Taiho, the former grand champion of sumo, passed away yesterday on January 19 at the age of 72, which got me to thinking.
Most people who have a working knowledge of the post-WW II Showa era will surely agree that sumo, professional wrestling, and baseball, not necessarily in that order, were the three most popular sports in Japan during that period. I also assume that they will also agree that Taiho (sumo), Rikidozan (professional wrestling), and arguably Sadaharu Oh (baseball)* were the iconic figures in their respective sports of the times. Now, Taiho and Oh share the distinction of having non-Japanese fathers, Russian and Taiwanese respectively. Indeed, Oh, who became the first recipient of the People’s Honor Award for hitting more home runs over his career than Hank Aaron and was appointed manager of the Japanese team for the first World Baseball Classic, is a Taiwanese citizen. These facts were well known, if never widely discussed in the days before the internet. Rikidozan, the baby face of the day, who regularly beat up American and other foreign heels with his karate chop, was in a somewhat different situation. He was a North Korean citizen, a fact that did not become public knowledge until after his untimely death in 1963. (That’s the 38th year of the Showa era.)
There are no doubt essays and books to be written, if they haven’t already, around their coincident careers, and the era that they shared.
* His Yomiuri Giants teammate Shigeru Nagashima was more popular as a player and has been treated with more reverence by the Yomiuri group, but is easily eclipsed by Oh in terms of personal achievement and awards both as a player and as a manager.