They say that in life you get 15 minutes of fame, but all Jin Shibahara needs is eight seconds — on the back of an angry, bucking bull.
In a hushed, solemn tone that the Marlboro Man might have used had he ever spoken, Shibahara explains the eight-second qualifying time required for most rodeo riding events. “Some cowboys say eight seconds is your life,” he said. “I don’t know exactly what they mean, but I think I understand.”
The soft-spoken 27-year-old Tokyo bartender is no armchair cowboy: He has ridden 30 bulls, 30 broncos bareback and competed in three rodeos in the U.S. and Canada.
Born in Gifu Prefecture, Shibahara concedes that rodeo may seem an unlikely passion for a Japanese man, but he adds, it may be right in line with the Japanese obsession for all things Western. “Rodeo is the most traditional and historic sport of North America,” he said. “Some cowboys were surprised to see me at first because I’m Japanese, but I guess, cowboys are cowboys. They don’t care where I’m from.”
Shibahara’s fascination with rodeo started when he was 21, after seeing his first one during a visit to Texas. “I was so shocked,” he said. “I thought, ‘So this is real rodeo. This is (what it is to be a) man.'”
Three years later, he had graduated from college in Yokohama and saved up enough money working at a Saitama hotel to send himself to rodeo school in Alberta.
Shibahara first tried bareback riding — a rodeo event that involves staying atop a wildly bucking horse with just one hand while spurring the bronco. Just one week later he braved his first bull ride.
Unlike other riding events, bull riding does not require contestants to spur the animal, which can weigh more than 910 kg. The bulls, which can be just as fast as they are massive, spin and buck. They are often annoyed in part by the ringing of a bell tied around them.
In saddle bronc, bareback and bull riding, contestants are disqualified if they touch the equipment, themselves or the animal with their free hand. The animal’s performance and the rider’s style each count for half the potential score of 100 points. “Some cowboys pray or cross themselves before they ride,” said Shibahara, who has made eight seconds on three broncos, but logged only six seconds as his best ride on a bull — two seconds short of qualifying. “I try to follow Zen, clear my mind, be myself. “Rodeo is not balance. It’s not strength. Rodeo is right here,” he said pointing to his temple. “It’s in the mind.”
Before a ride, Shibahara, who stands 184 cm and weighs 77 kg, studies the bull’s reputation for any grain of information that may help him extend his few crucial seconds. “The first jump is really important, ” he said, adding that some animals tend to leap to the left or right or spin.
Then there is the traditional preride beer or shot of whiskey before Shibahara takes off his oval-shaped glasses and mounts the bull. Securing his left hand under the bull rope, he leans forward and tries to focus on the back of the bull’s neck as the chute door is opened and the bull lunges out in a cloud of dust.
The thrill of riding a bull is beyond words for Shibahara. “It’s wonderful,” he gushed. “It’s better than sex.”
The comparison seems an appropriate one for a man with hearts and Playboy bunnies adorning the blue-and-gray chaps he wears in competition. His beige cowboy hat is signed by his hero, seven-time world champion Ty Murray — known as the Michael Jordan of rodeo — and tucked safely inside is a Molson beer label for luck.
Shibahara proudly produces two membership cards from his wallet. One declares him a member of the Ty Murray fan club and the other, a 1998 member of an amateur Canadian rodeo circuit.
On his right arm, he points to a scar left after one fall, and recalls being trampled after being bucked off another bull who then stomped on his left leg.