July 4 marked the 237th birthday of the United States of America, a day that is typically celebrated nationwide with beach excursions, barbecues, and fireworks. Japan doesn’t have an equivalent to our 4th of July, as it’s been an independent country since around 660 BCE. (Although the US military occupied mainland Japan from 1945 until 1952 and Okinawa until 1972, the Japanese don’t regard the reversion to their government’s control as “Independence Day.”)
An aspect of the 4th of July that resonates with the Japanese is the fireworks displays. The Japanese LOVE fireworks. The Japanese word for fireworks is hanabi (花火), literally “flower fire.” The summer skies are filled with colorful fireworks displays, with shows typically lasting one or two hours.
There is one Japanese person who is deeply associated with the 4th of July in the States: Takeru Kobayashi. A wildly popular competitive eater and Guinness World Record holder, Kobayashi is best known as the six-time champion of the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest held each Independence Day on Coney Island. He set records during the Nathan’s contests and brought competitive eating to new heights.
Kobayashi stopped participating in the Coney Island institution because he refused to sign a contract with Major League Eating, which limited his appearances to MLE-sanctioned events and wanted a cut of his earnings from endorsements. Banned from Nathan’s, Kobayashi has created his own events in which to participate on July 4.
Yesterday, the Nagano-born, New York-based Kobayashi opposed six other competitive eaters at a hot dog eating contest hosted by the Eventi Hotel. Not surprisingly, he won. He consumed 67 hot dogs in ten minutes, two shy of his personal record – and two fewer than his archrival, Joey Chestnut, in Coney Island. Since Kobayashi’s 69 hot dogs came in at an unsanctioned event in 2011, it is not recognized as the world record, and Chestnut’s achievement yesterday is.
Kobayashi also unveiled his own line of hot dogs yesterday, the Kobi Dog, made from grain-fed cattle. At $19.99 for 24 dogs, they sound a bit pricey, but they’re 100% Kobayashi Approved.