Bradcat’s Place Focus… Pro Wrestling Bar Count 2.99

The referee’s hand comes down to the mat. “One!” the audience shouts, “Two!” they move to the edge of their seats, “Thr… Ohhh!” The three count is cut short as the wrestler on the screen kicks out in the nick of time.

I wrote an article last year about my love for professional wrestling, especially Japanese wrestling. But for anyone who enjoys televised sports, you’ll know there’s nothing better than watching with friends. There’s also nothing better than watching said sports with a drink in your hand too. Today I introduce you to “Pro Wrestling Bar Count 2.99” which combines the hobbies of drinking and professional wrestling.

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Located in the heart of Osaka in Minami (between Nipponbashi and Shinsaibashi) Count 2.99 is a cozy bar (adorned with plastic figures of wrestling legends) which can seat about 8 people, and a few tables which can seat a further 12. There’s also an “Announcer table” which is designed for just two people to fulfil their desire to be a commentary team during live events. For special events, some of the tables are removed and more chairs are brought in allowing for around 30 people in total.

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The main screen behind the bar

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The rest of the bar is strewn with wrestling memorabilia, wrestling belts, standees, and posters for historic and upcoming events. The owner (Koji) has spent many years adding unique pieces to his bar, creating a one of a kind space. Even the entrance to the bar is sectioned off with guard rails just like a real wrestling event.

Aside from just being a bar, Count 2.99 also supplies tickets to events in Osaka from NJPW to smaller indie shows. For those people who hate the ticket ordering system in Japan, you can simply purchase your tickets from the bar, they are usually better seats than you’d probably expect too.

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On the right side, there is the polaroid wall. This features thousands of wrestlers who have visited over the years, with each one having been signed and dated. Some of the wrestlers have since retired, whilst others continue to wrestle to a world-wide audience including…

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asuka-triple-h.jpgWWE’s current NXT Women’s champion Asuka (Formally known as Kana)

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The bar has also hosted many special events for these wrestlers including birthday parties which fans are allowed to attend too. Usually when a wrestling promotion visits Osaka, most of the wrestlers stop by for a drink. Only the other week I was sat at the bar after finishing work, and Rina Yamashita (Who wrestles for Pro Wave, Ice Ribbon, OZ academy, REINA, and a host of other companies) walked in, and pulled up a stool just next to me. She had no idea that I was a fan of female professional wrestling, so she was surprised when she realised I knew who she was!

img_1396There are copies of Weekly Pro-Wrestling for people to pick up and talk about too.

Soft drinks start from ¥600 and cocktails are around ¥800. Snacks are available assorted nuts will set you back ¥600 and some soft noodles are just ¥900 (Prices were correct at the time of writing) You can check their website for a full list of food and drinks. Be aware that like most Japanese bars, there is a seating charge! Many foreigners aren’t used to this concept.

Overall, Koji has created an amazingly fun bar, which every professional wrestling fan needs to visit if they come to Osaka. The best part is, I’m going to be helping Koji to learn English as he’s expressed that he wants more western fans to visit. So please visit the bar and exchange wrestling stories with him!

Links:
Count 2.99 Website
Count 2.99 Twitter

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Bradcat’s Place Focus… Yuzu

The hunt for authentic Japanese food has been a long an arduous task, but someone’s got to do it, eh? So with each restaurant I visit, I weigh up a variety of key components including, taste (obviously), price, atmosphere, and authenticity. Of all the places I’ve been to, many restaurants will tick 70% of these boxes, until I found Yuzu in Manchester which blew my checklist off the table.

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You’ll find Yuzu in the middle of Chinatown in Manchester, with its traditional entrance and hiragana on the doorway「ゆず」 . I stumbled across the restaurant whilst visiting friends and using a quick search on Google, I found Yuzu at the top of the list with amazing reviews. Normally with restaurants with these levels of reviews you’d expect to pay through the nose, however Yuzu offers an amazing selection of Japanese food at affordable prices.

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The restaurant isn’t huge, but it offers seating in a bench style for people eating on their own or in pairs, and also a few larger tables (which I’m assuming can be moved around) to accommodate larger groups. I pushed my luck a little bit and tried to get a table by walking in on Valentines weekend. I think our timing was just right as they were able to fit three of us on a table in the corner, however looking around it seemed the smart thing to do was to make a reservation as all the other tables were taken.

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The waitress was very quick to seat us and take our drinks order and returned promptly. The usual Japanese beers were on offer, Asahi, Kirin Ichiban and Sapporo. However the Yuzu drinks menu is extensive and offers a wide selection of plum wines, spirits, and sake including the International Wine Challenge silver medal winner Ura Gasanryu Huka.

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As always, the common misconception with Japanese food is that it’s all seafood. Yuzu tries to break this stigma by serving up some fantastic traditional Japanese dishes. “But Sean, why don’t they serve Sushi if they’re a Japanese restaurant?!” I hear you cry. Well, Yuzu are so humble in their preparation methods, that they say sushi should be made only by sushi masters, which they are not. (I’m not being snide here, further down this article they say this themselves!) I couldn’t agree more. I’ve tasted some fantastic sushi during my time in Japan, only to come home and taste some utter garbage sushi which is dry and flavourless. Their menu more than makes up for not having sushi. They offer some amazing udon, sashimi don and tempura dishes, but I opted for the teisyoku tonkatsu 「とんかつ」set (pork cutlet) which comes with rice, miso soup and garnish.

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I don’t know if it’s because Yuzu source their ingredients from local suppliers, or they add some sort of magical seasoning to their food, but with one mouthful I was back in Osaka. The smell, the texture, everything was perfect. I tried to explain to my friends how incredible it was to find such delicious Japanese food, but they were too busy slurping their noodles.

I was able to have a quick interview with Yuzu restaurant, so that I could get a better understanding of their preparation methods and secrets behind their success. Here’s what they had to say…

– With Manchester having a lot of Japanese restaurants, what separates Yuzu from the rest?
“We make everything from scratch – gyoza, kara-age, yakitori, ebi-katsu e.t.c. I guess that very basic thing separates us from others.”

– Yuzu is listed as being “authentic Japanese” on many websites. What does an authentic Japanese restaurant mean to you?
“It kind of overlaps with the above question. What we offer is not ‘Pan-Asian’ where other Asian food are also sold as ‘Japanese’. What we offer is a traditional food that has been consumed by the people of Japan for many generations.”

– What would you say to consumers that believe the common misconception that Japanese food is all fish, and all sushi?
“The very reason we don’t do sushi is because in Japan, sushi is made by sushi meisters who trained as apprentices for ten years and finally become sushi maestros. And we don’t have those meisters. We are not going to pretend that we can make sushi because that would be an offence to the Japanese culture.”

– Your Twitter feed often has photographs posted of fresh ingredients. Do you think this gives you an edge over the local competition?
“Not really. It’s a word of mouth that brings new customers.”

– Also posted on your Twitter feed are a range of Japanese beers and sake. Are these available to customers? If so, how do you select the drinks to buy in?
“We select interesting looking, good quality sake from suppliers’ lists and sample them. If we like them, we put them on the menu. With beers, it’s quite limited in choices but we do stock Hitachino ale range now which are proving to be very popular.”

Thanks to all the staff at Yuzu for taking the time to answer my questions, and for serving up the most delicious Japanese meal I’ve had since returning from Japan.

ありがとうございました!

If you’d like to visit Yuzu, you can find their websites here:
Yuzu Official Website
Yuzu Facebook
Yuzu Twitter

Bradcat’s Place Focus… Woktastic

” Feed me takoyaki!”, my stomach has grumbled, since returning from Japan in April. I’m only aware of one restaurant who offers authentic takoyaki in my local area, and that’s Woktastic. So here we go…

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You may recall the name of the restaurant due to a previous visit to Woktastic for my birthday back in January. On this visit I had my first taste of takoyaki as I was yet to explore Japan and try the “real deal”. Now that I’ve been, tried it, and returned, I can safely say how delicious it is in comparison.

There’s a lot to be said for something as simple as diced octopus wrapped in a light batter. But when you combine that with Japanese mayonnaise, you’re in for a taste sensation. Luckily, Woktastic offer both of these. You can either order a plate of 3 balls, or go for their buffet menu where you can take anything from the conveyor belt, where you will find takoyaki on there too. Speaking of the buffet conveyor belt, you’ll find heaps of other nibbles to tuck into, including a huge range of sushi.

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The sushi is much more affordable (not to mention a lot more delicious) than the sushi you’ll find at Yo! Sushi. There is also a much wider choice on offer too. Not too dissimilar from Yo! Sushi, Woktastic offers a “plate colour” system, where the plates are priced depending on the colour. It’s quite easy to find your hands wondering to the conveyor belt to help yourself, adding more items to your bill. That being said, the most expensive dish on the belt is under £5, and the buffet menu is a mere £14.99 on an evening (£11.99 if you go for lunch)

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All of the staff are wonderful. I’ve only visited Woktastic twice now, and both times they’ve been incredibly welcoming, as though we’ve been friends for years. They really try to look after you and try their best to cater to any request you have.

On this occasion, I decided to go for the chicken ramen (surprise, surprise) (ラーメンが大好きです)  while my friend Dan opted for a katsu curry bento box. Bento boxes offer a decent portion of a selection of dishes, packed into a box with different compartments. Typically there are pickles in the middle, a section for rice, a section for the meat, and the last two sections vary from each Japanese restaurant I’ve been to. Woktastic offer a salad, and a side of gyozas (depending on which bento you select).

IMG_4257-4Dan’s delicious katsu bento

IMG_2194-3My equally delicious chicken ramen

On a recent visit to Wagamama, I ordered some pork ramen (which I ate a lot of in Japan.) But something unthinkable happened, I didn’t finish my bowl! I couldn’t explain it, but I think because I’d tasted authentic Japanese ramen I knew how it was meant to taste, and this just didn’t measure up. Sorry Wagamama! However the broth used in Woktastic is almost identical to what you’d find in Japan, even the presentation is incredibly similar.

All in all, a great visit to Woktastic. Delicious food, affordable prices (though it’s easy to get carried away!), friendly staff, and a great atmosphere. If you’re ever in Birmingham, please take your time to find this restaurant. You’ll find it just off Broad Street, near the library and Birmingham museum and art gallery. Full directions on their website.

Woktastic Official Website

Woktastic on Twitter

All prices were correct at the time of posting. Please check the Woktastic website for up to date prices!

Bradcat’s J-Music Focus…BABYMETAL

I first heard of BABYMETAL around this time last year when stumbling across their music video for メギツネ (MEGITSUNE) on YouTube. At this point it already had over 2 million views (It’s currently on over 5 Million) and BABYMETAL were already establishing a fan base across the globe virally via the internet.

So who are these three super kawaii maidens with a killer backing band throwing down catchy guitar riffs and thunderous drum beats?

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BABYMETAL

In Japan, idol groups are huge. Imagine how most people are in the UK when it comes to football, well idol culture is equally as huge in Japan. So many kinds of people go to idol converts for different reasons; to join in with the dance moves, to sing along, to blow off steam after a long day at the office, to enjoy music with friends, to support their favourite idol, the list is endless. But trust me on this one, I’ve witnessed it first hand in Akihabara, it’s huge.

BABYMETAL – ド・キ・ド・キ☆モーニング (Doki Doki Morning)

With such a huge culture of idol groups forming on a daily basis, it becomes increasingly difficult to stand out from the crowd. The general formula of an idol group consists of a small group of girls, dancing and singing, it’s that simple. We see it all the time in the West with huge shows like “America/Britain’s got talent” and “X-Factor” churning out pop groups year in, year out. But in Japan it’s a little different, there’s an independent scene of thousands of these groups trying to break it into the big time to join the ranks of groups such as Purfume or AKB48.

Sakura Gakuin さくら学院 – Song for Smiling

This is where the origins of BABYMETAL start. Sakura Gakuin (さくら学院) (Cherry Blossom Academy) is a Japanese idol girl group formed in 2010 by the Amuse talent agency. It is essentially a fake high school which runs along side the girl’s real studies. When a girl graduates from high school, they also graduate from Sakura Gakujin, and new members are inducted. It’s a great formula to keep the group fresh, and able to continually generate money. While at the school, all of the girls belong to “sub-groups” or “clubs” and these are as follows; Baton Club, Heavy Music Club, Cooking Club. Go Home Club, Newspaper Club, Tennis Club, Science Club. All of which have their sub groups, to which BABYMETAL belong to the Heavy Music Club.

BABYMETAL are; SU-METAL (16) (Suzuka Nakamoto), YUIMETAL (14) (Yui Mizuno), MOAMETAL (14) (Moa Kikuchi) with support from their “Kami Band” who are Takayoshi Ohmura (guitar), Leda (guitar), BOH (bass) and Aoyama Hideki (drums). If you’re under any doubt about their musicianship, please search YouTube for their names, watching BOH play the 6-string bass is a sight to behold.

BohBass player – BOH

So why have BABYMETAL become such a huge hit in such a short space of time since their formation, while other more established bands remain unknown outside of Japan? It’s basically because someone decided to fuse the huge idol culture with heavy metal. It’s that simple. It hadn’t been thought of, and someone put it together.

From there, two huge crowds of people are instantly merged into one, coming together for the appreciation for a J-Idol group, a heavy metal band, and of course the “quirky” Japanese novelty. You hear it all the time attached to sensationalist articles on the latest craze in Japan; “Oh Japan!” or “Only in Japan!” but not this time, as BABYMETAL are breaking out and have already announced a world tour…

When I saw that BABYMETAL were playing UK rock festival Sonisphere, I was a little concerned, as every year at UK festivals, there’s one “stand-out” artist which people love to berate and throw bottles at. We all remember Daphne and Celeste at Reading 2000 (Search YouTube if you don’t remember) and I was worried about any small minded idiots doing the same. So imagine my sheer amazement when I discovered BABYMETAL were actually playing Sonisphere by request, and then to top that, people weren’t happy with them being pushed onto the side-stage and campaigned to have them perform on the main stage!

I think it’s safe to say that there’s something in BABYMETAL for everyone. If you listen to their album you will find something from all genres. Besides the obvious J-Pop and Metal, there are lashings of Rap, Rap Metal, Hip-Hop, Dubstep, Trance, Dance and Reggae (Yes, you read the last one correctly)

You’ll often see the girls putting up an unusual hand sign, very similar to the “metal horns” you see at most rock concerts. But don’t be quick to mock the girls for not doing the sign correctly, this is their own sign. The sign of the fox god whom prophesied the birth of BABYMETAL… Yeah.

Their lyrical content ranges from serious to comical, with such tracks as ギミチョコ!! “Gimmi Choco!!” in which the girls have a desire to eat chocolate and worry about becoming fat (I’ve seen equally bizarre lyrics in System of a Down tracks) however there are tracks such as イジメ、ダメ、ゼッタイ ” IJIME, DAME, ZETTAI” which tell people to stop bullying.

How long this will last is really up in the air. People have a habit of latching on to the latest craze and then dropping it a few months later after becoming tired of the same material. You only have to look at Korean pop star PSY who had already established a fan base in Korea, and went on to worldwide success for a short while. However people soon grew tired of hearing the same track, and even the follow up track “Gentleman”. So will BABYMETAL suffer the same fate? It’s hard to say, but I think with them being such a young age and the group being new and exciting, they will only grow even more (Literally)… BABYMETAL! がんばって!

BABYMETAL Official Website

BABYMETAL on iTunes