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Q&A with Tetsuya Koda, on the Western reach of TJPW

1 year ago

Q&A with Tetsuya Koda, on the Western reach of TJPW

By: Thom Fain

During my weeklong trip through Tokyo, in which I attended four puroresu events – three as an official member of the Press – I couldn’t help but think about how I first became a fan of Japanese wrestling: streaming services.

In the years since New Japan Pro-Wrestling brought us its njpw world subscription service with live English commentary, other wrestling promotions have invested heavy amounts into their own platforms. None is better from a technical and presentation perspective than Wrestle Universe, which streams live and on demand action from CyberAgent corp.’s DDT Pro, Pro-Wrestling NOAH and Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling (TJPW).

Although I couldn’t catch it live in action, the founder, booker and general manager of TJPW – Tetsuya Koda, a cult figure among the bounty of new puroresu fans in the West – was gracious enough to invite me to CyberAgent’s offices for an interview about his wrestling philosophy, history in the business, and plans for TJPW‘s growth moving forward.

Monthly Puroresu: So, I’m here in Shinjuku with Mr. Koda-san of Tokyo Joshi Pro-Wrestling and personnel of CyberFight/CyberAgent who’s helping me translate. The first thing I wanted to ask you Mr. Koda-san, is that I know you have been involved with Tokyo Joshi-Pro specifically for almost a decade, but before that you were a bit of an indie promoter. You had done some work in smaller promotions [like Ice Ribbon]. What drove you to want to get involved in joshi puroresu? Tell us a little bit about your journey.

Tetsuya Koda: So before, long time ago, there was All Japan Women’s wrestling, known as Zenjo. And I was a fan of the promotion. After that, many years later, NEO Japan Ladies Pro-Wrestling had been established and I had an opportunity to meet and know the president of the company. Soon after, the president of NEO left the company. So I took it over and ran the promotion for 10 years. And in 2010, NEO was disbanded.

Tetsuya Koda: And then after that, Mr. [Sanshiro] Takagi, the president of DDT CyberFight, he thought of starting a women’s pro-wrestling promotion and he brought him in to the project… Which became TJPW.

Monthly Puroresu: So, the genesis of TJPW. I know from our staff writers who watch TJPW all the time, and from the fans and followers of Monthly Puroresu, the interactions we see there and in fan engagement scenarios… TJPW has developed its own specific flavor, and that it really brings happiness to fans in a unique way. So I wanted to ask you what your philosophy was when going about constructing the TJPW roster, and if you see that happiness [that we see] brought to the fans? And, what makes Tokyo Joshi-Pro different from joshi puroresu alternatives?

Tetsuya Koda: I don’t have any specific thought or philosophy, I just decided to leave it up to each talents. And then, you know, naturally it has built up this [unique] atmosphere.

Monthly Puroresu: That was another thing I’ve noticed, a difference in TJPW’s philosophy when compared to the very controlled environment you see over at Bushiroad. With Tokyo Joshi-Pro, the talent has a lot of freedom. Do you think that freedom – whether it’s to visit PRESTIGE in California – or, just having that opportunity to explore their own growth… do you see that as being a permanent part of TJPW culture?

Tetsuya Koda: I just, you know, try to rely on the talent’s own volition. Let them do whatever they want to do – I guess you could say the office is controlling, but not really controlling.

Monthly Puroresu: Right. To promote the growth of their characters and their wrestling. And is that a permanent part of the culture in this that helps that he thinks, helps foster a positive environment?

Tetsuya Koda: I like the atmosphere, what we have with TJPW. I like it. I am wishing that I can continue, and keep this atmosphere [we currently enjoy] from now on.

Tetsuya Koda: But – there are a lot of situations, and probably industries [to consider]. Sometimes each talent, talent vs. talent or the talent vs. fan… Or, fan vs. fan – they will criticize each other on social media, sometimes fighting over social media. And I don’t like that phenomenon. Right now, I like it the way it is. That each one of them, talent or fans, they respect each other and when they message or comment, they have respect for each other and he likes the way it is.

Monthly Puroresu: And we’ve seen obviously Miyu Yamashita and Maki Itoh grow in the last few years through their excursions to America. Do you see the opportunity for other younger talents to follow in their footsteps?

Tetsuya Koda: If there’s any opportunity, I am wishing to have more talents go on excursion. I am waiting for the offers. Even if it’s through direct messages, those operations will be more than welcome to me.

Monthly Puroresu: When it comes to what we call maybe the joshi wrestling boom period, does it remind you of All Japan Women’s? In terms of ticket or gate sale growth, streaming number growth, fan excitement levels are currently high. Do you sense that we’re currently in a boom period, and where do you see yourself in it?

READ: Rossy Ogawa’s Storied History, and the Revolution of Joshi Puroresu

Tetsuya Koda: So, like a long, long time ago when there was All Japan Women’s joshi wrestling… there’s a lot of excitement, yeah?

Monthly Puroresu: Yes. And today’s boom period is becoming a close comparison, in some viewers’ eyes. Do you sense that maybe you’ve played a key part in that?

Tetsuya Koda: Hmm. It’s not only women’s pro-wrestling, not only pro-wrestling, but each time and each era has different kind of business models. For example, in Japanese baseball when I was a little boy, NPB was on TV stations and later online. But now even the baseball, we can only watch it on cable. However, that doesn’t mean that baseball is less popular now. We have more variety of media that we didn’t have back then. So, when All Japan Women’s Pro-Wrestling was in a big boom back then. And the current situation, current environment is totally different. And the business model is different. So it will be really difficult to compare the two, which is which, because it’s totally different situation, circumstance and business environment.

Monthly Puroresu: I see. So with that said, in terms of your TJPW expansion efforts… We have the March 31st show in Los Angeles, I believe is the first time you’re bringing what could be considered a full Tokyo Joshi-Pro roster to the United States. Is that correct?

Tetsuya Koda: It is correct.

Monthly Puroresu: Are you excited? Are you nervous? It’s part of WrestleMania week, but do you have a certain level of expectation for how your roster will be received?

Tetsuya Koda: [TJPW] had been planning to do a show in the United States three years ago – it was meant to be in Florida but then there was the covid-19 pandemic… So, the show had to be canceled two weeks before the show was meant to take place. I was so disappointed, I have been looking to the opportunity to have a show in America  ever since then. And, I am so happy that it’s been three years – so, it’s now possible to make it happen. I am so excited and happy.

Monthly Puroresu: Do you see maybe this as a test for future full roster shows in America or the West?

Tetsuya Koda: Of course, I’m wishing to have more shows in the States in the future! But at the moment, we haven’t studied the March 31st sales or success… I have no idea how many tickets will sell. And, I can’t think of any other future at the moment with this show in mind. We has to wait to see how it goes with the ticket sales, and until then, I’ll be nervous.

Thom Fain: Finally, I just wanted to open the floor to you. If you want to express anything to the western fans about TJPW – what we can be excited for, anything about yourself that we might consider a fun fact!

Tetsuya Koda: In TJPW we have so many unique and one-of-a-kind talents. Even though there are languages barriers, I can promise that the Western audience will be happy to watch our performances, and you will be entertained. As you may know on Wrestle Universe, everyone can watch TJPW shows! I hope to show the Tokyo Joshi-Pro product to all the wrestling fans all over the world online.