A funeral service was held for Tooru Rikiishi in an auditorium at Shonen Magazine publisher Kodansha’s Tokyo headquarters on March 24, 1970, roughly a month after the character passed away in the magazine. Some 700 fans managed to attend, somehow, though it was held on a Tuesday afternoon, when most of them presumably had school or work. Staged by avant-garde theater troupe Tenjo Sajiki (“Ceiling Gallery”), the service was complete with a picture of the deceased overlooking a boxing ring brought in from Korakuen Hall, and included the standard reading of sutras and lighting of incense, as well as a somewhat less conventional KO count to ten on a gong. The eulogy was read by troupe leader Shuji Terayama, who described Rikiishi as “an illusionary force of the Establishment dreamed up by slum guerilla Joe Yabuki”.
He wasn’t the only one who was reading politics into the comic: when Japanese Red Army terrorists hijacked a passenger plane in order to defect to North Korea, they issued a statement declaring, “We are tomorrow’s Joe.” That was just a little over a week after the Rikiishi funeral, and one day before the first episode of the Ashita no Joe anime aired.
Joe was popular with Japan’s right-wing crazies as well. Late one summer night, Ashita no Joe fan and regular Nobel Prize nominee Yukio Mishima appeared at Kodansha’s Shonen Magazine department. A devout Magazine reader, he’d been busy shooting his film Black Lizard and hadn’t gotten a chance to pick up the issue that had come out that day, so he was looking to purchase one directly from Kodansha. They explained to him that they weren’t able to handle any financial transactions there in the magazine offices, but they would be happy to offer him a copy of the latest issue for free. Mishima gladly accepted and went on his way. ♦