Getting to experience a Japanese wrestling show at last was one of the truly amazing bucket list items I never thought I’d achieve.
I’ve been so fortunate to visit amazing sports venues such Wrigley Field, Fenway Park, the old Yankee Stadium, Madison Square Garden. I’ve also had a chance to visit great wrestling venues like the Allstate Arena, Berwyn Eagles (high double digits), PWG’s venue in Reseda, the old ECW Arena, and now Korakuen Hall.
Finding Korakuen was a bit of a challenge. There’s not exactly a neon sign pointing to where I might be able to find the venue. It’s right off subway stop and right in Tokyo Dome city. I happened upon the ticket counter to purchase my seat, and then one of the food workers near the facility generously showed this ignorant American how to get there.
I arrived on the fifth floor and basically had to wander around a bit in order to figure out how to get around. I’m always an early arriver and was glad to be able to take everything in. As small as Korakuen is, it’s even smaller in person. The smaller set-up also felt a bit off given what I’m used to Korakuen looked like. I was curious how a noon women’s wrestling show on a Sunday would draw. Around 15 minutes before bell time, the venue was ¾ full. By the time the bell rang for the first, all but a few scattered seats could be found in the building.
It was great to be a part of a full crowd and seeing some truly talented athletes. Toni Storm, the person who would end winning the tournament, has grown a great deal as a performer, and it says a lot that she ultimately won and became the “Rockstar Cinderella.” Her match with Rebel wasn’t exactly one for the books, but that’s more on the latitude’s sucktitude. Her stereotypical American cowboy/slash girl next door vibe gave me as many cringy feelings as some of the things American companies do when they culturally appropriate others.
Some other positive aspects of the show were a three hour run time and all of the matches save for the main event going under ten minutes. I like wrestling as much as the next guy, but on a long weekend, the last thing I wanted was a marathon show, especially given this was a 16 woman tournament and 15 potential matches.
I can’t pretend this was the greatest show of all time or that this was anything but just another show in Korakuen, but I’m glad I had chance to see the venue for myself. Getting to be a part of a Japanese crowd was great for a lot of reasons. The attention to which they paid to the ring and the lack of jack assery were the two biggest. I also loved Stardom’s whole presentation and the way most of the matches were constructed. I’m also glad I got to see a crowning moment for Toni Storm because years from now, I hope to say that I saw the dawn of a new star at my first and potentially only show ever witnessed in Japan.
Funny postscript to this story. I decided to take a walk around the Tokyo Dome before heading out and noticed Paul McCartney was playing the dome that very night. If there wasn’t a huge line for people trying to get tickets (presumably), I would have certainly considered going. Why? Seeing a former Beatle in a legendary venue. It’d be a hell of an experience and a story to tell. And hey, watching Paul McCartney for a couple hours has to be more tolerable than a 48 minute New Japan main event.