For many wrestling fans, going to Japan is a lifetime dream that we at DDS want to help as many people as possible fulfill. Here is the first installment of our Puroresu Guide to Japan. In it we give an overview of the basics and answer some of the most common questions wrestling fans have about traveling to Japan.
Should you go?
Are there things about Japan that interest you outside of pro wrestling? Then yes, we absolutely recommend you make the trip. Japan is a fantastic country that offers an endless amount of new experiences for a traveler. Is it worth traveling halfway across the world if your main interest is catching some Puroresu shows. Then you should absolutely go. There are many things to love about Japan, but, wrestling fans will have a uniquely good time. If you plan your trip right, you’ll never have the tourists’ “So, what do we do today?” dilemma, as there is more than enough wrestling to keep your schedule full.
What is Tokyo like?
It’s like going to the city of Blade Runner built on top of the New York wrapped around Los Angeles, animated by Peter Chung, with a hundred of years of history and culture on every block. It’s fantastic in every way.
If you’re going for wrestling you’ll probably spend all your time in the Tokyo since it’s where most of the shows will be. Don’t worry about missing out or getting bored on an extended stay; you could spend years in Tokyo without ever eating at the same restaurant, shopping at the same store, or drinking at the same bar twice. In spite of its huge size and diversity, Tokyo is also very clean and extremely safe. Truly one of the greatest cities in the world.
Do I need to learn Japanese?
You don’t need to understand any Japanese to go to Japan. You don’t even need to know Japanese to live in Japan. In Tokyo almost all street and subway signs are in multiple languages. Most people you will encounter during your stay will speak some English, especially customer service workers. You’ll be able to get around, get food, etc. without any real Japanese knowledge. In fact you may find many strangers eager to converse in English with you, so that they may practice their own language skills. If you ever get stuck, you can try writing what you’re saying down, as reading is often easier than listening.
If you do have the time and desire to learn a bit of Japanese, we’d highly recommend it. The spoken language is really quite simple and the written language, while extremely challenging, is still very rewarding and useful even if you only manage to learn the most basic characters. If you want to dive in we suggest Pimsleur’s Japanese audiobook series. It teaches you the basics of Japanese in a way that allows you to confidently use them for basic conversations and things like directions and ordering in restaurants.
One quick tip that will make you look less silly: It’s pronounced pro wres not pu-ro-re-zoo.
How much money should I bring?
This is the biggest hurdle for most. The flights aren’t cheap and Japan itself can be very expensive, but if you are smart you can save a lot. Take the train from the airport instead of the $200 taxi. Stay in a ryokan (shared guest house) or hostel for $30/night instead of a $150-$200 hotel. Stock up on food from grocery stores instead of just eating out. If you eat out, try noodle shops and Japanese style Italian restaurants for filling meals at a reasonable price.
When it comes to wrestling you can save by buying the cheap seats. Most venues in Japan, even Korakuen Hall, are fairly small and offer a great view from any seat. Only get Grade A level seats for the one or two shows you really care about.
Also, resist the urge to buy every piece of merchandise at events themselves. Instead try the specialty pro wrestling shops like Champions, which are in walking distance from the Korakuen Hall/Tokyo Dome. The stores are filled with amazing goods: T-Shirts, posters, programs, trading cards, magazines, and quite reasonable prices. If you’re a big Puroresu fan, a lot of what you love is a bit ‘old school’ anyway. You’ll be amazed at the gorgeous magazines and programs you’ll find that are higher quality, and much cheaper, than what’s currently being sold in the lobby of K Hall.
When should I go?
The amazing efficiency of Japan is actually a problem when it comes to trip planning as it allows Wrestling and MMA shows to be put together on very short notice. Often events aren’t announced until a few weeks, or even a few days in advance. Of course you will have already bought your plane tickets by then, and you’d hate to come at a time when there are only a couple of shows you want to see.
The surest way around this is to come during a time of the year when there is traditionally a lot of wrestling. Our favorite time is the period beginning before Christmas and ending a bit after New Year’s. This is when the New Japan Tokyo Dome Show occurs, and several other promotions always have shows at this time including All Japan, New Japan, Zero 1, JWP, WAVE, DDT, and more.
Golden Week (April 29th-May 5th) offers a similar pairing of multiple national holidays and wrestling action. Make sure to check places like Puroresu Representing for schedules and lineups as they become available. Even check while you are in Japan, as a random indy show or two may pop up.
Can I buy tickets before hand?
Unless you have a friend in Japan you won’t get tickets before getting in the country. However, sellouts are pretty rare so there’s no reason to worry about this. Once you arrive in Japan you can go to the Korakuen Hall Box Office and buy tickets for the events held there, and in other venues, in advance. Also, if you go to, say, a JWP show someone from Ice Ribbon or WAVE, will be selling tickets for their next shows.
How do I get around?
Tokyo has a subway, and a separate, larger train system, a bus system, readily available taxis, rental bikes, and a few more things that make getting around quite easy. By design all the wrestling venues are a few minutes’ walk from the nearest venue, and all shows and after parties will end in time for you to catch the last train home (this applies to music concerts too). Everything is fast, clean, and reliable.
Now what do you do once you’ve gotten off a train, given that you probably won’t be able to use your phone navigation? If you take nothing else from this article, please remember this as it will save your vacation/life: buy the Tokyo Atlas here. We cannot overstate how invaluable it has been to our trips. Even native Japanese who live in Tokyo are in awe of this book when they see it.
Why? Tokyo is the city where the streets have no name. Some of the major roadways are named, but everything in between has to be tackled by landmarks and memorization. You can already imagine the fun you’ll have attempting to navigate this, but with the atlas you’ll be far ahead of the game.
There’s also one person who will always be able to point you in the right direction: a police officer. You can’t go 50 meters in the city without seeing one, and he will likely know where you’re trying to go before you even ask him.
Will I get to meet my favorite wrestlers?
Probably! Every show has merch tables out front and it’s often wrestlers themselves selling T-Shirts, tickets, and programs. If you’re a Joshi or Indie fan you’ll probably have a chance to meet everyone you want. Even wrestlers who aren’t booked on the show you’re at, or even those who have retired, may show up.
However, some of the bigger stars for the top promotions may be a bit harder to reach (sorry Tanahashi fans). They may be nice enough to give you a picture or sign an autograph if you catch them driving or walking in and out. There are also autograph sessions leading up to big shows and, occasionally, afterparties.
Etiquette and Misc.
There are countless general etiquette guides for Japan, read up on them but don’t worry too much, people will be very forgiving of any mistakes you make as long as you: don’t litter, don’t wear shoes where you’re not supposed to, and don’t leave tips at restaurants! Be extra mindful of the tip bit, as the poor wait staff will literally chase you out of the restaurant to bring you your change back!
Everything in Japan starts exactly on time. Show up to every show 30-45min before bell time to get your concessions, program, and seats. You don’t want to be that guy bumping into a wrestler making his entrance because you’re still scurrying around for your seat (yes, this is entirely possible). Likewise, don’t show up a lot earlier than this: no one will be there but people setting it up.
As a foreigner, people will try to talk to you at shows, usually in English, sometimes in Japanese. It’s cool, go with it. People in Japan are the friendliest people in the world and very helpful. You can easily make friends, with natives or visitors, as you see the same people from show to show. Make sure take advantage of this opportunity and, for bonus points, give small gifts to those who have been kind to you before returning home!
In order to make sure this is the most comprehensive and complete Puroresu Guide to Japan possible, we need your help. If you have any question not covered here that you’d like answered, please leave it a comment. If you have any good tips to share leave a comment as well. Everyone who leaves a unique, non duplicate, Japan travel question or tip will be entered in a random drawing to win this authentic and autographed Masato Tanaka “Sliding ‘D'” T-Shirt. We’ll take submissions for the next two weeks. Leave as many questions or suggestions in as many comments as you want, but only one will count towards the drawing.
Contest ends May 22nd, 2011 12:00AM. Entrants must provide valid email when entering. Winner must provide valid postal address. Only comments that fit the above mentioned criteria will be counted towards the contest. T-Shirt is a Touch and Go brand Heavy Cotton Size XL. Void where Diamond Dust is prohibited.