Hiroshi Tanahashi’s life story can now be told in this series of autobiographical interviews, available for the first time in English!
–So last time we talked about how you finally got accepted to the NJPW Dojo, but you mentioned that the period between being accepted and actually starting was a tough one. Can you elaborate on that?
Tanahashi: Well, I’d always planned on dropping out of university as soon as I got into the Dojo, but Riki Choshu pulled me aside and said ‘you don’t know what will happen in the future; you need to graduate.’
–You were the only one of the five to pass the tryout that had to wait to get in?
Tanahashi: Right. I couldn’t believe it. I took the tryout in November of my third year at university, so I had to wait over a year.
–So that’s why Wataru Inoue and Katsuyori Shibata had an experience edge on you.
Tanahashi: Right, by the time I could get in, they were already one year in. So while I waited to graduate university I was this out of work wrestler. (laughs)
–It must have been frustrating.
Tanahashi: It was! But Choshu said they’d be waiting.
–Some wisdom from Choshu.
Tanahashi: Yeah. I mean, he was probably thinking that I might not cut it and drop out while I was training, or I might get hurt and that would be that. Staying in school was absolutely the right thing from the standpoint of having something to fall back on, but right in that moment, it was the worst thing you could have told me! (laughs)
–You’d already made your mind up.
Tanahashi: Exactly! And I couldn’t graduate for free! At that point to graduate I needed to get a 58 average on my final year. But the best I did was 60 in my first year! So if I dropped two points I wouldn’t graduate!
Tanahashi: So I wound up taking all the classes I should have done in my first year but I skipped on. Stuff like classes on the constitution. I’d be right in the front of a huge lecture hall full of freshmen.
–You must have stood out, with the size you had as well.
Tanahashi: Yeah, and I died my buzz cut blond, too.
–Haha! So did you get much support from your friends in all this?
Tanahashi: Oh, yeah. They all banded together.
–Operation Make Tana Graduate (laughs).
Tanahashi: That’s exactly it. They knew how much it’d hurt me if I couldn’t make it into the Dojo for a whole extra year, so they made sure I graduated. They’d help with notes, all that stuff. They were excellent. I worked my ass off and just about got my thesis done.
–What was the topic?
Tanahashi: It was about Toto, the sports pools lottery. It had just started at the time, and Hiroshi Hase was a big proponent, so I figured it tied in with my interests a little.
–You were studying hard,but you didn’t want to lose ground against Shibata and Inoue. So were you working out hard as well?
Tanahashi: Absolutely! It was probably the hardest year of my life.
Tanahashi: Like, if I had a gap between first and third period, I would go to the gym. I practiced with the amateur wrestling team twice a week, and if I had time, I’d ride my bike to the Ristumei High School wrestling dojo and work with them. That was Manabu Nakanishi’s High School, you know.
–So you didn’t lose any size during your fourth year?
Tanahashi: No, in fact when I took the tryout I was 80kg, and when I graduated, I was 90.
–10 kilograms in a year! So what was that first day in the Dojo like when it finally came?
Tanahashi: It’s a cliche, but I can remember it like it was yesterday. I had to be in Tokyo on March 22, the day after graduation. There was a letter addressed to my parents’ house saying I had to be at the office that day. So my parents came in from Gifu and saw me off to Tokyo on the Shinkansen right after I graduated.
–So you went to the office first.
Tanahashi: Back then the NJPW office was in TV Asahi’s building in Roppongi. I went there and it was shut, not a soul around!
Tanahashi: Luckily, Roppongi had a Tokon Shop at the time so I went there and they called the Dojo for me. Futori san was in charge at the time and told me to head there for the time being. In the end, I went to the office the next day, but for the life of me I couldn’t understand why they told me to come to the office on their day off.
–But you didn’t say anything, obviously.
Tanahashi: Of course not! (laughs) Back then, Seiji Sakaguchi was still the president of the company. When I got to the office he said ‘oh, there’s one more new boy in today’ and introduced me to Kenzo Suzuki.
–The King of the Hills’ first meeting!
Ace’s HIGH #11: Dojo Life next week!