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An alternative look at life in the Land of the Rising Sun, coming from its southernmost prefecture, the island of Okinawa.
Posted By Dave on July 8th, 2014

http://www.biginjapan.co/biginjapan/getting-healthy-in-leeds-with-v-physique-body-by-design/

Those who have known me a while will know that I just about kept my body shape in control (mainly in Okinawa through sweating generally due to the heat and humidity) or because of walking so much with my car dying.  It definitely wasn’t due to exercise though!  But after a couple of months of being back in England […]

 

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Getting healthy in Leeds with V Physique – Body By Design

Posted By Dave on July 8th, 2014

http://www.biginjapan.co/biginjapan/getting-healthy-in-leeds-with-v-physique-body-by-design/

Those who have known me a while will know that I just about kept my body shape in control (mainly in Okinawa through sweating generally due to the heat and humidity) or because of walking so much with my car dying.  It definitely wasn’t due to exercise though!  But after a couple of months of being back in England I decided to notice some changes.  Sitting at a desk all day compared to walking around while teaching, combined with being home in a country with lots of delicious but not very healthy snacks downstairs was taking its toll, and making me look even more of a wreck normal.  So I did something I’ve not done for a while: I decided to go out and do something about it.

First of all I signed up with the South Leeds branch of Pure Gym – a no-frills chain of gyms.  I started doing some running, general messing around with weights and going to some of the classes there.  Despite (or possibly because of) usually being the only guy in the gym classes, I did enjoy them.  My fitness levels weren’t great but I in a class I felt I was pushing myself more than if I was working out on my own.  If I was alone and got tired then I’d stop.  There’s no way I was stopping with others around me carrying on.  After a month I was feeling better, but needed something a little more.

I talked about it with a friend from the gym and she said I should think about getting a personal trainer.  I’d never thought about it, but the chance of a V Physique - Body by Designfree taster session with Ant Varenne of V Physique – Body by Design was enough to make me give it a chance and see what I thought.  Did the taster and was absolutely shattered at the end of it – just how I wanted to be!  The next day I was aching all over and could tell that I’d had a good workout.  And I was being pushed in just the right way by someone who knew what he was doing.  He’d got a new client!

I signed up for an initial block of 10 classes, the first of which involved taking various body measurements, asking about my dietary habits (“shocking”), and what my goals were (“To get into some sort of shape”).  One of the most interesting initial questions was how he should talk to me during workout sessions.  Should it be like a drill instructor, motivational, relaxing etc.  As a teacher who knows that every student responds to different methods and different attitudes, it was nice to be given that choice.

Within a week I was given a dietary plan (lots more calories, lots more protein, much fewer carbohydrates), meal guide and workout plan for when I was working out on my own.  My personal training sessions were booked weekly, but I had to put in a lot more work outside classes if I wanted to start seeing results.  But the main work would be done in the personal training sessions themselves.

And work was certainly done.  Training sessions were leaving me drained, but smiling by the end of them.  Partly because of the masochist in me and partly because I know that when I’ve left everything I’ve got in the gym, it’s been a session that will really reap benefits.  The training I do focuses mainly on weights, but there will always be some cardio work involved in the 60 minute session to keep things mixed up a little.  Ant likes to vary the classes a lot so things never get boring in the class itself or from week to week.  And he likes to push you hard, with a, “Never say you can’t” attitude.  I’ve taught my own students that if you fail it doesn’t matter, as long as you try, so have to do the same.  If you’re looking for a trainer just to to a couple of little weights so you can have that feel-good attitude, then he’s probably not the person for you!  If you’re looking for someone who’s going to leave you a sweaty mess at the end of your hour, then you’ll like him!

Within a month I was starting to see visible changes in my body, and feeling much better.  After 10 sessions I had my second weigh-in and measurement taking.  Drum roll please…

Height 177cm -> 177cm (Thank god – was hoping that wouldn’t change!)
Weight 76.9kg -> 75kg
Hips 97cm -> 95cm
Waist 88cm -> 84cm
Biceps (relaxed) 30cm -> 32cm
Biceps (flexed) 32.5cm -> 34cm
Quads 49cm -> 49.5cm
Chest 100cm -> 96.5cm

I can do press-ups now.  Still hate them but love the fact that I can do them!  I guess the only downside is that now most of my jeans and trousers are falling off me and need replacing!  I’m mid-way through my second block of personal training and Ant has made a new training regime to accompany it and build on what we’ve done.  I’m upping the weights but have to confess my diet hasn’t been great due to a few things over the past month or so, so we’ll see how I get on at the next weigh-in.

I give credit where it’s due, and it’s definitely due here.  I’ve had big gains in how I look and how I feel over the past 3 months, and want to keep up the good work and push on from where I am now.  Is a personal trainer the best thing for everyone going to the gym?  I’d honestly say no.  It’s not cheap and if you get a good trainer like V Physique – Body by Design then it will wear you out and leave you aching for a couple of days to come.  Yup – I’ve just checked and my biceps are still hurting from two days ago!  But if you are looking to improve your fitness and have the chance of a free trial then I’d say go for it as you’ve nothing really to lose.  You might hate it, you might love it.  If you don’t try, you’ll never know.

Finally, if you want a trainer in the Leeds area then definitely do yourself a favour and check out Ant Varenne’s V Physique – Body by Design.  He’s an excellent trainer and all-round good guy.  Mention this site and get a free trial session!

LASIK: 6 Months Later

Posted By Dave on August 26th, 2013

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 🙂

LASIK: One week Check

Posted By Dave on April 1st, 2013

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 🙂

Getting LASIK in Japan

Posted By Dave on March 26th, 2013

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.

Kobe Kanagawa Eye Clinic, ShinjukuThe 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.

Kobe Kanagawa Eye Clinic, OsakaSo 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,I can see! 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 🙂

UFC on Fuel TV 8 (aka UFC Japan 2013): A Review

Posted By Dave on March 7th, 2013

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.

2013-03-03 16.50.32.jpg

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 insignificantUFC Japan 2013 digital ticket 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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

Stefan Struve broken jaw

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.

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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.

Wanderlei celebratingStann 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.

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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.

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UFC Japan 2013 (UFC on Fuel TV 8) Weigh-ins

Posted By Dave on March 6th, 2013

http://www.biginjapan.co/biginjapan/ufc-japan-2013-ufc-weigh-ins/

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Inside an XS Power 38mm Wastegate

Posted By Dave on September 13th, 2012

Just got one of these in the mail and there is a lot said about this brand of “Tial knock-off” wastegate, mostly by people who’ve never actually had one in their car. So I thought I’d throw up a few pictures and a few thoughts on it, good or bad.

First off, the box was much bigger than I was expecting due to a few extra bits that came with it, but more about that later. The wastegate itself is packaged very neatly in fitted polystyrene, along with bolts, 2 paper gaskets,2 banjo bolts, 2 flanges and the all-important fire ring. And they also send me a composite gasket too for the exhaust manifold to wastegate connection, although I would be reusing a stainless gasket I had.

Along with the wastegate itself came a rather nifty angled bit of piping for the dump pipe (completely useless for me, but a nice thought to include it). And also we have a wastegate dump pipe. The welding isn’t going to win any awards for its neatness, but it’s not easy for those 6-year old Chinese workers in a sweat shop to get their hands around the welders I expect. Saying that, the welds do look solid enough, and the dump pipe will be kept in my car incase I need to hit any of the gangs of kids on motorbikes at night (only partly joking).


The common first course of action with these wastegates is usually to disassemble them and check everything is ok inside them and screws are nice and tight. I also had to take mine apart to change the spring. On mine it took a bit of effort to loosen everything up which is reassuring. The cap popped off and the screws came out of the diaphragm, leaving everything apart and as you see it below. Some people at this point take the opportunity to fit genuine Tial diaphragms to the wastegates, although this XS Power one looked in much better condition than previous ones I’d seen.


Even though I had asked for the XS Power 1 bar spring, I know from my previous wastegates from them that they are only good to about 0.7bar. So with that in mind I also got myself a pair of genuine Tial 1bar springs for my 2 wastegates. Which gave me a great opportunity for a little comparison.

In the picture below from left to right you can see the normal XS Power spring (good to probably 0.4bar at a guess), the XS Power “1bar” spring, and the Tial 1bar spring. First thing to notice is the size; the Tial spring is much bigger than the XS Power one. But that could just mean the spring isn’t compressed as much and will push down easier. Nope. The Tial spring was tough to compress with my hands, and even tougher to install. I had to push down with all my weight on the spring with the wastegate cap when I was putting it all back together. Much more difficult than it had been with the XS Power spring.

Back together, the fire ring was dropped into place and it was all bolted up. Started the car and no wastegate rattle at idle (sign of a bad seal or a bad valve. Not tried it on boost yet due to another couple of issues, but that wil come very soon.

Will a genuine Tial wastegate be more reliable in general than this one? Yes. Are you more likely to have problems with this than a Tial? Yes. Could you buy one of these wastegates, have no problems with it at all and be perfectly satisfied with it? Definitely.

Anyway, that’s just a few of my thoughts and an insight into what you’ll get if you ordered one.

Aerocatch: Customer Service at its Best

Posted By Dave on April 27th, 2012

If you read the ramblings on here I post up from time to time you’ll know that I’m not the most forthcoming when it comes to dishing out praise and compliments.  They do come sometimes, but they have to be earned., especially from businesses that I give my hard-earned and significant amounts of cash to.

The status quo over the past decade has been for customer service to be declining.  Companies seem obsessed with the sale but then if something goes wrong you better have the patience of Job.  After sales has truly become the forgotten art.  Well, I strongly thought that until the start of this week.

At the end of 2011 I purchased a set of locking bonnet latches from Aerocatch.  They had very good reviews from everyone who used them, both for their quality and their looks.  They finally got fitted to my car back in March and looked and performed great, for a month.  Then one night I went to lock the catch down and this happened:

The key wouldn’t go all the way into the lock.  It was as if one of the tumblers inside the lock had just seized.  I tried WD40, I tried picking the lock but nothing could get it to move, which left me with a non-locking locking catch.  Pretty disappointing considering they aren’t the cheapest bonnet latches in the world and were supposed to be top drawer.

So I sent an email to Aerocatch about the problem, asking if they’d had this problem before and if there was a solution.  Within 4 hours we had exchanged some emails about the problem, and I’d sent them a video showing what was happening.  Straight away they got in touch with their distributor in Japan and told them to send me a replacement kit out, and asked me to return the faulty unit when it came in so they can check it out.  All in all this problem was reported on Monday at about 8pm, and my replacement kit was delivered from mainland Japan on Wednesday at around 3pm.

A sign of a good company is how well it takes care of its customers post-sale, and Aerocatch couldn’t have been better.  Their response was swift, and effective.  People don’t really mention bad customer service these days as unfortunately it’s often taken as a given, but I would strongly recommend Aerocatch to anyone looking for an aftermarket body catch.  Not only are their catches very high quality (I strongly believe I just got one with a glitch) but their customer service is exactly what you want from a manufacturer.  Check them out at www.aerocatch.com

“Reflections” from Yorkshire

Posted By Dave on January 2nd, 2011

http://www.biginjapan.co/biginjapan/reflections-from-yorkshire/

Am currently at 33.000ft over Northern China, so what better time and place to write a much overdue entry for the site?  As for why I am here, that will all be revealed in a post to shortly follow this one, but in a nutshell I have been back in good old Yorkshire, England for the past 10 days for a Christmas at home.

December also marked a very big occasion in my family’s household.  In early December my father passed “three score and ten” and turned 70 years old.  I’ve been extremely lucky to have the parents I do and they have always done a lot for me, never leaving me in need of things.  So I felt that this time I had a chance to give something back in the present I gave.  Straight away I realised that a physical present just wasn’t going to do it.  It was going to have to be an event, or something I could organise for him that would stay in his memory for a long time to come.  And it was going to be something we could do together, spending some quality father and son time.

And so the hunt started.  I looked on some of those “experience” sites. But diving with great white sharks, hurtling down a mountain in a racing bobsled or skydiving from 10,000ft just didn’t seem completely appropriate for someone turning 70!  I wanted an experience that he would savour; not one that would kill him!  In the end, I opted for the rental of a special type of car; something he’d wouldn’t have driven before and probably wouldn’t get the chance to drive again.

It was easy to narrow it down to 2 types of car from this point: a classic, or a supercar.  After discussions with a few people, I ended up opting for the former.  It seemed a little more appropiate for his age, and the supercars of the world are not renowned for being the easiest cars to drive around town.  Had to remember I was going back in the middle of December, and not the middle of June (when my choice may have been different).

I hunted around the internet and eventually came across Reflections Classic Car Hire in North Yorkshire.  From the first reply I got back from them it was clear they were going to be a very easy company to work with.  Their reply was swift and personal, which was in huge contrast to the previous company I had tried; a much larger organization who were not returning my calls or emails, despite be wanting to spend a not insignificant amount of money with them.  Charles at Reflections however, gave clear and very practical advice, answering my questions and offering recommendations on the most appropriate car to rent.

In the end I opted for their oldest “classic”: a 1951 MG-TD in cream with red leather interior.  There were another couple of cars that would have offered a more sporty ride, but this one would have been around when he was a child, and would be something completely different to anything he’d driven before.  They also offered a Christmas deal whereby a message informing my father about the hire would be put into a Christmas cracker, and sent to him for my arrival back into the UK, so we could open it together.

Got to admit, I wasn’t expecting temperatures to be dropping to as low as -18C at night in England in the middle of December when I chose this car to rent, but that’s what I got on my return!  Everything was handled very professionally by Reflections though, who kept the decision in my hands right until the day of the rental, in case the weather turned to where it would be unsafe and/or not enjoyable to rent the car.  If it did then the rental I had organized could be transferred into a voucher that could be redeemed any time within the following 12 months; an excellent gesture and one of those little things that makes you appreciate the company more.

In my next article, I’ll report a little more on the car itself when we rented it, and some of the interesting things about driving a car almost 60 years old with a co-driver 70 years old!  But I wanted this entry to be a bit of a background, along with a “big rap” as the Aussies call it (please let me know if that needs a w at the start of it) to Reflections for all their help and assistance in making the whole experience smooth and memorable for us.

Taken: Motivating me into Action

Posted By Dave on July 25th, 2010

http://www.biginjapan.co/biginjapan/taken-motivating-me-into-action/

Summer is well and truly here in Okinawa, with the temperatures rising and the sun shining.  Checked the weather report at 9am this morning and was told that it was 31°C but that it felt “like 36°C”.  Thankfully the humidity was only 70% and a sea breeze coming through my apartment managed to keep me marginally cool.  Was a great day to just relax and do nothing, and to be honest I didn’t really consider writing an update today.  But then sometimes something happens in a day that motivates you to do something.  It can be speaking to someone, hearing a song that moves you or watching something.  For me it was the latter.

The something in question was a 2008 Luc Besson-written film called Taken.  Have never heard of it until recently but a quiet afternoon made me finally sit down on the sofa and watch it.  And man am I glad I did.  Luc Besson makes some very good films: Leon, The Big Blue and Nikita are 3 films that immediately spring to mind.  And the combination of Luc Besson writing and Liam Neeson in the lead role was bound to make for good viewing.  The film also co-stars Famke Janssen and former Neighbours star, Holly Valance.  I was sure I recognized the former, but haven’t seen her in a film since she was crushing men in her thighs as Xenia Onatopp in Goldeneye.  Anyway, a great film this was and the 93 minutes flew by.

I quite like the spy films and books in general and a spy with a personal grudge is definitely worth seeing.  The latest Bond movie, The Quantum of Solace, is another good example of this.  I took a little time to warm to Neeson in the role, but as soon as the action started I was gripped.  And it just didn’t stop.  There is no time to take a breather and definitely no free seconds to go to the fridge for a drink.  Phonecalls?  Better put your voicemail on and a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door as you’re not going to want to leave this.

As the credits rolled I was just wanting more and just felt like I should do something.  That sounds very grand and a little pretentious but it’s how I felt afterwards.  Can’t go out and save the world myself but I thought I’d do my little bit and write up on here about something.  Anyway, if you get the chance then please check this film out.  It’s 93 minutes you won’t regret I guarantee.

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