Hiroaki Aoki

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In this Japanese name, the family name is Aoki.
Hiroaki Aoki
Born (1938-10-09)October 9, 1938
Tokyo, Japan
Died July 10, 2008(2008-07-10) (aged 69)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Cause of death Pneumonia
Nationality American
Other names Rocky Aoki
Citizenship United States at time of death
Alma mater
  • Chizuru Kobayashi Aoki (m. 1964; div. 1981)
  • Pamela Hilburger Aoki (m. 1981; div. 1991)
  • Keiko Ono Aoki (m. 2002)
Children Seven, including model Devon Aoki and DJ/producer Steve Aoki

Hiroaki Aoki (青木 廣彰 Aoki Hiroaki?, October 9, 1938 – July 10, 2008), known in the United States by the Anglicized name Rocky Aoki, was a Japanese-born American wrestler and restauranteur who founded popular Japanese cuisine restaurant chain Benihana.


Early life[edit]

Aoki was born in Tokyo, the son of Katsu and Yunosuke Aoki.[1] Aoki and some friends started a rock and roll band called Rowdy Sounds, though Aoki eventually abandoned music for athletics. He would later explain, "I play bass. But I tell you why I change to wrestling: No good on tempo."[2] Aoki attended Keio University, where he competed in track and field, karate, and wrestling before being expelled for fighting. He qualified for the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, but did not compete. However, he later toured the United States and was undefeated in the wrestling 112-pound flyweight class.

Aoki was offered wrestling scholarships from several different American colleges. He attended Springfield College in Springfield, Massachusetts and later transferred to CW Post College on Long Island.[3]

Move to the United States[edit]

He moved to New York City, going on to win the United States flyweight title in 1962, 1963 and 1964. He was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1995.[4]

Restaurant business[edit]

In New York, Aoki worked seven days a week in an ice cream truck that he rented in Harlem while studying restaurant management at New York City Community College. After he received his associate degree in management in 1963,[3] he used the $10,000 he had saved from the ice cream business to convince his father to co-invest in the first Benihana, a four-table teppanyaki restaurant on West 56th Street. "Benihana", taken from the Japanese name for safflower, was suggested by Aoki's father. According to family legend, Aoki's father was walking through the bombed-out ruins of post-war Tokyo when he happened across a single red safflower growing in the rubble.[4]

Personal life[edit]

The grave of Hiroaki "Rocky" Aoki in the cemetery located at Joshinji Buddhist temple in Ookusawa, Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, Japan.

Rocky, who was married three times,[5] once said that he had "three kids from three different women at exactly the same time."[2] He found out about the seventh with the third woman when he was sued for paternity.

He was an offshore powerboat racer along with the 1986 APBA world champion Powerboat throttleman Errol Lanier, a former Fort Lauderdale, Florida fireman who saved his life in a near fatal powerboat crash in 1979 under the Golden Gate Bridge. After injuries suffered in a 1982 accident, the Tenafly, New Jersey resident told sportswriters that he was leaving the sport.[6]

In 1973, Aoki launched Genesis, a softcore pornographic men's magazine. The title changed hands several times, eventually becoming an explicit publication long after Aoki's period of ownership. Despite not enjoying the mainstream popularity of rivals Playboy and Penthouse, the magazine remained in activity for nearly 40 years.

His third and final wife was Keiko Ono, a businesswoman that he married in 2002.[7][8]

In 2005, Rocky sued four of his children (Grace, Kevin, Kyle, and Echo) for an alleged attempt to take control of the companies he founded, which, at the time, had an estimated value between USD $60–100 million.

Before his death, he had become a United States citizen. Aoki was the recipient of The International Center in New York's Award of Excellence. He died of pneumonia in New York City. At the time of his death he had been suffering from diabetes, Hepatitis C, and cirrhosis of the liver.[4] His Hepatitis C was reportedly the result of a blood transfusion after a 1979 speedboat crash under the Golden Gate Bridge.[2]

At the time of his death, Rocky Aoki was survived by his seven children, his third wife Keiko and four grandchildren.[4] These included musician Steve Aoki and model Devon Aoki.

His grave is at the cemetery attached to Joshin temple in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo.


  1. ^ http://www.rockyhaoki.com/biography.html
  2. ^ a b c "Rocky's Family Horror Show". New York. 25 October 2007. ISSN 0028-7369. 
  3. ^ a b "Rocky Aoki Biography". Rocky H Aoki. Retrieved 21 March 2015. 
  4. ^ a b c d Schudel, Matt (12 July 2008). "Rocky Aoki; Flashy Founder of Benihana". The Washington Post. 
  5. ^ Louie, Elaine (2008-07-12). "Rocky Aoki, Who Created Benihana Chain, Is Dead at 69". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-08-25. 
  6. ^ "Aoki Will Leave Powerboat Racing". The New York Times. Associated Press. February 7, 1983. 
  7. ^ Kawaguchi, Judit Keiko Aoki May 28, 2009 Japan Times Retrieved April 13, 2017
  8. ^ Benihana founder's third wife loses bid for fortune March 31, 2016 The Union Retrieved April 14, 2017

External links[edit]