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Joshi Renewal

3 years ago
Sakisama and Mei Saint Michel from Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling by @taigaphoto_pw

Joshi Renewal

By: Mitchell Adams

Unlike men’s wrestling in Japan, the unique world of joshi never had figures like Rikidōzan, The Giant Baba, or Antonio Inoki to act as kingpins. The legends who popularized puroresu never had any interest in bringing women into the sport, resulting in dozens of joshi promotions vying for market share. Although they lacked a figure sharing a stature similar to Inoki or Baba’, All Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling’s founding (1968 to 2005), ensured Joshi wrestling find a foothold. That led to more promotions like Gaea Japan and Arison coming into prominence in the 1990s.

Despite homegrown stars like Bull Nakano and Aja Kong making names for themselves internationally, joshi wrestling was still seen as a lesser sport than men’s wrestling for years. Promoters were to blame a lot of the time, as they did not actively encourage their wrestlers to develop an in-ring style unique to their promotion. Matches from All Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling such as Manami Toyota vs. Akira Hokuto at AJW Destiny 1995 were deservedly named as some of the best matches of the year, but were always being compared to matches from NJPW that happened around the same time, such as the half-dozen classics Keiji Mutoh had during that year’s G1 Climax tournament. Not surprisingly, despite holding dozens of shows in front of thousands of people over the years, interest waned in AJW and the promotion folded, like so many others before it.

However, in 2021, Joshi is developing a subgenre unto its own, attracting new fans in and outside the mainstream after decades of being considered the red-headed step sister. It boggles the mind that it’s taken so long for something so simple to happen, something that all parties involved haven’t even realized yet. The catalyst? One word: COMPETITION!

Joshi Strong Style

World Wonder Ring Stardom (STARDOM) burst onto the scene as one of the hottest acts in puroresu. Founded in 2010 by businessman and former Arison owner Rossy Ogawa along with former All Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling stars Nanae Takahashi and Fuka, STARDOM displayed a developed style of its own. Nanae and Fuka spent huge amounts of time and effort training and developing the promotion’s roster to create something that is reminiscent of Strong Style. It features a level of striking, throws and submissions that take full advantage of the fact that women are naturally more agile, flexible, and graceful than men.

Athletes like Mayu Iwatani, the late Hana Kimura, Saki Akai, and Utami Hayashishita have become the gold standard of women’s pro wrestling throughout the world. Not only is the wrestling out of control, but the character-driven brands in Japan offer viewers something a little extra.

STARDOM, helmed by Ogawa, pioneered the combination of a unique in-ring style with the kawaii spirit
that sees the youth of Japan worship all things cute and happy. The company quickly became one of the biggest and most successful Joshi endeavors ever. New Japan’s parent company Bushiroad acquired the company in late 2019 in an effort to capitalize on, and grow its popularity. But it wasn’t long until STARDOM found itself going toe-to-toe with another pioneering promotion dead set on outperforming

Queens Road

Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling was the brainchild of DDT Pro Wrestling founder and President Sanshiro Takagi. He wanted to see if the wild, wacky (and sometimes cringe-worthy) comedic style he had fostered in DDT would work in the female sphere. He recruited longtime joshi promoter Tetsuya Kodo to find and train women in the DDT Style while insisting they follow three intrusive rules: no drinking, no smoking and no boyfriends. Progress was slow and the small number of athletes recruited took a great deal of time to develop in the ring. Over its first three years, TJPW’s events were J-Pop concerts promoted by Takagi that featured one or two matches.

Takagi decided to fully support TJPW and turned into a full-fledged sister promotion of DDT Pro in 2016. Athletes like Miyu Yamashita, Shoko Nakajima, Yuka Sakasaki, and most importantly, Maki Itoh began to master their craft to develop their own unique characters. TJPW took the idea first used by STARDOM to promote Joshi wrestlers through a kawaii lens, a decision which soon proved fruitful as TJPW turned up the volume to 11 and quickly began selling out shows in venues that STARDOM
frequently ran in.

But something else happened during this time that dwarfed the promotion’s early attendance success. It seemed that members of the TJPW roster had begun to develop an in-ring style that was all their own — it was not at all the female DDT Pro style that Takagi originally wanted. Yes, there was still plenty of comedy to be had, but it was not the same type of cringe-worthy hijinks of people like Danshoku Dino, which repels as many viewers as it draws in. The backbone of this new style, however, seemed to take its cues from Kings Road as created by The Giant Baba and used in All Japan Pro Wrestling.

For the uninitiated, Kings Road is an in-ring style that is less about Strong Style striking and submissions, and more about the slams, suplexes, and mat wrestling intended to wear the opponent out. This style has been reinvented once before by Mitsuharu Misawa and Pro Wrestling NOAH to include stiff body strikes and high angle Slams and Suplexes to the head and neck. The end goal remains to wear opponents down. This variation, which he dubbed “Ark Style,” not only shortened his career but also his life. Athletes in TJPW have chosen to reinvent Kings Road by adding comedy to it that features slapstick, goofball, and female-centric humor. All of this makes them arguably the most internationally bankable CyberFight promotions, even more than DDT and NOAH.

A Joshi War for Supremacy?

If there is one thing that historically rings true in the Pro Wrestling industry, it’s that competition always pushes the players involved to step up their respective games.

It worked for men’s wrestling throughout the 1980s and the 1990s when the competition for market share was fierce, helping spur wrestling innovation and production that propelled the industry towards its biggest boom in popularity, in terms of viewership and merch sales. That period famously saw pro wrestlers break into the mainstream, scoring TV and film appearances as crossovers featuring actors, singers, athletes and other entertainers mixing it up with grapplers on both wrestling programs and variety shows.

Utami Hayashishita Monthly Puroresu Promotional Artwork

The question is this: How long will it be before those behind the scenes at STARDOM and TJPW figure this out and when they do, what will the competition between the two look like? Will we see mainstream pop culture stars cross over and make appearances in either Stardom or TJPW? Will Joshi wrestlers jump ship from either promotion seeking more money and more opportunity? Will one or both of these growing promotions start touring internationally? Will they set up dojos outside Japan to train Western Joshi stars? All of these things could happen, or none of them could happen. But one thing’s for sure: Joshi is reaching unprecedented heights as these businesses battle for an edge with their audiences. Monthly Puroresu and our readers? We. are. here for it.

This article first appeared in Monthly Puroresu Issue #5

Written by:

20+ Year wrestling fan living in the North of the UK. Write for Monthly Puroresu, as well as The Wrestling Estate, and also podcast with BBGWrestling. Active on Twitter and LinkedIn, sharing my love with other fans. Hope you enjoy my articles and content.