Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Women of Ninja Warrior

100 Women Enter, 1 Woman Leaves

I am totally obsessed with the Japanese reality TV show Kuniochi, which has been rebranded in the U.S. as Women of Ninja Warrior and is screened exclusively on cable TV's G4 channel. I came across this athletic competition - in which female contestants try to survive a challenging obstacle course so they can be crowned Queen of Ninja Warrior - totally by accident last week during a four-hour weekend marathon, and now I can't get enough of each weekday's one-hour broadcast between 8:30 and 9:30 EST.

The show is filmed at "Mount Midoriyama," a large outdoor field that is part of TBS-TV's "Midoriyama Studio (city)" in Aoba-ku, Yokohama, Japan, where only family and friends of the contestants are allowed to be spectators. The contest is made up of three preliminary stages and a final stage (added in the third season) that involves climbing a steel tower in roughly half a minute. Along the way are increasingly difficult obstacles with such colorful names as Dancing Stones, Barrel Roll, Falling Pole, Windmill Cross, Domino Hill, Pendulum Bridge, Angle Run, Hop Rocket, Swinging Beams, Flying Pillar, Spinning Logs, Tornado Run, Super Jump, Spinning Slopes, Slippery Slide, Escape Ladder, and the sinister-sounding Unforgiving Wall.


The Domino Hill obstacle from WOMEN OF NINJA WARRIOR

Kunoichi/Women of Ninja Warrior is an offshoot of the popular Sasuke/Ninja Warrior show, which features male athletes competing in a similar obstacle course challenge. Call me sexist, but I can't dig watching the guys compete, American Gladiators style. There are too many of those type shows on American reality TV anyway and it just feels a little, oh homo-erotic to me, like watching Yukio Mishima do squats. No, I prefer watching the predominantly petite Japanese women competing. Some are as young as 13, some as "old" as 44. Some are as light as a feather while others (like the popular sumo wrestler who never makes it past the first obstacle course) clearly tip the scales at over 200 pounds. Many wear colorful-bordering-on-wacky costumes, from a surfer who totes along her surfboard to a female clown in full regalia.

The following clip, for example, shows a golfer and a skateboarder competing in their work clothes:



The most eye-catching for me, though is Blue Bikini Girl, who sports a thong bikini with knee-high boots ensemble, but always crashes in the first or second phase of the course - lucky for her she's dressed appropriately for her splash in the waters below her. Yes, failure means getting wet, as the point is to stay high and dry.


Splash-down, NINJA WARRIOR style

It's a tough contest, proven by the fact that only one woman has ever won it - and she made it a three-peat at that. That would be phenomenal pink-haired pixie Ayako Miyake, all of 5 foot 2 and 90 pounds, who won the tournament three times in a row, despite adjustments made after each tournament to up the difficulty factor.


Ayako Miyake is ichiban!

You can watch her first triumph here: Ayako Miyake Becomes First Ninja Warrior Winner

And you can watch her third triumph (achieved at the ripe old age of 30) here: Ayako Miyake Threepeat

G-Whiz!

Her day-job with Japan's G-Rockets - an acrobatic dance company formed in 1995 and comprised of gymnasts who express traditional Japanese customs of the Edo era in their own original style - certainly helped her get through Kunoichi's demanding obstacles.


G-Rockets Acrobat Dance Company

But Ayako-chan really stands out because this tiny Tinkerbell dancer achieves so much with such a frail frame. In the words of one chat room fan, "She's like a video game super heroine come to life." Of course, she also stands out thanks to her day-glo locks. She's given each title run a different hair coloring - she was blonde for her first title, pink for her second, and pink-with-blonde highlights for her third-time's-the-charm threepeat.

In a word, she's friggin' hot - and, yes, I think I love her.


No time for losers, for she are the champions of the world!


Ayako does her Justin Timberlake impression


The 3-time champ's on a roll


Ichiban Redux


The Queen of Ninja Warrior


Ayako charms even the wild beasts


Resting on her laurels?

A Star Is Born

Her athletic/dancing achievements have made her somewhat of a celebrity in Japan, where she has her own blog now: www.ranahouse.com/miyake

The site is in Japanese (natch!), but thanks to the wonderful blog YODC (Your Opinion Doesn't Count), here's a rare English post from Ayako:
Thank you for many messages from America!
I appear in Japanese Shibuya for the show of "Muscle Musical", now.
Come to see it for an opportunity to come to Japan if to be!
It is looking forward to meeting everyone.
Then, I do the show of the musical MATSURI which is the same as Japan in Las Vegas in Sahara.
Come by all means to see it,too. I do my best in the vigor fullness today, too!

What you said, Ayako-san!

Keeping it Real (Polite)

It's kind of a misnomer to call Women of Ninja Warrior a "reality TV" show, because there's hardly any backstory or analysis of the contestants' personalities. Instead, an announcer asks a quick question after each failure or triumph and the Japanese women answer with a bland politeness that would be irritating if it wasn't so ingrained as a cultural characteristic. There's no boasting or emotional loss of face on display here, as the Japanese are so excruciatingly polite they could all work for the diplomatic corps.

And, unlike American TV shows where it's always about the Benjamins, no one ever mentions what the winner wins in terms of monetary compensation. I guess it's considered too vulgar to tarnish the honor of athletic achievement by associating it with filthy lucre. I had to surf the Net to find out that besides being named "Queen of Ninja Warrior," Ayako Miyake won two million yen (about $20,000) for each of her titles.

Related Links:
Kunoichi TV series (Wikipedia)
Women of Ninja Warrior: Obstacles and Awesomeness (AfterEllen.com)
Women of Ninja Warrior (Girls with Guns.com)
The Queen of Ninja Warrior (YODC: "Your Opinion Doesn't Count" blog)
G-Rockets Website (www.g-rockets.jp/index.html)

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13 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Call me sexist, but I can't dig watching the guys compete." Not sexist - how about just relentlessly heterosexual? For the rest of us ricehounds (female AND gay) there's nowhere else in popular culture you can see good looking Asian guys in this kind of quantity AND quantity.

7:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The comment above sounds like either a dyke or a feminist. Personally, I like watching both the men and women of Ninja Warrior. Men and women are not equal and its ignorant to think so. But it has nothing to do with men being better than women. They are both made differently and must run different courses. Its all exciting to me.

4:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"yuko yoshida"

Does anyone remember this girl winning the first round one year? They referred to her as a double dutch rope champion or something.

Any info on her?

7:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're not sexist...just insecure. Many guys watch guys compete in football, basketball, etc. How is Ninja Warrior different?

1:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love ninja worrior & ayako miyake is the best!

7:38 PM  
Blogger Hp_holics_girlz said...

MmH...
I Love Ayako Miyake So much...


Also Makoto Nagano Too...

8:22 AM  
Blogger DivineLeeloo said...

Ahhh, this is freaking COOL! I only knew about the guy version but I hope they show the female version to on G4. That would be AWESOME!

5:24 PM  
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

The show is kick@ss! Ayako Miyake rocks! Most of the contestants have dedicated exercise regimens and take the competition very seriously.

4:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yuko yoshida was pretty hot

11:25 PM  
Anonymous Cierra said...

I had no clue there was a cash prize for winning Ninja Warrior, I honestly though it was just for "honor" or "bragging right".

2:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yuko Yoshida looked sexy in episode 6. She wore a knotted shirt that showed some of her belly. I'll always remember that.

10:06 PM  

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