“I saw the posters popping up around the city,
pale blue and washed-out red.
I went down to the arena, pushing through,
hoping I’d run into you.
Sweet freshly-scrubbed smell of the crowd.
All the excitement in their eyes.
We were all made young when he stepped onto the stage,
like an animal escaping from his cage.
Raise the trumpet, sound the drum;
he whom the prophet spoke of long ago has come.”
-The Mountain Goats – “Satanic Messiah”
Whenever my non-wrestling friends ask me why I love professional wrestling so much, or they ask me to show them what wrestling’s like, I usually follow the same process. I show them bits of PWG and Chikara, maybe little snippets of Dragon Gate and DDT. They enjoy the good-looking guys and gals, the crazy flips and dives, the action, the goofy gimmicks and storylines, the foreign nature of it all. Invariably, when these friends choose to dive deeper, they start asking me why I like Japanese wrestling from twenty years ago so much, why I find these tubby (to put it gently), weird-looking guys hitting each other sloppily so entertaining, and often, I find it hard to explain. I find it hard to explain why and how someone like Shinya Hashimoto has left such a lasting, indelible mark on me.
Eleven years ago today, Hashimoto passed away due to a brain aneurysm, only eight days after his fortieth birthday. His doctor speculated that his high blood pressure and years of stress were likely causes. I wasn’t a fan of wrestling at the time, being that I got into wrestling rather late in life compared to most, but in the eleven years since, Hashimoto’s presence has wormed its way into my heart and today he is one of my favorite wrestlers ever, and the anniversary of his passing is always a sad day for me. But again, just by looking at him, many people couldn’t figure out why I loved him so much. He’s not particularly good-looking, a heavy-set man with a rather average face. While physically large, he isn’t muscular and doesn’t appear to be all that strong. His matches come across as incredibly simple, dull affairs. At first glance, there isn’t much about Hashimoto to love. But look closer. Keep an open mind. Maybe I can explain what this wonderful man was all about.
Perhaps more so than anyone else in wrestling, Hashimoto best exemplified “toukon”, the concept of the fighting spirit. Now, a lot of frankly embarrassing stuff has been written about fighting spirit, and I won’t deign to try and explain it here with flowery language and hyperbole, for both our sakes. I’ll sum it up this way: when Hashimoto stepped in the ring, there was fire in his eyes. That fire, that tenacity, that intensity is toukon, the fighting spirit, plain to see in the windows to the soul. It’s apparent in his wrestling, too. If nothing else, Hashimoto’s work is punctuated by effort, by continually trying harder than anyone else, by pushing himself to persevere and overcome, to keep on fighting.
Now, a fair amount of that effort came from the fact that Hashimoto was no small man. Billed at 5’11” and 290 pounds, Hashimoto was a large, somewhat ungraceful athlete, lacking the speed and finesse of many of his contemporaries. He had to work harder to keep up, and to excel. But, on some level, these attributes were some of his greatest strengths. Hashimoto was an every-man, far from superhuman, far from the sculpted bodybuilders and dashing bad boys of his day. He was simply a proud citizen of Japan, a man of resolve and of ideals, a defender of his homeland and his home promotion who struggled against invaders of all shapes, sizes, and origin. His struggles with these outsiders and these superior specimens, these struggles with his own weakness, were so human and empathetic and are an essential part of his character and his allure.
Another part of Hashimoto’s allure was his unpredictability. Watching the man wrestle, he’s so wild and free that it’s hard to tell where he’s headed next. It’s not the savage, unbridled wildness of a Bruiser Brody or a Stan Hansen, though. It’s more controlled than that. Hashimoto was a purring engine, ebullient energy bubbling just beneath the idle surface of his skin. When Hashimoto moved, when he made a strike, it was explosive and sudden, 0 to 60 in a matter of seconds. But more than that, the simple nature of his matches made for an altogether unique approach. When his contemporaries were building to bigger and crazier finishing stretches with minutes of head drops and finisher spam, Hashimoto’s matches were free-flowing and the opposite of constructed. With shifting tides of control, natural (i.e. awkward) grappling and striking, and big, explosive finishes that often took you by surprise, his matches were much more like fights than choreographed sequences of spots. You never knew when or how Hashimoto was going to go for the kill, or whether he’d be struck down first. There was always a sense of ever-present danger when he was in the ring.
This fire, this humanity, and this unpredictable nature all added together to create a singular, spectacular aura around Hashimoto. Aura is a word thrown around in the wrestling world a lot, and for good reason. There is a palpable aura surrounding certain performers, from your Undertakers to your Misawas to your El Hijos del Santo (or would it be los?). For my money, Hashimoto had an undeniably awesome aura, a presence unlike any other. Storming down to the ring, clad in his iconic white headband and flowing red robe, as “Bakusho Sengen” plays and the thousands in attendance chant his name, you can’t help but feel that this man is the best, that he is the ace, that he could beat the whole world if he tried. Scant few wrestlers exude a big fight atmosphere like Hashimoto did, both before, during, and after matches. Furthermore, he accomplished it without pomp and circumstance, without big light shows, without raining down thousands of fake dollar bills on the crowd. He did it with his presence alone, with his own natural charisma, with subtle escalation that worked crowds into a frenzy. More than just a monetary draw, Hashimoto was an emotional draw; you couldn’t help but be drawn in by his spectacle.
Indeed, many people were lost in that spectacle. Above all else, people loved Hashimoto. His passing was a bitter loss to the wrestling community, his funeral attended by thousands upon thousands of fans. Dozens of his fellow wrestlers, friend and foe alike, were also in attendance, saying goodbye to the Destruction King before his body was interred at his family’s temple in Gifu. Even before his death, something of a cult of personality had been constructed around him, one only strengthened by his passing, like Jumbo and Baba before him and like Misawa after him. Despite his no nonsense demeanor, Hashimoto’s stoicism softened outside of the ring, where, at least according to Samoa Joe, he was a joyful, lovable man. By all accounts, Hashimoto was beloved, and today he is sorely missed.
I’m not exactly sure how to wrap this all up. Hashimoto’s life and career did not have a clean, happy ending. His final days were plagued with injury and health concerns. His passing came mere weeks before a planned Three Musketeers reunion with his long-time friends and rivals Masahiro Chono and Keiji Mutoh. He died separated from his first home, NJPW, and his own promotion, ZERO1, and while he was reportedly set to return to the former, these plans obviously never came to fruition. But despite his tragic end, Hashimoto’s life and twenty year career in professional wrestling brought joy to the lives of so many, not the least of which was his own. Here, eleven years after his death, I am one of many who stand in celebration of his life and feel so very lucky to have had him.