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NOTE: As this is the first post of one of my most-read series, I have grown very frustrated with its low quality, and have begun what is essentially a complete rewrite. Revisions of subsequent posts are a possibility.

Chapter 1 starts with Kawada, before turning into a narrative of his and Misawa’s lives through 1985.

The narrative is set up with a trip to Mengerous K, Kawada’s restaurant, in the present day. He opened it in June 2010. The author’s description makes clear that, even if he might have been the most “functional” of the Pillars in the ring at the twilight of his career, this is a broken-down man even by the standards of professional wrestling. What struck me most is that Kawada’s neck is so stiffened that he must look up to swallow the soup he is eating, in order to keep it out of his windpipe: "You have to be careful not to get it in your windpipe. Some hospitals tell you to lie on your side or face up. Otherwise it won't go down your throat. If something gets into your trachea, it will cause inflammation. The bones in your neck are deformed and narrowed due to various pressures. In a normal person, the bones in the neck bend one by one, but I can't bend like that anymore. I can move my neck forward, but the bones are connected to each other. Most of the discs in my neck and back have been crushed." 

Mention is also made of the injury that occurred during the infamous January 1999 title match against Misawa. Kawada never got corrective surgery because he would have been unable to make the Baba tribute show at the Tokyo Dome that May. Now, an "unnatural burge" can be seen in his forearm, and Kawada says it hurts to stir his soup. Kawada sums up the chronic pains of his retirement life: "If I had another surgery, I might be able to get rid of the pain in my elbow, but there's nothing I can do about it now. I used to support the painful parts of my back and hips with my muscles, but now that I can't train anymore, the muscles are gone."


E1G_rBVVgAIG_Ak.jpg.a62b51c791a42544d3056f2a7ddf245c.jpgToshiaki Kawada was born in Tochigi on December 8, 1963. He had one sister, three years his junior, and the family shared a house with his paternal grandfather. That was when Kawada had his first brush with pro wrestling, and he hated it. You see, AJPW aired on Saturdays at prime time, opposite the popular TBS variety show 8 o'clock Dayo Minna Gassho. But there was only one television, and his grandpa ruled the remote. What Kawada hated about it was what he describes as a "slowness", or "sludge". 

Toshiaki's father died when he was in third grade: while he was removing an AC unit from a building marked for demolition, he was struck by lightning and fell off the roof. He moved out with his mother and sister to live in an apartment. Kawada first thought that he wanted to work as some sort of civil servant. He was an athletic child, though, as he began by running in the local athletic meet and then played baseball in middle school. He participated in a sumo tournament as an assistant and defeated someone there, which led him to receive an invitation to join a high school with a strong sumo program. But by that time, something had changed his view of pro wrestling.


The Idol Showdown was one of the most important matches of the 1970s, and it set Kawada on the path towards pro wrestling.

On August 25, 1977, at Tokyo's Denen Coliseum, Jumbo Tsuruta defended his NWA United National title against Mil Mascaras in the so-called Idol Showdown. While not necessarily everything about the match itself was revolutionary, it was a watershed moment in puroresu, between the culmination of years of lucha promotion in Gong magazine, Mascaras' momentum upon receiving the "Sky High" entrance theme earlier that year, and Kosuke Takeuchi's use of fan club connections to sweeten the crowd with cheer squads for each man. (You can read me cover this match in greater detail on one of the last articles published under Fanbyte's wrestling division.) This was not an immediate Saul-to-Paul moment for Toshiaki, who was then on his mid-year school break. But it was "refreshing and sports-like, without any sludge". His engagement with wrestling would continue to be casual until that December, when the Funks fought Abdullah the Butcher and the Sheik in the Real World Tag League final. It was a match that the young Kawada would have hated, and for that matter, a match that the adult Kawada would have hated, as he himself admitted. But "to his embarrassment", he was struck by it that night. In the following year, he would become a full-fledged wrestling fan, and then aspire to enter the business himself.

Originally, he wanted to start to wrestle at fifteen, although he denies that there was any financial pressure to do so. He worked as a paperboy to purchase training equipment ordered from wrestling magazine advertisements and gained twenty pounds of muscle. By this point, he stood at 178cm (5'10"). In the autumn of 1978, Kawada sent postcards to both AJPW and NJPW, but only received a response from the latter, asking for a photograph and resume. After that was received, he got a tryout at the Noge dojo in autumn 1978. He successfully performed the 500 squats at the start, and after pushups and brigades, he was ordered to spar. He went down on all fours, but managed to beat one of them because he strangled them in a headscissors. Kawada does not specify which NJPW senior he beat. All he says, in an excerpt from his 1995 autobiography, is that the wrestler was still active at the time. The person who broke it up, who he refers to as “someone who is not thought of so often now, but became popular under a mask”, is obviously George Takano, so it wasn’t him. Therefore, there is a not-zero chance that Kawada pulled a Daniel Puder on a young Akira Maeda, but it was possibly an older wrestler. (I believe that Kengo Kimura had a reputation of being particularly poor at sparring, but he would have been overseas at this point.) Anyway, he was promptly trounced by Fujiwara. But Toshiaki passed the exam, and after a subsequent interview in the NJPW Aoyama office with Kotetsu Yamamoto, he was told to come after graduating junior high. Kawada was ultimately swayed by the advice of his school and mother to enter high school. At first, Kawada notes with small regret that had he not been persuaded, he would have been younger than Masakatsu Funaki, who joined NJPW straight out of junior high in 1985. But then, he admits that he does not believe that he would have lasted in the business had he taken that opportunity, because while he already had the physical conditioning to train to wrestle, he could not have endured the hardships of that vocation until he had the experience of living and training at the Ashikaga Institute of Technology high school.


On June 18, 1962, a miner's wife gave birth to her third son. She wanted to name him Hideki, written in kanji which meant "large tree", but she didn't have the pen. The one who did preferred a name he had gotten from a television show, rendered in kanji which meant "clear light". And so, the boy was named Mitsuharu Kotake.

The man of the house was laid off from the Yubari coal mine and the family moved to Saitama before Mitsuharu was even a year old. His father was violent towards his mother and did not favor his youngest son. After their divorce, which saw the sons take Akiko's maiden name of Misawa, she worked in a factory during the day and as a waitress by night. She would remarry a decade later, but by that point Mitsuharu was already in high school, where he lived as a wrestler-in-training. (She took her husband's name, Yamanaka, but her boys did not.) We learn that, by his own account, Misawa was a “spoiled, lonely crybaby” in his early years, albeit one who picked many a fight he couldn’t win in his upper elementary years. His earliest athletic pursuits were in track and field, and he won local high jump competitions in fifth and sixth grade. In junior high, he pivoted into gymnastics, while his social life improved dramatically. In contrast to Kawada, Misawa had already had a feeling that he didn’t want to be a salaryman; in elementary school, he wanted to box. Like Kawada, though, it was in eighth grade that he decided what he would become. That was in 1976. While Misawa would say as a rookie that his favorite wrestler was Jumbo Tsuruta, he denied in a 1990 Weekly Pro interview that Jumbo's accomplishments had been a specific inspiration. (For what it's worth, he also admired Fujinami upon his return from excursion in 1978.) Misawa had immediately felt that wrestling would be "more fun to do than watch"; he wanted to fight "because he was born a man", and also because sports were the only way he saw to make a name for himself. According to Kagehiro Osano, Mitsuharu's favorite manga at this time was the long-ended Tiger MaskMisawa's supposed “first favorite wrestler”, Horst Hoffman, is not mentioned at all. (According to Kensuke Sasaki, the story that Hoffman inspired the color of Misawa’s tights, which Misawa stated here, was a kayfabe story, and Misawa instead adopted the emerald hue at a friend's suggestion.) 

Misawa was first determined to enter wrestling after junior high but was persuaded to join a strong amateur wrestling school by his mother and homeroom teacher. The Ashikaga Institute school was not necessarily his only option. As Misawa himself noted in his autobiography, Ashikaga was just one of the two best-regarded programs in the country. The other was Saitama Sakae, which his future protege Naomichi Marufuji would attend. Despite a total lack of experience in martial arts or wrestling, Misawa was apparently scouted by Ashikaga. As Ichinose brings up, this makes a bit more sense if you know about the culture surrounding Japan's annual National Athletic Meet. This annual Japanese competition, the locations of which are announced three years in advance, is notorious for how local athletic programs accumulate prospects and coaches in order to perform well in meets that their city hosts. In 1980, by which point Misawa would be a senior, it was to be held in Tochigi. Misawa's natural spring and physique, which had been proven in those early local competitions, showed promise.

Ashikaga would be rough on both boys, who entered one year apart.


High school was rough for Kawada. As part of this live-in wrestler-in-training program, Kawada was the junior errand boy for all the upper classmen in the program, and to make matters worse, no new students came in the year after him to knock him up the ladder. He recalls contemplating suicide in one instance. This account paints Misawa and Kawada’s early friendship as a bit more muted than the thick-as-thieves narrative which I think we often take it to be. Kawada was clearly fond of Misawa compared to the other upper classmen, considering him “a small oasis in hell”. However, Misawa valued his private time, and especially valued his ability to sneak out of the dorm, catch a nighttime train to Kasukabe, and climb into the second-floor bedroom window of his girlfriend.

Upon graduation, Kawada went from the top of one hierarchy to the bottom of another. Not until Yoshinari Ogawa joined the company, just a couple months before Kawada’s excursion, did he have anyone below him. On the tour when Kawada debuted, they didn't have his name stamp ready in time, so they had to cut and splice together letters from gaikokujin stamps to form his name. ("To put it crudely, that was the level of expectation people had for Kawada.")

Akio Sato may have abolished the seniority system and allowed the young guys to do high spots, but even he made Kawada pump the brakes. He felt Kawada moved too much in a "self-indulgent" way, so while he still benefited from the reforms, he was forbidden from doing outright flippy moves because Sato said "he wasn't ready". In a 2012 interview, Kawada would express gratitude for this, as he learned a lot from the work he did as a curtainjerker with Mitsuo Momota. (“When I was young, I used to feel that I wanted to show everything I had, but then one day I came to think that I only needed to show one thing. Then, I no longer had the burden of trying to do this or that. I can decide on just one, and it doesn't have to be another. When I started to think like that, I started to understand professional wrestling more and more.”)

There is also mention of the quickly aborted plan to make Kawada a Tiger Mask #2 alongside Misawa. The two trained together in karate before Misawa's debut under the hood.

It was Chavo Guerrero who was impressed enough by Kawada to offer to get him booked for an American excursion. Chapter 1 ends with him booking a flight to the US and meeting with Fuyuki (who had been working in Mexico) before setting off for San Antonio.

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