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KinchStalker

JWA: The Transitional Period

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I’m down to the last forty pages of chapter 9, but as a break and for a stopgap release I thought I could compose an extended post about the post-Rikidōzan transitional period of the JWA. The primary source is a pair of Igapro articles (1, 2) with various sources. TL;DR version is that there were some very shady people at the top of the JWA, and Kokichi Endo was a ruthless man. This is definitely some useful context for my JWA coup post near the beginning of the thread.

JWA: The Transitional Period

The day after Rikidōzan’s death, it was announced at a makeshift wake that his position would be taken over by the council of Toyonobori, who would become the ace in this transitional period, Yoshinosato, Kokichi Endo, and Michiaki Yoshimura. (When referred to as a collective I’ll just call them the council.) This was the decision reached by NTV, sponsor Ken Okubo (of Mitsubishi Electric), Japan Pro-Wrestling Association chairman Yoshio Kodama, and vice chairmen Kazuo Taoka and Hisayuki Machii.

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We have to pause now to talk about the JWA’s connections to the criminal underworld, because I just dropped some *heavy* names. At some point – Haruo Yamaguchi’s 2019 Crowbar Press book Japan: The Rikidōzan Years states that it was after the June 1956 death of Shinsaku Nitta, Rikidōzan’s old sumo patron and initial co-financier of the JWA – Rikidōzan made connections with the aforementioned Kodama, an ultra-right power broker, as well as Liberal Democratic Party vice president Banboku Ōno, who would be named JWA commissioner. Ōno was tied to Nippon Television Network Corporation president and founder Matsutaro Shoriki, as both had worked in the pre-war Ministry of Home Affairs; I presume that this facilitated the connection. Ōno is referred to in Yakuza: Japan's Criminal Underworld as “[one] of Japan’s most Yakuza-tainted politicians”, and in 1963 would make an infamous public address at a reception for Honda-kai godfather Katsuichi Hirata. The Honda-kai was a subgroup of the largest Yakuza organization, the Yamaguchi-gumi, which was then led by the aforementioned Kazuo Taoka. Taoka’s support was necessary for Rikidōzan because he was also head of the dominant Kobe Entertainment Company, and in turn the JWA would become a major revenue source for the Yamaguchi-gumi. Hisayuki Machii was the head of the Tosei-kai Yakuza organization, who was also Taoka’s protégé and one of Rikidōzan’s friends to share his Korean heritage. According to Weekly Pro Wrestling’s 2015 special issue History of Japan Professional Wrestling Case Vol.12, cited in both the Igapro posts this is mainly sourced from and the JWA’s Japanese Wikipedia page, any JWA events held west of Hamamatsu were under Taoka’s influence, Kanto events were Machii’s domain, and events north of Tohoku were the jurisdiction of Kodama’s ally Goichi Okamura.

When Rikidōzan died, many thought that professional wrestling in Japan was over, and that NTV would cancel and Mitsubishi would drop its sponsorship. Alas, beyond its viewership the JWA was too important to the criminal underworld to go down like that.

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Back to the story. While the JWA was in the black, Rikidōzan’s Riki Enterprises was very much not, and changes had to be made. The first move was to fire booker the Great Togo, whose demands for large kickbacks were widely seen as extortive.[1]

He allegedly tried to take over the JWA himself, even booking himself in the main event against Buddy Austin on December 20, and resisted the firing at first by insisting Rikidōzan had been in his debt. The council disagreed, but reluctantly compensated Togo through solatium and wiped their hands of him, and temporarily instated referee Shikina Oki as booker. (Japan: The Rikidōzan Years mentions a rumor that this was in exchange for Togo’s oath never to work in Japanese wrestling again, but if this were the case he would break it in a few years with his early involvement with and failed coup of the IWE.)

In January 1964, Rikidōzan’s widow Keiko Momota, a stewardess he had only married the previous June, was appointed president. However, while this would not become public knowledge until the JWA’s demise, the council then established a separate company with a nearly identical name (日本プロ・レスリング興業株式会社, as opposed to 日本プロレスリング興業株式会社 – essentially “Nihon Pro-Wres” instead of “Nihon Puroresu”). The new company would get the box office and broadcasting rights, while Keiko was stuck with all her husband’s debts. She was only useful to the JWA in that the public appearance of Rikidōzan’s family’s cooperation was vital to continuing the NTV and Mitsubishi contracts, and the council hoped the new company would convince them that they had inherited Rikidōzan.

The book was transferred from Oki to Mr. Moto. This facilitated a shift in how the JWA did business with America. In Rikidōzan’s day, the JWA’s connections to America were facilitated by Honolulu’s Mid-Pacific Promotions (later and better known as Big Time Wrestliing), headed by Al Karasick, and NWA San Francisco, headed by Joe Malcewicz. Rikidōzan would lean more towards the latter as time went on, due to Karasick’s investments (assisted by theatrical company Yoshimoto Kogyo, now an entertainment conglomerate which represents most of Japan’s TV comedians) and schemes to take Japan over himself. [Major correction 2021.09.09: In 1962, however, Rikidozan approached Jules Strongbow for a run with the World Wrestling Association title that the promoter had created upon his departure from the NWA, and used his iron grip on the press to convince the Japanese public that this World Wrestling Association belt was more prestigious than the NWA World Heavyweight title.] In this new era, Mr. Moto would continue this connection with the WWA, to make that the JWA’s new go-between with the American industry.

The first snag against the wishes of the council was the return of Giant Baba from his American excursion. Toyonobori was not fond of Baba, but NTV overruled him on this one. Baba had been managed by Togo in America, but by this time Baba had distanced himself from him in distrust, so Toyonobori couldn’t use that as an excuse.

Soon though, a much bigger problem arose. Bamboku Ōno, who had been hospitalized since January, died of cardiac arrest that May. In February, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department began to spearhead what would be a five-year crackdown on the Yakuza, and while Ōno’s connections to the Yamaguchi-gumi had initially been a buffer between them and the police, now he was gone. The police knew that the JWA brought a lot of money to the org, and they set their sights.

Ōno’s LDP successor Shojiro Kawashima would also take his place as JWA commissioner, but while the two had similar backgrounds and politics he doesn’t seem to have been nearly as deep in the underworld. But Kodama, Taoka, and Machii were still problems, and the JWA’s personnel would be renewed in acquiescence with the pressures of law enforcement. All three men would leave their chairs in early 1965 as their terms expired.

Some crazy shit very nearly went down in response. You know that 1965.02.26 WWA title match between Toyonobori and the Destroyer? Well, what if I told you that 1,300 Tosei-kai members tried to storm the venue in protest of Machii’s resignation? They were met by riot police, but the fear that shots would be fired was a real one, and while nothing states this, the idea that Toyonobori and Destroyer might have gone to a broadway to give the cops as much kayfabe time as possible to get the situation under control cracks me up. Machii would be forced to disband the Tosei-kai that year, but its successor, the Toa-kai, is active to this day.

After the Toyonobori/Destroyer match, Keiko Momota stepped down from her position. This marked the beginning of a period where the WWA title essentially became the JWA’s top singles belt, as the NWA International Heavyweight and Asian Heavyweight championships still belonged to the Momotas. The council was no longer tethered to Rikidōzan. It was, alas, a perfect time for the beginning of their end.

Toyonobori had had a gambling problem since before Rikidōzan’s death. In fact, this had led to some financial troubles between the two towards the end, and it was at Kodama and Taoka’s behest that he became involved in the new regime, not because Rikidōzan had pegged him as a potential successor. When he became president he ended up passing his duties onto vice president Yoshinosato, while taking money out of the company vault to fund his addiction. He wasn’t the only sketchy one backstage. The accounting was sloppy; the future Great Kabuki told a story that when he was laid off and received a severance package, but was then kept on by Yoshinosato, the company refused to accept the money back. Kokichi Endo, meanwhile, was taking full advantage of the sloppiness to line his own pockets.

Toyonobori formed his own little squad within the JWA called the Hayabusa Corps, consisting of Takachiho, the Great Kojika, Kantaro Hoshino, and Ushinosuke Hayashi (best known as Mr. Hayashi). The Hayabusa Corps were at the center of a memorable episode pertaining to Endo. A printing company which worked with the JWA (I wonder if this is the same one that later allegedly tipped off Endo to the JWA coup attempt) was to promote a Ventures concert, but then Toyonobori got the rights and entrusted them to the Hayabusa Corps…before Endo intercepted, swiped the rights at the last minute and got the money. For his cunning, Toyonobori sicced the Corps on Endo, who beat the shit out of him and forced him to apologize. [2021.05.18 addition: according to an Igapro article about Tokyo Pro Wrestling, the younger wrestlers were the ones who were supposed to have received the profits from the concert.]

Toyonobori started acting up as WWA champion, refusing to defend the belt in its home territory because, while he could handle a flight to Hawaii, the continental US was just too much. The WWA began using a spare belt, the California State Heavyweight title, in response, and when the Japanese wrestling press reported on this, Toyonobori finally manned up and went to LA for a unification match. The first match saw him go over Luke Graham, but in a rematch, Toyonobori got disqualified and, over (presumably kayfabe) protests, the title changed hands. If the WWA title had remained in Japan, they might have jeopardized their WWA relationship.

After giving it up, the JWA planned to revive the promotion’s old title, but instead of Toyonobori, they chose Baba. Endo and the like didn’t share Toyonobori’s dislike of Baba, and now that Toyonobori was no longer WWA champion they decided to start getting him out of the picture. An embezzlement investigation led to Toyonobori losing favor and becoming isolated.

I can’t find out exactly what the JWA did to get the NWA International Heavyweight title back. The source I’m taking this from doesn’t state if they resolved their dispute with the Momotas, and also implies that they somehow went to the NWA itself (despite what the list of NWA territories Wikipedia page says, it appears that the JWA wasn't actually a full member by this point). Either way, Baba got the belt in November 1965 when he went over the man that Rikidōzan had wanted to bring over to Japan but hadn’t gotten in time: Dick the Bruiser.

The next January, Toyonobori was dismissed. Publicly the reason given was as kidney disease, but it was really his gambling addiction, and the likes of the just-as-dirty Endo turning on him. Vice President Yoshinosato would move up to the presidential chair. Meanwhile, Endo took this opportunity to start cleaning out anything that still bore Rikidōzan’s name, and proceeded to sell the Riki Sports Palace, which Rikidōzan had mortgaged to finance his business Riki Enterprises. It was this issue that led to sales manager Isao Yoshihara, who still believed that a permanent wrestling venue had value to the company, leaving the JWA to then form the IWE. Yoshihara had tried to buy the venue, but Endo sabotaged this by claiming that Yoshihara was going to do this to buy out the JWA itself.

Spoiler

[1] According to Dick Beyer's autobiography Masked Decisions, Togo had ripped Baba off hard when working as his intermediary during his excursion. For the series of Destroyer matches in the Los Angeles territory that gave Baba a massive wave of popularity in Japan,  Beyer got paid $4,500, while Baba got $75.

 

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As always your posts are very fascinating, we cannot thank you enough.

What I would like to know is if there has been information about the shows in Riki Sports Palace. Was it difficult not to run a deficit with those shows? I always thought it might be comparable to a venue like Arena Coliseo, meaning that it was a good way to have placefiller shows and an easy way to get TV footage on a quick notice. So I can totally see the value that Riki Sports Palace could have offered, but at the end of the day the question remains if it just wasn't feasible to have such a venue. Maybe for good reason that approach wasn't used afterwards.

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Igapro has another article about the Riki Sports Palace. It looks like it held weekly events, and became the default venue for televised material.

To directly answer your question, if the shows ran a deficit, then that deficit wasn't helped by the other things the Palace had fingers in. It also featured a bowling alley, a top-class restaurant and coffee shop, a sauna, a bodybuilding gym, and clinics and beauty salons, on top of Rikidozan's personal office and the Riki Enterprises headquarters. The Palace was rented out for boxing but I don't know how much that might have helped.

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