Categories
Japan Wrestling

The NXT Step for a Legend

It’s been a little bittersweet over the last few years as more and more wrestlers I’ve watched on the indies go to the WWE. It means less opportunities to see them wrestle live, but I’m always thrilled for their success and what being signed means for their careers. Bryan Danielson, Claudio Castagnoli, Kevin Steen, Sara Del Rey, Uhaa Nation, and several others were all favorites of mine that got noticed for their excellent work and received an opportunity to work for the biggest pro-wrestling company there is.

But none of these announcements has excited and surprised me quite like the unexpected appearance of Kana during NXT Takeover Brooklyn.

 

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The World Famous Kana at Shimmer 68.

 

I was unfamiliar with Kana before her Shimmer debut on volumes 41-44, but she made a lasting impression fast. With a unique look and aura and incredible ringwork, she went toe-to-toe with some of Shimmer’s best that weekend (Sara Del Rey, Cheerleader Melissa, Mia Yim, and Lufisto) and beat most of them. It was a fantastic first impression and instantly made her one of my favorites, a status that only grew stronger over time. Her match against Ayako Hamada at Volume¬†50 is still my favorite Shimmer match ever.

 

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Kana and Lufisto get ready for a four team tag title match at Shimmer 53.

 

My first opportunity to see her (and a lot of other phenomenal athletes) live was Shimmer 53 as part of all the wrestling hoopla surrounding Wrestlemania in NJ in 2013. As part of a four-team tag title match she didn’t get a big spotlight but still managed to shine during her exchanges. It’s always an amazing feeling to get to meet one of your favorites and I was also able to get a beautiful piece of commissioned art of done by Rob Schamberger signed by her.

 

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A goofy looking fan meets a world traveled wrestler at the top of her game.
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Incredible rendition of Kana by Rob Schamberger, signed by both. ūüôā

 

My first trip out to Berwyn, IL for a Shimmer taping weekend was in April 2014 and I can’t recommend the experience enough. Two full days of incredible wrestling featuring some of the best on the planet. It was again a thrill to get to see Kana live and her singles matches against a variety of up-and-comers (particularly the Galaxy Famous Nikki Storm) were a joy.

 

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Kana exhausted and likely a bit dazed moments after her hard hitting Shimmer Title match, but still friendly and cheerful with the fans.

 

My second Shimmer weekend in October 2014 now looks like it may have been Kana’s last, as she missed this past April and is likely headed to the WWE. If it was she had a great showing to finish up on. She had her first shot at the Shimmer title in an excellent rematch I’d been waiting a long time for against Cheerleader Melissa in the main event of Volume 67. On Volume 68 she and regular tag partner Lufisto wrestled Saraya Knight and Mayumi Ozaki in a no-DQ match that spilled around the arena a bit.

The next day another great wrestler with a bright future, Kay Lee Ray, faced Kana in a fantastic contest. Kana finished the weekend with another solid match against Courtney Rush.

 

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Kana in some trouble vs another favorite of mine, Kay Lee Ray.

 

A couple¬†months ago Kana announced a “hiatus” from wrestling. There was a lot of speculation without much info, and while WWE’s recent visit to Japan certainly presented the possibility of her being involved in negotiations, nothing was confirmed so it was just one more theory in the pile. Her appearance at NXT was a complete shock and I did a double take when I saw her up on the screen next to Flair and Slaughter. It was another awesome moment for me as a wrestling fan at a show absolutely filled with them.

While nothing’s been announced, WWE having Kana travel for NXT Takeover and showing her as part of the broadcast points heavily towards her being signed. The fact that she was named (with their standard slight spelling tweak for copyright) indicates if so her background and experience¬†would likely be (rightfully) acknowledged instead of treating her like a rookie.

 

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Kana was gracious enough to agree to a pic at the Shimmer afterparty during Shimmer 63-66 weekend.

 

It will be a very different chapter of her career, but I’m extremely happy for her and excited about all the possibilities. Best of luck to a true superstar.

Categories
Japan Reviews Wrestling

A Fairly Marvelous Beginning

August 9, 2015 in Queens, NY

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Marvelous Puroesu USA’s first event at the Queensboro Elk’s Lodge was presented with a lot of fanfare. Chigusa came out to start the show with a ceremony to introduce the core members of her roster: Penelope Ford, Renee Michelle, Davienne, and Takumi Iroha. She announced that they would all be traveling to Japan with her for shows / training and later returning to the US for more Marvelous Puroesu shows. Each of them then said a few words to the crowd, which was clearly unexpected as some fumbled a bit with what to say. It came off as genuine and endearing though and actually added to the casual, enjoyable atmosphere of the evening.

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All three of the American core members faced Sumie Sakai, with Ford vs Sakai opening the card and Michelle and Davienne against Sakai and Willow Nightingale right after intermission. ¬†Sumie’s antics are quite amusing and everyone in the ring with her seemed to benefit from her experience and got to show their own skills and potential.

The undercard was nicely varied in general, from heavy humor in¬†Deonna Purrazzo & Brittany Blake vs Rick Cataldo & Eddy McQueen, to a hard hitting tag match in¬†DJ Hyde & Rory Gulak vs Nate Carter & David McCall, to a three-way spotfest in Lio Rush vs Patrick Clark vs David Starr, etc.¬†Some wrestlers clearly need more polish (and there was an¬†obviously¬†blown finish in one match), but everyone showed great effort and there’s a lot of potential here.

Nate Carter & David McCall had a great showing in their match and were a riot hanging out and taking pictures with fans at intermission. Nice, approachable guys with a lot of potential. Hope to see more of their work.
Nate Carter & David McCall had a great showing in their match and were a riot hanging out and taking pictures with fans at intermission.

A surprise appearance by the legendary¬†Mick Foley added some amusement¬†to the David vs Goliath battle of Cheeseburger vs Rex Lawless and gave a dose “anything can happen” to the show. The general feel of the card was one of fun and diversity, with a little something for everyone.

Quite the surprise - guest ringside enforcer Mick Foley!
Quite the surprise – guest ringside enforcer Mick Foley!

The main event was a great way to end the show. This is the second time I’ve seen Wantanabe live and he’s impressed on both occasions. Papadon was a suitable partner for Chigusa and both men did an excellent job making their exchanges with the woman believable.

They are unimpressed with Papadon's posturing.
Iroha and Wantanabe¬†are unimpressed with Papadon’s posturing.

Of course the true draw of the evening was getting to see Chigusa live, and she did not disappoint. She had¬†some great strike exchanges with Wantanabe, much to the crowd’s delight. It was a treat watching her wrestle Iroha, who held her own against the veteran and is certainly one to watch going forward.

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Respect after the match. Iroha kicked out after a TKO from Chigusa a literal millisecond too late.
Respect after the match. Iroha kicked out after a TKO from Chigusa a literal millisecond too late.

Overall Marvelous Puroesu USA’s first show should be considered a solid success. The venue was pretty full (three sides of the ring with seats, with two rows on two sides and 5 on the third), the matches were varied and entertaining, and the whole thing was just all around fun. Looking forward to the future of this promotion, particularly the opportunity to see more of Chigusa and Iroha in the US.

Was lucky enough to meet and get a picture with rising star Takumi Iroha.
Was lucky enough to meet and get a picture with rising star Takumi Iroha.
Marvelous Puroesu USA t-shirt by Shupercousin Designs.
Marvelous Puroesu USA t-shirt by Shupercousin Designs.
Categories
Food Japan Mystery Boxes Reviews

Japan Crate August 2015

After a good batch with nice variety last month I was excited to get my second Japan Crate.

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As with last month, the crate is certainly packed with unique and varied edibles from Japan. It also includes a mini-manga that explains what each item is and has instructions for the DIY kit and various additional context, pictures and promotion.

August’s¬†crate came with 13 items. I’m giving the Pokemon Puzzle Gum to my nephew, so won’t be reviewing it (although I feel safe in assuming gum and stickers would have received at least a “decent” from me). ¬†Here’s a look at the other 12:

The Excellent

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There were two awesome soda flavored candies in this one, which makes me very happy.¬†Shuwa Shuwa Soda Candy¬†is a hard candy with a “fizzy” center in cola, orange and grape flavors.¬†Soda Mixing Jelly Beans¬†(one of the Premium Crate exclusives) came in five flavors of Japanese soda and are meant to be tasted in various combinations. The Premium Crate had another crunchy savory snack this month in the form of¬†Japanese BBQ Scones,¬†which had the consistency of Cheetos with a light, sweetish BBQ flavor.

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There was a lot of great chocolate this time, including Chocolate Pucca (pretzel shells filled with chocolate) and Puzzle & Dragons x Bikkuriman Wafer (standard chocolate filled wafer with a collectible playing card). The DIY kit was also chocolate related. There were two possible kits, and I got the Apollo DIY, which had white, strawberry and milk chocolate tubes and a mold with which to create little chocolate treats. This was easy to do and amusing. The mini-candies to put in the chocolates to give them crunch was a nice touch, and it all tasted quite good.

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The Decent

Mario Kart Gum¬†is a thread style packaging of small flat squares of gum in wrappers adorned with characters from the game. Was softer than the hard bubble gum usually packaged in these types of things over here. Wow, Such Banana?!¬†is a banana shaped/flavored marshmallow treat filled with chocolate, if you can call a tiny thread running through the center “filled with.” The chocolate was tastable though, so I’ll give them a pass on that. The packaging of Crayon Shin-Chan¬†Candy¬†captures the particular humor style of its namesake show. The candy itself is essentially mini-gobstoppers.

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This month’s¬†Premium Crate’s drink is Creamy Melon Soda, which tasted exactly as expected.¬†Crackling Cotton is an interesting cotton candy textured snack with little bits of pop rocks throughout. Not something I’d have often, but unique and quite good. There were two possible savory pretz¬†flavors, and I got Tom Yum Pretz.¬†I’ve never had the soup so can’t compare, but this did have a spicy edge to it along with a sweeter undertone. Not entirely my thing, but I liked it much more than I expected.

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The Meh

Nothing this month. YAY!

Conclusion

A great month, where there was nothing I actively disliked and several things I would buy on my own if I could. The Premium Crate exclusives continue to easily be worth the $5 upgrade. I continue to be impressed by the quality and variety of snacks in Japan Crate and am looking forward to the next one.

Categories
Japan Wrestling

Farewell Tomoka: A fan’s personal look back on a great career

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Tomoka Nakagawa and Aja Kong after Nakagawa’s penultimate match.

Although she was nearly a six year veteran at the time, Tomoka Nakagawa’s Shimmer debut on Volume 29¬†(in April 2010) was the first exposure I had to her work. Joining Nakagawa in the first appearance of joshi talent in Shimmer were Ayumi Kurihara, Misaki Ohata, and Hiroyo Matsumoto. She was impressive in a losing effort against Kurihara in her debut, and stood out a bit extra due to being the only heel of the four.

Nakagawa would become a familiar and important cornerstone in Shimmer, missing only one weekend of tapings from her debut until her retirement. The first three years continued to feature her heel persona, with her general mannerisms and penchant¬†for spitting water in her opponent’s eyes antagonizing¬†the crowd at every opportunity. It was highlighted by a short tag-title reign with partner Daizee Haze in 2011.

On April 6, 2013 Shimmer came to New Jersey during Wrestlemania weekend for Volume 53. It was my first live Shimmer show, and first opportunity to see Nakagawa (and many others) in person. Even more luckily for me, something that would prove very important happened at the last show of the previous tapings: Tomoka Nakagawa and Kellie Skater formed a tag-team, the Global Green Gangsters (3G).

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3G t-shirt by ShuperCousin Designs and signed by Nakagawa and Skater.

Skater was recently “reformed” and constantly trying to show her new partner that they didn’t need to resort to cheating to win. The dynamic was incredible and 3G immediately had the crowd on board cheering for Nakagawa to “change her ways.” The four way tag-title match from Volume 53 only gave a glimpse of what they were capable of, but the end made it clear we’d be seeing more of 3G in the title picture. One week later 3G would win the titles at the end of the tapings in a wild no-DQ match against cowardly reigning champions the Canadian Ninjas.

I attended my first set of Shimmer tapings in Berwyn the following spring, and the love for 3G as conquering heroes was off the charts. Their struggle, along with Skater and Nakagawa’s fantastic chemistry and charisma, made them two of the most beloved wrestlers on the roster, and their matches were generally highlights of every card. The support for Nakagawa was particularly apparent during her singles match against Saraya Knight on Volume 63, where the crowd’s cheers¬†for¬†her were deafening. ¬†Another amazing live experience was the end of the fall 2014 tapings, featuring 3G, Madison Eagles and Jessica Havok against the Canadian Ninjas and the Kimber Bombs in a no-DQ, no-countout war that spilled through the crowd and all over the venue.

Nakagawa announced her retirement in late 2014, and wrestled her final match in Japan on December 4, 2014. Given the success she enjoyed abroad and what Shimmer meant to her, she chose to do one last US tour and have the last matches of her career in Berwyn the following April.

Being there live was an honor I can’t properly describe. From the surprise appearances of Aja Kong and Dynamite Kansai to Dave Prazak handling the introductions for one last 3G vs Canadian Ninjas match to the closing retirement celebration the weekend was a bittersweet roller coaster ride of emotions and excitement.

On June 7 at an Oz Academy show in Tokyo Tomoka Nakagawa received a ten bell salute, official ending her ten year wrestling career.

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Thanks for the incredible matches and all those years spent entertaining us. Best of luck in your retirement. You will be missed.

Categories
Film Japan

Japan Cuts 2015 Retrospective part 3

Earlier this week¬†I shared thoughts on the 6 movies I saw during Japan Society‚Äôs annual Japan Cuts Film Festival for 2015. For this last entry about the festival I’m focusing on the other event I attended: the Experimental¬†Spotlight.

Mono No Aware x [+]

This event was interesting in that in some sense it began several weeks before the festival started. On June 21 Mono No Aware and the Japan Society presented a workshop in which 20 participants created (very) short films using direct filmmaking techniques to manipulate 16mm “found footage” of documentaries about Japan. The films produced in this workshop opened the program, and were interesting in their variety and approaches despite using the same techniques, and in showing what can be done in such a short period of time.

The remainder of the program was even more fascinating in its diversity. RELAY presented an incredibly unique moving image view of an even more unique subject in the form of artist Ei Wada playing music on repurposed television sets. The imaginative Koropokkuru used puppetry and other techniques to convey Japanese folklore through manipulation of inanimate objects. Emblem manipulated the conversion of video to film to create a narrative out out of research footage. Louis Armstrong Obon played with pacing and atmosphere rather than visuals or technique, presenting almost a documentary style feature with great atmosphere and impact. sound of a million insects, light of a thousand stars was mesmerizing to watch, and became even more intriguing when the method behind the film was revealed at the end.

Varying manipulations of light were featured in the remaining 3 films. Stella Nova conveyed the life of a star through constant colorful manipulations and explosions, Emaki/Light was a dance of abstract black and white images produced by direct drawing on film pairing with harsh sporadic piano notes, and UB HOUSE Experience in Material No.52 was a brilliant and creepy presentation of moving shadows and bursts of light.

While I’ll admit some of the pieces seemed longer than they needed to be, everything was interesting and at least in some part captivating. The contrast of all the chosen shorts and topics covered really made this shine. This spotlight is a welcome addition to Japan Cuts and I hope we’ll see more of it next year.

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And that concludes my experience at Japan Cuts 2015. I had a wonderful time and hope to attend even more of it next year. I encourage anyone who’s even remotely interested to check it out in 2016 as well as the other events¬†Japan Society’s Film Program has in between.

Categories
Film Japan

Japan Cuts 2015 Retrospective part 2

Yesterday¬†I shared thoughts on 3 of the movies I saw during Japan Society‚Äôs annual Japan Cuts Film Festival for 2015: Makeup Room, Strayer’s Chronicle, and 100 Yen Love. Here’s a look at the other 3.

The Voice of Water

This movie has haunted me for days and I still don’t know quite what I think of it. A charismatic charlatan acting as head priestess of a manufactured, business-like cult starts to crack from the pressure of continued success, and things get worse from there despite her attempts to be more genuine. The carefully constructed plot progression¬†and pacing build tension and an increasingly desperate atmosphere masterfully,¬†but I found some of the story choices unsettling beyond what I think was needed. There’s a lot to process in every layer¬†of the movie: the characters’ actions and their results, the motivations behind those actions, and the thematic statements and criticisms the story is making about society. Strong performances from the central cast and key supporting characters keep it all anchored. I can’t say for certain I liked it, but The Voice of Water is a powerful film that’s well worth watching for all it has to say, whether you end up agreeing or not.

The Light Shines Only There

This was my second favorite film in a festival packed with fantastic¬†movies (just a tiny bit behind Makeup Room). It’s a love story about two thoroughly broken people reeling from unfortunate and disturbing events out of their control. All of the characters are struggling with some sort of personal demons, with varying levels of success. It’s the pitch perfect performances of everyone in the cast that keeps it all relatable and engrossing. Themes and events get quite¬†dark and are¬†hard to watch in parts, but it all fit the story and nothing felt out of place or gratuitous (no matter how much I wanted to yell at the screen sometimes). A unique, phenomenal film overall.

Sanchu Uprising: Voices at Dawn

The closing film of this year’s festival had been highly recommended to me, but I didn’t really know anything about it going into the screening. It centers on a farmer¬†uprising in 1726 in the face of impossible taxes. It turns into the bloodiest such uprising in history. But the focus of the movie is more on the pressure and difficult choices of the individuals caught up in the uprising, particularly a coward who isn’t sure it’s worth the risk. Besides the interesting choice of scope and subject within the premise, Sanchu Uprising distinguishes itself with several stylistic choices unusual for its genre, including jazz touches to the soundtrack and an animated sequence.

It’s an interesting movie and while I had some doubts along the way I think it came together extremely well by the end. It wasn’t an unanimous opinion though, as several audience members had rather pointed (but valid) questions for the director during the q&a after the film about his choices. The director was thoughtful with his answers and open to criticism, which made the discussion fascinating. A perfect way to end the festival.

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So this completes my thoughts on the 6 films I saw during Japan Cuts. I will have one more blog entry on the festival, covering the other event I attended Рthe Experimental Shorts Showcase.

Categories
Film Japan

Japan Cuts 2015 Retrospective part 1

Japan Society’s annual Japan Cuts Film Festival for 2015 ran from July 9th to July 19th. It featured a wide variety of engrossing¬†movies and was a great event overall. I attended 7 of the 29 showings, including US¬†premiers¬†and spotlight screenings with directors, actresses, etc as special guests to introduce their movies and participate in q&as afterwards.

Here’s a look at a few of them.

Makeup Room

An amazingly funny low budget movie about the making of a low budget movie. Set entirely in a single room, the makeup room for a porn shoot,¬†Kei Morikawa’s minimalist endeavor takes full advantage of his experience in the industry, actual adult video¬†actresses, and a brilliant performance from non-AV actress¬†Aki Morita as the makeup artist to create a unique comedy with touches of authenticity and drama. The sex is always just off-screen, but the consequences of each scene bounce hilariously back to the room we’re stuck in. It’s a close call, but this was¬†my favorite of the festival.

Strayer’s Chronicle

One of the few films this year to venture into science fiction, Strayer’s Chronicle features two groups of young adults who were experimented on as children resulting in special powers with dangerous side-effects. The premise itself isn’t terribly original, but I found the execution refreshingly different. This was not the full blown action movie a lot of the audience seemed to expect, and opinions seemed very mixed as the theater emptied. However I enjoyed it for what it was and found the foreboding¬†atmosphere, conflicted characters and moral questions raised made up for the plot not being as tight as it could have been. This was another win for me.

100 Yen Love

Sakura Ando received the festival’s Cut Above Award for Outstanding Performance in Film directly before this screening, and it’s easy to see why. Her startling yet logical transformation from unmotivated slob to driven boxer was amazing to watch and 100% believable. There were small pieces of the plot that bothered me, but overall the movie worked wonderfully and Ando’s powerful performance more than compensated for any small missteps. The q&a after the movie with Ando was both informative and fun, as she was clearly excited to be there and her energy was contagious.

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I’ll continue with¬†the rest of the films I saw later this week.

Categories
Food Japan Mystery Boxes Reviews

Japan Crate: July 2015

The mystery box phenomenon is in full swing, and one of the most intriguing ones I’ve heard of is Japan Crate, packed with an assortment of candy and snacks from Japan. I decided to try their “Premium” crate, and my first delivery was the July 2015 edition.

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As advertised, the crate is certainly packed with unique and varied edibles from Japan. It also includes a mini-manga that explains what each item is and has instructions for the DIY kit (both EXTREMELY useful) as well as some additional context, pictures and promotion. Cute and helpful.

July’s crate came with 12 items. I haven’t done the DIY kit, so here’s a look at the other 11:

The Excellent

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The big difference between the Original and Premium crates is the inclusion of a drink and a bonus item. This month had a “Kid’s Beer” (apple soda) and Corn Potage Chips. The drink¬†was perhaps the most normal item in the box, and tasted as expected for apple soda. The “chips” were akin to cheese puffs in texture and actually did taste¬†like corn soup, which still kind of boggles my mind. The other Premium exclusives were a cola-flavored¬†taffy called¬†Kajiri Chew and some extremely Sour Lemon Gum. These were all among my favorites in the box, so the $5 upgrade from Original was well worth it.

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The other things that wowed me were¬†Choco Bar Z Kinako and¬†Potekoro Cubes. The description said the Choco Bar Z was back by popular demand, and I can see why. It’s a wafer bar infused with chocolate flavor and tasted divine. Best of the box. The Potekoro Cubes are a savory snack flavored with black pepper. Like the corn soup puffs, I was beyond skeptical when trying these. I was wrong – they were surprisingly fantastic.

The Decent

Maken Gummy is a firm gummy candy shaped like rock, paper, or scissors. Fairly generic. Lifeguard Paste is a semi-liquid sticky candy apparently based on a soda. Tasted like mountain dew to me and the texture took getting used to. Chameleon Candy are standard hard candies that change color. The one with the red interior is supposed to be good luck.

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The Meh

I think I’m discovering that Japanese jelly candies aren’t for me. The¬†Chu Grape Jelly and¬†Adzuki Mizu Yokan¬†(red bean snack with a gel texture) weren’t bad in quality, but neither¬†taste nor¬†texture were to my liking in either.

Conclusion

I didn’t like everything here, but the quality of the things I did and the overall variety gave me my money’s worth. And even the things I didn’t care for were interesting to try. Going to call this month’s Japan Crate a success and am looking forward to the next one.