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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Tomohiro Kawaguchi - Sasuke Samurai

Tomohiro Kawaguchi 川口 朋広 posing in front of the Final Stage Tower in Sasuke 30 ©Tomohiro Kawaguchi

Introduction:

Sorry for the delay of this blog entry. This interview was conducted in late July (right in the middle of me finishing up the Sasuke 30 blog) and then August (oh heck, it was this whole summer) has been a rough for my health.  Also, the length of this interview was long (almost 4 hours long) and it covered a lot of topics that aren't necessarily on this blog.  I'll explain as I go along why that is so please bare with me.

Katsuhide Torisawa 鳥澤 克秀, Kenji  "Kong" Takahashi 高橋賢次, Hitoshi Kanno 菅野仁志, Masashi Hioki 日置 将士,  and Tomohiro Kawaguchi 川口朋広
Yuuji Urushihara 漆原裕治 (Cliffer #3), Ryo Matachi (Cliffer #2) and "Jin" Kung-Cheen Howng
LaLaport event 2014 ©D. Matsuda


Massive thanks to Jin again for doing yeoman's work as my interpreter for this interview! This is now the 3rd in a series of interviews with Japanese competitors using Skype. The previous interviews of course being Tatsuya Tada 多田竜也 and Yuusuke Morimoto 森本 裕介! Today's interview was one of my most sought after for a lot of reasons, but little did I know when I initially set it up that he would become a finalist in Sasuke 30!  A veteran of 6 Sasuke tournaments, it's Tomohiro Kawaguchi 川口 朋広.  Tomo for me represents my life here on Rambling Rican.  He burst onto the scene at the exact same time I started to watch Sasuke on a weekly basis back when Sasuke Maniac was still around (just after Sasuke 20 in the spring of 2008).  He also was one of the first STQ'ers to ever reach out to me when I was just starting out as a blogger.

"Seven Samurai" 1954 film

Title meaning:

Feel free to laugh at me, however I always thought of him as the modern depiction of a classic Samurai. I think it's the physique and attitude.  I was originally going to use something with his last name ("mouth of the river" from kawa "river" and guchi "mouth") but I defaulted to my original name for him: "Samurai". He is considerably taller than most of the other Sasuke competitors (by 5 inches) so he always stood out to me (literally and figuratively). He is also very serious in how he speaks publicly and always has a stern expression with fiery outbursts denoting passion and a strong sense of personal pride. This is what I've always attributed to my vision of Samurai. To me, he's always seemed to me to be larger than life and an imposing presence.

Tomohiro Kawaguchi 川口 朋広  and his son Yukino in 2011 ©Tomohiro Kawaguchi

Background:

Tomohiro Kawaguchi 川口 朋広 was born in Setagaya, Tokyo, Japan on September 24, 1981.  Blood Type is B, he's 178 cm tall (approx. 5'10") and weighs 68 kgs (150 lbs). He currently resides in Kawasaki, Kanagawa, Japan.  He has one older brother by the name of Youhei 洋平. Tomohiro's a father to a beautiful 4 year old boy named Yukino, however he is recently divorced.  Sadly, as is with most cases in Japan with divorce, it's been a year since he's seen his son as his ex-wife has sole custody of their son. I'm so sad about that.  He's a delivery driver (specifically delivering concrete to construction sites).  Sports-wise he played soccer (from 10-15 years old) in his youth. I didn't go into the story from navi or the another life article. I figured everyone already knew that part (or could read about it) and wanted to know more about his Sasuke journey. Lord knows we had a LOT to cover in this interview.
Back when this photo was taken, we could not have imagined they would share the same Sasuke Final just 6 years later! Tomohiro Kawaguchi 川口 朋広 (Left) and Ryo Matachi 又地諒 (Right)
Muscle Park (Odaiba) - October, 2008 ©Carol Akiyama

How did you become aware of Sasuke?

Back in 2006 he saw Sasuke 17 (Makoto Nagano's victory), however the impetus to try to get on the show didn't come from that broadcast per se. The true motivation was actually Muscle Park in Odaiba (Tokyo)!  He went on a date with his then girlfriend Miho (now divorced wife) to Odaiba (which is a man-made island in Tokyo Bay that has various tourist attractions) and walked into the then-new Muscle Park. There he saw and tried the Sasuke area (which consisted of 4 obstacles at the time). He originally thought it was going to be easy, but it wasn't until he tried it, that he realized how difficult it really was.  He took it upon himself to continue trying until he found a way to defeat that stupid course.  He took it personal. It wasn't until 10 months passed that he was able to actually clear the course in Odaiba! When he first started he could only do 10 pull ups! After a year, he could clear the park with ease.

Tomohiro Kawaguchi 川口 朋広  at the Sasuke 20 Trials at Muscle Park in Odaiba

Sasuke 20 Trials

By this point he had gone so much to the park that he became friends with the local guys who used the park to train heavily to try to get on Sasuke.  They went every week or at the very least 3 times a month to the park to hang out and train at the Park in Odaiba. TBS lumped the entire group together and called them the Sasuke Park All-Stars.  He was one of those in that dedicated group.  I joked with him as to how expensive that really was as Odaiba by itself was an expensive place to visit and Muscle Park in particular was notorious with their a la cart pricing. He said he didn't want to think about how much money he lost in Muscle Park. LOL He prefers to think of it as an investment! He, along with this other Park friends, applied to Sasuke 20 including a video of his clear of the Muscle Park course.  His application was accepted and he was invited and ultimately participated in the Sasuke 20th Anniversary Trials. However, he ultimately was eliminated in the 3rd round, which ironically enough included the same Muscle Park course.

Tomohiro Kawaguchi 川口 朋広  at the Sasuke 20 Trials

He caught the third Shin-Cliffhanger ledge but spun off the last ledge disqualifying him.  Overall it was a learning experience.  When he got to the 3rd round where they had to go to the Park, he was a bit overwhelmed since all of the Park Stars (everyone we know now as the stars of Sasuke which would be Yuuji, Ryo, etc. along with then-famous Park stars like Yahagi and Nomura) were there along with the cameras and the expectations to get on the Anniversary show. He just got scared and didn't perform the way he wanted to.

Sasuke Maniac broadcast of Sasuke 21 Trials during the summer of 2008
(Nomura, Ryo  and Tomo (wearing 70) in the front row)
Sasuke 21 Trials

Next came his break into Sasuke.  He was selected to compete in Sasuke 21's trials which are near and dear to my heart. This is the blog series that introduced me to the group we know now as the Shin Sedai and Tomo in particular. Many a familiar face competed in this now-famous trials event. This single event just as I started blogging spawned the careers of all of the Shin Sedai one way or the other. The road to the "Rising Era" came from this single event.

Group 5 - Sasuke Park Stars (August 10th, 2008 Sasuke Maniac)
Tomohiro Kawaguchi 川口 朋広  is the tall one wearing the white shirt 2nd from the left.

Tomo was paired up with Keita (his friend) in the first round which consisted running a 1st stage course that was almost as long as Sasuke's First Stage course.  The whole trials was recorded in one day comprising of 2 major stages.  TBS aired this in chunks over the summer of 2008.  That was the last summer that TBS had Sasuke Maniac on the air.  That aired weekly on Sunday nights in Japan (and I blogged about it after I saw it around lunchtime in the USA).

Tomohiro Kawaguchi 川口 朋広  well into the lead in his group.

I didn't like the format of this particular trials since the first stage was basically double elimination. Similar to how Kunoichi's final tournament was like.. I'm seeing a pattern here. LOL Anyway, they paired up 4 people and only 2 would pass on from the stage. At the end of the first stage there were only 2 flags and whoever got to them continued on to the next round. Tomohiro won his qualifier round.

Tomohiro Kawaguchi 川口 朋広  setting a record in the 2nd Stage of Sasuke 21 trials

The next stage was a speedrun of the 2nd stage where only the top 8 advanced to the Sasuke 21.  This is where the infamous 8 musical chairs that ran week after week to see who was bumped off the final seat. Tomo had the 2nd fastest time beating Ryo, Asa and Kouji Hashimoto to name a few. He was so excited for the first month after Trials ended.  It's funny, when Sasuke taped in September, he had to turn the switch back on! LOL

The top 8 of Sasuke 21's trials are introduced to the Sasuke 21 course. Tomo in the center wearing a green UNCLI Shirt (Ryo in the black UNCLI Shirt). (Final episode of Sasuke Maniac)

Sasuke 21

The final 8 from trials went to Sasuke 21 which aired on TBS Japan on September 17, 2008.  His initial reaction was "Wow that must have cost a lot of money to build this thing.." which I found amazingly hilarious.  He was extremely nervous though because he kept thinking how expensive this is to build and the expectation of coming in ranked so high. He had never been so nervous in his whole life. Ever. It finally hit him when he saw Sasuke 21's course up close. Looking back now.. he really did look like a deer in the headlights.

 Miho (purple UNCLI), Tomo (Green UNCLI) and Yuuji (White Haruta) looking at the startline

Tomo sat and watched as the trial competitors (who were all lumped in a group in the line up) go one by one.  And one by one the 6 qualifiers before him failed.  With each fail the pressure mounted.  He couldn't believe how everyone kept failing and the negative vibe just kept building.

Tomohiro Kawaguchi 川口 朋広  being supported Miho (now ex wife), Cliffer #1 Matsuda (on left) while Levi Meeuwenberg waits for his turn.

He wore #47 and was second to last from the top 8 trial qualifiers to go.   With Yuuji in tears after Ryo failed, his then-girlfriend openly having hysterics, everyone failing around him and all the pressure squarely on him because he was ranked so high and up next, Tomo attempted to get ready to do his run.  While Tomohiro was in the start line getting prepared, Ryo came up to him to support him. He said "Ignore the Half Pipe Attack. It's easy, you don't have to even worry about it just worry about the wall. Get past that wall and you got this."... with those words Tomo stepped on the course.

Tomohiro Kawaguchi 川口 朋広  - flashback from Sasuke 30's broadcast

Nervous as all hell and with Ryo's words fresh in his mind, he started his run just worrying about the Warped Wall.  ONLY the warped wall and nothing else.  He wanted to pass the wall to support Ryo since Ryo came to him to support him right after Ryo's fail on that obstacle.  As is tradition with his circle of friends, they all help each other out and give each other tips so each can get better than the last. A win for one is a win for all.

Thinking too far ahead, he did the classic rookie mistake of not paying attention to where he was on the course.  He managed to clear the Half Pipe Attack but he Shingo'ed™ the landing. In the air he kept saying to himself "ffff.. yeah this is way easy" and didn't even think about the landing.. so when he landed..

.. the forward momentum he created dismounting the Half Pipe Attack made him lose his balance, and he fell off course automatically disqualifying him. He paid the price for thinking too far ahead and not respecting the obstacle in right in front of him.  What people didn't know is that a horrified Ryo immediately ran up to him profusely apologizing for inadvertently giving him bad advice.  Tomo laughs about it now even though Ryo still feels horrible for that fail 6 years ago that he felt responsible for making happen.

I have to give Tomo a lot of credit.  He was willing to talk about the good times of me watching (along with all of the other webjam girls) the progression of his personal life.  He thought it was funny how I kept showing the ever changing faces of Miho 美穂.  He read every single post I ever wrote.  So yeah he was paying attention to me posting comparison shots. LOL  Everyone here on Rambling Rican knows that I follow the relationships (courting, marriage, divorce) for everyone on the show. I took particular interest in him out of the group (at first) because he brought his girlfriend along and was always so visible in early Sasuke Maniac (and ultimately Sasuke tournaments). I call it "Family watching™".

Returning from last year's final 8. 7 From the final 8 + the guy that pwned Yamada in Bug in Miki! (Laughing at my own captions from Sasuke 22 Navi)

Sasuke 22 Trials

Having failed the first stage in Sasuke 21, 7 of the 8 from Sasuke 21 trials returned along with Yuuji who had to go back to trials again (he previously qualified through Bug in Miki and failed all other attempts to get out of trials). TBS created a chart and posted their faces for us to "follow" through the progression of trials which was broadcast as part of Sasuke 22's Navi program. I was immediately worried when I saw.. "the chart". I start thinking that TBS is going to make that into a Suckitude™ chart.  Yep. I was right.  The entire course was actually held at a school field and made of very simple elements.   Each section was supposed to tackle a specific trait in Sasuke rather than "beat this obstacle".  Kawaguchi actually found it much harder than even the previous trials.  The course was supposed to test the person, not the obstacle.  His goal however, remained the same, get back to the show. So, he really didn't care what TBS threw at him. He trained enough to be confident he could clear whatever it was that was presented to him. He just had to focus when it was his turn.

Right out of the gate there were only 60 entries to trials.  The first part of this particular trials was a 30 on 30 tug of war.. Luckily Tomo was on the winning side of that war.  As a result, he just had to wait until the 2nd round.  Half of the chart were not, so they had to do a 800 meter race.  By the end of the race, 2 (including Ryo) were eliminated from contention.


Next was a run up a wall to simulate the warped wall.  Here Asa was dramatically eliminated. Kawaguchi's part wasn't shown. It's obviously implied he cleared it as they showed him in the next section.

The next part after that was a timed run across what looked like balance beams lined up in a row (after it apparently rained...) 37.5 meters in length. Each would do their run (pray they didn't fall) and then wait to see if they did it in the allotted time.  2 more were eliminated.

Finally they got to a bungee trampoline jump over a pole vault bar..  Staring down the final obstacle standing between him and the tournament, Tomohiro was praying he would get through this.

TBS cut to a shot of his new wife Miho 美穂 who looked VERY different than the year before. I laughed as we talked about why it was noteworthy (at least to me, I made a big deal about it back then!). Seems Miho had trouble seeing so she borrowed Hioki's wife's glasses! LOL  I told him about the girlfriend watching™ that us webjam girls did. He noticed it when he saw my screenshots (especially the comparison pics) when I posted them 5 years ago. LOL I guess even with the language barrier, photos (and selection of) spoke louder than words. Her personally got a kick out of it.

Then TBS cut to a fluff piece involving his new wife Miho 美穂 and explaining that they had only been married 6 months.  I again told him how each time we saw her she looked different! I called her a "chameleon" back then.  He found the whole thing amusing and kept saying she was the same woman.  What's cute is that he used a lot of English words (a lot more than I thought he knew) so it was amusing hearing him yell "Same! Same!" when asking if it was the same woman!

And again, I'm a sucker for a man who shows emotion towards their partner. I was so happy to see this PDA.  Btw, this final stage of the trials is where Tomo, Kouji, Kanno and Yuuji made it back to Sasuke 22.

Sasuke 22

Sasuke 22 aired on March 30, 2009 on TBS Japan.  He actually was expecting to be digested or even cut given his result. Given how the results went overall (where Yuuji actually cleared) it made no sense to him that they would show a full run of fails from the trials group since they could just focus on Yuuji's clear instead. He was right. His run was digested. He wore #78.

STQ'er Tomohiro Kawaguchi 川口朋広 up next! He's at the Slider Jump too!

But he's in a Fast forward clip.. nooooooo

Gah this is painful.. he's completely upside down!

Tomohiro Kawaguchi 川口朋広 - Death by Slider Jump

He admitted he came in a bit cocky thinking the course would be a lot easier this time around.  He paid the price for that. It wasn't until he was right at the Slider Jump did he realize he totally mistimed this release.  His mind totally blanked.  He was the fastest qualifier out of Sasuke 22 so it went to his head.

From Navi - Sasuke 23 Trials (overview - not Tomo's photo)
Sasuke 23 Trials

He went to the Sasuke 23 trials and got to Round 2.  This is where you had to hang on a steel pipe. It was last person standing elimination.. he fell just before the last guy who ended up being Hioki who went to the tournament as a result.

Tomohiro Kawaguchi 川口 朋広  at the start line of Sasuke 24

Sasuke 24

Having already had a tournament just a couple months before, Sasuke 24 really came out of nowhere.  Taped in early December but aired on New Year's Day January 1, 2010), Sasuke 24 was the longest aired tournament in the history of the show.  The airtime for Sasuke 24 was over 5 1/2 hours long and that was not including an hour Navi and an hour preview show!

A very pregnant Miho as shown on Ninja Warrion on G4TV

A couple days before the event, Tomohiro got a call to participate in Sasuke 24.  There were no trials this time around and probably given the fact of how fast this event was pulled together, they went with those they knew could show up and do well.  This is actually normal for them to add people last minute if slots open up. Just ask Nagano about that.

Getting revenge on the Slider Jump!

Wearing #47, Tomohiro finally cleared Stage One for the first time.  Since he wasn't even supposed to be at the tournament (since he was a last minute entry) and 46 other people before him fell into the drink, he felt zero pressure. 

Tomohiro was the first clear in Sasuke 24

He had a clear mind, no pressure and was able to make the first stage clear look easy (at least to me). He was happy to finally break through and clear the first stage as everyone had expected him to do years before.

Amazing the who's who on this shot celebrating Tomohiro's clear.
(Ryo (#2), Matsuda (#1), Kouji, Yuuji (#3) and Kanno) 

STQ'ers having kittens was one of the highlights of the tournament for me.  Guys who are considered famous were just becoming a household name.  A very blond Ryo hadn't made a splash yet, Kanno and Yuuji were coming back as Finalists, Kouji hadn't made it yet but was about to.  This was Kawaguchi's inner circle and they were all there to celebrate his very first clear of Sasuke's First Stage.


A very emphatic Tomo SLAMMING down the red button. He couldn't believe he would even be here let alone clearing the first stage.  He relished the moment.

A very pregnant Miho looking relieved Tomohiro finally cleared.

LOL And even back then, I always said the chameleon looked different in EVERY photo.  Seriously.. she changes her look every season!

 Going first in Sasuke 24's Second Stage

His first experience in the Second Stage was unlike anything he prepared for.  It wasn't about the obstacles, it was the atmosphere.  Stage One and Stage Two are as different as night and day (literally and figuratively).  Stage One feels almost like a festival, but the Second Stage is where the big boys hang out. You are expected to compete and it was then that the pressure mounted. Also, while you are lost in a sea of people in the First Stage, Stage Two are ONLY the survivors and all eyes are watching your every move. No one is sitting in the parking lot chatting during this stage.

 
Tomo's run on Ninja Warrior on G4TV

Going first since he was the first clear, it was evident that he wasn't mentally prepared for the Second Stage.  He had prepared for the Unstable bridge (training with the rest of the STQ'ers putting their hands in ice to prepare for nighttime/December weather) especially since Yuuji failed the obstacle just the previous tournament.  He got caught up in the atmosphere of the Second Stage, got super nervous and his mind went utterly blank.  Then suddenly the sound of the timer going started so quickly so he just jumped forward.  Jin and Tomo had a conversation about that as they both shared the Second Stage WTF moment of "omg wait they started??".. LOL It was priceless.

Kawaguchi Familycam™

Now that I go back, and after talking with him, I now see the obvious of something I missed up to this point. HIS FATHER WAS ALWAYS THERE!  In fact it was interesting now that you see the fluff piece for Sasuke 30, it made it look like the reconnection with his father Sugio 杉男 was a recent thing. What I didn't know is that they actually said in the broadcast that he was, however since I don't know Japanese, I misunderstood.  It seems that was overblown regardless as many came to the same conclusion after seeing the Sasuke 30 fluff piece. Yes, after the divorce he didn't see his father, however Tomo went after him and his father was there for him immediately.  In fact, his father has been to every single Sasuke tournament that Tomohiro has been a part of for the past 6 years! LOL!!!!!

Unstable Bridge アンステーブルブリッジ

By the time he got to this obstacle he wasn't thinking straight.  His mind went blank and all of that training for this exact obstacle just evaporated out of his mind.  We talked about this particular set of obstacles in detail. It was interesting having the luxury of the passage of time to be able to compare the two stages (24 and 30).  The combination of the original Salmon Ladder + the original unstable bridge was much harder than the current iteration of the Swap Salmon Ladder + Single Unstable bridge plank (which I call the Ghetto Bridge™).

Tomo's fail on Ninja Warrior on G4TV

When Kawaguchi got to the end of the obstacle, his hand slipped.  He rushed through trying to clear the obstacle with enough time for the rest of the course and immediately he remembered how Yuuji failed the last time (as he was falling). He remembers how tired he was by this point because the original Salmon Ladder was draining. 


It's obvious now, if he was able to hang on to that ledge and just swing one time to regain his balance, this would have ended differently. Coupled with the other intangibles like being on television, first time in the stage and just general nervousness, he doesn't think much would have changed the outcome even with "better preparation". He was prepared. Just not mentally. You can't really train for that. You have to experience it.

Yuuji losing his marbles on Ninja Warrior on G4TV

And yes Yuuji gave him hell for failing the same way he did the previous tournament.  They all trained for it BECAUSE Yuuji failed it the previous tournament. He never lived this fail down. Ever.

The Salmon Ladder in Sasuke 24

Random Obstacle discussion

Time to bare with me a moment.  We actually spoke for about 45 minutes JUST about the obstacles in the Second Stage. (*GASP* yes.. yes I know you guys who drool over this stuff are shocked at me) but he spent most of the time wondering why I liked/disliked certain things. Seems I'm an anomaly: A woman (older one at that) + knowledgeable about the intricacies of the obstacles and inner workings of the show! LOL We agreed that the current (Sasuke 30) 2nd stage needs to go and he wouldn't mind seeing the older Swap come back. (this was before I had my conversation with Inui about why that is not that simple but that's for another time) Tomohiro preferred the backstream over metal spin and agreed with me that it was because he never knew which version of the metal spin would return. (He was shocked that I knew that there were different versions of the same obstacle. It's rare to find a guy that paid attention to the minutiae it was an entirely different thing for a female to be versed in that.)  It's that randomness of some of the older more dangerous obstacles is that scares most competitors. At least the backstream (love it or hate it) is "consistent" (despite the rumors that it was altered). I prefer the course go back to a full speed pace (pre Rising era) rather than the stop run stop run swim run oh sh*t goggles of the current iteration. LOL I'm getting ahead of myself, however this is how the interview went. We went all over the place since we went with the flow of thought rather than a set tournament schedule. Kinda the blessing and curse of having a lot of years to talk about and enjoying going off in tangents.

All-Star Makoto Nagano 長野誠 defeating the Ultimate Plank アルティメットプランク in Viking

My fascination with Viking obstacles

While we are at it.. we talked about possible replacement for other areas of the show and I brought up my infamous plea to the Director of the show, Inui to revive the Ultimate Plank from Viking (the huge sign that had the word Viking on it).  He laughed and said "no no no.. not Sasuke.. SASUKE RISING".. (not a single word like Viking.. BOTH WORDS.. Sasuke + Rising as a huge pegboard LOL) I cackled.  After seeing so many of the old Viking-specific obstacles end up on Sasuke (Cannonball Run, Heart-breaker, heck even the Rope Maze made it on ANW...) I had hoped the Ultimate Plank would debut in Sasuke. I told him that I know many competitors don't want me talking to Inui about obstacles, especially if they bring back obstacles like the Body Prop.  No competitor likes the Body Prop. He ultimately doesn't care. He loves how each tournament we don't know what's coming and he's used to Inui's style of "shock and awe" obstacles. He welcomed changes and hopes his overall physical conditioning will be able to help him overcome whatever TBS throws at them.  He gets a thrill in overcoming the unknown.

Sasuke 25 line up photo at the opening of the broadcast - Tomo in the middle right wearing a red jacket.


Sasuke 25

In stark contrast to the 5 1/2 hour marathon show of Sasuke 24, Sasuke 25 was quickly thrown together 3 months later and was less than half the run time (barely over 2 1/2 hours long).  Airing on March 28, 2010 barely anyone knew this show was even on television. Rating the lowest in history, many people didn't watch.  That didn't matter since this was the tournament he was cut from the show despite showing him in the lineup earlier in the broadcast.

 Hioki, Lee and Tomohiro Kawaguchi 川口 朋広 ©Lee Enchi


Wearing #67, he failed on the Circle Slider in the First Stage.  Everyone in the tournament knew that because of the shortened airtime that if you didn't pass the First Stage, you were not going to be shown. So given that he failed on the Circle Slider he expected to be cut. He knows how that works and was not surprised or upset by it.

Random person being thrown off the Rolling Escargot ローリングエスカルゴ

Sasuke 26-27

He also wasn't surprised when he was told to don't even bother entering Sasuke 26 of which he ended up not applying as a result.  He didn't try going back until the tournament after that in Sasuke 27.  Not having to go through trials, he was seeded and just placed in the tournament since he was a previous Second Stage clear.  He wore #25. Sasuke 27 aired on October 3, 2011 on TBS Japan. He made it in only to get cut again when he failed the Rolling Escargot.  He just wasn't flush enough and didn't apply enough pressure to pin himself into the obstacle.  Those who are taller usually have to find the right balance to square themselves off and flatten their profile to stay on the obstacle. He didn't adjust properly and just spun out. What's interesting is that he felt that not going through trials (like Ryo did) and going in seeded directly to the tournament just added pressure.  His inexperience in the new obstacle didn't help either.  This was the first tournament after the Great East Japan Earthquake / Tsunami.  We talked about that for a little bit.  That was a dark time in their history and Sasuke provided a respite. Not just for competitors but for viewers as well. For the record, he was at the office when it hit.


On the flip side we talked about the American domination in Sasuke 27.  He remembered the group as a group and not as actual individuals. (In fact he didn't even realize until that Drew Dreschel that was in Sasuke 30 was the SAME Drew Dreschel from 27 until it was brought up at Midoriyama during taping.  At the time it happened in Sasuke 27 the word was "someone broke their leg" and that was pretty much the extent of the conversation. They didn't put the two together until one of the testers, Yoshida, brought it up for everyone to discuss. I'm curious if even TBS remembered (or cared) since they cut the injury from the Sasuke 27 broadcast (as they do with other injuries) and the production crew that is in place now is not the same from 27 (they were from Monster 9). NBC chose to glorify it by showing various camera angles.


David Campbell デイヴィッド・キャンベル in Sasuke 27

I asked Tomohiro about specifics of the American group and he said he only remembered David Campbell デイヴィッド・キャンベル and Brent Steffensen ブレント・ステフェンセン.  The reasons were hilarious.  David because of his magnificent dome (which I find amusing since most of Tomohiro's Sasuke life he was shaved bald).  The exact phrase he used was "impressive visual impact" (of being bald) and Brent (who was also shaved bald) because he was the equivalent of a "pretty boy" and/or handsome. (Giggles Tomo has a bald fetish) The rest just blurred into one group. However, as a group, they were impressive.

Tomohiro Kawaguchi 川口 朋広  circa 2012 ©Tomohiro Kawaguchi


The death of Monster 9

Between Sasuke 27 and Sasuke 28 there was a year and a half break because Monster 9 declared bankruptcy. He was in shock when he read it on the internet and at the time everyone thought with M9 going down, it would be the final nail in the coffin and the show would be cancelled.  He was depressed because he didn't get a chance at the latter stages in Sasuke or have a good result he could be proud of.

Kawaguchi brothers Youhei 洋平 and Tomohiro 朋広 in 2012 ©Tomohiro Kawaguchi


Ratings discussion

Going back in time (even in this interview LOL Since this conversation was doing Sasuke 24/25's section). I asked him what he thought of the 5 1/2 broadcast schedule of Sasuke 24 and he was just worried about the ratings. He's one of the rare ones that was cognoscente of the fact that the wheels were falling off.  25 was really the point where he started to worry a little bit about the future of Sasuke as the signs were all  over the place that Monster 9 wasn't doing well.  23, 24 and 25 were all shot within 6 months and the ratings suffered because of it. When Sasuke 25 came out so quickly afterward Yuuji's win, and TBS did nothing to promote it, then the alarm bells went off and EVERYONE started to talk about it.  Coupled with the fact when the Ultimate Cliffhanger came out for the first time, they started to worry about the ratings. They felt that was an alienating obstacle for the viewers.  When the hammer finally dropped on M9 though, after the shock from reading it wore off, the depression set in.  Even Muscle Park was gone by this point so there wasn't anywhere else to go and no real reason to do so.

Yoshiyuki Okuyama 奥山義行 and Keita Tomino 富野恵太 (Cliffer #4) during Sasuke Rising's Audition process (as shown on Navi)

Sasuke Rising (28-29)

Kawaguchi went to both auditions/trials for 28 and 29.  In 28 he did the 100 push ups but apparently didn't impress the production crew during the interview to get on the show.  For Sasuke 29 he competed in the 2nd day of the Trials in Tokyo. It was a cute point in the interview where Jin and Tomo were talking to each other about the experience during Sasuke 29's trials since they both were there. Jin stood out from the rest of the group on his own.  However, because Jin was American (in what was then dubbed as the Japanese trials for the ASEAN Open), Jin wasn't allowed to move on even though he passed the course and the interview process.  Tomo was literally sitting next to Inui when Jin ran. So it was a cool moment for Jin listening to Tomo's experience watching him. LOL He even told him what he was wearing his memory is that good! Tomo had a tech fail on the Unstable Bridge where he grabbed it wrong and DQ'ed himself (something about a support beam).  This is why he wasn't in Sasuke 29.


Photo from the online magazine.  Tomohiro Kawaguchi 川口 朋広 ©another life
Sasuke 30

I was surprised at the wall to wall coverage Tomohiro had in Navi. I asked him how that came to be. Most Japanese are very guarded about their personal lives, especially when things go wrong (like divorces, family issues, falling outs, etc. with the All-stars (Yamada/Nagano/Takeda).  Many people (including myself) learned a LOT about him that was previously unknown.  The another life article dealt with his divorce and the story from navi dealt with his dropping out of school and his juvenile delinquent years. Both stories I didn't go into detail, however I did ask who made that decision to air all that. We know from the past TBS has done things without permission (cough Nagano) so I wanted to make sure he was on board. He was. He knows this is television and he's very open and up front about his life.  He knows how this works. LOL

Tomohiro Kawaguchi 川口朋広
Cement Delivery Truck Driver

He didn't have to go to trials this time. By this point the crew knew who he was.  In 28 the new crew was catching up with missing history (since Inui himself had not been directing Sasuke or even watching the show since Sasuke 14). By now they knew who Tomohiro was and was allowed to bypass Trials/Auditions.  Besides.. in 28 trials he did 100 push ups and 30's trials were identical so even to the staff there was nothing else to show them. I'm happy they sent him back because he kicked ass this time.

Tomohiro Kawaguchi 川口朋広 at the start line in Sasuke 30

Finally getting a chance to compete during the Sasuke Rising era, he did phenomenal!  Having missed Sasuke 28 and Sasuke 29 and being fully trained for both he went in guns blazing in Sasuke 30.  What's interesting is that he gave up ever getting back on the show after 2 consecutive misses (28/29) however he kept his training up in the off-chance he might be allowed to go back. So when 30's invitation came he was more than ecstatic and utterly relieved he kept his training up during the 3 year gap from his last appearance. On top of that he had just gotten divorced  and other changes in  his life so when this news of going back to the show came, he was as happy as he was when he FIRST got on the show over 6 years ago. It was like having the first experience all over again, this time with no pressure. It was just an overall positive vibe going into Sasuke 30. I almost started crying when he said it and he just said "don't cry!" LOL I'm still amazed how much he understands never been formally educated in English (being a school drop out only ever completing Junior High and never taking English classes)

Tomo in tears and bowing to his longtime friends after he cleared the Third Stage

The "Sasuke 30th Anniversary" show as it was called aired on July 3, 2014 on TBS Japan. He wore Wore #2967 and made it all the way to the Final Stage! All of that hard work and training paid off! Unlike all the other times before, he actually didn't watch the other people run the course!  I think he realized he gets really nervous seeing the results of others mounting further pressure on him so this time he isolated himself. He literally spent most of the tournament in the parking lot talking to his friend in his friend's car! He tried to relax the whole day and not think about the pressure. I asked him if he was going to do that again for Sasuke 31 and he said it was a difficult question. He got to the final this time so maybe he won't change it since it worked this time? LOL He's not sure but he felt less pressure this time around so he  has to figure out if isolating himself did it or it was just because he was trained. He has time to figure that out. He'll go with the flow and figure it out then probably.

Jin, Morimoto, Hioki, Kanno, Asa, Drew, Tomo, Shun, Kong and Ryo ©Kung-Cheen Howng


What's utterly amusing about the interview and Sasuke 30 is that we didn't really talk any details about it outside of the random tangents that were sprinkled around the 4 hour conversation. LOL  Half the time he spent asking "my" views on everything rather than his own.  He figured I saw how everything went since all of his runs were shown in full this time with wall to wall coverage from TBS.


 All-Star Makoto Nagano 長野誠 and Tomohiro Kawaguchi 川口朋広 from the 2012 Maguro Festival ©Tomohiro Kawaguchi


Favorite competitors?

"Mr. Nagano". The reason I found interesting.  It's because he's the one that created Sasuke's "history".  In retrospect, he's right.  Everything we know of Sasuke and our version of the golden age (Shin-Sasuke), especially in the West, was following Nagano's journey.  Even Tomo started watching AFTER Sasuke 17 so this made perfect sense. He laughed when I said who my favorite was because again, I'm an anomaly.

Sasuke 24 STQ love! Ryo, Takaaki, Matsuda, Yuuji, Kanno, Lee, Kouji and Tomohiro ©Lee Enchi


When you watch Sasuke do you watch it for the obstacles, or the competitors?

He actually separates his "watching" Sasuke with actually "doing" Sasuke in their own categories.  When he is at Sasuke he just concentrates on doing well and his own performance.  When he's watching Sasuke he watches it like any other fan. He watches all the details, obstacles, competitors as a show.  It was difficult to translate the answer but I see where he is coming from. One thing of note that was interesting was the fact that he is just as fascinated with the creation of the show (not just the taping of the tournament) like I am.  He's just as fascinated with the television production aspect of it as I am and we talked a LOT about that. He obviously knows the results, but then he goes home and watches the show just to see how Inui created the images on the screen, edited the footage, chose the music and create the entire package.  That takes skill and he is just as interested in that just as much as seeing the actual results.

Screenshot from Sasuke 30's Fluff piece (and caption)
Ah. I love this photo from trials.  Shows just about every single new star that all came from that one Summer Trials.  Hashimoto, Kanno, Tomo, Hioki, Yuuji, Ryo, Yamamoto (Keitaro), Okada, Keita, Yahagi, etc. etc. all of whom we've seen one way or the other for the next 6 years.  Scary how the timing of this blog neatly coincided with the rise of the new stars.  Crazy how much I go back to those old blogs with the horrible Key-hole screenshots. LOL


How many friendships were created during his Sasuke journey?

He started to count.. then naming them.. Yuuji, Nomura, Yahagi, Hioki, Tomino, Keitaro Yamamoto, Morimoto, Kishimoto, and then stops himself.. and yells (in English) TEN!  Wow over 10!  So basically it's the friends that originally started back when Muscle Park was still around 7 years ago.

(Back row) New Generation Star Hitoshi Kanno 菅野仁志,  Sasuke All-Star (Mr. Sasuke) Katsumi Yamada 山田勝己, Kenji  "Kong" Takahashi 高橋賢次
(Front Row) Tomohiro Kawaguchi 川口朋広, Masashi Hioki 日置 将士, 2-Time Grand Champion Yuuji Urushihara 漆原裕治 (Cliffer #3), Shinya Kishimoto 岸本 真弥 and New Generation Star Ryo Matachi (Cliffer #2) 又地諒


Favorite obstacle?

He doesn't have a favorite. He hates them all.  All are difficult. All he hates. He laughs while saying that maybe the Crazy Cliffhanger since very few have passed it (currently only 4).  Since he's part of that elite group maybe he can say the CCH? LOL But seriously.. no he hates ALL of the obstacles.

Tomo slipping on the Spider Climb in Sasuke 30

The most challenging obstacle to prepare for?

Spider Climb!!  It's ridiculously slippery!


Tomohiro Kawaguchi 川口朋広 and Ryo Matachi 又地諒
Who's cuisine will reign supreme!


Most memorable experience.

Nothing comes close to getting all the way to the Final in Sasuke 30 after a 3 year gap. The journey going through that the past 7 years, coming back from his divorce, having his family there AND finally making it to the Final AND having Ryo there, was something he couldn't even plan. He loved this tournament. He doesn't ever expect anything to come close to it.

Kawaguchi boys!  Father Sugio along with sons Tomohiro and Youhei ©Tomohiro Kawaguchi


Do you watch Sasuke alone, or with family?

This time he watched with his family.  Before when he was married he watched with her.

 Tomo with his Monkeybars certificate

Monkeybars course in Nagano Prefecture.

I couldn't believe I found photos of this thing.  I think I spent a week doing this blog because I kept getting lost in the gigs of photos I have collected over the past 6 years.. buried in a folder all by itself was this gem. I didn't even know I had it until AFTER I talked to Tomo, over a month later!

Monkeybars trip in 2009


He's done 200 meters of it.  I told him that Morimoto did over 400 meters and he said in English "no no no.. he's crazy"..  He was just happy to get to 200 and called it an accomplishment! LOL  He went in winter to boot so it was friggin' cold! The dilemma was whether to wear gloves or not. He figured after 100 meters the gloves would fall off anyway and if he didn't wear them then his fingers would. LOL  He chose without gloves and stopped at 200 because anything past that well.. is crazy! LOL

Screenshot from Navi that I totally forgot I posted.

Does he have obstacles at home?

Yes. They were in Navi. Another brain fart on my part. I totally forgot I saw this in Navi AND screenshot it! LOL Talk about getting lost in a sea of memories!

2010?? possibly, I forgot.  Arashida park. Tomo in the middle wearing red and Miho with son Yukino on the far right ©Kouji Hashimoto


Does he train for fun?

NO! He hates training. He does it only for Sasuke. (LOL)

Tomo, Jin and Yoshida taking a break at Sasuke Park 2014 ©Sasuke Park

So if you hate it.. what's your motivation?

He stopped and moaned for a minute.  Then was quiet.  Then moaned more.. then finally gave me an answer. LOL  Interesting answer (especially because it's almost identical to Jin's in retrospect).. he doesn't know why he does it. Seriously.. he doesn't know why! He's done it for 7 years and he doesn't really know why. LOL He wants to get to the top of the tower JUST to know what will pop into his head!  That's the only reason!  He just wants to know what it feels like to be up there! He means it from a curiosity standpoint rather than a life goal.  He's been doing this for so long and still trying to figure out why he does it so he figures something might happen when he gets to the top. He's curious to find out.  He's figures if he wins Sasuke he'll quit the very next day because he would have satisfied that curiosity. LOL

God.. let's see .. Yuuji, Yahagi, Nomura, Matsuda, Bunpei, Nagano, Tomo, Morimoto, Takeda, Ryo, Shingo, etc from theBug in Miki event way back in 2008 ©Ryo Matachi?

After laughing for a little bit  he quiets down and puts into perspective that the show is exactly that: A television show.  It shouldn't be a life dream. It shouldn't disrupt your everyday life. It shouldn't cause you to quit your job. Sure, do well for your own personal pride and curiosity but remember what it is at it's core.  He sometimes is at odds with his friends over the proper place of the show in their lives. I've always seen him as the different one in the group and I was correct in my initial perception. I personally find it to be a healthier perspective.  One note that I found funny after talking about all of that is that he stops the philosophy to offer a thought. If I keep supporting him (as I have been for the past 6 years) then he'll keep going until he's 60 years old! LOL I told him "good! You'll be there for a while then!" LOL

Preview of a Sasuke Maniac show in the quality I was used to seeing back in 2008.

This interview went longer than what I wrote.  Tomo and I reminisced of the blog's early beginning of when they found some random blog posting horrible pics (because there weren't HD streams back then) of the Sasuke Maniac Show.  Yuuji and Ryo of all people found my blog while surfing the internet and started posting it on mixi for everyone to see. Little did I know they (as a group) were instrumental in spreading the word of my blog in Japan among the Sasuke faithful.  They then followed my blog religiously to see what else was written.  It was really cool talking about how he personally perceived the blog and how it has transformed over the past 6 years.  It was their window into the Western market and they were eager to see through to see what we saw.  Just as we were curious about them, they were curious about us!

From a reaaally old blog about training in Japan Sasuke Training Camp photo (another funny variation below). Tomo on the far right with Miho ©Ryo Matachi? (not sure)

Tomo knew a LOT of English words and it appeared as if he knew what it was that I was saying.  He inferred meaning through the words that he knew.  He'd even start answering questions before the translation went through.  He only has a Junior High education (dropped out - as many know by now with the Navi story) but he's extremely smart.  He taught himself English simply by being around it a lot.  He knows more English than I do Japanese! We both watch things in each others language and infer meaning through the words that are repeated often. He'd even stop me to ask what words I was using if he wasn't familiar with it. I kept saying "Different" for a lot of things that I said when talking about my own feelings on the show and my reasons for writing the blog.

Ryo Matachi (Cliffer #2) 又地諒, Tomohiro Kawaguchi 川口朋広 and Yuuji Urushihara 漆原裕治 (Cliffer #3) from heading out from the airport to the 2012 Maguro Festival ©Tomohiro Kawaguchi


Rambling Rican interview (yes, of me)

What's interesting is that we got to my usual "Do you have any questions for me?" portion of the interview after I've finished my list of question.  He actually said 'oooooooh yeah I have a lot". LOL This went on for over an hour.  Here I was worried that I was taking too much time and he was already prepared and blocked off the evening just for the interview! LOL I could have sworn I heard him crack out a piece of paper (as if reading off of his own list).  I actually wasn't prepared to be interviewed myself! LOL And, I wasn't sure if I wanted to put this on the blog. After a while kicking it around, I figured I probably should. So here it is.

Tomohiro Kawaguchi 川口 朋広, Sasuke Director Director Masato Inui 乾雅人, Shinya Kishimoto 岸本 真弥 and 2-Time Grand Champion Yuuji Urushihara 漆原裕治 (Cliffer #3)  ©Tomohiro Kawaguchi

Tomo was the first of the STQ'ers to know of my blog and actively communicate with me from a very early stage. So while this was the first audio conversation we've had, we've communicated many times before (twitter, email, bbs way back in the day). He had so many questions mounted up over the years now that he had someone to translate his thoughts rather than rely on a computer translation program.  I loved this part because we delved into the history of the blog and the history of the show in general as viewed by the foreigners.

Tomo, Ryo and Yahagi watching Nagano and Takeda in Muscle Park (Odaiba) - October, 2008 ©Carol Akiyama

He remembers the transformation from a local (Japan) variety show to a worldwide phenomenon spawning spin offs, but always noticed that my blog always kept true to the original Japanese show.  It was important to him that I did that.  He took the time to thank me for that specifically.  Especially with the isolation of Sasuke Japan due in part to what NBC is doing to the show in the USA, he was really interested in my continued involvement in spreading Sasuke worldwide. NBC has abandoned the Japanese show and it's core audience (and ultimately him and the rest of his friends) so he hopes even what I consider my efforts (however small I feel they are) here on this blog will somehow blossom worldwide.  He wants others to know that the show is still going despite it dropping off the face of the Earth after NBC dropped the license affecting the rest of the 100+ overseas markets.


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


It was a moving conversation. I almost cried a few times. It was strange at times since it was like talking to an old friend I haven't seen in a few years.  He remembers the past very well (his memory is impeccable) and remembers me.  He also remembers that I was there from the beginning. He even joked that I was his staunchest supporter for even longer than his now ex wife! LOL He was insistent in saying that he knows that  I wasn't a bandwagon hopper.  Especially with the many years he's been doing this and being cut or digested half the time, I was always still there and pointing out even the small blips of "oh hey there's Tomo" in random photos and screenshots that most people would ignore or miss when watching at normal speed (Stupid stuff I notice™). So just as he is special in my memory, I am special in his. This normally rambling rican was actually speechless on the latter half of the interview when Tomo took over.  I was moved by his kindness and reminded me why I continue to do this blog.  I did tell him about the webjam girls.  He thought it was totally cool to be fawned on by women. We laughed about that!

Kouji, Tomo, Shinya, Yuuji and Ryo at Shinya's now-famous backyard - I think this is 2012? ©Shinya Kishimoto

Over the years Tomo, along with Ryo and others helped post photos and reports back to Rambling Rican to continue the Sasuke history/legacy.  I'm eternally grateful.  Their passion for the show and it's fandom is the reason I have continued throughout the years.  Tomo confirmed my suspicions. The group that started out in Sasuke Park, all came from various places, but banded together to get on the show "together".  I always thought of them as a special group. In the world of American television where you are taught that the best person is the last person standing (Survivor mentality), this group in particular, struggling to get on the show, was a breath of fresh air. They latched on to the Sasuke Spirit as was projected by Nagano and the All-stars and made it their own.

Tomo posing for the camera in Muscle Park (Odaiba) - October, 2008 ©Carol Akiyama

I feel like a proud mama seeing the kids grow up and become the mega stars they are today.  To think when I first started this blog, it was to comment on the cute guys I saw on some random show I found while channel surfing.  I'm so grateful that they allowed me to come on their journey.  They keep insisting I continue on to see where else this road takes all of us. Scary to think that with the rise in the American version of the show, the Japan show is fading from the American psyche.  He kept imploring to don't give up on sharing my Sasuke passion since I'm pretty much the only loud voice in the west supporting the original Japanese show.  They are still reading if no one else is. It was a sobering thought.

 Ryo and Tomo again in the Final together. This time in Sasuke Park ©Tomohiro Kawaguchi

Sasuke Park

Finally, I asked him if he was going to Sasuke Park. I never did get a full blog on it and in retrospect I feel bad about that.  TBS didn't pay for it, it was it's own company that wanted to use the Sasuke license.  Over the summer of July/August, 2014 the Sasuke stars (old and new) mingled with the crowds in an open field in Toyosu, Tokyo, Japan.

Tomo, Hioki, Kong and Yuuji (signing for a fan using Kong as a table)
Sasuke Park, August 2014 ©Sasuke Park

Tomo went every weekend when the park was open (it was only open for about 6-7 weeks).  There he did demonstrations with the rest of the Sasuke Stars and mingling with fans in a way that they haven't been able to do in the past few years.  Sasuke 30 offered an opportunity to not just Inui and TBS, but to the stars themselves to reach out to a whole new generation of Sasuke Fandom.

Kong, Hioki, Tomo, Ryo, Yuuji, Shinya, Torisawa, Morimoto and Kanno
Closing day for Sasuke Park - August 31, 2014 ©Sasuke Park

As we wait for Sasuke 31 (which is confirmed to be sometime in 2015), Tomo and I reminisced about what has been, where we are now and what we have to do for the future. I'm working on my own side projects and he's taking a more active role in promoting the show as much as he can.  While he still doesn't know why he continues to train for it, he does know one unmistakable fact.  Sasuke is in his blood and he will feel the loss when it's gone.  He loves the show, the fandom and the friends he made throughout the years.  He wants it to continue even if it is just curiosity to see where it's going. I'm just as curious as he is.