Mori Tatsuya, the Great Togo, and Research


This is one of the more peculiar ways I’ve gotten “published.” Mori Tatsuya, the documentary filmmaker and journalist (A, A2, 311, Fake, etc.), contacted me in December asking for help with a new edition of his book, Akuyaku resura wa warau (The Heel Wrestler Laughs). Published as an Iwanami Shinsho in 2005, it was about a Japanese-American pro wrestler known as the Great Togo, who came to specialize in playing the heel in the ring after World War II, but who also traveled to Japan and was close to Rikidozan, whom he helped manage when Rikidozan toured the West Coast. Just as Rikidozan pretended to be Japanese even though he was Korean, so there were statements that the Great Togo was not Japanese, or that his mother was Chinese, etc. Mori-san published the book in 2005 without having the means or the opportunity to investigate all those stories. 

So that’s why he contacted me this time. Knowing that the Great Togo’s real name was Okamura Kazuo (aka George Okamura), he did some net searching and thought he found phone numbers of relatives. He wondered if I could call those people. Knowing that such free net searches rarely come up with real numbers, I decided to do some searching on my own. (I did call the numbers in the end, and of course they were all disconnected.) Using public databases and databases through Yale, I did a lot of searching on Okamura and quickly found out a lot. (I’ve been doing a lot of genealogy research so many of these databases are familiar to me.) I did ascertain that not only were both his parents Japanese, but also that the US government treated him as Japanese and sent him to the Amache internment camp in Colorado. Perhaps because of his business or his status as a minority, or possibly to survive  he did fib a bit, lying about his age on some documents, lying about his wife on a reentry document (he was first married to seemingly a Caucasian woman before divorcing after three years, after which he married a nikkei woman from his home town), and saying he graduated from the University of Oregon with a major in philosophy (I couldn’t confirm that, but couldn’t disprove it either). But it was pretty clear what his ancestry was. What also came out was how difficult his life was before WWII. His father ran a small fruit orchard in Hood River, Oregon (a town I’ve been to many times), but the local paper reports both successes and failures—and a childhood accident for George. The paper also reported that he was the first Japanese kid in his elementary school, and that the name George came from George Washington (perhaps chosen in an effort to have him fit in?). His itinerant life as a wrestler—which he started from the late 1930s—is evident from his draft card, with many new addresses written all over the edges. Interestingly, he happened to be touring in Hawaii when the war started, seemingly with his infant son but not his wife (or so says the passenger manifest of the ship). 

Mori-san ended up taking my series of e-mails detailing my findings and edited them into an epilogue for the new edition. Essentially, I thus authored the epilogue. Iwanami, by the way, did pay me for my research, even though I did not imagine asking to be paid. Doing research is just fun. And this was pretty interesting research. 

Here is a video of a match between the Great Togo and Zack Malkov presumably from a 1950s TV broadcast. Not only is the Great Togo, a native English speaker, made to appear with a translator and various gross stereotypes of Japaneseness (geta in the ring, etc.), but the TV commentator consistently constructs him as alien, ignorant, a rule-breaker—a heel.

The new edition of Akuyaku resura wa warau (悪役レスラーは笑う) is available at Iwanami in a bunkobon edition.  

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