Differ Ariake, "The Holy Land of Noah": Looking back on memories and in records

24th November 2017
Hiromi Takagi

(Differ Ariake, "Noah's Holy Land" closes next June. Photo: Shuhei Yokota)
TOKYO, Differ Ariake, once called "The Holy Land of Noah" has decided to close its doors in June 2018. The destruction of the venue that has given rise to numerous memories and matches, has the fans calling their farewell.

Differ Ariake started life in July 1988 as an event facility named "MZA Ariake" which was primarily a disco and a music venue. A forerunner of the boom of the time, it catered to foreign bands and disco performances. It became a symbol of the bubble era in the 1980s and early 1990s, but due to the collapse of the bubble era, it was renamed and became a sports venue in 2000.

"Noah's Holy Land" and All Japan

It was probably the existence of Pro Wrestling Noah (who announced their establishment in June 2000) that welcomed fans into the renovated arena. Noah (where many of the staff and talent) had left All Japan led by Mitsuharu Misawa, set up their offices and dojo here. The inaugural meeting and matches were held here, but ironically it was not Noah who bought the fans that year, it was All Japan on July 1st.

Noah regularly came here after the inauguration, even holding "Pro Wrestling SEM" at Differ. Not exclusively used by Noah, but also by other organisations, recently New Japan recognised the venue for the "Big Pro Wrestling Festival" just before their Tokyo Dome games in April. Besides wrestling MMA, ZST, DEEP, kickboxing and boxing regularly held shows here. Due to the permanent establishment of hanamichi and the former disco space, idol events and movie\TV shooting have also been held here.

The layout of the venue is similar to that found in Tokyo's Shin-kiba 1st RING, the stage is made up of a standing quadruped, the athletes walk down the raised platform. It is characterised by the size of the merchandise hall, the number of women's toilets, and the second floor balcony overlooking the hall.

Next to the venue is the former Noah office and dojo. You go up the stairs where the commemorative photographs of the wrestlers were held at the inaugural meeting in 2000, you go through the office next to the Differ offices, and then to Noah's office. There was once a dojo on this floor where the training equipment and ring was installed.

The "Holy Land of Wrestling", Korakuen Hall, is about five minutes on foot from Suidōbashi Station, and although it may be in the middle of Tokyo, Differ was not always easy to access. The Rinkai line opened in 2001 and the Yurikamome line in 2006, but until then it was simply a question of getting to the venue via public transport (usually the metropolitan bus). It was approximately half an hour on foot from Toyosu Subway and Taiji station, which was the nearest station at the time. There was also no convenience store next to the venue and fans used to eat the speciality "Differ Curry" (500 yen)

When you remember these old memories, you feel sadness.

The Christmas Box office: Misawa vs Kobashi

("Scary Akiyama" in July 2008, Jun Akiyama vs Katsuhiko Nakajima in their first single match)
The memories of Differ Ariake, will always lead to memories of Noah, but I would like to list the five best events of mine.

Number 5: July 5th, 2008.
The first match of the double main event was Jun Akiyama vs Katsuhiko Nakajima in their first singles match. The twenty year old Nakajima kicked "scary face Akiyama" in the face, the match went outside the ring and was fought by the reporters tabke and using a chair.
Unlike at Korakuen Hall (which is easier to prepare for when you need to escape) the reporters sit near the stage so there are several experiences that happen when the brawl comes over. Akiyama, who seemed to have taken on the form of a demon, grabbed home of a computer. We had to watch the tables and chairs that we used being thrown and it was at that moment I felt danger in my reporters life.

Number 4: December 24th, 2004
The Christmas Eve box office. Noah had put considerable effort into fan service at the beginning of the festival, including presents of the beetles kept in the facility, tours around the dojo, flea markets, tours on the Noah bus, rice cakes etc. They regularly held the event utilzing the facilities of Differ, and this was a regular occurance at Christmas. It was very popular as you got to see a different side of your favorite wrestler.
The Halloween entertainment was also held in Differ in October 31st 2000 when the Halloween culture had not become popular yet in Japan and all the wrestlers appeared in cosplay. Akitoshi Saito danced dressed as a pumpkin to WINK'S "Lonely Tropical Fish" and it become customary to have a comedy event every year. During the Christmas event the fans would decide the fight card by participating in a lottery, but the real highlight was when Misawa fought Kobashi in the first match.
This had packed out the Nippon Budokan in the previous year, 1,800 people saw it. So after the match had ended in Differ, a parody of VTR of the cable show "Difa Ariake Sentai No Arranger" was arranged and "the person himself appeared". The muscled men in full body tights gathered at the venue to take on the giant in armor. It was akin to when in the New Year of 1998 when Misawa, Kawada and Kobashi sang and danced to SMAP's "SHAKE".

The new era of Noah
(Kenta Kobashi, who announced renal tumour removal surgery at a press conference held at the Noah offices on June 29th 2006)
Number 3: June 29th 2006
The third was a press conference held on June 29th 2006. On that day there was a SEM tournament in the evening, but a conference was held before that. Kenta Kobashi announced that he would be undergoing surgery to remover a tumor on his kidney. At this time Kobashi and Tamon Honda hd been crowned the GHC Tag Champions.

In the interview he stated, "there is a tumor of 4 to 5 cm in the right kidney, there is a suspicion it might be malignant from the images". The shock was that it was cancer. At that time I was there and reporting on it, but until the press conference was held the media were not told of the contents. I remember the frenzy, it is engraved in my memory.
Happily, Kobashi overcome kidney cancer, and returned at Budokan in 2007 after 546 days. The card at the time was Kobashi & Takayama vs Misawa and Akiyama. When I think of Takayama, is rehabilitating a cervical spine injury, and the resilance of Kobashi who returned to the ring after kidney cancer (although Takayama did collapse with a stroke in August 2004), I do believe he can walk again.

Number 2: Noah's inauguration, August 5th 2000
The second place is Noah's inauguration on August 5th 2000. The event was held in two days, 5th & 6th, but on the first day tickets sold out in twenty minutes after being released. For the unlucky fans who were unable to purchase tickets huge monitors were set up outside the parking lot and free viewing was held.

When I went to the office after 6pm in the evening, there were people standing in line for tickets and Misawa was talking to the fans. At 6pm, during the midsummer daytime, hundreds of people gathered for the live viewing and a high level of expectation for Noah amongst them was growing. In many ways it was a tournament fit for the new era.

25,000 people bidding farewell to Misawa

(Misawa's farewell party where approximately 25,000 people attended, is engraved on the history of Differ Ariake (T. Sakuma)
And the first place is the farewell party for president Mitsuharu Misawa on July 4th 2009. Misawa, the man who founded Noah and the first GHC Heavyweight Champion, never returned home to Differ following an accident during the match in Hiroshima.

When Misawa's teacher, Giant Baba, died on January 1st 1999, the Tokyo Nippon Budokan (which was All Japan's "home ground") a farewell party was held on April 17th of that year. About 26,000 people attended and the line extended to Kitanomary Park which is adjacent to the Budokan. Approximately 25,000 people attended Misawa's farewell party. Differ Ariake's capacity is about a tenth of Budokan, so the queue of fans could not enter the venue and the line extended to the periphery of Toyosu station along the Yurikamome Line. The line never broke.
For the author, who was influenced by All Japan in the 1990s, Misawa is a top wrestler to be respected and he was a truly loved person not obsessed with being a personality. Tales about Misawa are numerous, but is the legendary "Tengu Face Play" which is number one, which was born on May 17th during KENTA's produce show, which was the same year as his death. It is deeply emotional that he, and his depth and range, is engraved within "Noah's Holy Land".

Looking back on things, you can see that Noah is an organisation full of "freedom and belief" when it comes to matches. Now only two wrestlers remain who participated in the inauguration ceremony, Naomichi Marufuji and Yoshinari Ogawa (Takashi Sugiura was a trainee at that time), Ryu Nakata (the president then) died in February 2002 and next year "the Holy Land of Noah" will also be gone. I cannot deny that I feel sadness. The office and the dojo have already been moved and according to the schedule, Noah have not organised further events here. Differ Ariake will be gone soon, but the name will continue to resonate with wrestling fans just as much was the former Renen Coliseum, Kuramae Kokugikan, Miyagi Prefecture Sports, Sapporo Coty Nakajima Sports and Sapporo Tejin Hall will continue to live in memory and in records.

Will a legend be born at the final DifferCup?

However, the venue will not close until next year. On the 28th of this month the DifferCup is reviving for the first time in ten years.  

Link to original article: https://sports.yahoo.co.jp/column/detail/201711220009-spnavi?p=1