I’m in Tokyo! A fact that still seems unbelievable despite being very much the truth. That means all the usual reviews will be delayed (I’m going to try and get some stuff up, including my match of the year list, over the next few days), but that I have other stuff to ramble about. To kick that off, I went to Korakuen Hall yesterday for my first live Japanese wrestling show and damn, did I have a good time. This won’t be a standard review. I wasn’t taking notes and had a few drinks, but will instead be a rumination of what it was like to go to Korakuen and watch Big Japan.
First up is the fact that Korakuen looks remarkably unremarkable from the outside. It’s just a building. Not only is it just a building, but the actual hall is on the fifth floor, up a grimy graffiti-filled staircase that people queue in as they wait for the doors to open. It’s not an anti-climax as such, but it is a massive contrast to the vast Tokyo Dome that looms over it. I actually walked past it at the start, missing the venue that I’d watched so many times on my TV or laptop.
As for the show itself, I’m not going to bother going match by match, but it was awesome — riotously good fun from the first bell to the last. The best performances came in Daisuke Sekimoto vs Kosuke Sato, the young boy putting up a valiant fight against the legend. It was all made even better by the middle-aged woman next to me screaming Sato on, desperate for him to get the victory and nearly leaping out of her seat in joy when he came back with a flurry of Dropkicks. I know everyone says it, but the number of women at the show stands in direct contrast to Western wrestling, and she played a part in making the show as enjoyable as it was for me. She was gripped to every match, gasping and cheering in all the right places.
There was also a big dose of BJW craziness on display. I nipped to the toilet quickly between matches and came back to Leatherface barrelling through the crowd, scattering people out of his way while waving a chainsaw around his head. Then there was the sight of Shinjiro Otani stabbing Masashi Tanaka with a giant pair of scissors, countering Tanaka’s attempts to use them himself. There wasn’t a proper deathmatch on this show, but we got a couple of match-ups involving deathmatch guys going up against traditional wrestlers which made for an interesting (and often amusing) dynamic. In fact, the main event would see Kobayashi and Miyamoto (teamed with Masato Tanaka who had been drafted in thanks to illness) take on Strong Hearts in a match that had me roaring with laughter at times.
That’s a huge part of what made this show so great too. Sure, the wrestling was fantastic (even the openers feeling like a step above a lot of what I’ve seen in the past), but my big takeaway was just how much fun it all was. In any other setting, that show would be nowhere near a contender for one of my favourites, but in that hall, it took on a life of its own. While live wrestling is always the best kind of wrestling, somehow Korakuen made it even better. I’m sure part of that was just my excitement at being there, which was huge, but that building is also special. It’s packed with people who adore wrestling and understand exactly what makes it so incredible. They buy into it, and every reaction to every moment is perfect. You can see that on the videos, but being there it becomes undeniable. Having now watched wrestling there, I’m not quite sure anywhere else can live up to it.