How a Japanese restaurant became a sacred site for professional wrestling
In the culture that surrounds pro wrestling, certain locations, objects, and oddities are adopted into the very fabric of the industry, turning rather unsuspecting things into ingrained parts of wrestling lore. In the Gotanda district of the Shinagawa district of Tokyo is a steakhouse. Just one of thousands of restaurants in the Japanese capital, one need only look at the photos pasted along its exterior to see that it has become a staple of the wrestling subculture.
Ribera Steakhouse has become a place of pilgrimage for fans and wrestlers in recent years, becoming a hotspot for the various historic wrestling venues dotted around Tokyo. So how did a small family business on the corner of Meguro Dori Avenue become an internationally renowned restaurant?
Ribera Steakhouse attracts American wrestlers to Japan
Arguably the biggest American star the Japanese rings have ever seen, Stan Hansen has recalled in interviews how Bruiser Brody first took him to Ribera Steakhouse in the late 1970s. favorite restaurant of many wrestlers for a fairly simple reason. A steak, which an American wrestler could find in virtually any restaurant on the road between shows, was a fairly expensive rarity in Japanese restaurants in those days. So for wrestlers looking for a good serving of red meat while in Tokyo, Ribera was a revelation, offering a familiar steak menu at a great price.
There, touring wrestlers with All Japan and New Japan found an owner who was a big fan of their work. Norikazu Yamaguchi ran the small steakhouse, crammed into the bustling streets of the world’s largest metropolis. A wrestling fan himself, he was more than accommodating to grapplers entering his establishment, offering discounts as well as excellent service. But it was the material gifts the wrestlers left with that propelled the restaurant from a recommended place to eat among those who work in the company to becoming a cult favorite.
The Ribera Steakhouse jacket
Much more than their food, Ribera Steakhouse has become known for the famous satin jackets. With their bull logo embroidered on the chest and back, and available in a multitude of colors, Ribera jackets have quickly become an essential fashion accessory for those who make the trip to Japan. According to the son of the original owner, the first legendary Ribera jacket was given to Bruiser Brody as a gift, thanking him for his patronage. But, as Brody began appearing in magazines and heading to shows in his satin jacket, more wrestlers sought to add one to their own suitcase.
They became even more of a part of the look of marquee pro wrestlers when the Road Warriors paired them with equally colorful Zubaz’s, instantly creating an iconic look that absolutely screams “pro wrestling”. But, a big part of the appeal is the exclusivity of them. The owners never sold a Ribera jacket, only offering them to wrestlers who visited the restaurant, and even then not all got one. For many, owning a Ribera jacket was a status symbol and a mark of approval of their abilities in the ring. If they were good enough to fly over and impress Japan fans, they were good enough for a Ribera jacket.
The Continuing Legacy of Ribera Steakhouse
Ribera Steakhouse has continued to be a dominant presence in wrestling culture since its inception. It draws on nostalgia for wrestling’s peak years, both in Japan and the United States, as well as a love of 1980s fashion trends. Ribera Steakhouse has maintained its traditions of gifting their patent jackets to wrestlers since its creation.
The dawn of social media and the growing interdependence of the wrestling world in the 2000s saw a reinvigorated fandom for steakhouse jackets. Independent wrestlers with their first bookings in Japan made it a point to stop by Ribera, and whenever WWE passed through Japan on their world tours, their big names also received their satin badges of honor. The wonders of social media allowed photos of wrestling’s biggest and most beloved stars posing in their jackets in the restaurant, building the legend of Ribera Steakhouse for all new generations of fans.
The heritage of Ribera Steakhouse and the history with which it is steeped have absorbed the restaurant in its entirety. Walking there today, patrons would not only find the exterior drawing patrons with pictures of wrestling superstars enjoying their time, but also the walls of the cozy restaurant. Photographs, memorabilia, title belts, trophies all surround those who come for a steak dinner, creating an atmosphere immersed in professional wrestling. Although they may have started as a small restaurant in its cramped neighborhood of Tokyo, Ribera Steakhouse has taken on a life of its own, known to many who have never even set foot in Japan, and spoken of in near mythical terms by even more .
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