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Only in Japan can I be about to buy a book this hefty and comprehensive that’s mainly interviewing these people about food.
Nakanishi on Monster Mornings ‘I’d just started Twitter, and didn’t know what to say. I was just tweeting ‘good morning’ and ‘good night’. Then when I was tagging with Strongman I thought I could take pictures of what we were eating’
Nakanishi ‘(Strongman) would really eat in the evenings. I’m a breakfast guy. But he’s the kind of guy that never ate carbs. Said he hadn’t touched a carb in 10 years. Really fussy about it. So I’d make him drink a ton of coffee so he had to go piss. Told him it burns fat.’
‘Then, while he was pissing, I could stuff my face with carbs. He thought I was doing him a favour.’
‘I always load up on vegetables, mainly. If you eat a lot at breakfast you only need a small lunch or dinner. And at lunch or dinner you order a salad somewhere and there’s not enough. The breakfast bars in hotels have you covered.’
Nakanishi ‘There was 1 place, we were there for 2 nights. The 1st day I got to breakfast late, they were already cleaning up and there wasn’t much left. So I was first the next morning. They said “if you eat too much we can’t serve other customers. Please never come here again.”’
‘I didn’t think it was all that serious, that it’d be fine when I was done, but when I walked out they didn’t say “come again” or anything. I was like “whoops, can’t stay in this hotel again I guess”’
Big breakfasts aside, Nakanishi usually only eats a pastry or something for lunch, and if he isn’t going drinking after a match will just shower and sleep without dinner.
Nakanishi tells a tale of a Shinjuku back alley restaurant with an unusual menu as a YL. ‘I didn’t know what we ate. But it was good! And I asked the owner “what can I eat to get stronger?”. He says “I have cow penis”. He said that’s what we’d just eaten.’
‘I said “it was good! If I eat that I’ll get stronger?” He says “I dunno. Maybe eat some every day?”. He disappears in the back for a bit and when he comes back he’s clutching this cow dick, and hands it to me! I never said I was a wrestler or anything. Just “take this home”’
Minoru Suzuki on making chanko as a YL ‘The tradition of pros eating it comes from sumo, but sumo has different etiquette. There, everybody eats together. In pro wrestling the trainees make it, and we ate dead last, we got the dregs, after 30 people ate’
‘You get shown one time, then you just remember. That experience taught me proper knife skills. I can properly fillet fish now, everything. Got my own set of knives, the works. But then I had (seniors)go“this is awful!” And just upturn everything. Had to start again from scratch’
Suzuki said 2nd gen UWF May have appeared to have cash but the day to day reality was pretty poor, and the food terrible. ‘But I was dating girls at that point so I’d be going out to these trendy places. It was the bubble era, everyone was flashing cash’
Suzuki ‘In PWFG we didn’t do chanko. It was a lot of boxed lunches he’d dole out money to go get. Fujiwara was really influenced by Gotch, and Gotch used to say that any time you have to cook could be spent training. We’d start training at 10am and go till evening. Everyday.’
Suzuki talks about the difference between eating like a body builder in Pancrase and then going back to the road as a wrestler. ‘I would try and do the Pancrase thing, bring protein and canned tuna to eat in the hotel room. Then we start going to places where you can’t buy that’
‘We were going to towns that were just little bars and chicken skewers, and I was starving, until I just gave in to the hamburgers and barbecue. I had to.’
Suzuki ‘I was eating meat everyday, drinking every night, having a hell of a time, but I had to change, about four years ago. I had been in Tokyo Dome, Sumo Hall main events and then realised I was getting kind of fat. Next day, I’m in the opener. And the next day. ‘
Suzuki ‘2014. My turn wasn’t coming round and suddenly I realised “hey, shit, I might get cut here”. Because I’m not contracted, I’m freelance. And my rate is not cheap. Yet here I am, paid like a top guy, booked like no one. That kind of thing doesn’t last long. I had to change’
Bull Nakano ‘In male pro wrestling you hear about everybody having chanko together. I don’t think we (in AJW) ever are together. Everyone hated each other too much.’
‘When you were new, you were paid 50,000 Yen, and they took 5000 off the top for lodging, so 45,000 a month. Girls that the senpai liked would get leftovers from packages fans sent... I wasn’t liked, beaten up every day and then made to stand on the bus’
Nakano’s family lived near the ajw Dojo and she could go home to eat in theory, but the Dojo only gave one day off in summer and two over New Years. Three holidays a year. ‘Every day, girls would phone home in tears saying they wanted to go home. I did once.’
‘My mum said “just come home”, and that actually made me stay. If she’d have gotten mad and said “you chose this,” I would have argued, told her she didn’t understand and ran away.’
‘Dump (Matsumoto) was 100 kg, and I thought I should get up to that point. I was eating McDonalds and Yoshinoya that fans bought for breakfast. Even with all I ate I could only make it to 92 kilos. Steroids got me to 100.’
‘I did a lot of dumb stuff when I was young. I talked to the ajw doctor about them (steroids). I was told it’d make me mentally unstable, I’d grow hair everywhere, I’d stop having periods.. but I wanted to be bigger that badly. I wanted people to think I wasn’t of this planet’
Nakano ‘balancing diet, thinking about eating right to add muscle, it wasn’t really a thing. Lots of girls’ ring gear covered their stomachs. As long as you’re big, that’s enough, we thought. The baby faces maybe gave some thought to that but we (heels) weren’t living like women’
Nakano ‘in a match with Aja (Kong), not the cage match but the title match after, I broke my orbital bone and had bleeding inside my head. I was laid out for three days only able to take water. With my hair up, still!’
‘They called an ambulance for Aja, but I wound up having to take hers because I was more serious. Then they called another for her. There was a karate tournament nearby as well, and these karate people were in the hospital too. Me, Aja and karate masters in the same ward.’
After retiring, Bull went from 115 kg to 65 kg in three months. She went on a diabetic diet of under 1200 calories a day, and went to the gym and the pool every day.
Akira Maeda ‘when I started in the New Japan Dojo, the budget for chanko was 20,000 Yen every day. You have to remember, the average initial salary for a university graduate was about 80,000, 100,000 a month at the time’
Maeda ‘20,000 a day on food, and at times we were down to five or six people, because a lot of guys couldn’t take it and quit. But we had to use this money every day. We were buying 3,4 kilos of meat, *per meal*. Anything we left over we fed to Inoki’s pet St.Bernard’
Maeda ‘the NJPW Dojo at the time was this prefab place, and we trained with the windows shut in summer. Seriously, if it was 30 degrees out, it was 47,48 in there. There was a reason for that’
’at the time, buildings like Kuramae Sumo Hall didn’t have a/c. In the middle of summer, we’d wrestle in 40 degree heat in the middle of the ring. For Inoki it was hotter than that in the main event because everyone else had been in there. You had to condition yourself for that’
Maeda ‘they didn’t let us drink water during training. I’d lose 7 kilos every day. I’d go to the toilet and be this close to drinking the water out the toilet bowl.’
Shiro Koshinaka: ‘I hated training, and I hated eating even more. No matter how much I ate I’d be made to eat more. I came in at 80kg, and was the smallest. (Atsushi) Onita was next but he was already 100kg. Baba said that I could go on excursion if I reached 100kg.’
‘(The great) Kabuki said to me “you should drink five liters of water every morning. Water’s heavy, that’ll get you big”. You had to do what your senpai told you. So I did it, drank five liters of water, pissed five liters of water right out. I think that was Kabuki’s plan’
Koshinaka talks about being young on old AJPW tours. Before the days of 34 hour convenience stores, the boys would get wasted and he would be sent to find an off license and hammer at the door until the store owner woke up and could sell him some booze.
Koshinaka ‘In Sapporo we were in this place with Tenryu and Choshu. They called me over and they had these big, 700ml beer steins right? Only they’d filled them up with wine. “Koshinaka, C’mere and drink these”.’
‘Next thing I remember I’m laid out in my room clutching the hotel phone receiver. I think I was probably trying to call for help’
Koshinaka ‘Once when I was Baba’s assistant we were touring in Holkkaido. For some reason we had to head to the next place right after the matches that night. We’re in this town and there’s just nowhere to eat at that time but McDonald’s.’
‘It was me, Baba, and some staff. We’re starving. I asked Baba “sir, there’s nothing here except McDonald’s. Let’s eat there”. And Baba says “no way”. He said that the staffers and I could eat there but he wouldn’t. “I’m not eating that trash”.’
‘Baba hadn’t eaten anything. I got a Fillet O’ Fish, gave it to him: “please, sir, just eat this”. He grudgingly eats it. There’s a long pause, then “this is the most delicious thing I’ve ever eaten”. Every day for the next week he yelled “Koshinaka! Go and buy the fish thing!”’
Koshinaka on being in Mexico with Misawa ‘I survived because we were together. He was 4 years my junior but we had to do things together, senpai kohai was out the window. In Japan I was a lower kid carder but in Mexico, main events.’
‘Weekends were in Mexico City, but we were wrestling every day during the week. You’d go to the office, get your schedule but that was it. Whether you made these towns by plane, bus or train, that was on you to decide and figure out.’
‘But you were paid based on how many tickets they’d sold. I’d have matches where I was spending 800 Yen each way making it to a town, and then my payoff was 1500 Yen.’
When Chigusa Nagayo was training with AJW, the girls had rice but nothing else. With no money either, Nagayo would put Tabasco sauce on the rice just so it tasted of something.
Nagayo ‘the company was doing really badly at the time. We made the same training as Bull did in her day, but they were late paying. You’d get 10,000 one week, 20 the next, like that. Theyd be taking applications in magazines, saying the salary was 100,000 a month though’
‘After you debuted, you were paid per match. 6000 for a prelim, 8000 for a main card. But there were so many girls, most of the time you weren’t booked, so you had no money to eat. Just rice, cabbage. Not even mayonnaise or an egg.’
Okada says Toryumon was the 1st time he ever cooked, sometimes for 30 people. He had to make lunch and dinner so it was an all day thing ‘training weekdays, weekends off. So if it was your turn to make chanko on a weekday, that was great; you didn’t have to train’
‘The training menu was small in Toryumon. Run 160 stairs 15 times, then the Karl Gotch routine, running through cards with squats and pushups on alternate suits. That’s something I can do right away now, but as this 15 year old kid, it was all day’
Okada says Milano was the coach at the time and barely spoke to Okada because he was basically hopeless. ‘That’s why I was happy to make chanko on weekdays..’
Okada in Mexico: ‘they’d pay me in tacos sometimes. And I loved it! The schedule would be finish a match, get on the bus for 12 hours from night to morning. Wake up in a new place, bit of a break, then wrestle, back on the bus. Now I think it’s insane,then I was happy to wrestle’
Okada says by the time he joined New Japan, he’d forgotten how to cook, and was on rotation with YOSHI-HASHI, Naito and the future Captain New Japan. ‘In New Japan, if you’re on chanko duty, you’re on dojo duty. That means laundry, answering the phone, everything.’
‘In the morning, you have to start cleaning by 8am. So wake up before then, clean, then training starts at 10am. So if you’re on dojo duty, you have to make loads of tea for everybody, then as they train you cook. For about 20 people at the time.’
‘While they eat, you do the laundry, and top people up with vegetables and meat if they need it. But everyone would get their own dinner’
When Okada first went to the states, everything was so far and he didn’t have a car, so he constantly ate Wendy’s. When he had an apartment and could go to a supermarket, he changed his diet.
‘After training I’d have chocolate milk, bananas and protein powder, blended. Then four packs of instant ramen. I was going for 10,000 calories per day. I was training hard but the goal was to gain weight’
Okada always eats a Yoshinoya beef bowl before every title match. Before his first title shot with Tanahashi, he was sick with nerves but felt he should eat something so he went to Yoshinoya. Now if there isn’t one near a venue he’ll take a taxi to one.
Yoshiaki Fujiwara was a chef before joining the NJPW Dojo, so he fell into the role of dojo cook. He was also Inoki’s “bodyguard” and would go to the rough towns with Inoki while he was billing himself the world’s premier martial artist so beat up any would be challengers.
Fujiwara ‘Inoki would have this glassy look when out with sponsors that meant he wanted to be out of there. I’d say ‘Mr. Inoki, remember you’re expecting a call from America at 10pm’ and that’d be enough. Sometimes he’d tell me to shut up, so I knew he wanted to keep drinking’
Fujiwara tells of New Japan drinking contests. A large 700 ml beer glass record went to Inoki at 4 seconds with Fujiwara second at 11. ‘Inoki’s secret was all in that chin, like a pelican. Don’t write that!’
Fujiwara begins excitedly telling the ‘madam, you can’t do that’ story, which involves Sayama bursting into his and Arakawa’s room to say Masa Saito was on the rooftop doing unmentionable things to a young lady, but is cut off for matters of taste.
Choshu on drinking with Animal Hamaguchi. ‘He wasn’t violent or anything, but a different person when drinking. He’d be incredibly loud and really touchy feely, just clapping you on the shoulder all the time. I didn’t want to drink with him again, but it didn’t end up that way’
Choshu calls Genichiro Tenryu ‘Gen-chan’ which is just cute.
Dump Matsumoto, like Chigusa Nagayo and Bull Nakano, struggled with the rice only AJW diet ‘There was a sushi place near the office though that had one of those challenges: eat 50 pieces of sushi and it’s free. Perfect! Then a few days later they put a sign up: NO PRO WRESTLERS’
Dump on retirement: ‘it was definitely nice to just do normal things. Even saying “thank you” and “sorry” and not having people freak out, because I had projected such a horrible image in my career’
Dump bought her mother a car and house, but with her family worried about people knowing they were related at her heel peak, her mum told her not to visit.
Keiji Muto’s mum couldn’t cook at all, he grew up on burgers and ready made pizza.
Tenryu was very isolated in ajpw, it wasn’t for 4 years till Baba invited him out. One of the first things they did was drink ice tea, for the first time in his life ‘if people then saw you in a cafe they’d say you were slacking. Then to me it was the best thing I’d ever drank’
People of a certain era of Japanese wrestling suddenly doing Normal Things and finding them incredible is my new favourite.
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