A Brief History of Ninja Warrior

The television series Ninja Warrior has become a global sensation. It’s programming that virtually any family and family member can enjoy, and the series has been going strong for 20 years and has spawned an American version. We get the appeal, and as a matter of fact, our sister location in Rohnert Park, California features a Ninja Warrior course, and the Rebounderz in Grand Rapids has one coming soon!

What Is Ninja Warrior?

Developed in Japan in 1997, the show is known there as Sasuke. It’s filmed in Yokohama at Midoriyama Studios. Every year, a special is aired that runs about 3 hours. Ordinarily, 100 competitors compete with each other to complete a 4 stage obstacle course. The various stages are:

  1. A series of obstacles built over water that are designed to test the participant’s strength, speed, and agility. This stage is timed, and competitors must complete it within 2 minutes and 20 seconds to advance to the next stage. If a competitor fails to meet the time or falls into the water, they are disqualified.
  2. The second stage also tests speed and strength, but this stage has more of an emphasis on upper-body challenges. Competitors go up against challenges like the Salmon Ladder, where they must hold onto a metal bar and use strength to leap up a “ladder” without falling. This stage also is timed.
  3. Stage 3 is progressively more difficult, and the various challenges are mostly based around grip strength and swinging. Unlike the other stages, this stage has no time limit.
  4. Stage 4 is a rope climb that’s 75 feet high. Competitors must get to the top and hit a red buzzer within 30 seconds.


Over the years, hundreds of men and women have attempted to tackle the fiendishly difficult courses. While most of them are Japanese, there have also been competitors from other countries such as China, Bulgaria, Korea, and the United States.

A wide variety of individuals have tried the course, from celebrities, athletes, and regular people that have opted to dress up in unique and bizarre costumes. A few of the more memorable contestants are:

  • Kazuhiko Akiyama has participated 20 times and was able to beat the entire course during the 4th year. Formerly a crab fisherman, Akiyama was forced to retire in 2012 due to a persistent vision problem known as degenerative retinosis.
  • Makoto Nagano has participated 26 times, reached the final course 5 times, and was the second person to beat the entire course during the 17th year. Nagano was a fishing boat captain in the off-season and officially retired in 2016.
  • Toshihiro Takeda was originally a firefighter and became well-known due to his habit of wearing orange firefighter pants while competing. He has participated 26 times so far, and he has reached the third stage more often than any other person.
  • Shingo Yamamoto is the only competitor in the series history to never miss a competition. A gas station manager in the off-season, he always competes wearing an Esso/Mobil shirt and hat.
  • Bunpei Shiratori works in Japan’s Health and Service Department when he isn’t competing. Highly dedicated, he built a functional course in his backyard for training purposes, and despite persistent back and neck pains, continues to train.
  • Katsumi Yamada was a former steelworker, and the show’s producers were so sure he would be the first to complete the course that he gained the nickname “Mr. Sasuke.” He competed 27 times, has retired 3 times, and come out of retirement. He was barred from the show but may return for the 20th anniversary in 2017.

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