By: Nathan Baldwin (click here for part 1)
The tickets you purchase will be sent as physical copies and while I didn’t have to test the advice, I was told that if I lost my ticket, a digital receipt or photo of my ticket on my phone was not going to be enough to get me into the shows. You can opt to have your tickets mailed to your hotel a day or two before you arrive. After experiencing the personal service and professionalism of the Japanese hotel industry I wouldn’t have any concern having my tickets mailed to my hotel, for me to pick up when I arrived. Jeff from BuySumoTickets was very responsive and I can confirm the tickets are real, not scalpers or fraudulent. I had a great experience communicating with Jeff, and buying my tickets through his service.
For travel, my first thought was to hire a car, but I soon learned just how efficient and cost effective the rail network is. The trains are fast, on time and very comfortable. I was able to relax and plan while on the trains, and enjoy the view.
A JR (Japan Rail) Pass can be purchased before you leave your home country, which will save you paying the Japanese consumer tax. A small ticket will be mailed to you, and you can redeem it at most train stations when you arrive. Treat it like cash. A photo of the physical ticket or a emailed receipt is not enough to get your JR Pass when you arrive. Most of the show venues were a short walk from the train stations. The rail network in Japan is so essential to Japanese life, you will find that most places you need to go will be within a ten minute walk of the train station. While I used the train every day, I only used a taxi once in 11 days!
As far as trip planning; I’m a small business owner, husband, and Dad of two primary school aged girls. I chose to use a trip planner which saved me many hours and surely a few bad hotels. Roger from lobrowjapan.com did an amazing job planning my holiday for me. For a very fair price, Roger booked all my accommodation and even planned out my travel for me, down to the train times and platform numbers. It was a huge weight off my shoulders. Roger will really look after you.
No frills hotels are affordable. Even in Tokyo you can get a room with your own bathroom and a simple breakfast for around $60 per night. While the accommodation at that price range was very basic and a little bit cramped, it was clean and comfortable, and in great locations.
Google maps did a good job of recommending travel routes to me, but once or twice it suggested I transfer at stations halfway along my trip, which would have saved me a couple of minutes but some local knowledge from Roger saved me unnecessarily lugging my backpack on and off trains, and swapping my comfy, air conditioned bullet train carriage for cold hard train station benches.
Following New Japan’s second tier singles tournament sent me to some smaller regional cities. Some of the venues lacked ambience and didn’t lend themselves to a pro wrestling show the way Korakuen Hall did, but the enthusiastic audience made up for the uninspiring venue once the shows started. And being in smaller cities meant I bumped into some of the NJPW performers on the street! Some even stopped to have a chat and take a selfie with me!
Lines for merchandise are very, very long. Japanese fans love their merch and fans wearing a Los Ingobernables t-shirt, hat and cute little pro wrestler teddy bear were in line to get their hands on the latest merch from their favourite performers. If you don’t have a near fetish for queuing like the locals seem to, I would recommend ducking out before a match you aren’t so interested in, or waiting until the crowds begin to enter the venue for the show, before checking out the merch. In classic Japanese style, almost everyone is seated 10 minutes before the show starts and you can waltz right up to the merch stand and browse at your leisure.
At my first show, I was surprised to see there was no food or drinks being served. That was the case at every show I attended. You can buy alcoholic drinks in outdoor vending machines in some parts of Japan, but in the venues no alcohol is sold and I didn’t see a single person drinking a beer or anything during the shows. I carried a backpack into every show I went to and my bag was never checked. I had a beer in my bag on the first night, and asked the man sitting next to me if I was allowed to drink it. He reluctantly told me “no alcohol”. All the venues had vending machines nearby selling hot and cold drinks and some locals would buy a drink to take in with them. But compared to Australia, the Japanese don’t seem to combine eating and drinking with live entertainment. None of the shows I went to had an intermission which meant if you needed to go to the toilet or get a drink you were going to miss some of the show. But it also meant there was never a surge for the toilet or vending machines so you can get out to the foyer and back into the show very quickly.
Like the rest of Japan, the shows were professionally run and very efficient with no wasted time. The audience are engaged and entertained from start to finish. The audience were so polite, staying seated throughout the matches. Unlike a WWE show, I could stay in my seat and actually see the finish of a match. Like the typical tourist to Japan I often wished my home country could be more like Japan in many ways, including how we behave at pro wrestling events.
When I first arrived in Japan I found it confusing and chaotic, but by the end I felt comfortable negotiating my way around train stations, restaurants and streets. The shock of diving headfirst into a new culture is unavoidable but I eventually got comfortable. I might plan my third trip myself but I’ll be contacting buysomotickets.com and lobrowjapan.com before my trip next year.
My advice to others wanting to experience the Japanese wrestling scene: use a trip planner and a ticket buying service. No amount of planning will guarantee you don’t get lost or miss a train, however, so give yourself plenty of time to travel and make sure to take your sense of humour with you. And if you ask a local for directions, expect to be personally escorted. Arigato gozaimasu!