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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Tatsuya Tada - Sasuke Friend

Tatsuya Tada 多田竜也

Interview Format change:

I wanted to try to get back to conducting fan interviews of former Sasuke competitors. I used to do that a couple years ago but I always either waited too long, the questions/reply period went way too long or people were overwhelmed with the amount of text and decided not to participate. Heck, I even have incomplete blogs of interviews I conducted but never finished. Recently, after a unique opportunity arose, I decided to take advantage and try something different. Wanting to test out a new format for interviews, I relied on Skype (and a great interpreter in Jin) to conduct an interview with a Japanese competitor. Eager to help out in any way possible, and offer himself up to testing a new format, we were fortunate to get a willing competitor in Tada.

Miska Sutela visiting Japan from Finland posing with Tada and a few familiar faces!
Left to right Kung-Cheen Howng (who is my interpreter "Jin" for this blog), 2-Time Grand Champion Yuuji Urushihara 漆原裕治 along with fellow Finland traveler Mika Marcinkiewicz, Tada (in white), Miska (black shirt holding towel), Yuuichi Okada 岡田祐 (it was his home course) and a local friend who all came out to spend the day with the foreigners!
I did an informal question and answer conversation (Translated from English to Japanese then back from Japanese to English) moving around my question sheet depending on the flow of the conversation. So as a result, I deviated from my usual Q&A format that I used to have on previous interview blogs here on Rambling Rican. Also, since all of these answers were translated, I didn’t transcribe the exact answers verbatim. Doing that would be more time consuming and taxing on the interpreter, so I decided to not use this format. Hopefully this new format goes well and I can learn from and expand for future interviews. Please let me know in the comments if this works for my blog readers.

Sasuke Festa 2008 - a shortlived festival hosted by TBS and Monster 9 held the day before Sasuke 21 during September, 2008
Tada has a Youtube video of his entire run!


For many people who follow Sasuke (and trials) religiously, or love following Youtube videos of Sasuke training from around the world, you may have seen this particular man from Japan. His name is Tatsuya Tada 多田竜也. His Youtube channel name (and Twitter) is better known as "Tadachi". Tada was really nice in giving over 2 hours of his time to test out this new interview format. Thank you so much! I enjoyed it!

Miska Sutela visiting Japan from Finland posing with Tada

Title meaning:

I figured people would ask me why I named this blog “Sasuke Friend”. See, his Twitter handle and Youtube channel is “Tadachi”. Tada is his last name. Dachi is short for Tomodachi 友達 which in Japanese means “Friend”. So it’s a play on words. I loved knowing the meaning behind the name so I figured I’d use this as the title of the blog since it fits his personality quite nicely. He’s also a very friendly person.

Yamagata City 山形市


Tatsuya Tada 多田竜也 was born and raised in Yamagata Prefecture 山形県, Japan on July 6, 1992 (21 years old) and has an older sister. He currently lives in Yamagata City 山形市.

Tatsuya Tada 多田竜也 wearing #32 in blue uniform running a (winning) relay during High School.  He was 17 years old in the photo.

Tada was a star athlete in Junior High and High School in Track and Field (Triple Jump, Long Jump, Relay, etc.). He was even named Captain of his Track and Field Team in both Junior High School and then again in High School. Currently he is a student in a vocational school studying to become a physical therapist.

 Tatsuya Tada 多田竜也
Screenshot from one of his Youtube videos - Spring 2013 trip to Shizuoka Prefecture (home of Shinya Kishimoto 岸本 真弥)

What attracted you to Sasuke?

Tada has been a long-time fan of Sasuke ever since finding Sasuke back during the 7th tournament (which aired in Japan on TBS on March 17, 2001). He can’t put his finger on why he liked the show, but it caught his attention at a very young age and never let go. He enjoys watching the competitors and also enjoys trying to figure out if he could clear the obstacles himself. He’s an avid fan of the course and of the show in general. To name one thing he likes about the show is difficult. Something about the show intrigues him even to this day.
 Tatsuya Tada 多田竜也 Saddlecloth from Sasuke 17

What made you decide to apply to compete in Sasuke?

He finally decided to apply to Sasuke when he became old enough to compete. He loved watching the competitors in Sasuke and when he entered Junior high he started to train in earnest to try to win a spot on the show. While most Sasuke fans who have watched the show remember him participating as a 15 year old in Sasuke 19, he actually applied, was accepted and competed back in Sasuke 17 (which aired in Japan on TBS on October 11, 2006) when he was 14 years old, although TBS cut him from the actual broadcast.

What was your impression of seeing Sasuke up close?

Wearing #39 in Sasuke 17 he was quite surprised and in awe of the HUGE 4-stage course in person. The course was much larger than he imagined, and felt it was completely different from watching on television. He was both thrilled and deeply honored to have been invited to participate alongside all the other competitors he had watched on television for many years. The size and scope of the Midoriyama set was huge and he felt in awe being there and being allowed to compete!

How did you fare in your first attempt of Sasuke?

As for his result, he was literally seconds from becoming the youngest competitor ever to clear the first stage, but he just timed out on the final obstacle, the ⑨ Rope Climb ロープクライム. It was an impressive run for a rookie, let alone for a 14 year old to almost beat the first stage on his very first attempt! It’s a shame TBS never aired his run. My assumption is because the show was already full with many clears in all 4 stages including a kanzenseiha from Makoto Nagano. Back in 2006, Sasuke was only a 2 hour show. We’ve grown accustomed to the longer broadcasts of present day. Tada was a casualty of the short duration of Sasuke 17’s broadcast length in 2006.

Kota Honma 本間 晃汰 - Sasuke 17

How was your experience at Midoriyama during filming?

Still being in Junior High when he went with his family to Midoriyama, he was fortunate to befriend another competitor near his age in Kota Honma 本間 晃汰.  Tada was 14 years old and Honma was 16 years old.  The two became friends during the filming.  Honma finally succeeded in clearing the first stage (the youngest competitor to do so). 

Kota Honma 本間 晃汰 - Sasuke 17 Second Stage

How long did you stay at Midoriyama during filming?

Thanks to Honma, Tada was allowed to stay long enough to cheer for him in the 2nd stage. While he did miss the 2nd Kanzenseiha 完全制覇 (Sasuke All-Star Makoto Nagano 長野誠) he still was elated to have fulfilled a dream in competing in Sasuke, and stay as long as he had. Most competitors are not allowed to even stay past their defeats. He was given the honor of seeing the 2nd stage as well, thanks to the generosity of a fellow competitor.

 Tatsuya Tada 多田竜也 - Sasuke 19

When did you return to Sasuke?

He didn’t get selected for Sasuke 18 but he felt he didn’t apply himself during the application process. For the next tournament he went out of his way to send training videos and present himself in a better light. He was rewarded by being invited to compete in Sasuke 19 which aired in Japan on September 19, 2007. Most of us who remember him being a competitor remember seeing him as a 15 year old. Finally shown in the TBS broadcast (2nd digest) he was shown unnumbered in the mid-thirties pack of competitors. His 2nd tournament wasn’t as successful. He unfortunately failed on the ④*Jumping Spider ジャンピングスパイダー. This time he stayed only until the end of his first stage run when most competitors leave the event if they have been eliminated. The day was long and the first stage taping was going longer than expected. 

Hioki Masashi 日置 将士, Shin Sedai Ryo Matachi (Cliffer #2) 又地諒, Ryoichi Arashida 嵐田 良一, 2-Time Grand Champion Yuuji Urushihara 漆原裕治 (Cliffer #3), Ryo Akagawa and Tatsuya Tada 多田竜也

What benefit did you get out of competing in Sasuke?

Being on Sasuke and training for the show, opened up a whole new world to him. He found friends among the fellow competitors that shared his passion for the show and love for training on obstacles. Early on he befriended Hanglider enthusiast Masami Harashima 原島 雅美 at Sasuke and of course the aforementioned Kota Honma. Later through his Youtube training videos, he started to receive messages from other Sasuke competitors. Over the years he started to participate more and more in special training camps and even Sasuke-related events. He’s always eager to meet new people and share his Sasuke passion even to this day.

Sendai PTA Event 2013 (Youtube video)
A local event where Sasuke veterans hosted a small Sasuke demonstration course for the benefit of the school children of Sendai, Japan.
Many familiar faces!
Keita Tomino 富野 恵太 (Cliffer #4), Tada (light-blue Move Sport shirt), Trials guy Makoto Yahagi, Sasuke Veteran Yoshiyuki Okuyama 奥山義行, Hioki, Sasuke Veteran "Kongu" Kenji Takahashi 高橋 賢次, Hirotsugu Kobayashi 小林広嗣, Ryo Matachi, Arashida and Yuuji among other familiar faces that I forgot names.

Do you have any memorable experiences related to Sasuke?

He reiterated again the camaraderie of the competitors and meeting people. Without Sasuke he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet people from around the world. He’s had the honor of being invited to participate on other Sasuke-related events (like the Sendai event 2 years in a row) alongside the Shin Sedai Stars and other Sasuke veterans. He also cherishes the ability to connect with children in the various events that he’s been invited to participate.

 Another training camp - this time at Arashida's Sasuke Garage (they call Arashida Park)
This is an older photo but familiar to those who read my blog and recognize all of the STQ'ers by now before they became Shin Sedai Stars.  Wataru Mori 森渉 (Now of Sports Danshi fame), Yahagi, Hitoshi Kanno 菅野仁志 (in white looking very different than now), Kobayashi, Arashida in the middle, Hiroki Nomura 野村宏樹, Tada (being gripped by Nomura, in the orange shirt), Ryo, Yuuji on the shoulders of Tomohiro Kawaguchi 川口 朋広 and the rest of the STQ'ers and significant others.

Do you have your own training course?

He doesn’t have a training course himself, but thanks to his friends, he trains all over Japan at the home-made courses that they created. He spends most of his time, though, in public parks and elementary school playgrounds.

Tada traveling to Shizuoka (Summer 2013) with a friend and current Sasuke Star Yusuke Morimoto 森本 裕介

Do you still train to be on Sasuke?

These days he trains because it’s still fun. Sure, he would love to participate again in Sasuke now that he’s older and better trained, but you can’t do this kind of training if it wasn’t fun. I personally would love to see him compete again. His last trials event that he participated was Sasuke 27. Sadly we all know we never got to see that full event given that it was right when Monster 9 went bankrupt.

Yuuji, Ryo, Tada, Kongu and Kouji Hashimoto 橋本 亘司 during the Sendai PTA Event

Do you still continue to watch all Sasuke related shows?

A funny portion of the interview was when we were discussing older shows like Sasukemania (which incidentally started my blogging career) and since he lived outside of the Kanto area (the show was a local late night show that only aired in a small region of Japan) he had never seen the shows. I joked that there were ways of watching the show if he really wanted to watch them. He was surprised and amazed at the dedication of foreign fans waking up in the middle of the night to watch the events streaming through the internet. He was amazed at how many dedicated fans watched it streamed live in a language they didn’t know.

 May 2013 Training session at Arashida Park in Yamagata Prefecture
Many familiar faces and a few unfamiliar. Arashida (bare chested), Keita Tomino 富野 恵太 (Cliffer #4) (white shirt next to him), Kenichi Arai 新井 健一 next to him.  Shunya Yoshida (from the video), Hioki, Kongu, Tada (black shirt), Ryo (Cliffer #2), Keitaro Yamamoto (Cliffer #5), of those I recognize.

Do you watch Sasuke tournaments on TBS?

Even the Sasuke tournament he doesn’t get a chance to watch the live broadcast as it airs, since it usually airs early during a weekday and at a time of day when he’s not home. He doesn’t miss a tournament though, and despite missing half the live broadcast, he does record it to enjoy it the following day. At times he watches the show along with his family.  Depends on whether anyone is home when the event airs.  He’s still very much a fan of the show and still watches it as entertainment even if he’s not a current competitor.

Screenshot from one of his Youtube videos - Spring 2013 trip to Shizuoka Prefecture

Do you have any favorite obstacles?

As for favorite obstacles he likes trampoline obstacles, the Soritatsu Kabe そり立つ壁 (Warped Wall) and the the Spider Walk スパイダーウォーク. And contrary to belief since he likes both trampoline obstacles and the spider walk, he doesn’t like the hybrid The Jumping Spider (ジャンピングスパイダー but prefers the the Jump Hang ジャンプハング instead. Unlike many other competitors, he really prefers the First stage obstacles and layout over the latter stages. The first stage has more excitement for him, especially since all 100 competitors get to attempt it.
 Tatsuya Tada 多田竜也 during Sports Festa 2008


The interview process was really a great overall experience for me. Thanks to Jin for allowing me to chat away and ask anything I wanted, and Tada for being open to all the questions in this informal setting. Tada knows some words and phrases in English, and it was fun listening to us both understand bits and pieces of the conversation in each other’s languages (I know some words in Japanese from anime and years of doing the blog and searching for phrases in Japanese). He’s a great person to talk to and is very friendly! He loves meeting new people and would love to chat through his Twitter and YouTube channel. Oh he has one note of caution, he is not fluent in English so when you send messages please take the time to write full sentences and not use slang. He had an example of someone sending him a happy birthday message but only said “Happy B-day”. Had he not previously understood some phrases in English (and inferred since it was his birthday) he would have never understood the message. So please, don’t use abbreviations and slang. He does definitely appreciate the messages and hopes to connect with more Sasuke fans in the future.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Sasuke ASEAN Open Cup 2014 Announcement

At long last the official date and online application for the inaugural Sasuke ASEAN Open Cup is announced!  Originally announced in February, 2013 (with a date for November, 2013) and then postponed in October, 2013 this mammoth event promises to usher a new era in Sasuke History.  First off.. I had a history/geography lesson about the tournament name.  I mistakenly called it Asian when it's actually ASEAN.  ASEAN stands for Association of Southeast Asian NationsAs my history lesson (and wiki) continues, ASEAN is a geo-political and economic organization of ten countries located in Southeast Asia, which was formed on August, 1967.  The members are Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand, Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.  This event has been officially endorsed by the ASEAN Secretariat and Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan as part of the celebration of the 40th year of ASEAN-Japan Friendship and Cooperation.

Sasuke ASEAN Open Cup 2014 - 4 Day event schedule:
Qualifying dates: Thursday, February 20, 2014 and Friday, February 21, 2014
Open Cup Main Event:  Saturday, February 22, 2014
National Team Event: Sunday, February 23, 2014 

Zai Joehurry during the official signing ceremony in February, 2013 ©Sasuke Malaysia

The Sasuke Sports Association Malaysia in conjunction with the Malaysian Ministry of Youth and Sports is excited to announce the first ever Sasuke ASEAN Open Cup, a new sporting event that brings the intense challenge of the world's most formidable obstacle course to the the world's masses. Experience Sasuke like you've never seen--or thought possible! Any and all physically fit athletes 18 years and older are welcome to register for the qualifiers. Come to Malaysia's Kelana Jaya Stadium and see what you are made of!

Japan and the ASEAN countries will also be sending their top athletes to compete in an international tournament on Feb. 24th. Which country reigns supreme on the courses? Be there to find out!

Registration for the Feb. 23rd 2014 Open Cup event is now open! Learn more and apply for your chance to qualify for the main event on the new official homepage:

Zai Joehurry
Sasuke Sports Association Malaysia

This announcement was made on the Sasuke Malaysia Facebook.  An official website has been launched for the event.  It is hoped this will be a yearly event with all relevant information to be updated on that main website.  I assume that the newly created Sasuke ASEAN Open Cup 2014 Facebook will also have updates.

Location: Stadium MPPJ Kelana Jaya
Jalan SS 7/15
47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Petaling Jaya Stadium is a multi-purpose stadium in the suburb of Kelana Jaya in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia. It is currently used mostly for football/soccer matches, and previously served as the home stadium to Selangor MPPJ. It was built in time for the 1998 Commonwealth Games, and hosted the Games' rugby matches. The stadium holds 25,000 people and opened in 1996. The stadium was called MPPJ Stadium then MBPJ Stadium before its name was changed to current name, Petaling Jaya Stadium (locals still call it the Stadium MPPJ Kelana Jaya due to it's physical location as evidenced by the event website).

Google photo of inside the Kelana Jaya Stadium

This is the first time Sasuke will ever be held in a Stadium. Of note to those reading this post.  The event is a FOUR DAY EVENT.  There will be 2 days of qualifying. One day in particular is of note to those living outside the region.  The event is called "OPEN" for a reason.  All countries are welcome. 

The ASEAN Open Cup invites athletes from around the world to compete in Sasuke Sports on a global scale. There will be two days for qualifiers followed by a pair of main event featuring 3 areas. The first day of the main event is for individuals while the second day is for teams.

Participants must be 18 years or older as of Feb. 1st 2014 and possess a level of physical fitness necessary to safely challenge a strenuous obstacle course. The competition is open to both sexes and all citizens of all countries.

The organizers define “healthy” as the following:
(a) Be physically fit and capable of doing a bare minimum of 20 push-ups and 10 pull-ups without resting.
(b) Not have any debilitating injuries or transmittable illness.

There is a registration fee of 60 Malaysian Ringgit (approx. $19 USD) to be paid via PayPal after your application has been accepted.

Accepted applicants will be notified via email by Jan. 20th 2014

They mean it.  It is open to everyone including those outside of the region.  That is USA, Europe, South America, etc.  Open means open.  Obviously you will be responsible to get there on your own dime.  The organizers encourage you to send in your online application.  The way this is supposed to work is that 2 days of qualifying going into the 3rd day where the seeded competitors from the ASEAN/Japan go individually against those who went through qualifying.  Then the final day will be teams comprised of the results from the previous 3 days going head to head. Don't quote me on that as that might change but that's the general idea of how this is going to work. The event will not be televised per se but will be referenced in future Sasuke events (probably Navi) and used as promotional material for sponsors, promotion, etc for future events. It is expected at this time for the winning participants of the ASEAN event have an entry to Sasuke Japan. I'm not quite sure exactly how this will be handled but I'm sure this will be a small entry and not the old ANW 10 that marred the previous Sasuke events back when G4 had a lot of say.  This event is in cooperation with Sasuke Japan and TBS so it's the next best sanctioned event next to the rumored Ninja Warrior Europe.  I'm also assuming that this will change locations every so often but again don't quote me on that.  For those in the USA, this will not be sponsored by NBC as by now I'm sure NBC couldn't care less about Sasuke as they are preoccupied by ANW now.  It is evident by their lack of Sasuke programming in this country and lack of participation in the Sasuke Rising tournaments.  There is also a possibility that anyone officially tied to NBC's production of ANW will not be allowed to participate in this event due to conflict of interest.  Again, I'm sure all of that will be handled behind the scenes between the organizers and as such treated like any television-organized event subject to approval and sole discretion.

All in all I'm very happy this event is finally taking place and we know when this event will actually happen! I wish them well! I wish I could go.. but luck doesn't always follow me. LOL

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Airdate for ANW5 - Japan vs. USA

Shin Sedai (新世代) literally "New Generation"
(some call them the "New Stars" deriving from the Allstars)
2-Time Grand Champion Yuuji Urushihara 漆原裕治 (Cliffer #3), Hitoshi Kanno 菅野仁志, Ryo Matachi (Cliffer #2) 又地諒, Kazuma Asa 朝一眞 and Sasuke All-star Shingo Yamamoto 山本進悟
Las Vegas, Nevada Japan vs USA - ANW5 event.
Almost completely forgot since NBC forgot to announce this in the Fall when they promised.. the airdate for this event is finally listed!  Matt Iseman mentioned this a few days ago but I wanted to get a link from NBC.  I finally got it on the NBC/Universal website.
American Ninja Warrior Special: USA vs Japan
Monday, January 13 on NBC (8-10 p.m. ET)

"American Ninja Warrior" presents the first ever international competition as 'Team USA' battles against 'Team Japan' in an action-packed two-hour special, hosted by Matt Iseman and Akbar Gbaja Biamila with Jenn Brown co-hosting. Five top American competitors from “American Ninja Warrior” will compete against five of the most accomplished Japanese contenders from “Sasuke” in a high stakes battle for international dominance. Representing Team U.S.A. are Brian Arnold, Paul Kasemir, James McGrath, Travis Rosen and Brent Steffensen, who will compete against Team Japan’s Kazuma Asa, Hitoshi Kanno, Ryo Matachi, Shingo Yamamoto and two-time “Sasuke” Grand Champion Yuji Urushihara. Contestants will tackle all four stages of the Las Vegas “finals” course in a new head-to-head format that pits members from each team against one another. In the end, the championship trophy and international bragging rights will go to the victors in this inaugural U.S.A. vs. Japan contest. Matt Iseman and Akbar Gbaja Biamila host and Jenn Brown co-hosts.

American Team
James McGrath, Brent Steffensen, Brian Arnold , Paul Kasemir, and Travis Rosen ©James McGrath

So finally after a couple months delay we are getting the event aired on US Soil.  I posted a blog already introducing the event.  I also previewed the the Japan team if you wanted a refresher as to who the new Sasuke Stars appearing here.  Given the fact that it does include Sasuke competitors it's almost certain I will be blogging about this. I'm not a fan of the NBC presentation of Ninja Warrior but it should at least be worth it to watch the USA debut of the Japanese Sasuke stars on prime time network television.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Current State of Sasuke in Japan

I've wanted to write this article for a long time now.  At this point I've decided that I'm writing a couple different posts tackling a few of the problems in the current state of Sasuke as of November, 2013.  My initial in-depth analysis of the situation with my beloved show in Japan was back in April, 2010.  The article was titled "State of Sasuke in Japan".  It's been 3 1/2 years since that post and since then, the show in Japan has gone through massive upheaval.  The obvious was the downfall of Monster 9 in 2011.  The following was a rebirth (of sorts) of Sasuke under full TBS control. The reigns were pulled from creator Ushio Higuchi 樋口 潮 and put in the hands of both Producer Hiroki Kikuno 菊野浩樹 and back in the directorial hands of veteran Sasuke (1-14) Director Masato Inui 乾雅人 (after an 8 year absence).  This article is to concentrate on the Japanese show within the Japanese television market. 
Comparing Sasuke events in the past - All the ratings can be found in the Japanese wiki

High/Low Reference points:

Sasuke 7 - March 17, 2001 - 26.0% ("SASUKE Series" overall highest rating - Shingo Yamamoto 山本進悟 Final)
Sasuke 25 - March 28, 2010 - 7.5% ("SASUKE Series" lowest overall ratings)

Please note I'm only following the last 4 tournaments as I already spoke about the first 25 Sasuke tournaments in my original article.
 "Sasuke Rising" debuts after a 14 month television hiatus under new management.
  • Sasuke 28 - December 27, 2012 - 9.3%  (Forced retirement of All-stars)
  • Sasuke 29 - June 27, 2013 - 9.6%
For now this post it's best to leave aside Sasuke 26 and 27. I'm doing this because this was still during the Monster 9 era, of which is now over. My main focus is the current "Sasuke Rising" ratings problems.  This will include Sasuke 28 and Sasuke 29 only.  As I said before in my old post I will reiterate again, Sasuke is a Japanese show produced for the Japanese viewing market.  I will deal with the international issue in another article.  This is about what is going wrong in Japan with Sasuke.  This is an effort to help the ratings in JAPAN.  As evident from the slide in ratings in the past few years and anemic numbers of late,  Sasuke is in crisis mode. This show is 16 years old and if ratings don't improve Sasuke 30 will most likely be the end of Sasuke in Japan.

RATINGS/TWITTER (28 and 29):
The ratings continue to be the 3rd and 4th worst of all-time. The overall number for Sasuke 28 was 9.3% and Sasuke 29 was 9.6%. The number dropped significantly after the First stage (after the All-stars left in 28 and Backstream fails were mounting in 29).  I was monitoring Twitter trends all night during Sasuke 28 and 29.  During the All-stars runs #Sasuke became the #1 trend topic in Japan solidly.  Before that it was ranked about 4th or 5th place.  Immediately after the first stage in Sasuke 28 the trends literally stopped.  They had dropped out of the top 10..  Sasuke 29 had a different problem.  Twitter trends for Sasuke 29's 2nd Stage only had only one conversation - the Backstream バックストリーム.  There was a firestorm over the problems with the obstacle and the massacre of competitors that tainted the viewing of Sasuke 29.
⑤ Backstream バックストリーム
Usually I don't discuss obstacle problems in Sasuke being a deterrent in Japanese casual viewing in any of my analysis blogs.  Sasuke Rising however had one notable and very promoted exception. It's .. this thing..  the Backstream バックストリーム.  This "obstacle" is the object of hate, fury and condemnation from both Sasuke 28 and HEAVILY despised in Sasuke 29.  The ratings drop from Sasuke 29's Second Stage was so severe that it went from being 4th place down to somewhere near 10th place (and in some articles possibly lower since some lists only include top 10) in Japanese ratings as soon as this thing was shown.  For the Sasuke faithful who continued to watch the show despite this, what followed was a flurry of fury and hate at the randomness of this "obstacle".  Twitter alone was abuzz and a now infamous video of the comparisons of the stream circulated worldwide and particularly in Japan as a topic of vehement criticism.  For the record, for 16 years part of the mystique of Sasuke was you don't EVER touch the water.  This mystique was destroyed when they introduced "swimming" in Sasuke Rising.  It was a clear indication TBS was doing anything grab attention.  "Shock value" is what we call it here in the West.  That however, backfired as it was unwanted negative attention that TBS received.  I strongly believe TBS is still suffering from this today.  DO NOT INCLUDE THE BACKSTREAM IN FUTURE SASUKE TOURNAMENTS.

I'm reiterating a sentiment I posted after my initial Sasuke Rising blogs. For those not familiar with that phrase I'll quote wiki:  "Throw out the baby with the bath water" is an idiomatic expression used to suggest an avoidable error in which something good is eliminated when trying to get rid of something bad, or in other words, rejecting the essential along with the inessential.  In this case TBS' zeal to remove all Monster 9 elements throw out key elements of the show that the fan base needed to keep the show alive. In Sasuke 28 we had the upheaval of the Sasuke base with TBS' project of forced retiring the Sasuke All-stars. That was so badly received that they allowed the All-stars that wanted to return a chance to come back on the show.  "Trying to exorcise the demons created by Monster 9."  That was IS the theme of "Sasuke Rising".  Rising from the ashes created by the crash and burn of the Monster 9 regime.  However, In an effort to get rid of everything that reminded people of Monster 9, they inadvertently alienated their fan base. And not just the hard-core base.. we are the ones who continue to watch the show. The "casual" is what makes the higher ratings.  Part of what makes Sasuke work all of these 16 years it's been on the air.. is familiarity.  Sasuke Rising "feels" like a different show.  Almost like "Viking" where some familiar faces were there but it was a completely different show.  Fans attach themselves to PEOPLE and follow their career through Sasuke.  The obstacles will change.. but the people is what MAKES Sasuke enjoyable.  It's not an Olympics, it's not all celebrities.. it's a host of regular men and women that make the fabric of society as diverse as it is.  In Sasuke 28 TBS tried to throw out the saviors of the show (The All-stars). Sasuke 29 they tried to make the tournament about the obstacles (and the Backstream failed them).  Admit that Monster 9 is bankrupt but do not forsake the success of the show by throwing out key elements that made it popular.  Fans don't care who produces the show. We are not interested in the politics. We want the old Sasuke back.
 Kane Kosugi ケイン・コスギ

This is CRITICAL in the success of Sasuke Rising in Japan. I can't express this stronger.  TBS HAS TO INVEST in this show.  Part of the investment is to pay for celebrities to participate in Sasuke.  Pay to have relevant celebrities with large fanbases that will follow their every move.  What is a bit of irony.. the highest rated Sasuke tournaments of all time had to do with a foreign celebrity hitting it big in Japan.  That was Kane Kosugi ケイン・コスギ. I won't go into the internal politics of his departure or the internal politics of the lack of foreigners in Sasuke today (that will be a future article).  What is of note is that in Sasuke's past you had relevant and very popular celebrities and athletes with strong name recognition OUTSIDE of Sasuke.  The appeal was to see how these famous people intermingle with the average competitors with no name recognition.

NAOTO from EXILE (Sasuke 26)

The last time TBS invested in anyone was in Sasuke 26 when a member from EXILE/J-Soul Brothers was invited.  The only reason TBS did that was because of Cross promotion.  TBS was debuting a new show for EXILE on TBS and used that opportunity to help promote that show within Sasuke. Many things missing from the current Sasuke Rising was the amount of posts online within Japan promoting the upcoming show featuring their favorite "stars". That of course coincided with the lack of relevant celebrities to begin with.  I was happy to see old Sasuke favorites return.  However, for the average non-hardcore Japanese viewer, they need to see non-Sasuke famous celebrities to be interested in watching the show.  Sasuke needs to invest in celebrities with a large fanbase to carry them into Sasuke.  This is a delicate balance.  Right now the balance is off.

Makoto Nagano 長野 誠 during the Monster Box Special


Something that Monster 9 did correctly was use of media exposure to their advantage.  Comparing old Sasuke and Sasuke Rising broadcast habits showed a difference in promotion these days.  I've mentioned this several times.  The idea of cross promotion. Something that used to happen in the past no longer happens - Cross-promotion in other shows and other forms of media. For Sasuke fans we we remember things like Viking, Banzuke, Sportsman #1, Sasukemania, Kunoichi, Muscle Ranking, etc.. There were magazine articles promoting Sasuke celebrities (including projects like Power of Sasuke). Sasuke competitors like Sato Hiromichi and Katsumi Yamada were in other talk shows and even specials that didn't have anything to do with Sasuke. There were even commercials promoting Sasuke merchandise. NONE of that exists now.  Sasuke exists in a vacuum.

  This show was called 時空を超えた大実験! (Experiment that cross time!)

That last few cross promotion eventa were for the now defunct Pro Sportsman #1 shows and the Edo Special. The Sportsman #1 Monster box special was the last time Sasuke competitors and famous athletes competed side by side in a show that was NOT Sasuke. Considering that this special was not a Pro event and even featured 3 All-Stars (Nagano, Takeda and Shingo).  The last cross promotion of a non-athletic show was the Edo Special where you had Sasuke Stars (Shingo, Akiyama, Nagano and Takahashi) and a talento hauling ice from Mount Fuji to Tokyo in a recreation of an edo period event.  This show however was poorly promoted and most people missed watching it since TBS didn't bother marketing the show. No one knew it was on until AFTER it aired.  Heck, it even had a full name change before it aired!  Another channel TV Asahi also promoted Nagano in their show called Densetsu 伝説.  While that aired in a different channel they were still allowed to cross promote Nagano as a star of Sasuke (which is TBS of course).  That show since aired in other international markets.  Again, these things Monster 9 did correctly.

Sasuke 29 had different rules for the 3rd stage


Sasuke 29 was a conflicting show in many ways.  While I understood that it was important to help support the Sasuke ASEAN Open Cup, it was also part of the problem that TBS chose to devote the entire show to it.  They turned the show into one huge "Trials" show.  They altered the rules to fit for that one event. In the end, with the postponement of the ASEAN Cup months later, it proved that you cannot abandon the format of the show for the sake of another event.  If the results of the 3rd stage of Sasuke altered a final there would have been all out war with the hardcore fan-base that is keeping this show alive.  Luckily that didn't happen and now there is a dilemma since Sasuke 30 cannot air before the ASEAN Cup because it will break the continuity of Sasuke 29's message.  To avoid future headaches, never alter your show for the sake of another one. Stay true to your own show and remember your target demographic.  There are ways of accomplishing the same goal without sacrificing the show to the new gimmick.

Local event held in Sendai by the STQ'ers ©Ryo Matachi


Sasuke 30 poses a glorious opportunity that TBS cannot afford to miss.  It is a grand anniversary event representing a milestone few television networks can boast.  30 televised tournaments spanning 17 years in television.  TBS can invite old favorites representing Sasuke's past (my vote would be to bring Kane Kosugi back) alongside the current generation stars (like the All-stars and the Shin Sedai).  They can cross promote this large event in various avenues not just within TBS' airwaves.  They can send out representatives to events (like this unofficial event in Sendai hosted by the current Shin Sedai).  They can cross-promote key Sasuke figures in other TBS shows.   All to bring attention to Sasuke 30's milestone.  I would suggest a televised compilation show (highlights of Sasuke 1-29) of Sasuke to introduce a new generation of fans to this excellent show.  Monster 9 promised this retrospect years ago but it never happened.  This would be a glorious opportunity to show highlights of the 17 years of Sasuke while optimistically looking into Sasuke's future.  Concentrate on the PEOPLE of Sasuke.  This is what the fans have been clamoring for years in Japan.  Exploit nostalgia while creating new memories for the children of this new upcoming generation of potential Sasuke viewers.  This is the perfect setting.  I would be ambitious to hope TBS would promote a future DVD/Bluray release of Sasuke.  This would be a wonderful opportunity to raise a new generation in Sasuke by showing them the long and rich tradition of Sasuke's past.

Shin Sedai (新世代) literally "New Generation"
(some call them the "New Stars" deriving from the Allstars)
2-Time Grand Champion Yuuji Urushihara 漆原裕治 (Cliffer #3), Hitoshi Kanno 菅野仁志, Ryo Matachi (Cliffer #2) 又地諒, Kazuma Asa 朝一眞 and Sasuke All-star Shingo Yamamoto 山本進悟
Las Vegas, Nevada Japan vs USA - ANW5 event.

So as I'm typing this I know Sasuke is in a crisis right now.  With Sasuke 30 being rescheduled again into 2014, we are at a crossroads. If Sasuke does not raise their ratings, Sasuke 30 will be the last one we will ever see.  For those of us who LOVE Sasuke, we would like to see it succeed for a very, very long time.  Hopefully TBS pays attention and corrects the ongoing problems with their approach this old and very beloved show.  A future separate article will deal with the growing concerns of Sasuke as related to the International audience. I strongly believe that one will be just as long and entails different issues than what is going on in this article.  This is especially so because of the precarious nature that Sasuke Japan is in right now.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Postponement of the Sasuke ASEAN Open Cup

Edit: Event has been rescheduled to February, 2014

Event sign from February post

I've been going nuts trying to get information on this for the past several months.  As the days, weeks and months kept going and less and less information came out about this the more anxious I got about it.  Finally today with literally a couple weeks left to the proposed date SASUKE (28-29) director Masato Inui posted on his twitter account that the event was postponed.  TBS has also updated their Sasuke Rising website to reflect the change.

 ※ 11月に開催を予定していた「SASUKE ASEAN OPEN CUP 2013」は主催者側の都合により延期になりました。開催日時が決まりましたら当HPで告知致します。

I feel bad for the guy because he's the only public figure in the Sasuke organization that was even remotely connected to this thing so he was the line of fire.  Everyone else was behind the scenes and difficult to get a hold of.  Lord knows they never updated any of their pages so everyone was left with zero information and even fighting among themselves. For months Inui has had to rebuff question after question from domestic and international people. I felt bad because there was a string of people (notably the Sasuke 29 stage 2 competitors) who were still waiting for their last minute invite.  Remember that they were promised back in the summer that there would be an announcement forthcoming.  Months passed and no announcement.  So they had to wait to see if they were on the Japan team and continuing to train for a last minute international event.  Now everyone can take a step back and concentrate on other things.  My hope is that they do Sasuke 30 first and then leave the ASEAN event until next year.  With the debacle of the Stage 2 in Sasuke 29 they might even use Sasuke 30 to pick the team since we all know Stage 2 was not equally fair to everyone.

It's clear they bit off more than they can chew.  There's nothing wrong with asking for help.. and that is something they did not do.  The lack of communication to not just the competitors but the fans who were more than willing to support the event was staggering.  I'm glad they postponed it but I hope they learned their lesson.  They need to post SOME news.. even if it's small things. It's like they were so terrified for people to know they weren't ready.  It's also even better to have waved the white flag and postponed this now than to have had a horrible event because it was poorly planned, rushed and way out of their league.  Hopefully now with more time, more help and more organization they can pull off not just a single event, but a series of events that will last for years to come.  Expansion of an existing series is always painful and sometimes hard lessons are learned. I'm hoping this one is just a bump in the road and we can get a better event because of it.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

ANW5 - Japan vs. USA

 Final Tower in Las Vegas during ANW5 ©Steven Timbas

Finally.. I can talk about this (Since it was announced last night on NBC).. The officially co-opted Ninja Warrior Facebook (you know.. the one that is now ANW since they don't follow the Japanese Sasuke anymore? I'm not bitter or anything.. ) put up a USA Today article with small ANW5 Final preview and announcing (finally) the Japan vs. USA match up that was taped back in June during ANW5.  For those who are confused when this happened.. it was the Final day (Sunday) of the Las Vegas taping of American Ninja Warrior 5 back in June 23, 2013.  The final night was a Japan vs. USA match up.

USA and JAPAN flags in Las Vegas during ANW5 ©Steven Timbas

From the USA Today Article:  Brent Steffensen, Paul Kasemir, James McGrath, Travis Rosen and Brian Arnold will face amateur Japanese athletes including two-time champion Yuji Urushihara in one-on-one competitions. The special was suggested by producers of Tokyo Broadcasting System's Sasuke, on which Ninja Warrior is based, and NBC replicated Yokohama's Mt. Midoriyama course in Las Vegas.
(gets on soapbox) What's annoying for me is that they didn't announce this at all for fans to actually go see.  I now of a LOT of people that would have flown to Las Vegas for the mere glimpse of the Japanese stars in person.  The Japanese stars themselves were so excited to be invited to their very first trip to the United States.  The fans got a hint when the Japanese arrived Friday night and people recognized them in the hotel lobby.  I mean.. THEY ARE STARS.. So instead they were sequestered the better part of the whole weekend.  When they tried to show up incognito for Saturday's final they were immediately recognized BECAUSE THEY ARE STARS and then sent away as to not cause a stir.  The worst part was that the stars themselves were admonished.. because they were recognized? I'm so horrified they were treated in such a manner.  The management should be ashamed of themselves.  They had a horrible first impression of the USA. /facepalm (gets off of soapbox)

 2-Time Grand Champion Yuuji Urushihara 漆原裕治 (Cliffer #3) ©USA Today article

From the USA Today Article:  NBC-owned G4 cable channel for years has aired the Japanese version of the show with subtitles, and some American athletes competed in those contests. But an all-American edition began in 2009, and since last year G4 has shared the series with NBC, which has earned respectable summer ratings for the show. 

As of now I'm assuming this show will be on NBC because it was officially announced on NBC (btw it's labeled as "this fall" which is the time between September 20 and December 20).  That isn't to say it won't be relegated to another channel but who knows.  Right now G4 has not shown a new Ninja Warrior in about 2-3 years? NBC has never shown Sasuke and Esquire is only interested in ANW.  So beats me who the hell is going to air this.  That said, when it does and I get a copy (since I don't have cable) I'll post a blog on it since it covers the Japanese (which is the focus of this blog).

Edit:  Airdate confirmed: January 13, 2014.  Time: 8-10 PM Network: NBC

 Japan vs. USA during ANW5 Final
(L-R) Travis Rosen, Paul Kasemir, Brent Steffensen, James McGrath and Brian Arnold for the USA.  Kazuma Asa, Ryo Matachi, Hitoshi Kanno, Shingo Yamamoto and Yuuji Urushihara for Japan.

The line up was 5 for the USA which was based off of ANW5's final (which aired last night on NBC after a record 12 week airing schedule) against the Japanese 5 that included the 4 "Shin Sedai" (New Generation) and All-Star Shingo Yamamoto.  For those worldwide viewers who were unfortunate to not have ever seen Sasuke 28 or Sasuke 29 some of these faces will be unfamiliar to you (especially Asa).  Blame Comcast/G4/Esquire/NBC for boycotting Sasuke Japan the past 2 tournaments in favor of ANW exclusively.. 

  Here is the new lineup for the 新世代.
Shin Sedai (新世代) literally "New Generation"
(some call them the "New Stars" deriving from the Allstars)
2-Time Grand Champion Yuuji Urushihara 漆原裕治 (Cliffer #3),  Ryo Matachi (Cliffer #2) 又地諒, Hitoshi Kanno 菅野仁志 and Kazuma Asa 朝一眞
Anyway I'll introduce you to them (using their official introduction back in Sasuke 28 Preview show they call Navi).  While we had already a longer list of New Generation this is the promoted group right now and has been for the past couple of tournaments.  For purposes of this blog, these are also the 4 New Generation stars + All-Star sent to Las Vegas for this event that was taped in June.

2-Time Grand Champion Yuuji Urushihara 漆原裕治 (Cliffer #3)
The Sasuke King 王様  or Sasuke Ōsama
Yuuji shouldn't need an introduction but I'll do it anyway.  Yuuji is the shoe salesman for Haruta Shoes in Tokyo that has competed 9 times already. Unlike what G4 would like to make you believe, his first tournament was back in Sasuke 21.  His run was cut from the main broadcast (and the G4 broadcast by extension) but but actually aired on Sasuke Maniac (when the show still existed) the first year I was doing this blog.  (The same blog that had Olivia Munn's cut run from Sasuke 21 as well.)  He's gone on to competing in 3 finals winning 2 of them.  He's the current face of Sasuke and it's about damn time TBS is promoting him. I'm really happy about that.  For those of you reading my blog for years (thank you btw) he was first featured on my blog way back in the the Spring of 2008 when he earned his berth on Sasuke 21 by beating the All-stars in the BUG IN MIKI event hosted by Mr. Sasuke Katsumi Yamada in his home prefecture. He's also one of the 5 UNCLI guys (whom we refer to as Cliffers since the full name of the group is Unlimited Cliffer) we've been following for over 5 years.  He's been the leader of the New Generation for quite a while now. Glad to see TBS finally giving him his due and giving him a better title.  "Sasuke King".  (remember that All-Star Makoto Nagano is called "The Legend")  This was his 2nd trip to the USA.  His first was way back in 2010 when ANW was a small event and G4 actually gave a damn about Sasuke Japan.  Ah.. good times.
Ryo Matachi (Cliffer #2) 又地諒
This metaphor was used in Sasuke 27.  "Tatami" 畳 so it's basically "From a 4 tatami room (meaning the size of the room) to KANZENSEIHA 完全制覇"
Those who follow this blog will know my obsession with Ryo. He was part of the group that made it to Sasuke 21 via the Trials that were held during the Summer of 2008 when I first started blogging.  Part of the UNCLI group that Yuuji is in we've seen these 2 friends go through trials after trials trying to get to the main show again.  Since then I've been following his attempts to get back on the show (usually to no avail) until he finally earned his way back to Sasuke 25.  He has been part of the lineup ever since for a total of 6 competitions.  His breakthrough though came in Sasuke 27 where he not only passed the 1st stage for the first time, but made it to the Final Tower (along with Fellow Cliffer Yuuji).  Sasuke 28 marked his official induction into the New Generation lineup.  He was a painter (house painter not artist).  He's also known for his ridiculously small room with full-sized obstacles in them.  This was his first trip to the USA.

Hitoshi Kanno 菅野仁志 - Former Gymnast

Also doing time in my early blogs is Hitoshi Kanno. He's a former gymnast who is known now for doing odd jobs like janitor and his new hobby of designing silver jewelry. That and of course promising his girlfriend to marry her only after he has won Sasuke.  His journey was different though, he officially was part of Sasuke 20 although his run was cut.  Kanno was also part of that batch of competitors from 2009 to make it to Sasuke 22 that included the final trampoline event that also brought back Yuuji to Sasuke.  G4 lists this as his first tournament (incorrectly again..) simply because he made the 3rd stage on his second attempt at the course.  He's been in 9 tournaments total including a Final appearance alongside Makoto Nagano in Sasuke 23.  They incorrectly listed him as the youngest finalist.  Oooh digressing badly here.. G4 full of errors. He's been in the 3rd stage now for the past 2 Rising tournaments failing at the brand new Crazy Cliffhanger.  This was his first trip to the USA.

This is Kazuma Asa 朝一眞 whom I always refer to just as "Asa" simply because I just got used to it.

Asa is the newest of the bunch in terms of people watching on Ninja Warrior. He's also from the 2008 batch of STQ'ers (Sasuke Trial Qualifiers) that we followed way back when I started this blog.  His first tournament was in Sasuke 21 and is most known for his body paint (usually kanji painted on his bare back), Sasuke pants and overt emotional expressions. I affectionately call him "The Spazz". He's a tree trimmer currently (back in 2008 he was a delivery driver).  Asa has had a harder time getting back to the show after numerous attempts to get out of Sasuke Trials after his initial run in Sasuke 21.  He finally returned in Sasuke 27 where he passed Stage 1.  He returned in Sasuke Rising with a new label Shin Sedai surprising many but the hardcore Sasuke fans who understood why these monikers exist.  The soul of the group exuding passion and grit Asa has been in the 3rd stage twice in a row being defeated also by the new Crazy Cliffhanger.  He's competed in Sasuke 4 times.  This was his first trip to the USA.

Sasuke All-star Shingo Yamamoto 山本進悟

If you don't know who Shingo Yamamoto is YOU DON'T WATCH THE SHOW!!  By far the most recognizable from this group and arguably all of Sasuke is the now former Gas Station manager from Tokyo.  Shingo has been in every single Sasuke tournament ever made.  He made his debut in Sasuke 1 waaaaaay back in 1997.  This 2-time finalist has competed 29 times not including his times on Viking, Sportsman #1 Monster box special and even the Edo Special.  He's now retired from the petrol industry and is currently set to open a new gym, co-owning a car repair shop and opening a hotel franchise overseas.. yeah.. he's a busy guy who can't keep still!  This was his first trip to the USA.

Shin Sedai Kazuma Asa 朝一眞 ©Las Vegas Sun

So while I laugh at Las Vegas Sun not knowing wtf they are taking pictures of.. or who is actually running ON it.. I do appreciate the Asa photo!  This was an article showing the new season of ANW but got the obstacle wrong and showed the wrong person on it (since this was supposed to be a surprise! LOL).  Either way while I'm furious that the Japanese were treated so badly by their hosts and being sequestered away from the fans they wanted to meet I'm still am relieved they were sent here in the first place.  While I hate the format it's still showing that Japan still is producing Sasuke even if the rest of the world will never see it again. I for one will continue to blog on Sasuke and only Sasuke until the show disappears.