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2019 FOUR PILLARS BIO: CHAPTERS 10-17, PART FIVE [KYOHEI WADA, FAN ENGAGEMENT, MISAWA & FUCHI IN AMERICA]

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2019 FOUR PILLARS BIO: CHAPTERS 10-17, PART FIVE

Finally, KinchStalker has come back...to his history thread.

I was fairly satisfied with how the last batch of posts came out, for which I held off until I transcribed roughly a hundred pages. The wait on your end was longer, but the posts were more cohesive for it. I’ve decided to stick to that approach: recapping this book in eighths, essentially. The only drawback, besides time, is that this method leaves me with a ton of material to process. More posts covering this range of the book will come very soon, but I need a little more time.

Part Three of this book spans roughly 250 pages across seven chapters. If the photographs throughout are any indication, the range of time it covers starts in 1993 and ends in the spring of 1995, with the 1995 Champion Carnival and the Weekly Pro Wrestling Tokyo Dome show – the culmination of the publication’s influence upon the puroresu landscape.

WADA

728984423_nobuokawasaki.jpg.67d96772c3ef5cfd64c5065dd96fa04a.jpg2120620266_youngwada.jpg.93113b6ca060caa15536d3fecc248e5d.jpg

Above: Short-tenured referee Nobuo Kawasaki [L], whose illness would change the life of a ring crew employee [R].

Kyohei Wada entered the workforce after graduating junior high, hopping across various odd jobs until finding employment with transportation company Towa. This brought him to a part-time job as a member of AJPW’s ring crew, starting in the winter of 1972. It wouldn’t be until 1974 when an opportunity for something more arose.

Nobuo Kawasaki, a Chuo University law graduate who appears to have been the son of the head of Towa (I was suspicious of this, but this is a very obscure story and I combed through what little text his Showa Puroresu minibio had with RomajiDesu as well as DeepL to check that this term was being correctly translated), had debuted as a referee in August 1973. However, he was struck by illness a little over a year later and never returned.. It must have been after this that Baba noticed Wada, who displayed his agility and grace of movement as he danced to the radio while performing his duties. Wada accepted Baba’s offer, and was trained by AJPW head referee Joe Higuchi and wrestler Masio Koma. Trainee Kazuharu Sonoda, who had joined the company in July and would debut in January, filled in as undercard referee until Wada’s debut for the year-end NWA World Champion Series tour.

Early AJPW continued the JWA’s practice of hiring foreign referees alongside natives. This began with Japanese-American referee Wally Tsutsumi of 50th State Big Time Wrestling, who had received the opportunity to visit the country of his parents’ birth after having refereed Giant Baba’s September 1972 Honolulu match against the Sheik. Ken Farber, George McCreary, Richard Moody, Danny Pleches, and Jimmy Tanaka all worked for All Japan in this capacity before the promotion acquired the services of ex-JWA referee Gerry Murdock. Starting with the 1973 Black Power Series, the first AJPW tour after the JWA’s closure, Murdock worked for them full-time. 

For the first 18 months of his career, Wada was below both Higuchi and Murdock. However, after the first date of the 1976 Summer Action Series, a stomach ulcer ended Murdock’s career, at least in Japan. [2022.06.27: I now know that this was a cover story, and that Murdock had been fired. I have been unable to uncover why, though.] The Great Kojika and Akihisa Takachiho filled in for a few matches, but Kazuharu Sonoda eventually filled in as a third referee for the rest of the year. I do not know whether Sonoda or Wada was above the other in this hierarchy; Sonoda had technically been hired first by AJPW proper, but Wada was two years older and had worked with the company longer. In any case, All Japan would finally settle on the two-referee system of Higuchi and Wada as 1977 began. The 1980 hire of Kisimasa Sakurai would put somebody underneath Wada at last, but he only lasted one year in the business, and with the in-ring retirement and subsequent shift of Mr. Hayashi in 1982, Wada would once again languish in a #3 spot.

Wada considers Higuchi to have been his greatest teacher, although in an excerpt from his autobiography, Wada admits that he was slow to appreciate Higuchi’s approach. He thought it strange that Higuchi was “almost motionless” when the wrestlers he was working with were both standing. However, Wada eventually realized that this was deliberate; when wrestlers were engaged in matwork, Higuchi moved to and fro as he engaged the audience with big gestures.

Still, Wada’s work embodied a generational reaction to Higuchi. The most memorable incident of Wada’s career before his promotion to co-lead referee is a great display of how. At some point in the early 80s, Wada was refereeing a match with Rocky Hata. Hata lost his temper and attempted to throw Wada out of the ring, as foreign talent had done to Higuchi so many, many, many times…only for Wada to recover by performing a tiger feint (better known to Western readers as a 619).

With Hayashi’s transfer to AJW in 1986, and Tiger Hattori’s return to NJPW alongside most of JPW, AJPW had three referees by the start of the Jumbo/Tenryu feud: Higuchi, Wada, and Akihiko Fukuda, who had debuted on March 31. That summer, Baba decided to promote Wada to a co-head referee position for native vs native matches; Ichise doesn’t frame it this way, but I wonder if he was influenced by Tiger Hattori’s work in the AJPW vs JPW matches of the previous two years, which his refereeing had served better than Higuchi’s ever could have. Wada notes that he and Tenryu hit it off over their similar philosophies on wrestling. However, in keeping with Tenryu’s attempts to not harm AJPW’s business in his departure to SWS, he did not attempt to invite Wada to join him, instead taking 1988 debutant Hiroyuki Unno.

When the Chosedaigun/Tsurutagun feud took shape, Wada claims that Higuchi himself handed that off to Kyohei because he himself couldn’t work those matches.

With this setup, the book goes into an interesting digression about the six-man tags of the time, and Wada’s role in helping them. With the addition of Yoshinari Ogawa to Tsurutagun in February 1991, the factions now each had four members. However, the possible configurations were limited by the need for Misawa and Tsuruta to work every one of these tags for customer satisfaction. On top of this, Wada had to pay attention to the crowds of provincial shows, as big fans from the Tokyo and Osaka markets would often travel to b-shows. He recalls times when he would recognize fifty faces from the previous show, and advise the main-eventers to mix things up for that night’s tag, often by doing the opposite of what they’d done the night before. Mind you, all of this had to be done without breaking from the foundation of the house style.

There were unwritten rules to these matches that followed Baba’s ideals, and these were a clear manifestation of what we would come to know as oudou/King’s Road, even if that marketing term still hadn’t come about yet. These ranged from the general pacing of these matches – hot start, cooloff in the middle, hot finish – to Baba’s strong preference for variation and escalation rather than repetition in the layout of high spots. If a move only got a 2-count earlier in the match, Baba did not believe that it should be used for the finish, or even really a false finish. Ichise credits this feedback, relayed to the wrestlers by Wada, with inspiring them to develop broader movesets, specifically citing Misawa’s myriad elbow strike variants as an examples. Finally, as you might expect, by this point the preference for pinfalls was well-established in company philosophy, with the “2.9 count” emerging as a staple of these matches. Wada was essentially the conductor of these moments, which demanded that he count “as if he were dancing”. The nearfall would become such a staple of the “slippery-slope matches” in years to come that Shitenno puroresu eventually garnered the nickname “2.9 puroresu”. But even in 1991, Wada recalls being concerned that the finish of the September 4, 1991 AJPW World Tag Team title match, in which Misawa made Tsuruta submit with the facelock he had debuted against Fuchi in May, would disappoint the crowd.

 

FAN ENGAGEMENT

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Above: Multiple screenshots of a camcorder recording of a “symposium” with Misawa on November 8, 1991. These talk events were one way in which AJPW catered to their new breed of fan.

 As covered in the previous major post, 1991 was the year when AJPW began to cater to a peripheral demographic who engaged with their product through the prism of idol culture, most notably reviving the Champion Carnival tournament to give their new favorite wrestlers opportunities to work in a singles context. Chapter 14 partially covers side events tied into this marketing approach. These ranged from photo-ops and meet-and-greets (such as one held on Hinamatsuri) to talk events called “symposiums”. Photo-ops became a perk of joining All Japan’s fan club; members who arrived at shows early had a brief window of time where they could be escorted into the locker room by Ryu Nakata, who would snap a photo of them with whoever they requested. In mid-June, AJPW embarked on the costliest bit of fan engagement yet: a six-day, four-night tour of Hawaii with Misawa. Twenty-six lucky gals got to go on this trip, on which Ichise tagged along as a reporter and photographer. He recalls the sobbing in the lobby of Honolulu International Airport as these fans said goodbye to Misawa, at which Misawa “seemed confused”.

A TRIP TO AMERICA

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Above: photographs taken by the author during a September 1991 scouting trip of the United States with Misawa and Fuchi.

From September 12-24, 1991, Misawa and Fuchi were in the United States for a scouting trip. Ichise accompanied them as a reporter-photographer. After starting in Dallas, the group would visit Tampa, Memphis, Philadelphia, and New York City. They happened to have left on the same day of Chris von Erich’s suicide, and when they received the news from Japan they rushed to the memorial event, held about 100km from Dallas. The above left photo, with Misawa and Fuchi alongside Fritz and Kevin von Erich, Doris Adkisson, and Richard Slinger, might be the first photographed interaction between the von Erichs and AJPW talent since WCCW’s transfer to NJPW in 1985. During their time in Memphis, Fuchi insisted that they stop at Graceland, which Misawa indulged dutifully. Ichise goes into a digression about how, while he tagged along with Misawa on many a karaoke night during his time reporting for AJPW,[1] they never sang Western music.[2]

 

Spoiler

[1] There’s a lot of real estate in this book about Ichise’s memories of working as a Weekly Pro reporter for All Japan, and while I have touched on the paper and its influence on AJPW, I’ve kept a lot of that stuff out of my recaps as it’s hard to fit in naturally. But while you might have already surmised this due to Ichise’s influence as a creative consultant, I must state somewhere that Ichise’s job was literally to accompany the promotion he covered on their day-to-day touring. It was clearly demanding.

[2] During one of the “symposium” events, Misawa was asked what he liked to sing at karaoke, and that he responded that he only sang when he was drunk, and that it was “stuff like Yui Asaka”. However, Ichise notes that “it is now well-known” that Misawa’s songs of choice were anime themes. I must ask: is this book implying that Misawa lied that he liked to sing this because he wanted to make those girls swoon? Would the truth have been more embarrassing? (Most importantly, is that the real-world song that “x3 SHINE” from Yakuza 0 was an homage to?)

 

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784601536_ichinosewithmisawaandfuchi.thumb.jpg.7993951e84ce9bdce0f06a5c59325f42.jpgBumping this thread to share just one photo from the book itself. It's from near the very end, so I had not debound and scanned its page when I made this post, but it dates from the US tour covered here. Here is Ichinose himself with Misawa and Fuchi in the Big Apple.

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