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Your Guide to ChocoPro

2 years ago

Your Guide to ChocoPro

How Emi Sakura’s merry band of misfits created something truly special.

By: Trent Breward

Photo Credit: Gatoh Move/ChocoPro

Nestled away in a residential district of Tokyo sits an unassuming building that holds a hidden gem of Japanese wrestling. Ichigaya Square doesn’t look like much from the outside, but peer inside and you can see some of Japan’s most exciting wrestlers plying their craft. No ring, no fancy stage, just the love of the art.

For years Emi Sakura has run Gatoh Move shows here, with fans either crammed inside against the walls or excitedly watching through the windows. However, when COVID-19 began locking down the world, pro wrestling could no longer operate as it once had. Even when audiences could return, crowds were heavily restricted, with allowable attendance dependent on the size of the building.

With a space as small as Ichigaya Square, Gatoh Move could not operate anymore. But from its hiatus grew ChocoPro Live. The same lo-fi family vibes of Gatoh Move were carried over, but instead of a bunch of tightly packed onlookers, the audience transformed into an online one. Shows broadcast live on YouTube, with fans encouraged to fill the live chat with their thoughts and jokes.

In the past those fans would pay to attend Gatoh Move, but ChocoPro prides itself on having #NoPayWall. Each and every show, as well as a variety of livestreams (ranging from dance training, watch alongs, and cooking) are available to any and everyone to watch on YouTube for free. In place of a crew, the wrestlers take part in the running of the show, either filming and commentating or refereeing, often swapping in between roles as others prepare for a match. It heightens the DIY feel of a promotion that is all about bringing the heart of its wrestling and wrestlers to the audience.

To supplement the loss of income, fans can “sponsor” ChocoPro. This can take the form of single-show messages taped to the window, which the wrestlers engage with (and sometimes use as a weapon), or monthly sponsorships that cover the back wall and are individually thanked during the show.

ChocoPro is a tight-knit family and the engagement and interaction with fans invites them into that dynamic. It feels like a product tailor-made to succeed in today’s world, fuelling a small but passionate and invested consumer base. They have cultivated a niche community, but one that believes in the vision and wants to see it succeed. In-jokes fly within the live chat as if it were a small Discord channel, and emojis tied to a specific wrestler will flood the chat once they appear in a show of support.

After the ferocity of the matches, all competitors will compete in Janken: a rock paper scissors tournament where the winner will get to enjoy the sweet taste of victory in chocolate form. Then they sing an ending credits song, bringing events to a close with a smile and a happy note regardless of how fierce the matches were.

Where we’re going, we don’t need rings.

Ichigaya Square is far too small to hold a traditional wrestling ring. In its place sits a small chocolate brown mat, roughly 14 foot long and 8 foot wide. ‘Rope breaks’ occur by touching the back wall or reaching the edge of the mat, and the windows can be used in place of turnbuckles from which to launch aerial attacks. The original Gatoh Move shows here were somewhat constrained by the fans that surrounded the mat. Now though, wrestlers can spread their wings to utilize the whole room and beyond.

Creativity is the name of the game. The unique space lets innovative minds shine, whether it be Baliyan Akki wall-running to gain extra impact on a senton or Chris Brookes hanging Mei Suruga from the moveable crane – ChocoPro regularly showcases spots you wouldn’t see anywhere else.

That’s not to say the wrestling relies on gimmicks to entertain – the roster features plenty of veteran performers alongside a host of talented youngsters under Emi Sakura’s tutelage – but ChocoPro truly shines when it lays the foundation of prototypical pro wrestling concepts and adapts it to the setting.

The fanbase connection also allows ChocoPro to tell emotional stories. For as fun and wild as matches can get, they’re not afraid to let a somber note linger. The tight knit community gets behind its favorites, so when Chie Koishikawa’s frustrations mount after not being able to achieve a key victory, she is incredibly effective at drawing sympathy from her invested fans. The chaos will first draw your attention, but then the character work and in-ring storytelling will keep you coming back.

With the world slowly returning to normal, Gatoh Move announced its grand return after two years at Itabashi Green Hall. Within 30 minutes those tickets were sold out. It’s only a small venue, holding about 140 fans, but the speed of the sellout shows just how strong the brand has remained, buoyed by ChocoPro and the passion of its team – all who saw a problem and found a solution, creating something truly special.

Back Row, left to right: Masahiro Takanashi, Chie Koishikawa (with Samezo), Sayuri, Choun Shiryu, Tokiko Kirihara, Sayaka Obihiro, Sayuri, Yuna Mizumori, Shin Suzuki, Minoru Fujita.
Front row, left to right: Kaori Yoneyama, Emi Sakura, Baliyan Akki, Haruka Umesaki, Mei Suruga.
Photo Credit: Gatoh Move/ChocoPro

The Wrestlers:

Emi Sakura

Debut: 1995. Trained by: Akio Sato

The Mother of Gatoh Move and ChocoPro. Her identity is forged into not only the promotion but its young stars, who she’s trained. While she is currently in America working for AEW, she’ll almost always be found in the live chats of the shows, lamenting the wanton chaos and destruction that’s going on in her absence.

Mei Suruga

Debut: 2018. Trained by: Emi Sakura

Of all ChocoPro’s cast of characters, few possess potential quite like Mei Suruga. The exuberant Mei has become the face of ChocoPro, and one of Joshi’s true future stars. She has spread her wings already, working for big companies like AEW, TJPW and Stardom, but she looks most comfortable tormenting her Best Bro Baliyan Akki at Ichigaya Square, hiding her goblin tendencies behind a beaming smile.

Baliyan Akki

Debut: 2015. Trained by: Various

Current Super Asia Champion

The Zephyr of Ichigaya might be from India, but he seems to have found his home inside the small walls of ChocoPro. Akki is an irreplaceable part of the team, providing much of the English support that has made the promotion so accessible for the world. A talented technical wrestler and creative high-flier, Akki climbed to the top earlier this year, becoming one of only a couple of Super Asia Champions, all while also holding the Asia Dream Tag Titles with Mei.

Masahiro Takanashi

Debut: 2003. Trained by: Ultimo Dragon

Current Asia Dream Tag Champion (with Chris Brookes: CDK)

When Emi Sakura spread her wings to the U.S.A, she handed the reins of ChocoPro to veteran and long time friend Masahiro Takanashi, who had helped her as a trainer and one of the rare regular male performers in the Ice Ribbon promotion. With extensive experience in DDT, he’s also helped facilitate familiar faces into Ichigaya, including his tag team partner Chris Brookes. A wily technician, Masa’s not afraid to bend the rules as he sees fit.

Yuna Mizumori

Debut: 2018. Trained by: Emi Sakura

The Tropical Powerhouse might just be the hardest hitter in Ichigaya, capable of throwing bombs and steamrolling over anyone not prepared for the high-energy offense. A former two-time Asia Dream tag champion, Yuna has achieved notable success early and wrestles often outside of Ichigaya. That power is offset only by her tropical personality, which brightens any room she leaps into.

Sayaka Obihiro

Debut: 2010. Trained by: Emi Sakura

A longtime disciple of Emi’s, Obihiro has had a lengthy career working a range of Japanese promotions, but she’s always called Gatoh Move home. A bit of a tag-team specialist, she has also helped oversee the Fourth Generation’s growth, taking a particular shine to Chie. The Blue Heart is always up for a fight, and has the veteran savvy to back up her speedy approach.

Photo Credit: Gatoh Move/ChocoPro

The Fourth Generation:

   This group all trained together under the Darejo Project, an initiative led by Emi Sakura that encourages anyone who wants to be a wrestler to give it a go. After their initial training, they debuted in August of 2019 and became staples of the promotion. The only member no longer with ChocoPro is RinRin, who went on to sign with GLEAT. They form the backbone of the promotion, giving fans a chance to see their continued growth as wrestlers and performers.

Chie Koishikawa

“Too Much Energy” isn’t just a nickname, it’s a lifestyle. Ever since making the decision to wrestle full time, Chie’s star has continued to rise, combining her fierce determination inside the ring with an unbridled enthusiastic charm. A recent hand injury threatened to derail her momentum, but then she brought in a shark puppet called Samezo and became even cooler. Her fencing sword is responsible for many of the holes in the Ichigaya roof.

Lulu Pencil

The leader of the Pencil Army and one of ChocoPro’s most endearing stories, Lulu started out incredibly weak – someone who would get hurt by her own moves and get taken out with ease. But her journey to becoming a pro wrestler has captivated fans, punctuated by an overarching story as she fought Chris Brookes in an effort to prove herself. She splits her time between wrestling and journalism, writing for IGN Japan.


The “Beautiful Cosplayer” nickname might not initially conjure images of a hard hitter, but Sayaka can pack a serious punch. She’s one of the strongest in Ichigaya, and compliments said striking with a series of highly technical submissions that aim to completely ensnare an opponent. Don’t let her soft-spoken persona fool you, there’s a fire inside.


One of the older members of the Fourth Generation, Sayuri has found a niche as Ichigaya’s resident ninja, often working alongside the kung-fu inspired Choun Shiryu. Sayuri has been a bit in and out of the roster since her debut, but she remains a steady influence against the crazier members of ChocoPro, while also showing a willingness to let loose as part of the dance team alongside Yuna and Chie.

Tokiko Kirihara

As the master of the Comanechi and possessor of an iron body, Kirihara has utilized both tools to make up for lost time. While always a dangerous opponent, she’s at her most devious when teaming alongside Antonio Honda, leaning into his wild antics and defying the many “bans” the team has received.


This article was first published in Monthly Puroresu Issue #8