Tokyo Underworld Robert Whiting 1999 reprinted 2012 Constable:London
Last entry in the Blue Sky series and it promises to be fun to write. Also the perfect read with the perfect racy cover for when you take your next flight. Have fond memories of good reads while scarfing down in-flight hospitality: Ivan’s War: Catherine Merridale, Anne Applebaun: Gulag: A History, Tim Weimer: Legacy of Ashes: A History of the CIA, etc.
Well researched social history provides the colour and detail which fits somewhere between serious biography and big picture histories of institutions and government policy. It has the ability to fill-in the colour palette during a slice in time, and the capacity to describe a cultural formation during periods of stasis and/or rapid social change.
Have lesser review ambitions here, since I’m focussing on this guy and showing how he triggered Japans industrial ascendency in the world of electronics, namely in the shape of the television set.
“The Destroyer first gained popularity in Japan when he went there in 1963 as WWA (Worldwide Alliance) Champion and wrestled Rikidozan, the father of pro-wrestling in Japan. To this day, it was the highest TV rating in commercial television in Japan with 70 million people watching the match”. http://www.thedestroyer.com/photos.htm
To capture the real significance of wrestling as a morality play – theatre which enabled the Japanese to cast aside their self-loathing and humiliation post-1945 – we have to go back to 1954 when Rikidozan and his tag partner Kimura meet the truly large, grappling Sharpe Brothers before a crowd of 20,000 in a stadium near Shimbashi Station. Tokyo came to a virtual halt as other crowds gathered in front of small black and white tvs mounted on trucks.<
Ten to fourteen million Japanese watched that match and Rikidozan karate chop the White Devils into submission. Pandemonium ruled as they banzai’d themselves hoarse. Five heart attacks and numerous folk fell out of trees trying to view the action. Twenty four million watched the rematch. Pride was restored to the nation. The Victors, despite all their fouls and filthy tactics, were vanquished by Japanese fighting spirit in a spectacular (and scripted) piece of sweaty theatre.
Folk rushed to buy TVs to watch the Mitsubishi Fightman Hour. Sales rose from 17,000 in 1954 to 4,500,000 in 1959 and it was television wrestling which provided the trigger, and it goes without saying that Rikidozan became a national hero of beyond epic proportions, in addition to becoming fabulously wealthy. And for trivia buffs, Harold Sakata of James Bond’s Oddjob fame came out of this circuit.
But here is the kicker. Riki was actually born in what was to become North Korea DPROK, and for obvious reasons that was a major league state secret which was supported by fake biographies and other memorablia. His Korean love child was an active member of the North Korean Communist Party, and his brother still resided in NK commie land. He was also closely connected to Hisayuki Nachii the Korean gang boss of the Korean Tosei-kai, who kicked ass, took names and replaced the traditional Japanese yakuza as overlords of Tokyo Vice after 1945, commonly referred to as the “water trade”.
In addition to a booze and pill addiction, Riki was a commie sympathiser who offered to cover all costs of bringing the North Korean Olympic Team to the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. And if that was insufficient, he had involvements in secret US-ROK negotiations. Riki died after being knifed in the restroom of the new Latin Quarter Nite Club in 1963.
Now, its a natural fact that no post is complete unless it contains a value-add, usually carried out at the expense of some other site, so here goes.
Christopher Green, contributor to Sino-NK, recently uploaded – Up Close and Personal: Dennis Rodman Hits Pyongyang – where he discusses the Kim’s attachment to US trash culture, and this naturally included reference to The Collision in Korea, a 1995 wrestling event in NK involving young Rick Flair HERE.
Since my attempt to post a polite back story on Rickidozan in the DPROK still remains in Sino-NK’s spam filter, I shall publicly upbraid Mr Green here. The 1995 Collision in Korea had serious precedents. Robert Whiting’s meticulous research points to the fact that Kim Il Sung, the first in the family franchise, was a massive fan of Rikidozan, and had a collection of all of Ricki’s matches. Since I’ve plagiarised liberally from his Tokyo Underworld, lets conclude with a quote:
Kim “….absolutely loved seeing a native North Korean beating the blue-eyed, white-skinned capitalist warmongers senseless”.
So there, Mr Green.