(NOAH) The long days of summer are around the corner ~ the stories behind the famous photograph of June 2000.
All of it. The dojo, the dormitory, the kitchen, the offices, the arena, and the guardian angel over the door.
Differ Ariake, "The sacred place of Noah" (and their home for sixteen years) was torn down in 2018 leaving an empty desolate space which is now a place of memories. The vacant lot will now be redeveloped and used for the Tokyo Olympics in 2010.
Although the venue was used for other promotions, rock concerts and Kabuki (ideal because of the raised walkway), to both Noah and their fans, it was Noah's home. It was a good environment as it meant that the offices, the staff, management and the dojo were all together (something which greatly contributed to Noah's "family feeling", which is something that persists to this day, despite the separation of office and training camp), the only inconvenience was for those who were permitted to come and go as they pleased (i.e. staff, graduated dojo wrestlers, senior wrestlers etc and probably for the trainees not yet debuted who were allowed out for an hour or so on a Saturday), was the difficulty in getting to downtown Tokyo and back, as in the early days as transportation there was not the best.
The stairs have gone (as has everything else), and the people have changed, the company has changed, the era has changed, Japan has changed, and the young boys have grown up and some of them have gone away, (for better or worse), but the moment captured in time is an immortal one. It shows a young and hopeful Noah, before everything that was to come, just three months before their first show. There is an air of excitement in the air, which seems to cancel out the uncertainty of the future at that point. Would the August show sell out? If it didn't? What then? Mitsuharu Misawa had already channeled some of his own money into it.
But who are they? What became of them? What are their stories? Why were they here?
Mitsuharu Misawa (Noah's father and founder) dominates the picture standing at the front. Like everyone else he wears long shirt sleeves and tie, but he wears no jacket. His face is calm, and unlike the others in the picture, he does not look at the camera. His thoughts are far away as he stares to the side.
Misawa had walked out of All Japan (taking a total of thirty-six people in total with him, including it was said, a niece of Mr & Mrs Baba), following a series of disputes with Baba's widow over the new direction the company would take in a new century. With most of the superstar wrestlers walking out with Misawa (save the final Four Pillar, Toshiaki Kawada), plus the younger talent, Noah had a bright future, but it wasn't assured yet.
Misawa had to make it work.
He would make it work.
Jun Akiyama stands to Misawa's right. He stands in a fighting stance, fists raised, and a determined look on his face, it's similar to how he looked when he got in the ring. Ready to fight.
Considered to be the fifth member of the "Four Pillars" in All Japan (when all together they were known as "Five Strong"), he had shed his old look, and created a new one for a new era and a new company. From now on he would shed the blue, and wear white.
He was also suffering from autonomic dysfunction which manifested in dizziness and fainting fits. As one of the company seniors now, he was well aware of the fact that he was expected to help lead the new promotion.
Kenta Kobashi, stands to the far left of the picture, his feline features and expressive eyebrows bearing almost a grave look of uncertainty. He wears dark clothing, which make him almost look like a shadow. Despite the fact that he and Misawa were rivals in the ring, they were like brothers in arms outside of it. Like Misawa, Kobashi had known a dysfunctional family life growing up, and both had therefore found in All Japan, the sense of family that had been missing in their early and formative years. Together they would create Noah, in a partnership that would last nine years.
Misawa, five years older than Kobashi, often took the tone of an older brother with him, and Kobashi often found himself on the end of Misawa's ribald sense of humor, but wasn't afraid to prank him back (although usually in a less obscene way).
Older brother & younger brother. Nineteen years of Noah would repeat that during another new era in the history of the promotion.
Mitsuo Momota stood in between Kobashi and Misawa. Out of everyone in the group, he had the most impressive pedigree, being the son of the "Father of Puroresu", Rikidozan, but despite this pedigree he had never risen as high as those who flanked him in the front row. In Noah he would mainly work the opening matches, and behind the scenes, occupy a place on the executive board.
Rusher Kimura stood in the second row behind Kenta Kobashi. Kimura had debuted in 1965, when the promotions founder was only three years old. All ready in failing health by this point, it was kept secret from the public, but Kimura's frail appearance was nonetheless noted.
The third (and final) member of "The Four Pillars" stood next to Kimura. Akira Taue wore a white shirt (with a tie clip) and smiled at the camera. Taue was known for being laid back, and preferring the kitchen to training. This was not going to change in Pro Wrestling Noah, where he was soon to create the "Surf Club" for those who loved fishing.
Yoshihiro Takayama stood next to Akira Taue, with tag partner Takao Omori next to him at the end of the line. Takayama had been signed to All Japan after the death of Giant Baba, but only a few months later had walked out of All Japan, and similar to Jun Akiyama changing his ring wear to symbolize a new beginning, both he and tag partner, Takao Omori ("No Fear"), would dye their hair blonde. Omori, however, had debuted in All Japan in 1995, and teamed with Takayama in 1998.
The third line consisted of Yoshinari Ogawa (habitual scowl as befitted a heel), the less insane than he is in 2019 Tsuyochi Kikuchi, Haruka Eigen and Masao Inoue.
Yoshinari Ogawa had entered All Japan when he was a young teenager (seventeen or eighteen years old in 1985), and formed a close friendship with Mitsuharu Misawa, and at one point held the tag belts with him. From this day onwards, Ogawa was, and would remain, the oracle to the younger guys in Noah who would pass through Noah's dojo system. He would also display a kind heart, which was usually hidden by his dour exterior and nasty in ring character, knowing what it was like to be a teenager locked in a dojo, and only allowed out once a week, he used to invite them out for simple meals.
Tsuyochi Kikuchi had debuted in 1988 for All Japan and resigned in 2000. At this point in his career, he was generally healthy, although concern was starting to build over his mental condition which referee Mighty Inoue would liken to being a punch drunk boxer, which had been caused by too many headbutts.
Haruka Eigen is another one who is looking away from the camera, and probably with good reason. Whereas Misawa's expression is somewhat far away and calm, Eigen's speaks of a secret, and a secret that would almost destroy the company one day, but for now, it was necessary to keep that to himself. A former sumo wrestler (like Akira Taue, Takeshi Rikio, Jun Izumida and Rusher Kimura), he had entered wrestling in 1967, before winding up in All Japan in 1984.
Masao Inoue stands at the end of the line. Given the closeness in age to Takashi Sugiura (Inoue only being two months older) he would debut against him, despite becoming the butt of many of Sugiura's jokes in years to come, and being labelled "a weird old man", the two would grow close, with Sugiura displaying a grudging respect for him (even if he did tell Marufuji that if he thought Inoue was an interesting subject then Marufuji was wrong, Inoue had never been interesting)
In the next row Takeshi Rikio smiles cheerfully behind the glum Ogawa, next to him is Satoru Asako, with Jun Izumida and Kentaro Shiga (who has his eyes shut unfortunately).
Takeshi Rikio was a former sumo wrestler, who joined All Japan in the closing days of the Baba era in 1999. Although leaving sumo, his rank (Sekitori) remained, and he was chauffeured too and from the All Japan dojo. At the dojo his body weight meant that he couldn't do push ups, and so ropes were tied round him, and he was hauled up and down. It is a far more trim Rikio (or "Riki-san") as he was known in Noah, standing on the steps that day.
Satoru Asako had come from New Japan to All Japan in 1990, and during his time there had joined the "Super Generation Army" when Misawa led others to rebel against his seniors (another thing that Noah would experience in years to come).
Despite the smiles, the bumbling, and the comedy wrestling, Jun Izumida was not often an easy man to get along with, as he had a streak of bitterness in him, which would manifest over the years. Jumbo Tsuruta had told him during the All Japan years after a lament that he wasn't as successful in his career as he thought he should be, that "all lives are different, and so is wrestling". For now Izumida was looking to the future, and a new start in Noah, but he was harboring a secret that he would turn disastrously loose one day.
Kentaro Shiga was Giant Baba's favorite second, and had served in that capacity for an unusually long time of the five years until the end of Baba's life. Baba liked his personality, and probably his tall thin frame, which reminded him of his own, and like Baba, he was not able to gain weight. He had also been the strict head of the dormitory at the All Japan dojo, and wasn't above rationing meals (he himself didn't eat much and wondered why others did), and running his fingers across surfaces to see if they had been cleaned.
The final three rows are a unruly hodgepodge of younger wrestlers and vets crammed together; Tamon Honda is giggling, Naomichi Marufuji is smiling, Takeshi Morishima looks slightly blank as he towers over everyone else, while Yoshinobu Kanemaru looks just as happy as the other three in the row.
Tamon Honda came from a sporting family, and was an all round athlete. He had what we would term as a "soccer dad" who told his son that one way or another, he was going to make him a wrestler, either he did sumo or he did puroresu. Honda opted for puro, making his debut in October 1993. Like Takashi Sugiura (who he was training at the time), he had been in the Japan Defense Force, and made his debut when he was in his 30s.
Naomichi Marufuji had grown up watching wrestling, and entered the dojo at High School before an introduction was arranged with All Japan, where he had debuted in August 1998 at the age of eighteen. He was the last wrestler to ever be trained by Giant Baba. Unlike Takashi Sugiura, who Misawa had approached when he was rallying support for the mass All Japan exodus, Marufuji had not been consulted, his teacher, Misawa, knowing that his all but adopted son (whom he affectionately called "Fujimaru"), would follow him.
Takeshi Morishima's background was in judo, and he had grown up in a fractured distant family (who had roots in fishing), and then the closed world of high school dojo, where legendary feats of his judo prowess abounded (it was said that he even threw someone through a table). His introduction to All Japan was the same as Naomichi Marufuji's, Misawa had an acquaintance in the judo club, who arranged for Morishima's entry. Hampered by his size and his increasing weight, Morishima was learning to use it to his advantage.
Yoshinobu Kanemaru's background was in high school baseball, which he played to a high level. He entered All Japan after coming to Jumbo Tsuruta's attention, and took to heart Giant Baba's advice to "do what you can with a small body".
The second to top row consists of Masahito Kakihara (who looks almost obscured), Daisuke Ikeda and Makoto Hashi.
Masahito Kakihara was a shoot fighter at heart, although by 2000 he had been wrestling since 1998 in All Japan. He had a poor relationship with the somewhat temperamental Takao Omori, which ultimately (but for different reasons), see both of them leave Noah.
Daisuke Ikeda had been wrestling since the early to mid 90s, and came to All Japan in 1998, where just a year and a half later, he walked out with Misawa to Noah.
Makoto Hashi had done judo in High School, but unlike many of his contemporaries in the All Japan dojo, he had experienced life outside of wrestling, working a 9 -5 job in construction before applying for and entering the dojo. His relationship with his trainer, Jun Akiyama, was different from that of the paternal affection that existed between KENTA and Kenta Kobashi, and Marufuji and Misawa, as there was only eight years between them, which made them more like brothers. Hashi had debuted in March 1998.
The top row is a teenage KENTA (18 years old), Takashi Sugiura (about 33 and not yet debuted) and wrestler turned referee, Mighty Inoue.
Kenta Kobayashi (as he was then), entered the All Japan dojo in 1999. He never knew Giant Baba, but remained fascinated with him. Known as "little Kenta" in the dojo (as his name was too similar to his teacher, Kenta Kobashi), he debuted in May 2000 only a few weeks before Misawa walked out, Kobashi with him, and KENTA following his teacher. He was about eighteen or nineteen at the time.
Takashi Sugiura debuted for Noah in December 2000. Unlike the others who had entered during their teens, he had entered in his thirties. His background was in amateur wrestling, and he was\and would remain, close to Naomichi Marufuji, the pair of them first meeting (but never speaking) at a training camp shared jointly by Marufuji's High School wrestling, and the SDF, which Sugiura was part of.
Marufuji, who was terrified of him, called him "that scary guy".
Mighty Inoue was an All Japan veteran, who had started his career in 1967 and finished it in 1998. Misawa, always sensitive to the plight of old veterans (many of whom had ended up penniless in their later years, which was something he could never stand to see, feeling quite rightly that they should be provided for after the abuse they had put their bodies through for a career), took him on as a referee when he walked out to Noah, and made sure he was taken care of as there were problems with his pension being paid.
So, eighteen or nineteen years later when the bulldozers moved in, what became of the Noah roster on the stairs on that June day?
~ Jun Akiyama walked out of Noah in 2012 over the protest of the firing of Kenta Kobashi. He later became the President (ironically) of All Japan. The rift with Noah was not healed until April 2018, and the two promotions have remained on friendly terms ever since.
~ Kenta Kobashi walked out of Noah in 2012 when he was fired due to continuing injuries (a neck injury, plus a pelvis that cracked in two places at a time when Noah could ill afford it), but later patched it up. In 2019 he works as a guest commentator for various promotions (including Noah), a fitness trainer (including owning a gym), a promoter (Fortune Dream), and a motivational speaker regarding his overcoming cancer. Now a proud dad to a young daughter (who he said about is his most difficult opponent and it was easier subduing Stan Hansen), he says he wants to remain young at heart, no matter how old he and his daughter get, and hearing his daughter laugh means more to him than any titles.
~ Mitsuo Momota left Noah in 2009 in the shake up after Misawa's death, and is still wrestling. Now in his early seventies, the old man has no plans to retire, and doesn't even want to hear the word "retire". He appeared in Noah in 2018 at Naomichi Marufuji's "Flight", where he was scared by Mohammed Yone's "Disco Fever" pose. He showed he was still capable of making withering remarks to Kikuchi.
~ Rusher Kimura retired in July 2004, and passed away in May 2010 following a stroke and complications from pneumonia. He was 68.
~ Yoshihiro Takayama was paralyzed in an in ring accident in May 2017 when he attempted a sunset flip. Takayama fought it as he fought childhood asthma and later a stroke, by teaching himself to paint using his mouth. The wrestling promotions of Japan, and fans worldwide, have contributed to his care, and Takayama himself promotes his own shows which crowdfund to provide for his care, "TAKAYAMANIA".
~ Takao Omori's erratic behavior got him expelled from Noah after he stopped a match with Shinya Hashimoto in 2000. Misawa was furious, and Omori didn't appear again in Noah until Naomichi Marufuji's "Flight" in September 2018.
~ Yoshinari Ogawa is still with Noah, and continues his mentoring role (although he stepped down from the executive board in 2009). The most respected and revered man backstage, he holds classes in technique for the roster, and is currently one half of the GHC Junior Tag Team champions. In his early 50s he is still more than capable of going head to head with the younger guys. He says he has no plans to retire.
~ Tsuyochi Kikuchi left Noah in 2010 and became a freelancer. His mental condition deteriorated, and his behavior has become at times bizarre, Mohammed Yone had no idea what Kikuchi thought disco was, and he turned up at a Noah show recently in a bright pink curly afro wig...
~ Haruka Eigen was revealed to be part of the ticket scandal that almost destroyed Noah in 2012, when it was revealed they had links to organized crime when their promotion, tickets, and attendances had arranged by gangsters. He was demoted to a general employee, losing his position as GHC commissioner, but remained with the promotion. He died in 2017 of a heart attack.
~ Masao Inoue remains with Noah, albeit on a freelance basis, but for the past three or four years hasn't worked really anywhere else. He remains the butt of Takashi Sugiura's jokes, camera and rude jokes.
~ Takeshi Rikio (a former GHC Heavyweight Champion) retired in 2011 due to neck injuries and liver enzymes (caused by his former career as a sumo), and now runs his own restaurant. His last contact with Noah was at "Flight" in 2018, when afterwards he went out for a meal with the unstable Takeshi Morishima.
~ Satoru Asako retired in 2002, he remained as a trainer until 2017, when he retired to open an osteopathic clinic which still caters to Noah wrestling.
~ Jun Izumida's bitterness eventually overtook him, leading to his dismissal from Noah as his behavior had become intolerable. He wrote a tell all book, containing vicious assessments, complaints and telling stories about his former employers. He also wrote of just who and what Noah were involved with to sell their tickets, and then the lid blew off, and the damage was done. Izumida died alone in January 2017, never marrying and having no one he lived with, his body lay there for six days until it was discovered. It was also revealed that he had been the victim of fraud, which as thought to have hastened his heart problems. He is not spoken of or remembered by Noah, whilst both Ryu Nakata and Haruka Eigen, are.
~ Kentaro Shiga retired from wrestling in about 2011, and vanished. No one knows what he does now. Naomichi Marufuji did think that he would come to the Giant Baba memorial show in early 2019, but sadly Shiga did not.
~ Tamon Honda left Noah in 2010, and has not appeared much in Noah over the past years. Despite how bad his knees are, he refuses to retire, and now runs his own wrestling school while continuing to make appearances on the indies.
~ Naomichi Marufuji is still with Noah, and has devoted his life to its survival. Despite injuries, and a body which is older than he thought, both he and Takashi Sugiura have sworn not to retire until Noah is safely back as it was during "The Golden Era".
~ Yoshinobu Kanemaru walked out of Noah in 2012, he returned in 2016 and became part of The Suzuki Army. He was one of the few who did not appear at "Flight" (probably due to his New Japan associations). Kanemaru's life has been overshadowed by less than honorable tactics to get bookings, and heavy drinking.
~ Masahito Kakihara left Noah almost as soon as he had joined it, when he and Takao Omori had a personal spat at Noah's first show, and he accused Omori of working stiff\shooting on him. Kakihara retired in 2016 due to spinal injuries.
~ Daisuke Ikeda left Noah in December 2004, and now runs his own promotion.
~ Makoto Hashi retired in 2012 due to neck injuries, and trained as a physiotherapist. He helped old dojo friend Naomichi Marufuji get back on his feet after injury in late 2018. Marufuji said they talked about old times. Although he doesn't see him as much anymore, Hashi still remains in touch with older brother, Jun Akiyama.
~ Takashi Sugiura is still with Noah, where he has been since 2000. He says he has no desire to ever go anywhere else, and no interest in other belts from other promotions. Like Marufuji, his life is with Noah. He is 49 years old in 2019, and last held the GHC Heavyweight Champion in 2019. Currently, he is one half of the GHC Heavyweight Champions.
~ Mighty Inoue retired in 1999.