It's Independence Day, which means fireworks, flags, parades and grown men and women inhaling as many hot dogs as possible in 10 minutes. Thewill pit defending champ Joey Chestnut, aiming for his 10th title, against Matt Stonie, who won the event in 2015. But yet again, there will be no Takeru Kobayashi on the stage.
For the eighth straight year, the eccentric Japanese competitive eater and six-time Nathan's champ known as "The Tsunami" won't challenge Chestnut -- though he will be in New York, where he has lived for the last seven years. Kobayashi, 39, remains in a contract dispute with Major League Eating and hasn't competed at the Coney Island event since 2009.
Kobayashi, in an exclusive interview with Bleacher Report, said he won't even watch Tuesday's event, and also explained his beef with MLE, why he blocked Chestnut on Twitter and competitive eating's image problem. More important, he answered the confounding, timeless question of whether a hot dog is a sandwich.
Here are some excerpts from his Bleacher Report interview.
On whether he ever communicates with Chestnut
No, because I don't have his phone number or email address. About four years ago, I was working with a hot dog company, and the CEO [said] something to Joey Chestnut and Joey Chestnut got angry and he said something back about me on Twitter, so I blocked him. [Laughs.]
I didn't want to talk with him that way. People may think, "Competitive eaters are so childish!"
On why he never liked the USA vs. Japan narrative between him and Chestnut
[I've been] living in New York City almost seven years, and my mentality has changed a lot. Just from being in New York this long and going across America, I realize that in New York, nobody really cares. They are just like, "We're New Yorkers." I feel like that is really the way it should be.
I don't like competing in front of people saying "U-S-A! U-S-A!" to me—I live here!
On how competitive eating can grow as a sport
If we have big sponsors and if they have huge prize money, many great eaters would come. Maybe they should make teams.
On why he stopped working out
I used to work out really hard. But I quit. [Laughs.] I was about 200 pounds. Now I'm 135 pounds. I lost a lot of muscles. I got arthritis from the bars. I actually have jaw arthritis.
On why competitive eating needs a style makeover
I think many people think competitive eating is a really disgusting sport, so people think they look bad normally. But I care about what I'm wearing. I don't want to be someone who is doing something that is considered gross and then also look like a slob.
If we did have a competitive eating league or teams like we talked about, they would need to look good for it to be [marketable]. Look at the Nathan's competition—they look like slobs. Think about basketball, they all wear nice sneakers. Packaging has everything to do with the market.
On whether a hot dog is a sandwich
No! No. You have to have a lot of respect for hot dogs. It's completely different.
First of all, the hot dog is American. Sandwiches are not American. They're different. Second of all, a hot dog is like a pop idol. Hot dogs are cute. It's a pop image—everyone knows what a hot dog is.
There you have it. A hot dog isn't a sandwich -- it's actually a pop star. It's Taylor Swift, not a hoagie. Take it from the guy who knows hot dogs -- and style.