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Mitsuharu Misawa. Toshiaki Kawada. Kenta Kobashi. Akira Taue. These were All Japan’s “Big Four” during of the 1990s, the four most influential players of the decade. English-speaking fans in 2021 have more and more often been referring to these four wrestlers as AJPW’s “Four Pillars of Heaven,” and recently, the term “four pillars” has turned into hip new short-hand for “top four wrestlers.”
What’s ironic about this is that “Four Pillars of Heaven” is actually a mistranslation of the word “shitennou” (四天王).
In colloquial Japanese, they’re often referred to as the shitennou of AJPW. Shitennou is a common Japanese phrase to describe the top four people, places or things within a set context.
In modern English, we often share our “Mt. Rushmores” of wrestlers, the top four of (fill in the blank); “shitennou” in Japanese works the same way.
So, the phrase “Four Pillars of Heaven,” which is now an accepted addition to the pro wrestling lexicon, was actually born out of a mistranslation and misinterpretation of the the original kanji characters.
On today’s episode of Write That Down!, Fumi and Justin break this down in more detail while we give the overarching backstory behind Misawa, Kawada, Kobashi and Taue. We also discuss at length how important Stan Hansen was during this period, and how important his relationships with each AJPW shittenou were.
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