Traditionally, Kokeshi has had a singular meaning, but recently the word has grown to mean many things. I would now like to share with you what Kokeshi is to me.
Kokeshi Is A Simple, Limbless, Wooden Japanese Doll
Kokeshi Is A Very Tanned, Leathery, Canary Yellow Tights Wearing Wrestler Named Tomoaki Honma
You know Honma. He’s the NJPW wrestler that looks like Kazuchika Okada in twenty years. He has the dyed blonde hair, canary yellow tights, a voice that would put the fear into the devil himself, he’s closer to forty than thirty and almost always loses his matches. Yes, that’s the one! He also used to wrestle for Big Japan Pro Wrestling, where they say he was the first to use a fluorescent light tube in a match. These days, Honma is a mainstay in New Japan’s mid-card. He rarely wins matches, and when he does they’re often undercard multi-man tags. Despite his unremarkable win-loss record, Honma is a fan favourite who can still deliver the goods in his sporadic high-profile matches. He also has a fondness for literally using his head in the ring, which brings me to my next point.
Kokeshi Is Using Your Head
Like Cesaro and his European uppercuts, and Taguchi with his ass-based offense, Tomoaki has a propensity to attack with his head. I don’t mean those nasty Tomohiro Ishii stiff headbutts to the face. Honma’s headbutts have, let’s say, more of a finesse about them – a certain traditional Japanese doll style if you will. Honma’s offense is heavily based on Kokeshi: a simple, limbless, wooden Japanese doll. One of Honma’s signature moves is a headbutt drop on a grounded opponent, which he never hits the first time, called the Ko-kokeshi. Just imagine a person with no arms falling forward from the weight of their head, that’s what it looks like. In the rare case that he defeats an opponent, it’s most likely with the Kokeshi, which is basically a Ko-kokeshi from the top rope. Then there’s the running Kokeshi, the jumping from the middle ropes Kokeshi, the lariat blocking Kokeshi. You name it, Honma has a Kokeshi version of it. My personal favourite is Honma’s Kokeshi version of a sliding D (sliding forearm smash). A sliding K? Except instead of sliding, it’s more of a low, headfirst dive. Just gorgeous! Tomoaki is The King of Kokeshi Style.
Kokeshi Is Losing
The King of Kokeshi Style is also the king of losing matches, particularly G1 Climax tournament matches. As I mentioned in a previous article, which you can read here, Tomoaki was a last-minute addition to the 2014 G1 Climax, replacing an injured Kota Ibushi. Honma finished his debut G1 tournament with a total of zero points. That’s right. Zero. He lost every single G1 match, but the thing is, each time he lost, the fans just wanted to see him win more. Honma was getting some of the biggest cheers in the tournament. Same thing this year in New Japan’s G1 Climax 25. With only two matches remaining – one against Tomohiro Ishii and the other against Yujiro Takahashi – Honma was still on zero points. The G1 losing streak that had started in 2014 continued into 2015. Again, despite the losses, fans were frothing at the mouth for a Honma victory, and if there was ever going to be one, who better than a victory over rival Tomohiro Ishii in the main event at Korakuen Hall? The two have a history together and an amazing chemistry in the ring, seen in their 5-Star match back in February 2015. The stage was set. Korakuen Hall main event. Ishii vs. Honma. Could Honma finally get that first elusive G1 victory and send the fans into crazed euphoria, or would the streak, and tears, continue?
Kokeshi Is Tomoaki Honma’s G-1 Moment
Some of my favourite moments in pro wrestling involved a slow build. It’s the journey, not the destination, or something like that. When it comes to pro wrestling, I find it’s a combination of the two that make for great moments. Daniel Bryan’s journey towards his championship victory at WrestleMania 30 is a good example. As with Sami Zayn’s NXT title win in 2014 against Adrian Neville. Both cases involved a long, often frustrating build towards one big moment. A moment that fills the heart with so much joy and gratification that should not be possible by watching two grown men pretend to beat each other up. Yet, it is. They are two of my all-time favourite moments as a wrestling fan.
And now I have a third because he did it! That canary yellow bastard did it! It took every type of Kokeshi variation he knew, and then some, but Honma finally got his first ever G1 Climax victory, and it was over Tomohiro Ishii in the Korakuen Hall main event. It was the perfect opponent in the perfect location. The elated crowd gave Honma a much deserving ovation, as did I with tears in my eyes (from dust) from my home in Australia. Honma got his G1 moment. He would go on to finish the tournament in last place with a total of two points. As crappy a statistic as that is, those marvellous two points will always make me smile.
Kokeshi Is Happy
After Honma’s match with Ishii, in his signature death growl he gave an impassioned, if not rambling speech that the great E. Key Oide, whom everyone should follow on twitter right now, was kind enough to translate:
Honma: “I won! I couldn’t do it alone, it was all of your support that let me win! My winning streak starts today, I won’t let it end here! Next, I’ll beat Yujiro, and be proud to have a record of 2-7 wins & losses! That record might not be much, but to me? It’s the greatest thing in the world! I’ll keep winning and winning, and win at [?????] next year!
NJPW, this ring, its fans, all wonderful! Now I know, for sure, more than ever, that I love wrestling! Thank you! Of course, I love all the fans too!
Finally, I’ve got a little [?????] I want to ask everyone, please say with me, Kokeshi is happy!”
Fans: “*confused laughter*”
Honma: “Okay, once more. When I say “Kokeshi is happy!”, everyone say, “We’ll all be happy! Are you ready? Then…’Kokeshi is happy!’”
Fans: “We’ll all be happy!”
Oh boy. Excuse me while I wipe away these tears again (more dust). I love that promo so much. Honma’s passion for pro wrestling and his appreciation of his fans is so evident and so beautiful. And his call and response with crowd at the end: “I say, ‘Kokeshi is happy!’ You say, ‘We’ll all be happy!'” It’s cheesy and makes no sense at all, but it fills me with so much joy! It’s perfectly Honma.
In the end, he didn’t manage to get that 2-7 win/loss record, instead going 1-8. It isn’t much, but it’s the greatest thing in the world to me.
What does Kokeshi mean to you? Share your thoughts and comments with Zach on twitter @TheKoalaMask