The kinetic energy is bristling inside the wrestling ring. Inside it are four men. Twomenacing wrestlers, both giants towering at six-feet-tall, stand on one side. Facing themare their two smaller (by wrestling standards) fve-foot-eight opponents. Despite themodest height diference, the Japanese partners are diminutive compared to the Canadian-bornSharpe Brothers, who have reputations marked by their monstrous size and domination of theSan Francisco professional wrestling scene in the 1950s. Still, the intimidation factor does not fazethe Japanese wrestlers, Kimura Masahiko and soon-to-be one of the world’s fnest, Rikid?zan.FALL 2017 | 17Upon seeing the two Canadiansbullying Masahiko (who weighed slightlyless than his partner), Rikid?zan sprang intoaction, serving his monstrous karate chops,chop after chop. He pinned one of theSharpe brothers down, and that was the endof it. On March 6, 1954, after three days ofthree matches against the Sharpe Brothers,Rikid?zan and Kimura Masahiko tookthe World Tag Championship Match title,breaking the Sharpe Brothers’ winning streakthat had lasted for fve consecutive years.This victory, won at KuramaeKokugikan Sumo Hall in a smallneighborhood town of Tokyo, was televisedand watched by 10-14 million pairs ofastonished eyes around Japan, many of whomcongregated in massive crowds surroundingjust a single screen. Just as important is thearena, Kuramae Kokugikan, in which thisvictory took place. The building replaceda former Kokugikan, which had becomeforcefully occupied, then renamed, byAmerican forces after World War II. Nodoubt this reclamation of a symbolic buildingby Rikid?zan helped fuel a powerful narrativefor the wrestler. A win for Rikid?zan, was awin for all of Japan.The mid-1950s marked a new erafor Japanese post-war culture and society.The emergence of television and professionalwrestling in the nation could have not beentimed more perfectly, paving the road forthe emergence of a heroic fgure. EnterRikid?zan, who became a vessel for hisnation’s collective memory and psyche as hekarate chopped his way through post-wardefeat and humiliation. The evil “other,”portrayed by foreign, particularly Americanprofessional wrestlers was hardly seen asstanding a chance against Rikid?zan. Heharnessed a spirit truly redolent of Japanesestrength and pride.Before Rikid?zan was Rikid?zan,he was Kim Sin-Rak. Sin-Rak was born inNorth Korea on November 14, 1924. Hethen moved to Tokyo to begin sumo trainingat the age of 13. Knowing Koreans wereviewed as inferior to Japanese and thusheavily discriminated against, Rikid?zanmade the decision to suppress his Koreanroots. He changed his name to MitsuhiroMomota. However, his given wrestling name,Rikid?zan, which means “rugged mountainroad,” soon prevailed. Many came to believethat Rikid?zan was from Nagasaki, Japan,and perhaps it was this belief that assisted indeepening social regard for him. Despite aforged identity and questionable authenticity,Rikid?zan took the reins of his new identityand made a household name for himself.People may have seen him as the embodimentof ‘the war survivor,’ who rises from the ashesto reclaim honor. Japanese media and societynot only fell for his act but praised him for it.The Hiroshima and Nagasakibombings in 1945 were ruthless to Japan andher people, robbing their spirits and power, tofeed the one-track minded wrath of UnitedStates nuclear annihilation. Japan justifablycarried anti-American sentiment, viewing the”other” as threatening and evil. So, Rikid?zantook on the task of rewriting a segment ofsociety. As a result, he created an empire18 |TWANAS”People may have seen him as theembodiment of the ‘war survivor,’ who risesfrom the ashes to reclaim honor.”where Japanese society could heal and recoverfrom the memories of their painful pasts.Rikid?zan embodied collective emotionaland psychological damage brought on by warand nuclear devastation. When the refereegave the green light, Rikid?zan jumped intoa role for the cameras and television screens,as if “the bloodshed he endured during thematches became a requirement for him tocarry out the function of a suture.”4He wasboth a remedy and vessel of sacrifce, but onlyon his own terms and conditions.In Bodies of Memory, YoshikuniIgarashi opens with an anecdote placingRikid?zan and an unnamed Americanwrestler in a bar both dramatically showingof their viciousness. One wrestler was evenrumored to have taken a hearty chomp outof his drinking glass and swallow the pieceswhole. Impressed by each other’s acts, theyclinked glasses and drank together like oldpals until the sun sat high in the sky. Thoughjust a tall tale, Rikid?zan’s preference towardAmerican lifestyle choices was actually closerto the truth. He was known to have drivenAmerican cars. His house contained roomsmodeled after American living rooms andkitchens.1Evidently, Rikid?zan was infuencedby American style. What is more, not onlywas he believed to be the father of Japaneseprofessional wrestling, but also of Western-style professional wrestling as entertainmentin Japan. He blended the styles together, butthere are those who believe he was moreinfuenced by Western, than Japanese, stylefghting. This fusion must have been seen inboth his fghting methodology and wrestlingorganization, Japanese Wrestling Association(JWA), the frst of its kind in the nation.All of this came after time Rikid?zanspent training in Hawaii, building much ofhis wrestling knowledge from the island cityof Honolulu. His frst professional wrestlingtitle was even won with an American partner.2In 1953, Rikid?zan and Chicago-born BobbyBruns took the crown during the NWAHawaii Tag Team Championship. Did theseclose and rather ironic ties with the UnitedStates place his heroic Japanese image at acompromise?From a perspective heavy withnuclear anxiety and trauma, it might bedesirable to peg Rikid?zan for a hypocriteand slovenly-chosen idol. However, byincorporating American wrestling style intohis own, along with tricks of the trade, thiswould have given him the “home” advantage.By learning the “other” moves, Rikid?zanwould have been able to stay a few stepsahead of his American opponents. Like anygame of strategy, one has to infltrate enemylines. It is less a “breach of duty” than it is astrategic move in itself – a method of gettingunder their skin. It would be dismissive tosimplify Rikid?zan’s motivations and assumethat he chose a hybrid fghting style withoutulterior motives of his own. He simply re-wrote the rules of the game to suit his ownunique playbook.Regardless, his identities do make fora curious mix – the discriminated Korean,the resented American, and the resilientJapanese. Indeed a fascinatingly complexpost-war idol. Still, the sum of these partsallowed Rikid?zan to attain a god-like statusin his adopted country, taking second infame just after the Emperor.3Comparing anathlete-entertainer to the Emperor can onlymean one thing – Rikid?zan was not onlyheld in the high regard, but equally as feared.And justly so, for when his karate chops wereon the menu, the match was already in hishands. This, and fghting under the guise ofa vigilante kept his fans pleased and glued tothe ring.FALL 2017 | 19″When his karate chopswere on the menu, thematch was already in hishands.”Rikid?zan faced his share ofdegradation from his wrestling opponents, buthis ability to bounce back from humiliation toemerge victorious at the end amazed his fans.This was the perfect drama to concoct in frontof his crowds because it replayed the scenes ofa war battle lost to the “other,” but allowed theimagination to visualize the pride that couldbe redeemed. Doing so could have providedmental and emotional resolution in his viewers.If they had felt a vicarious sense of controlwatching Rikid?zan’s matches, then perhapsjustice was rightfully served. Rikid?zan lived forthese fghts, so it was not surprising that he wasunable to step away from the fght that wouldend his life.A few days before the fateful night,Rikid?zan was scheduled to fy out to theUnited States to fght American wrestler LouThesz. Shortly before his trip he was quotedto have said, “I hope to bring the world title toJapan.”5A victory against Thesz on Americansoil could have been the pinnacle of hisprofessional wrestling narrative, providing theultimate closure for post-war memories. Thisdream would never be fulflled. A nightclubencounter with a Sumiyoshi-kai yakuzagangster and his switchblade left Rikid?zanbattling against a diferent enemy – hisown body – when the puncture wound ledto infammation of his abdominal lining.On December 15, 1963, at the age of39, Rikid?zan succumbed to peritonitis (exactly22 years after the bombing of Pearl Harbor).In yet another twist from the man who kepteveryone guessing – Rikid?zan lost his life toanother Japanese man.Rikid?zan’s world was not containedwithin a wrestling ring. His fans believedthe possibilities were endless, and victoriesboundless. Television sets were like an oyster’spearl – radiant, sensational, and full ofpotential. As a result, he gained fans for life.Though the fnal fght of his life was an unfairone – metal against fesh – the legendaryRikid?zan was and still is a glorious hero, whoshook the world with his tectonic chops.