Interview with Competitive Eater Takeru Kobayashi

Justin with Kobayashi and Friend of JET Sarah Goebel. (Emiko Watanabe)

By JQ magazine’s Justin Tedaldi (CIR Kobe-shi, 2001-02) for Examiner.com. Visit his NY Japanese Culture page here to subscribe for free alerts on newly published stories.

Takeru “The Tsunami” Kobayashi is a three-time Guinness World Record holder for competitive eating. He burst on the American scene in 2001 at Coney Island’s annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest by downing 50 dogs in 12 minutes, doubling the previous record. Kobayashi went on to win the contest six consecutive times while shattering other gastronomic records around the world.

After a shocking arrest and subsequent dismissal of charges in July at this year’s Nathan’s event, Kobayashi returned to the stage last night at the Japan Arts Matsuri in Brooklyn for another challenge: to become the world’s fastest 12-inch pizza eater. While he fell less than 20 seconds short of the 1:45 record (saying afterward that the pie was softer than he anticipated), there was no doubt among the crowd that the champ will give it another try in the near future. Hours before taking the stage, I spoke with Kobayashi through his interpreter Emiko Watanabe for this rare English language interview.

What kind of training does one have to do to be the world’s fastest pizza eater?

I had to practice how to use a knife and fork, because I have to use it for this challenge. That was the main thing.

That’s interesting. Most people don’t use a knife and fork to eat a pizza.

It would be much easier if I was allowed to use my hands instead. So it’s going to be a little harder.

What’s your favorite kind of pizza?

Pizza Margherita.

How are things after July 4th? Do you find that you’re more popular and recognized in New York from people on the street?

[laughs] I think so; I feel that I’m more recognized than before. I was famous before as a six-time champion [at the Nathan’s contest], but after Independence Day this year, people think I’m more interesting and have humor, so people notice me a lot more than before.

Where do you live in New York?

Manhattan.

Many celebrities in America are known for their talent, but personality is also important. Are you making more efforts to do things like learn English to become a bigger celebrity here?

I started going to an English school last month.

What kinds of things do your fans ask when they recognize you?

They don’t really ask anything, but they do ask to take a picture with me.

Any memorable encounters?

I met this fan who didn’t recognize me at first. She was an African American lady, and when she first spoke to me, she just thought I was a cool or cute Japanese guy. We talked, but then she recognized who I was, saying, “Oh my God! Oh my God!” It turns out that she was scrapbooking all of my articles from Independence Day, and the reason she did that is because she thought I was cute. When she realized that I was the same person, she went out of control screaming.

Click here to read the rest of the interview.