It’s been 9 years, 3 months and 19 days since I landed in Tokyo, a little bleary-eyed but eager to see what the Land of the Rising Sun would hold for me. The plan was to stay here a couple of years and then go back to England and start a career in my real […]
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It’s been 9 years, 3 months and 19 days since I landed in Tokyo, a little bleary-eyed but eager to see what the Land of the Rising Sun would hold for me. The plan was to stay here a couple of years and then go back to England and start a career in my real passion: IT. As we all know, life rarely goes to plan and it’s taken me almost a decade of amazing experiences and life in Japan before I’ve felt ready to return to the UK. But that’s exactly what I’ll be doing at the start of 2014.
After a difficult year teaching in the Maldives in 2003, things turned around and I was lucky enough to teach at one of the best high schools in Okinawa. I can honestly say, hand on heart, that throughout the 5 years I was working there I never had a bad day at work. Weekends were things that gave me a little chance to dive before going back into school, full of energy the following Monday morning. The principal with a strong idea of where he wanted the school to go, and the staff worked hard to get there. Combined with some of the most diligent and hard-working students you could come across (many of whom are now experiencing success in life and work throughout Japan and beyond), it created a recipe for success.
Since then I’ve taught at a kindergarten and junior high school, worked as a PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer, and a copy editor for an Okinawan website and magazine. But over the past couple of years I’ve been thinking about a return to England, and have been studying a lot to get a foothold in the IT industry. Cisco, CompTIA and Microsoft exams have been taken and certifications obtained, as well as taking work on and watching online webinars throughout the night whenever I could in order to expand my skillset and experience. And then I heard that in early November, following a series of interviews, I’d was offered a dream position working in cybersecurity for a multinational business services company.
But a start early in 2014 means that I’ve now got around 7 weeks to tie up all my loose ends (I didn’t even know any of them were loose a couple of weeks ago!), and get set up for life back in the north of England. There’s a huge amount to do, on both sides of the world, and since I got the news I’ve been running on little sleep; I’m going by the mentality that I can sleep on the plane in late December! Things to sell, things to buy, people to say goodbye to, workplaces to leave etc. It’s a lot to do and a lot to think about. It’s going to be a big change and very challenging, especially in the first couple of months, but I’ve got one chance to make a success of this, and there’s no question that’s what I’m going to do. Whatever it takes.
So Big in Japan is going to relocate somewhat, but the site and name will stay the same and my fondness for the country (despite my constant cynicism about things) will remain. I’ve been here almost a third of my life, and right now Okinawa is almost entirely my life.
I’ll write more if I have time over the next month about the things I’ll miss in Okinawa, and of course some of the things I might not miss so much. For now, thanks as always for reading.
Anyone who’s been reading the periodic updates on this site over the past 6 months will know that in March of this year I underwent LASIK eye surgery at Kobe Kanagawa Eye Clinic’s Osaka branch. Well you can read about that experience elsewhere, but in short, I’ve been more than happy with the results. I’ve had a few people read my articles and post comments about how they’re considering eye surgery here in Japan, so I want to give a little back in thanks for your time. So how about some money off your LASIK? Being from Yorkshire, there are few things I like better in life than saving money! Interested? Well read on…
The Kobe Kanagawa Eye Clinic offers a referral programme that’s easily missed as it’s not on the English version of their website, but is simple to get into and get some money off.
What you get: Discounts, and pretty good ones depending on the type of surgery you get. Here’s a quick list of the types of LASIK offering discounts and the discount available with the referral programme.
iFS IntraLASIK - ¥20,000 discount (¥235,000 -> ¥215,000)
Premium iLASIK (5-year warranty plan) – ¥5,000 discount (¥280,000 -> ¥275,000)
Premium iLASIK (Totalcare warranty plan) – ¥30,000 discount (¥350,000 -> ¥320,000)
Custom Epi-LASIK - ¥30,000 discount (¥320,000 -> ¥290,000)
Custom LASEK – ¥30,000 discount (¥320,000 -> ¥290,000)
Custom PRK – ¥30,000 discount (¥320,000 -> ¥290,000)
ICRS (Intrastromal Corneal Ring Segments) – ¥30,000 discount (¥780,000 -> ¥750,000)
Premium iDesign Monovision LASIK – ¥30,000 discount (¥350,000 -> ¥320,000)
Orthokeratology – ¥10,000 discount (¥390,000 -> ¥380,000)
These were the discounts when I wrote this; they might go up and they might go down. Then if you throw in other potential discounts such as travel discount (if, like me, you’re going to the clinic from some far-flung spot in Japan) discounts for Facebook, Twitter, blog mentions of the clinic etc, and it makes LASIK that bit more affordable.
How to get some money off: Pretty straightforward. When you go to any branch of the Kobe Kanagawa Eye Clinic for your initial test and consultation (which is also free, in contrast to my experiences down in Okinawa) or contact them by email, mention that you saw the article posted up by David Webb and my referral number (612-857). They should confirm I’m a customer of theirs, and when you get your surgery you’ll get the discount listed above and any others you might be eligible for. Should say I do get a little back from the referrals, but if I wasn’t I’d still be posting this up here. If you’re not too hot with your Japanese, the guy to contact at the clinic is Richard Masuda (click here to send him an email). While most of the staff can speak a little English, Richard is from Canada and will help out with translations when needed.
As always, if you’re considering the procedure and have any questions about a patient’s experience, then please leave a comment below and I’d be happy to give you answers and my own personal thoughts. And good luck if you go for the surgery. I fully recommend it; it sounds cliched but my only regret is not having done it sooner.
As a few of you may have read previously, in March of this year I headed up to Osaka and the Kobe Kanagawa Eye Clinic for a Premium iLASIK procedure on my eyes. I’d been up in Tokyo a month previously for a pre-LASIK consultation and they said despite me being on the borderline of whether they’d do the procedure (my eyesight isn’t too bad, but I’m farsighted, which has much tighter restrictions on whether they can perform it).
I asked as many questions as I could before the test, and tried to write as full a review as could in my review of the procedure. In short, it was a little uncomfortable but not painful, and was over in minutes. My vision was a little sensitive but instantly better than previously, with me being able to read the maker’s name on my watch as I lifted my wrist. My one-week checkup was promising, and it’s almost 6 months (allow me a little artistic licence in the dates), so time to give a bit more of a review on how things have been going.
First of all, one of the great things for me about the Kobe Kanagawa Clinic is that they have a partner clinic in the UK, Optical Express. This means that my lifetime “Total Care Service” package will actually follow me to the UK if I go back there to live, offering check-ups and future LASIK procedures if needed. And during my trip back to the UK this summer I had a chance to take advantage of this. I contacted the always helpful Richard Masuda at the Kobe Kanagawa Clinic in Tokyo, who put me in touch with Carol-Ann Hunter at Optical Express. I couldn’t have had a better service from Ms. Hunter, who was very accommodating with selecting dates and times for my check-up that lined up with my plans while I was back.
The check-up was short but thorough, and as much as I can try with my Japanese and get most of the things out that I want to say, it was good to talk to an English speaker about a couple of things. So, 4 months after the procedure, the state of my eyes is this. My vision with both eyes is about 20/20 now (that is the norm, and means you can see at 20′ what a regular person can see at 20′), with my eyes having improved since my one-month check. My longsightedness has virtually gone, and I’m just a little short-sighted now, which again is apparently normal and will decrease over time. The vision has stabilized (although was never really up and down from day to day), but the optician said he wouldn’t be surprised if my eyesight improved marginally over the next few months too as the healing progresses.
Then I asked him the big question: “In his opinion, should I be trying to have another LASIK procedure to get my eyesight to 20/16 or so?”. He answered in a very good way. First off, he said he would definitely wait at least another 2 months as it looks like my eyesight is still improving right now. Then he asked my occupation. He said that if I were a train driver or similar, and needed crystal clear vision then he thought it would help me; in my current and future career path he said if I was happy with the vision as it was then he would advise me to leave it.
And that’s probably what it comes down to. Is my vision as clear as it was before with glasses? Probably not, when it comes to detail (e.g. faces) at distance. It is probably as good as it was with contact lenses before though, and it’s very rare that I wish I had better vision. So right now I would highly recommend both the procedure and the Kobe Kanagawa Eye Clinic to anyone who is considering getting the procedure done in Japan. Having worn glasses daily since the age of about 6 years old, I’d have to say it is life-changing, and probably one of the best financial investments I’ve made. I only wish I’d made it a couple of years sooner!
If you have any questions about the procedure, the clinic, or my experiences, please do leave a comment below and I’ll try to offer as many honest answers as I can. Thanks for taking the time to read this piece.
EDIT: Just a side thought, but if any of you contact the Kobe Kanagawa Eye Clinic after having read this article then the person for you to get in touch with is Richard Masuda (fire him an email by clicking here). Mention you saw David Webb’s article about the clinic online and my membership number (612-857) and it should make you eligible for a referral discount on your LASIK surgery. Hope it helps you out a little
Went to a nice little event this past Sunday here in Okinawa at Kadena Marina. The Black Onyx Pacesetters (Okinawa Chapter) in conjunction with The Kandi Girls were running a charity bike and car wash, with proceeds going to a local Okinawan orphanage. It was a very well run event, with food and refreshments for anyone waiting to get their car washed, and all credit to the people stood outside in the baking sun all day. I was just stood in the shade and I was burning up.
The Black Onyx Pacesetters are a motorcycle club originally from Tennessee, but now with various chapters all over the US, and now in Okinawa. Their goal, as listed on their website, is:
…to be positive role models to the youth and aid in the development of the community. We will strive to represent the Black Onyx Pacesetters M/C with respect, honor and to uphold the By-Laws, as well as the laws of the community. We do fully intend to ride, support and enjoy cycling.
It was with this goal in mind that they decided to hold a car wash, with money raised going to charity. You could go along, get your car washed by members of the Black Onyx Pacesetters and some of the very photogenic ladies from The Kandi Girls (a group of electronic/rave music dancers here in Okinawa), and then head over and donate whatever you can. You then get a ticket which can be handed over at another tent for freshly fried fish, potato salad and soft drinks while you wait. Throw some beautiful weather into the mix and it made for a perfect event, and one I hope was very well supported. There were quite a few cars coming and going in the hour I was there, so fingers crossed that continued throughout the rest of the day.
The Pacesetters have said they have plans to try and hold these types of charity events every month, and I’m sure as word gets round a little more then the numbers and amount raised will increase. Only thing I could think of from a car guy’s point of view is maybe holding it a little later in the day. Something from mid afternoon to early evening would get people coming out as the temperature starts to go down a little, and the chance of a great sunset if it’s at Kadena Marina again, and finally a lot of the car folks might go down there and then stay out for a drive afterwards.
But all in all a very good event, and well worth supporting. I’ll try and post up in advance of the next one, and get the word out to a few more people. As long as people keep coming out, these events will keep being put on and money will keep getting raised for those that need it. A couple more pictures from the event are here, if you’re interested.
First of all, if you managed to make it through my initial LASIK article then I do appreciate it. When I get writing I do tend to ramble a little and I just checked and it weighed in at over 2,500 words! I wanted to give everyone as full a recount as I could though, as I know LASIK could be a very scary thing to think about, and isn’t cheap either. So I hope some of you gained something from it.
Right, this weekend just past I was back at the Kobe Kanagawa Eye Clinic in Osaka for my one week checkup. The clinic recommends one day, one week, one month and three month checkups following the iLASIK procedure, so I took advantage of relatively cheap Jetstar flights once again and headed back up there to see how my eyes were faring. Vision has been good overall. My close vision is a night-and-day difference to what it was before – I can read, write, pretty much do anything close up that I needed glasses to do before. Vision is probably better than with contact lenses close up too. My middle vision and distance vision is still a little blurry, and I seem to have good and bad days. Even on the good days, things aren’t quite as clear as I would like them to be, but it has only been a week and I’m still hopeful I won’t need a 2nd bout of LASIK towards the end of the year.
At the clinic, they did a couple of little tests looking into my eye, and then I had the eyesight check. Typically, my eyes were not having a great day, and I knew before I went into the clinic that I wouldn’t do as well as I could have 2 days previously. Pre-LASIK my eyesight was 0.4 and 0.5 on the Japanese visual strength scale. After this check, I saw that 1.1 and 1.2 had been written down as my strength figures. A lot better, but not the 2.0 we are aiming for. Seems to take 1-3 months for most people to get their full vision back though so I’m not worried. And the doctor said the eye was looking great from the tests and what he could see, and he had no concerns at all right now.
I’m probably going to head back up there in 3 weeks’ time too for the one month check. I could get it done here in Okinawa, but the clinic in mainland Japan knows my eyes, where they’ve come from and how they are doing so far, so they’ll have a baseline to do a comparison from. And I really don’t want to be taking any chances with my eyes.
Oh, if you did read my article last week about getting LASIK, just hit the link once more and scroll to the bottom as I’ve added a couple of edits. The clinic very kindly contacted me to help explain a couple of things I experienced (the loss of vision momentarily and the sound I was hearing). So I’m a bit more in the know now, and if you’re considering LASIK then you will be too. and that can only be a good thing.
Will hopefully report back in 3 weeks’ time with some more good news about my eyesight progress with the Kobe Kanagawa Eye Clinic.
EDIT: Just a side thought, but if any of you contact the Kobe Kanagawa Eye Clinic after having read this article then the person for you to get in touch with is Richard Masuda (fire him an email by clicking here). Mention you saw David Webb’s article about the clinic online and my membership number (612-857) and it should make you eligible for a referral discount on your LASIK surgery. Hope it helps you out a little
Since the age of about 6 or 7 I’d say, I’ve had glasses almost permanently attached to my face. The first thing I do in the morning is reach over and put them on, and the last thing I do at night before falling asleep is take them off. The only time I don’t wear them when I’m awake is when I’m diving (when I take the advantage of the water magnifying things naturally for me). Have had pretty bad farsightedness since I was a child, and coupled with an astigmatism in one eye, even contacts didn’t make things perfectly clear. The only solution was to keep reaching over to the bedside cabinet each morning for the glasses. Or so I thought…
At the start of February it was time for me to look for a new pair of glasses. I was looking around a few places, comparing prices and everything, and then for whatever reason the idea of LASIK laser eye surgery came into my head. I did a bit of reading and saw lots of acronyms. LASIK, iLASIK, LASEK, PRK… the list of procedures seemed a bit bewildering, but one thing was certain: I would only find out what procedures would be right for me after a consultation at a clinic. I also talked to a few friends who’d had it done, and almost everyone said things like, “Life changing experience… best thing I’ve ever done… money well worth spending…” Definitely worth looking into. I inquired about getting a check at a clinic in Okinawa, but was given quotes of Y15,000 to see if I would be eligible for LASIK, which may or may not be refunded if they did the procedure for me. They would tell me that after the check. Not really something to make you want to use the company. So then I did a bit more reading into laser eye surgery clinics in Japan online, and one company kept coming up time and time again: the Kobe Kanagawa Eye Clinic. They offered a free consultation and have a branch in Tokyo, so when I went up to the capital at the end of February to see UFC Japan 2013, I paid them a visit.
The clinic is in Shinjuku, and so as soon as I landed in Tokyo I headed over there. They do a bunch of tests on your eyes to determine the strength of your vision, the types of surgery that would be best for you etc. Should note that some of these tests involve dilating your pupils, so you probably won’t be in any fit state to drive after the tests for a couple of hours. At the clinic I met Richard Masuda, the company’s international relations guy but who helped with translations of a few things when my Japanese struggled. Have to say from entering the door, and especially talking to this guy, the service and professionalism they were offering was spot on, and gave me a lot of confidence that if I was going to get LASIK, it should be with this clinic.
After the tests from the nurse, I went in to see the consultant to talk about what they’d found out from my eyes. They said that usually laser surgery is for myopia (nearsightedness), and they can cope with much worse eyesight than I have, but because I have hyperopia (farsightedness) at a strength of 0.4 and 0.5 on the Japanese scale, I am right at the borderline of whether they can do the procedure, especially with the astigmatism in my right eye. They said it could be done, but that I may need 2 bouts of laser eye surgery to get my eyes just right, and that it might take a little longer than normal to get good vision and everything to heal as it should. They recommended the iLASIK procedure, which is a bespoke version of LASIK made for your specific eye condition and structure. It is also approved by the US Department of Defence, NASA, and the Ministry of Health, Labour & Welfare here in Japan. If it was good enough for NASA, it’s good enough for me! This procedure is more expensive than the “one size fits all” normal LASIK, but with my eyes it was going to be more beneficial going for this advanced treatment. Plus, I do skimp on things from time to time, but my vision is not something I take lightly. I also opted for the TotalCare system, which offers a lifetime of checkups, treatments and further LASIK procedures as I get older. There is a cheaper 5-year care system, but I opted for the lifetime one, not least because this clinic has a partner company in the UK, and my lifetime care package would carry over to them. Nice to know if I’m ever back in England I can get check-ups and everything for free.
So I booked treatment at the clinic’s Osaka branch for this past weekend. Around 10 days before the treatment I received a call from the clinic asking if I could go into their Osaka branch a little early for a couple more tests, which would determine finally whether I was eligible for the laser surgery. This was a surprise for me, as the consultant had said to me face-to-face that I would be an appropriate candidate, and now that I had booked 2 flights and hotels in Osaka (for my procedure, and my one-week checkup 7 days later) I was told this might not be the case and that I could be told after the checks on the first day that they couldn’t do the procedure and my trips would be wasted. I was more than a little disappointed at this, which I did stress to the company. After a few days, I received another call from the clinic, and things explained a little more to me. Apparently the data-collecting machines in Shinjuku were having trouble getting all the information needed from my eyes, and that was why they needed these further tests, but that I should be eligible for the procedure. A slight lack of communication within the company, but they got back to me promptly about it and put my mind at ease somewhat.
So the days went by and 3 days before I was due to fly to Osaka I started taking antibacterial eyedrops to make sure my eyes were clean before the surgery. Got a lunchtime flight up to Kansai Airport and once again, headed straight from the airport to the clinic. This time the machines got the information they needed from my eyes first time so the procedure was given the green light, and my wallet was made considerably lighter. Because I was coming from Okinawa, paying by cash, and I was using the referral program, I got some discounts. It’s still an expensive treatment, but nice that it’s made a little cheaper.
I was taken into a waiting room for the procedure, given some anaesthetic eyedrops, and the chatted to a nurse for 5 minutes while they took effect. Soon they told me it was time, so feeling excited but a little anxious, I went into the surgery room. The consultant dealing with me was the company’s leading guy, a Dr. Yoshihiro Kitazawa. He explained the procedure and told me that the final aim of the surgery would be to give me 2.0 vision in both eyes (2.0 in Japanese terms or 20/10 in American terms; basically perfect eyesight). I then hopped onto the bed and lay down. At that point a nurse held my hand and kept hold through the entire procedure. It’s a very Japanese thing I thought, but is quite reassuring and a nice touch to have in what can be a very stressful procedure.
A speculum was put onto my eye to keep it open and a machine put over my eye with a red dot visible. ”Look at the red dot and we’re going to laser open a flap in your eye” said the consultant. ”Don’t blink and don’t look away from the red dot” he added. Thanks for that; I had no intention of looking away until you said that, and now it’s all I can think about doing! I was told that my vision may go blurry or go completely for a few seconds, but not to worry if it did. While my right eye went blurry, I did lose vision in my left eye for a few scary seconds. Everything went grey with some strange patterns, and then went black. But soon enough it came back and I could see, although nothing clearly. (see EDIT 1 at the bottom of the article) Within a couple of minutes I had flaps opened in both eyes and the bed spun around to the main machine. This time a bit more pressure was applied to my eye. It wasn’t painful at all, but a little uncomfortable. Some more eyedrops were put into my eye at this time, and this let to probably the strangest experience of the whole surgery. As each eyedrop fell, because it was going into my eye I guess, I could hear these eyedrops! Each one made a crackling/white noise type of sound. A little disconcerting at first to actually hear these noises coming from inside your eyes, but after a few seconds again the crackling faded away. (see EDIT 2 at the bottom of the article) Once again I had a red dot to follow and keep staring at while the laser did its job. This machine is a bit louder than the other and I could feel something happening, although really had no idea what.
“OK, we’re finished” said the consultant, about 2 minutes later. The little flaps that had been opened on the surface of my eyes were brushed closed, and the lights in the room slowly came up. I was helped up to my feet and I looked around. The first thing I did notice was that things were a little blurry, but then I was told to look at something relatively close, and that I should see a difference. So I glanced down at my watch, and realised I could see the small makers’ names on the watch face; something I’d never been able to do without glasses. I could actually see! And with that, the LASIK was finished. I waited in the waiting room for 5-10 minutes after that taking everything in, and getting used to the slight blurriness that I was experiencing at the time. But I got my phone out, and was able to send messages and use it with no problems. I donned my protective eyeglasses as I stepped outside into a new, and slightly magnified but blurry, world! One thing I should note is that mid-evening I received a call from Mr Masuda up in Tokyo to ask how I was doing after the surgery, and how everything had gone for me. That’s the kind of customer service I really like; the contact that isn’t necessary, but that is made as a courtesy to you.
I was given a painkiller and special painkilling eyedrops if it got really bad, and about 30 minutes after on the walk to the hotel, I did start to feel my eyes aching. It was painful, but not to the point where I needed a painkiller, and about an hour later it had subsided. Got back to the hotel and did a little reading (I was amusing and amazing myself by putting paper in front of my eyes and actually being able to read it!) before having an early night. The next day I got up and put the first of my 4-times a day, 3 sets of eyedrops in (antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and dry-eye prevention), and at lunchtime I headed over to the clinic for my 1-day checkup. The clinic recommends checks 1 day, 1 week, 1 month and 3 months following iLASIK to check how your eyes and eyesight are recovering. In the morning my eyes started off very good but after a couple of hours I could feel my midrange and long distance blurring somewhat. Everything was magnified where it should be, but things just weren’t clear. That really frustrated me at the checkup as I could probably only get as far as I could pre-LASIK on the eyechart, yet I knew a few hours earlier I could have done. The doctor reassured me though and told me that 24 hours had not even passed, and for the first week or 2 my eyesight will be very unstable as my eyes and brain adjust to their new window to the world. I was told that the LASIK had been an easier procedure on me than they thought, and that they were hoping this would correspond to better vision and maybe would mean I don’t need a second bout of surgery in 3-6 months’ time. In addition, an examination of the eye revealed no scarring from the surgery. Very encouraging stuff.
As I type this I’m about 100 hours since the eye surgery, and I’ve had a smile on my face almost constantly since then. Throughout the day, my vision does change, and it even has as I typed this article (the screen is getting ever so slightly more blurry than it was before), but just the fact that I can walk around and I don’t have to fumble around for my glasses every morning when I wake up is an amazing feeling. It’s still very early days, and I know I will have bad days and good days, and that my eyes could take 3-4 months to heal completely. But I will keep you informed about how everything goes. If I stop writing completely, then I’ve gone blind!
But right now I would say the LASIK for me has been a huge life-changer, and hopefully things will just keep getting better as my eyes heal and adjust. And I would heartily recommend the Kobe Kanagawa Eye Clinic for their customer service from initial contact until now, which I fully expect to continue. If you’re in Japan and tired of wearing glasses or contacts, then get in touch with them. They’ve got clinics throughout mainland Japan, and will give you great service I’m sure. Make sure you mention David Webb, and this website too!
Read about my one-week check and how my eyes are doing by clicking here!
EDIT 1: A bit more info about your eyes going dark momentarily during the LASIK procedure. I’m told it’s because when there is pressure on your eye you can momentarily lose vision. Because they push the speculum down on your eye with a bit of pressure (blinking right now would be a bad thing), it can sometimes cause everything to go black. But once the pressure is released then your vision returns. Not sure of the exact biology behind that, but it definitely explains why things went dark a couple of times.
EDIT 2: And I now know what was causing that strange sound I said I experienced after they had opened the flap at the front of my eye. The second speculum to keep my eyes open actually had a small vacuum hose in it, kind of like a dentist would stick into your mouth. So the noise I was hearing was the sound of the eyedrops/wash getting sucked away so they wouldn’t interfere with the laser. When it was mentioned to me (the clinic actually called me to tell me about these things after reading the article) it makes perfect sense, and I don’t know why I didn’t realise it initially. I must have been concentrating too much on that dot in front of me!
EDIT 3: Just a side thought, but if any of you contact the Kobe Kanagawa Eye Clinic after having read this article then the person for you to get in touch with is Richard Masuda (fire him an email by clicking here). Mention you saw David Webb’s article about the clinic online and my membership number (612-857) and it should make you eligible for a referral discount on your LASIK surgery. Hope it helps you out a little
I’ll jump straight in where I left off in my last post, which was at the end of the weigh-ins on a cold and breezy day at the Saitama Super Arena in Tokyo, Japan. I spent the rest of the day thawing out and then getting ready for the big event the following day. I was still a little nervous about how many people would attend, but even if it was just me I was determined to enjoy the UFC being back in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Sunday morning started at about 6am for me, as I headed into Shinjuku Station and left my bag in one of the coin lockers (can’t beat Y400 for 24 hours of luggage storage), before using my phone to help me navigate my way onto the right train to get me into Saitama Shintoshin Station. Arrived about 07:40 and with the doors not due to open until 09:00 (thanks Dad for teaching me to never be late for events!) it gave me a little time to grab a bite to eat and then join the line. Met up with a friend and we were second and third in line. Apparently everyone else had more sense than us as they were leaving it a little later to venture into the cold around the stadium. And once again I realised that even though I’d doubled up on T-shirts under my sweatshirt, the wind was still biting. The few glimpses of sunshine didn’t really make it warmer (only marginally less cold) but there was nowhere to shelter without losing your place in the queue, so I battled through it. About an hour later we were in front of the main doors waiting to be let in. Decided to take advantage of the Photosphere on my phone, and take a nice all-around shot outside of the arena. Very cool if you’ve not seen this before. You can take a look at it here.
They had a separate line for everyone with digital tickets they had on their mobile phones; most of which were booked through the Ticket Board website. I have to say, I’ve booked tickets for events from all kinds of websites in Japan, and this one has to be the most frustrating experience. It was recommended by the UFC and they had the tickets available first, so I booked them back in December and paid a not insignificant amount of money for them. Once I’d paid though, I had no email confirmation of payment… nothing. Just a receipt from the convenience store saying keep this in case of problems. After about a week I got in touch with the company and asked them when I would receive my tickets. They responded that all Japanese ticket companies do this, it’s “Japanese custom” to avoid ticket scalping, and that I would get tickets about 2 weeks in advance. I guess they didn’t expect me to be living in Japan. So I replied asking why no other ticket companies do this in Japan (they all issue tickets instantly. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t receive a reply after that. I eventually got my tickets just one week before the event, but I and a number of others were worried if they were ever going to receive the tickets. Really think the UFC should use a different ticket distributor as their recommended option next time.
Right, gripe over and back to god things. So the doors opened and I went in (on feet I could no longer feel). The queues were building up but it didn’t look as busy as last time. No worries though as a couple of minutes later I was stepping into the arena itself, and starting to take everything in. Despite my gripes about the ticketing company, the seats were excellent, and I don’t think I could have been in a much better position. The right distance, and at just the right height to have a good angle into the octagon. I was a little anxious about how much better the view would be compared to last time, when I was in the cheaper class of seats. Within minutes though, and fears subsided.
As well as the photo above, before most people came in I also managed to take another photosphere view, giving you the chance to see what it’s like inside the Saitama Super Arena at a UFC event. Click here to have a look.
The crowd made their way into the arena behind me and about 45 minutes later the first fight was being announced and the fighters were coming out. The one thing I like about the non-US events is that they are special for the people in that country, and from the first fight starting, the vast majority of seats were filled up with people ready for a day of entertainment. In the US (particularly Las Vegas) the fans are spoiled somewhat with the number of events, and you often see people only drifting into the arena and taking their seats for the main card. The preliminary fights often provide some great matches, and this card was no difference.
With only 1 of the fights (the first) resulting in a stoppage, a few fans were disappointed with the fight card coming into the co-main event. Personally I enjoyed it; the fights were tightly contested and the lack of stoppages wasn’t due to lack of effort by any fighter. The Asian fighters all did very well, and were keenly supported by the locals. There were quite a few Americans there too, and a decent Brazilian contingent (am sure some of them travelled up from Aichi for the event). They were in excellent voice right from the start of the first fight… right up until the Brazilian guy they were cheering got knocked out midway through the 2nd round!
Things picked up with the co-main event though, featuring Stefan “Skyscraper” Struve vs Mark ”Super Samoan” Hunt. This was just the kind of fight the Japanese guys who were Pride FC fans loved; a really tall guy against a short big guy. And at 7′ tall, they don’t come much taller than Struve (see right). The fight was expected to be the kickboxing skills of former K-1 champion Mark Hunt, against the submission and ground skills of Struve. For some reason through, Struve just didn’t seem to want to take the fight to the ground. Hunt was always going to have the edge in striking, but Struve didn’t even seem keen to use his reach advantage and keep him at distance.
By the third round they were both on their last bits of energy, and throwing single punches seemed to take all of their energy. As the clock ticked down it seemed like it would just need one clean hit to finish the fight. And it came with a minute to go, violently. With both fighters with their hands down, Hunt struck with his left hand and found Struve’s jaw. The Skyscraper crumbled to the ground against the cage and the referee quickly jumped in to stop the fight. Struve later posted his X-ray up on Twitter (see below), showing a badly broken jaw. Very nasty and brutal stop for Mark Hunt, who has to be close to the top of the pile for a title shot.
The crowd loved the fight and Hunt’s victory, and got them into a great mood for the main event of the day. A battle of striker vs striker as Wanderlei “The Axe Murderer” Silva was taking on “All American” Brian Stann. Stann came in to a very good reception from fans, and had shown a lot of respect to Silva after the weigh-ins, moving to shake Silva’s hand after the staredown. Both fighters had been saying nothing but good things about the other in the build-up to the fight, and a lot of the crowd were anticipating that should Silva lose by a stoppage, this could signal the end to his fighting career. He is 36 now and had 47 professional fights over 17 years; most of them against skilled fighters, so is probably coming to the twilight of his career. Age isn’t stopping him exciting the crowd though, with his 2 previous fights winning “Fight of the Night” awards.
Indeed, his style is what the crowd love, and what many saw could be his undoing. Silva goes out first and foremost to entertain the crowd. If he wins, that’s great. If he loses, then he hopes the crowd was entertained and goes off to lick his wounds. but if the crowd goes home talking about his fight, then Silva is happy. He could have changed his style to focus on his strengths and his opponents weaknesses, and it would have probably resulted in him having a better record in the UFC, but would go against his policy of entertaining the crowd.
Now Stann knew this, and could have worked a strategy to counter Silva and not get into any swinging exchanges with the Brazilian, but thankfully he also put strategy to one side and it seemed they had an agreement to make a fight the crowd would be talking about for some time. Within a minute of the first round there was a frantic exchange of punches, both fighters looking to score significant damage early on. Stann was knocked to the ground, followed by Silva, but both came back strong. The first round went to Stann, with Silva looking tired going to his corner, but Stann had been cut on the bridge of his nose. As the hooter went at the end of the round, the usually tame Japanese crowd was on their feet.
Into the second round and the pace slowed considerably, which nobody was surprised at. The fight was scheduled for 5 rounds, but there was no way they would be able to keep the pace going for 25 minutes. Most were looking at this to be the round that Silva would leave his hands down once too many times, and pay for it.
But with under a minute to go in the 2nd round, Silva landed with a one-two to the head, and Stann fell to the ground, and Silva pounced. The first shot just grazed his head, but he found his accuracy with the next 2 shots. Stann’s head bounced off the canvas twice and strikes found his chin, and the referee was forced to step in and bring an end to the fight. The reaction from the crowd was wild. Everyone was on their feet as fan-favourite Silva sat on top of the octagon celebrating, before bowing to the fans.
Stann took some time to get in a position where he could stand, and he received a very good round of applause from the crowd for his performance and his help in securing another Fight of the Night award. Silva thanked the fans for supporting him, while Stann was equally gracious in defeat, declaring it an honour to have fought Wanderlei, and especially to fight him out in Japan. With the crowd still buzzing after the TKO, the lights arena lighting went up which signalled the end of the event, and people reluctantly started to make their way out of the arena. With a crowd of just under 15,000 watching in the arena, and Fuel TV receiving their highest ever ratings for a show by far, it has to be regarded as another big success for the UFC, and should ensure they are back in Japan for another event in the not-too-distant future.
And of course, a review of the event can’t go without paying tribute to the 2 lovely octagon girls used by the UFC. At this event we had Su Jung Lee (below) from South Korea, and Azusa Nishigaki (right), a native of Japan. As for who looked best, I’ll leave that to you. Lee certainly looked more comfortable in the role though, and was much more playful with the camera before the fights and between rounds.
And that’s it for the UFC in Japan for now. Fingers crossed they’ll be announcing another event here sometime soon. They have shown that if you put on a good card with Japanese and talented fighters, that the Japanese fans will get behind it.
I took plenty more pictures from the fights, and you can see them all here.
Well the dust has only just settled and already the UFC bandwagon is making its way to Canada for UFC 158 this coming weekend, but last Sunday morning’s UFC on Fuel TV 8 (called UFC Japan 2013 domestically) has got to be regarded as another success for the organization. The success and credit has to be put down in large part to the 2 main events of the night, Stefan Struve vs Mark Hunt, followed by Wanderlei Silva (pictured right) vs Brian Stann. Will focus on the weigh-ins right here, but my next post later today will look at the main event itself.
The UFC’s last trip to Japan was UFC 144 last February, which was a sell-out and regarded as a very big success after not visiting the country for so long. There were a few concerns about the crowd numbers though, as no ticket sales figures had been released and tickets were still being advertised as available. But the organizers had been very smart, and placed well-known fighters in Japan (from Pride FC days) along with almost all Japanese fighters they have on their roster. Throw in a smattering of Koreans and you’ve got a card everyone can get behind.
Unbeknownst to me, the events actually started on Friday, with a signing session and part of Shibuya 109 being transformed into a temporary UFC Store. If I’d have known about that then I’d have been there, but unfortunately I missed out on that one (must be slipping in my old age, and probably a little dazed after my pre-LASIK check – more on that in another post). The weigh-ins were on Saturday at 13:00 Japan time, but I decided to get there very early and do some writing in Starbucks for this site. As it turns out, I got there at 9:00 and there were already some people queuing! Now the Japanese like queues so I thought they might be lining up just for the hell of it, but then I saw it was a signing of some sort. Decided to join them and was about number 30 in the queue. Standing and waiting in the bitter cold & wind, and wearing a T-shirt and a not-too-thick sweatshirt, every minute made Starbucks and a hot coffee more attractive, but I decided to stick it out, and about an hour later the doors opened and we shuffled inside.
Turns out there was UFC Hall of Famer Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell, and Glover Teixiera doing a signing. Well worth a little frostbite for! The queuing system was an absolute shambles though; a sentiment echoed by some of the American UFC officials there. You lined up for the signing and went past the merchandise stand where you could take advantage of smaller lines before tomorrow’s event. But after buying a programme and a poster I was then told I had to go right to the back of the queue and start the process again for signing. And then if you wanted to see the weigh-ins you had to line up again! The signing queue was now about 300 people or so deep, and there was no way I was going to the back of the line for that, but luckily I managed to sneak in with a guy from San Diego who was there lining up and who I’d chatted to earlier. Definitely the most disorganized part of the whole event though.
So I got my merchandise, and I got signatures from both Liddell and Teixiera. I’ll tell you what though: those guys look big on TV, but it’s not until you get up close & personal with them that you realise how big they actually are. But very cool to chat briefly with them both and the first fighters I’ve met.
So with all that out of the way I joined the final line for the actual weigh-ins. From around 11:00-12:00 there was an interview and Q&A segment with UFC fighters “Sexiyama” Yoshihiro Akiyama, and Hatsu Hioki. Not a huge fan of Akiyama, but he came across much better when talking to the crowd and on a microphone. Hioki definitely looked nervous or shy about the whole thing. The interview segment ended at 12:00 but then there was a one-hour wait until the actual weigh-ins. They showed some video previewing the fights but that was a 15 minute video and was just looped. Think they really should have shown something else to keep people entertained, as plenty were getting bored. Show some older UFC fights or something.
13:00 came around though and Jon Anik (Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg don’t travel out to the non-PPV events, I believe) came out to announce the fighters, along with Korean Octagon girl Su Jung Lee. I managed to get photos of most of the fighters as they stepped on the scales (everyone made weight except Diego Sanchez, who was 2lbs overweight), as well as the staredowns, and you can see the gallery of them here.
Best staredown had to be Kazuki Tokudome and Cristiano Marcello (see above), with most amusing unsurprisingly being Stefan Struve versus Mark Hunt. If you can’t see the picture of it below then imagine Gandalf standing next to Gimli from Lord of the Rings! Should also be noted that when Miesha Tate came out with her boyfriend Brian Caraway for his weigh-in, she was getting more shouts from the crowd than he was. Make of that what you will.
Best crowd reactions were given to both Mark Hunt and Wanderlei Silva; both well-known from their past fights in Japan over the years. The reaction from Su Jung Lee at the sight of 7′ tall Stefan “Skyscraper” Struve was pretty funny too, as you can see to the left here. An after 45 minutes or so the weigh-ins were over. The fighters went off to hydrate and I headed out of the arena for some ramen and a drink.
The crowd at the weigh-ins wasn’t as much as last year, but there were still a fair few people there so it left me pretty positive for a good attendance tomorrow. The reaction to Silva also told me it was going to be a very good event early on Sunday morning.
Six days away in fact, so I’m getting pretty pumped about my annual trip up to the capital for some fighting action. It should be another good card, with almost all the Japanese and well-known Asian fighters on the card, and a few lesser-known ones keen to make a name for themselves. Then a main event featuring a legend of Pride FC in Wanderlei “The Axe Murderer” Silva, and “All-American” Brian Stann, who is sure to have the support of the US military community there, and it should be a great event.
A little worrying is that they said tickets were still available during UFC 157 on Sunday. Not too surprising as UFC 144 in Japan last year only sold out very late apparently (wondering how many tickets got given away), but the lack of any mention of ticket sales makes me a little anxious as to how many have been sold. I really want it to be another success like the last event and become a regular appearance on the calendar, as it can only be good for the sport of MMA, and especially MMA in Japan.
And while we’re talking about things being good for the sport of MMA, we should probably mention UFC 157 yesterday, and the first women’s fight in the UFC (headlining the event, no less) with Ronda Rousey (pictured right) defeating Liz Carmouche by… you guessed it, armbar in the first round. You knew it was coming, and it was just a matter of when. I actually wondered if any bookmakers would take money on it, as it was such a dead cert. First off, she is an excellent fighter and all credit to her for going to her strength (the armbar) almost right from the off. Straight away she went for the takedown and was looking for it. She had her back taken at one point and was almost in trouble, but persevered and won with about 30s to go in the first round.
It was a huge moment for the UFC and for womens’ MMA in general, but I do think it was being overplayed how much of a pioneer she has been for the sport for women (looks, personality, ability). I think Gina Carano was more of a pioneer in that regard; Strikeforce champion (until she came against a roided-up Cris Cyborg, which you can see the video of below, and wasn’t aware she was taking part in an inter-gender fight), arguably better looking that Rousey and a good media personality to boot. I think Rousey coming onto the MMA scene with a strong social media presence (the Facebook era and all that) has had a lot to do with her popularity. ”Lil Bulldog” Felice Herrig has highlighted how important social media is in gaining popularity by using it, her looks, her personality, and once again a lot of MMA skills.
Now while UFC 157 highlighted the skillset of Rousey (and in particular her armbar submission), detractors could say it shows how weak the women’s division is. Personally, I was really hoping for a Carmouche win just to really open up the women’s division, or a Rousey win by something other than armbar. A win by a rear naked choke, triangle, TKO or something that wasn’t an armbar and give people ammunition for being just a one-trick pony (albeit a trick she is damn good at).womens divisions will be in their depth. The winner of Miesha Tate (right) and Cat Zingano will fight Rousey for the title, but after what happened to Tate’s arm last time, I doubt she’ll be relishing that prospect. Strength will hopefully come, but the only person who can realistically give Rousey a run for her money is Cris Cyborg, and that’s a fight that neither are going to change weight classes for. Cyborg has said (and been backed by UFC Hall of Famer Toto Ortiz) that she can’t cut down to 135lbs (it’s been said that cutting weight is much much tougher for women than men), and Rousey has said she won’t go chasing Cyborg; she would have to come down in weight to face her.
But hopefully women’s MMA will continue to develop and evolve, as will MMA and the UFC’s presence in Japan. Which brings me back to where I started and the UFC this coming weekend at the Saitama Super Arena. I finally got my tickets from Tickebo, the supplier the UFC recommended initially, and I have to say it’s the worst ticket buying experience I’ve had in Japan. I booked tickets at the end of December, and just got my digital ticket today. After a week or 2 of receiving no ticket after paying I contacted them and asked them when I should expect to receive them. I was told that this was the “Japanese way of buying tickets” and that I should expect to receive them 2 weeks before the event. I then replied asking them that how come all of the other major ticket vendors in Japan (which I’ve used at some point over the past 9 years) don’t use this Japanese way they talked about. They then replied telling me it was to prevent ticket scalping. After asking again why no other ticket vendor here does this I got no further reply. But I’m a lot closer than last time so should be able to get some good shots of the fight and weigh-ins on Saturday morning.
Stay tuned for fight and fighter pictures from UFC Japan 2013 at the Saitama Super Arena in Tokyo, Japan, this weekend!
The Axe Murderer is coming back to Japanese soil! On March 3rd the UFC will be coming back across the Pacific to the shores of Japan for UFC on Fuel TV 8, and they’ve announced a pretty good fight card for it too, as well as releasing the tickets this afternoon.
One year after Benson Henderson won the UFC Lightweight Championship belt at UFC 144 The main event will be Wanderlei “The Axe Murderer” Silva vs Brian Stann. Japan is something a little special for both of these fighters. For Silva, it is where he became a legend in the eyes of the Japanese MMA fans. His all-out fighting style won him masses of fans, and the middleweight belt back in the Pride FC days. While his best days are probably behind him, there’s no doubt he’ll be wanting to put on a big show for the people who gave him almost god-like status for a number of years. And Brian Stann, former US Marine, was born on Yokota Air Base in Japan. He’s a solid fighter, and getting top billing on the card should ensure he gets plenty of support from the US military community around Japan.
Mark Hunt is also on the main card and he’s got a big following too in Japan, following his Pride FC days. His fight with Stefan Struve should be a very good one, with an interesting mix of styles and body shapes!
The rest of the card doesn’t shape up too badly either. The card in full at the moment is:
- Wanderlei Silva vs Brian Stann
- Stefan Struve vs Mark Hunt
- Takanori Gomi vs Diego Sanchez
- Dong-Hyun Kim vs Siyar Bahadurzada
- Riki fukuda vs Brad Tavares
- Takeya Mizugaki vs Brian Caraway
- Hyun Gyu Lim vs Marcelo Guimaraes
- Kyung Ho Kang vs Alex “Bruce Leeroy” Caceres
- Kazuki Tokudome vs Christiano Marcello
Am pretty pleased they’re stacking the card with Japanese talent too. They’ve also announced the UFC Fight Club Japan which I’m considering joining too, and seem to be making a strong effort to promote Japanese fighters and the UFC within Japan.
The UFC also released tickets today on the almost impossible to navigate well ticket.tickebo.jp. I think I’ve got myself a pair of tickets but to be honest I’ve no idea and will only find out for sure when I go to the convenience store to pay for them. The much more professional E-Plus site will have tickets available from next Friday, but I like to be first in line to try and get good seats for my money.
Looking forward to the card already, especially as I’ve gone up a rank in seats this time so will be a little closer to the action.