The Many Betrayals of Harada Daisuke
In 2021, NOAH’s Harada Daisuke is cheerful, enthusiastic and open. His actions in the ring and on social media paint a picture of a warm and supportive teammate, dedicated dojo trainer and passionate competitor. He smiles. He laughs. He doesn’t throw chairs. But things weren’t always this way. Before the most recent reunion of Momo no Seishun Tag in September 2020, there was a more serious and brooding Harada. One who buried his feelings in an effort to refute the significance of the men who leave him. Repeatedly leave him.
Over his career, Harada has experienced repeated betrayals and abandonment from the same four people. His reactions to these betrayals have varied from raging fury to apparent indifference, as he has struggled to learn from the lessons of his past and confront his own feelings. The precise details of these betrayals are too much for one article (though I’ll happily dissect them for any willing audience on twitter) but even an outline sketch reveals how these betrayals can tell us things about Harada and his relationships that are still relevant today.
Phase 1 (2006-2012): “Test your feelings”
February 2008: Kotoge joins Bad Force
June 2009: Tadasuke joins Legion of Violence
Harada debuted in Osaka Pro Wrestling in August 2006, being tapped out by a still green Kotoge Atsushi. From the outset, Harada was touted as a top prospect. Dressed in a bright singlet and embracing Osaka Pro’s family-friendly comedy style, there was little hint of the brooding intensity of Harada’s present day persona.
His relationship with Kotoge developed into a rivalry and then a partnership, with the two making a popular team. They received their first tag title shot in January 2008, losing to champions GAINA and Zero of the heel faction Bad Force. Just weeks later, to Harada’s shock, Kotoge was revealed as the newest Bad Force member. Harada, confronting his former partner in the ring, was dealt a kick to the gut and a devastating Maxam by an unimpressed Kotoge. Kotoge spent the following month attacking Harada at every opportunity, often with a chair in hand.
Harada’s response to his first experience of betrayal was anger and disbelief. In comparison with Kotoge, January’s loss had not shaken his belief in himself or the rightness of his current path. He quickly made the classic proposal of a singles match but lost to the heel tactics of Kotoge and his faction mates – an early lesson for Harada in the importance of team support. He took that loss and its lesson on board, forming a new faction, Blood & Guts, with Zeus and, later, Tadasuke. He left his conflict with Kotoge behind, throwing himself into a new goal of creating an exciting youth faction within Osaka Pro.
However, it was not until Bad Force disbanded in April 2008 that Kotoge and Harada truly settled their differences, thanks to the intervention of Tadasuke and an alignment of their ambitions. Tadasuke appealed for Kotoge to join Blood & Guts, bringing him and Harada to stand together in the ring. Kotoge was hesitant until Harada made a cautious offer of one more match as tag partners to ‘test their feelings’. The success of that match led to Kotoge joining Blood & Guts and a reunited tag team, allied again in their successes and ambitions.
When Tadasuke turned on Harada and Kotoge in 2009, it was Kotoge and not Harada who settled the score between them. Although Tadasuke and Harada met in a singles match, again Harada was beaten by Tadasuke’s heelish approach. Kotoge, furious with the outcome, challenged Tadasuke to a hair vs hair match for a more final resolution. As Tadasuke attacked Kotoge viciously with scissors, Harada stormed the ring to defend his partner, making the match void until it was restarted at Kotoge’s request. Kotoge lost but his determination won Tadasuke over and they agreed to start over without resentments. Tadasuke worked alongside Kotoge and Harada in future years, not losing his heel persona but contributing to their shared success through his efforts.
Despite the happy endings to these betrayals, Harada never learned how to resolve the issues raised by them himself. His first approach was always to fight one on one, to settle their differences as opponents. These efforts failed and it was only through the intervention of others and through aligned goals that Harada was able to move on. He did so with a warmth and affection that suggests more than circumstantial alliances, yet he also never questioned why his partners might have found that, at least for a time, their goals were not so aligned. His inability to read the motivations and needs of his teammates, much less reconcile them with his own, would become increasingly obvious as he moved companies and factions.
Phase 2 (2013-2016): “Don’t say rivals”
May 2013: Kotoge rejects Harada as a rival
Dec 2016: Kotoge leaves the junior division, forcing Harada to relinquish the GHC Junior Tag Belt
There are layers of entanglements in Harada and Kotoge’s relationship, most of them left unsaid. The period from Harada joining NOAH in 2013 to Kotoge moving from the junior to the heavyweight division at the end of 2016 revealed many of these layers of resentments and solidified a pattern for Harada of not addressing his feelings except in the ring. Their early meetings in NOAH were, for Harada, a battle for recognition as he sought out Kotoge as his rival. For Kotoge, who declared any suggestion of a rivalry between them as ‘boring’, they were a chance to distance himself from his perpetually more successful junior. Their clashes in the ring were heated but drove them both towards success as they fought over the GHC Junior Heavyweight championship on multiple occasions. Despite their rivalry clearly fuelling them both, they were at pains to declare the other unimportant, only revealing the sources of their resentments slowly and keeping much of their frustration for when they faced each other. Over time, this seemed to work for them, their comments about the other softening and their matches bringing them both successes that soothed their resentments.
In 2015, the pair reunited as Momo no Seishun Tag, finding common cause in an alliance against the invading Suzuki-gun. Although initially uneasy, their renewed partnership led to success, being the first to take back the GHC belts from the invaders. Into 2016, their rivalry with both the invading Suzuki-gun teams and with the team of Kenoh and Ohara comfortably fueled Harada’s desire to advance the fortunes of NOAH and its junior division. They also faced each other as rivals, just as they had in Osaka Pro, without disruption to their partnership. The partnership seemed to benefit them both.
At the end of 2016, they held the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team belts and Kotoge was GHC Junior Heavyweight champion. It seemed that their differences were resolved. Perhaps they were. But then Kotoge walked away again. On 24 Dec 2016, after beating Jado and Gedo to regain the tag belts, Kotoge stood in the ring and announced he was moving to heavyweight. Two days later, he relinquished both his belts, thereby also relieving Harada of his own title. Harada made little comment but his simmering resentment was obvious as the two clashed in the ring, formally ending their partnership on 14 February 2017 with Kotoge beating Harada in a singles match. Whatever Harada’s feelings about his partner leaving for a second time, they stayed buried for now as he lost the opportunity to face Kotoge as a rival. Just as before their 2015 reunion, both went back to pointedly ignoring the other, declaring their relationship done.
Phase 3 (2017-2020): The Great Repression
December 2018: YO-HEY joins Stinger
January 2019: HAYATA joins Stinger (for a week anyway)
August 2019: Kotoge returns to the junior division as a member of rival team Stinger
May 2020: HAYATA joins Stinger (Yes, again. For real this time)
August 2020: Tadasuke leaves Ratels (or what is left of it), joins Kongo
Harada entered 2017 with a grudge and a determination not to be beaten or abandoned again. Any resentment he expressed against his former partner was framed as due to Kotoge’s betrayal of the junior division, not his own hurt feelings. Turning away from one partner, he turned towards other old friends to help in his ambitions to elevate the division. Harada, alongside old factionmates HAYATA and Tadasuke from Osaka Pro, now joined by YO-HEY, formed Ratels and became a dominant force in the junior division.
Each of the many Ratels betrayals is a complex combination of rivalries, loyalties and resentments, not only within Ratels but also involving their rival team, Stinger. YO-HEY’s first betrayal, prompted by wanting to show Harada a new side to him as a competitor, sent Harada into a rage, throwing chairs and shouting backstage. With each subsequent betrayal, Harada’s reactions hardened into cold fury, and disbelief as he failed to grasp their reasons. His comments were confined to anger and determination to beat his former teammates as opponents.
It was not always Harada directly who was betrayed, but his leadership style was often a factor. From the outset, he had expressed Ratels’ goals as his own – to bring excitement to NOAH and the division. He remained oblivious to the shadow his ambitions cast over his teammates, assuming his team was aligned in their goals and how to achieve them. Tadasuke, who frequently held the team together, alluded to this after turning on YO-HEY in August 2020, referencing Harada’s obsessiveness with the belt and beating HAYATA.
The following singles battle with Tadasuke underlined a point that Harada had unlearned over the course of his time with Ratels. During the match, Tadasuke was saved by Kongo juniors, Haoh and Nioh, making the match a DQ and leaving Harada victorious but without satisfaction. Harada, in his pursuit to win and to be self-reliant had forgotten the importance of a supportive and aligned team, not concerned solely with victory. His evident confusion and anger underlined just how disconnected Harada had become from his team.
It would be remiss not to mention Harada’s other chair throwing incident during this period, prompted by the return of his former partner to the junior division and to rival team Stinger. Kotoge’s return prompted a flare of anger in Harada, followed by his typical cold rage but found an uneasy resolution through a more familiar pattern. The former teammates faced each other for Harada’s IPW title, Kotoge’s win forcing both of them to grudgingly acknowledge each other, albeit briefly. It wasn’t peace but it didn’t disrupt Harada’s desire for competition or his leadership as the Ratels betrayals did.
Harada’s attitude towards these betrayals and to his former teammates was often dismissive but, as time went on, he also revealed hints of deeper hurt. After HAYATA joined Stinger for a second time in 2020, Harada commented on his anger at HAYATA’s apparent happiness in his new faction. Where previously he had only commented on the multiple Ratels betrayals as ‘unusual’, a second round of betrayals from the same teammates seemed to be penetrating his defences. By the time YO-HEY finally ended any alliance in September 2020, he was prepared to admit that the experience was ‘painful’.
Harada is not a character it is easy to feel sorry for. During this period he had significant personal success – twice GHC Junior Heavyweight champion, twice IPW Junior Heavyweight champion and a short term as tag champions with Tadasuke. He won tournaments. He did not appear to suffer from the losses of his friends and companions. Ratels, though often also a faction of supportive and caring friends, could not grow together under his leadership. And, despite his success, neither could Harada grow, still tied to his anger.
Phase 4 (2020-????): The Great Thaw
September 2020: Yo-Hey attacks Harada, joins Full Throttle (maybe not entirely on purpose)
Harada and YO-HEY maintained an alliance into September 2020 almost by default, though Harada refused to consider them Ratels. It didn’t last however. YO-HEY brought about the end of not-Ratels by kicking Harada squarely in the face following a victory against Stinger. Chaos erupted, with other junior factions joining in. And out of chaos emerged the most unlikely reunion. Kotoge, then leader of Full Throttle, entered the ring to rescue Harada. Standing across from each other awkwardly, Harada extended a hand to his former partner, Kotoge, accepting it with a dazed look on his face. The reunion immediately became formalised, Harada challenging Stinger for their tag belts with Kotoge as his partner.
In comparison to previous betrayals, YO-HEY’s betrayal was overshadowed by a reunion and, for Harada, a renewed purpose. No singles match with YO-HEY was forthcoming, though YO-HEY found himself a place in Full Throttle, teaming with Yoshioka Seiki to make an unsuccessful challenge for MomoSei’s newly won tag belts. The clashes between the two teams were not without animosity but, unlike the previous Ratels betrayals, Harada had what he wanted – competition and a belt – and a meaningful focus for his energy as both Full Throttle and Momo no Seishun declared themselves ready to lead the junior division. Revenge became secondary to rebuilding.
Rebuilding is precisely what happened. Slowly, but surely. When Harada lost his belt in February 2021 to Full Throttle’s Yoshioka Seiki he looked wounded but not angry. Kotoge’s immediate challenge did not spark his resentment and instead he threw his support behind his teammate. Competition for Harada no longer meant his own victory. Once again, he started to see it as a collective effort. He grew. Kotoge and Harada revived their old gestures and teamwork – fist bumps and glances in the ring, acting as trainers in the dojo.
Harada’s leadership no longer required him to be in control, confident only in his own efforts. Instead he learned to trust and allow space. As Full Throttle fell apart in May 2021, he made that space for another of his rivals, Ohara Hajime. He began to shed his wariness, guided by the warmth and trust of his teammates.
In June 2021, Kotoge and Harada stood on opposite sides of the ring again. Opponents in a special tag match, Kotoge with Marufuji, Harada with Sugiura. It was a repeat of a match held immediately before Kotoge won his first title victory over Harada in November 2014. That match ended with Marufuji slapping Kotoge for losing to Harada. This time it was Marufuji who lost to Sugiura. But that was not the only difference. Harada’s delight in facing his longtime rival and partner was palpable. After all, they are partners, rivals and friends. The match was a greatest hits medley of their rivalry. And in it could be seen an old and a new Harada. Finally able to reconnect, not only to his own joy in his love of competition but also to that joy in others. This match was Harada most clearly as himself – competitive, aggressive, delighted to face someone who will know him and push him – now without the need to build walls or ignore his feelings in order to pursue his goals. This was life after betrayal.
Harada in NOAH today has not forgotten his betrayals or his betrayers. He has learned valuable lessons in leadership and the importance of teammates. He is still a product of those lessons. But he is not, as he once was, trapped and confused by them. He is able to see those who rejected him and how they have grown. Perhaps a scared and angry Harada lies dormant beneath his now warm persona, waiting to be awakened by some future rejection. But I choose to believe that Harada’s growth will serve him well, whatever inevitable future chaos erupts in NOAH’s junior division.
Image credits: @noah_ghc
Ruth is @ruthisanotter on twitter.