar to enjoy it. It came with a side of rice and grilled corn, and the house steak sauce is something I now regret not getting a bottle of because it was done in a unique style that I hadn’t had before. I put that on everything. It was a delicious meal, and it was odd to have a steak after three weeks of trying out every bit of Korean and Japanese cuisine I could muster. One thing that also caught me was the music: It was all old country tunes, which warmed my heart to think that tucked away in the heart of Japan was this steakhouse dedicated to Western culture like that.

I didn’t see any merch (I might have missed it looking around) and knew that while I was a commentator for an indy fed, I wasn’t one of the boys good enough to get a jacket. I exited back out to the bus station and went back home to cap off one of the most engrossing days of my life, truly an incredible experience for a pro wrestling fan.

The Ultimate Bucket List Still Not Complete

I might be feeling greedy considering I just got back and I’m hoping I can go back again someday soon, but there’s still some things on the bucket list I still need to hit. The two main ones on the list are seeing shows at the Tokyo Dome and Sumo Hall, but it would be neat to see the other Ribera Steakhouse and travel around Tokyo to see the other wrestling-related shops. Trips to Osaka and Kyoto would be fun, although New Japan mainly runs shows in Tokyo now. If you’re planning a trip, Tokyo is the main place you want to go, obviously. Give yourself some time to enjoy the city and take in the sites. If you can plan it around New Years and get to the Dome for Wrestle Kingdom, even better. But there’s a good chance that whenever you go to Japan, you’ll be able to see a show and it’ll be the best wrestling experience of your life.

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