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Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling’s New Era

4 months ago Masahiro Kubota | MP | TJPW 10th Anniversary, 12.1.23

Masahiro Kubota | MP | TJPW 10th Anniversary, 12.1.23

Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling’s New Era

By: Jeff Brown

TJPW is in a new era, and as 2023 was winding down, so too was the time of important members such as Yuka Sakazaki and Saki Akai both leaving the company and talent such as Maki Itoh and Miyu Yamashita taking more frequent excursions to the United States. Also, Juria Nagano, who was someone who brought fresh eyes to the company, has announced her graduation in March. This was the opportunity for many of the players to take a step or even a leap forward, as their contributions and roles would become more significant. Very much like a sports franchise in a rebuilding period, TJPW is finding out who will be main eventing and carrying titles as the landscape is significantly different. Many of these pieces were already on the board and were improving in 2023.

The Frontrunners

One of the players to make a leap forward is Miu Watanabe. The Up Up Girl had an International Princess Title reign and visited the United States with TJPW and for Spark Joshi. Her run with the belt saw her take on outsiders and ended with a huge match with her Daydream teammate and friend Rika Tatsumi. That match at Grand Princess 23 was proof of concept that Miu was ready for greater things. She had been a runner-up in the Tokyo Princess Cup in 2022 but was eliminated early in 2023. On January 6th, at TJPW Inspiration 8, Miu won the Princess of Princess Title #1 Contendership Battle Royal to become the next challenger for Miyu Yamashita. This will take place at the main event of Grand Princes ‘24.

Moka Miyamoto has had a few sparks of greatness over the course of her young career. In tournaments, she really shines and walks right up to the doorway of top-level wrestlers. As her confidence grows stronger, it’s inevitable that she breaks through and becomes a regular at the top of the card. She had some of her strongest efforts against both Yamashita and Miu; the desire to win was on full display when she went for the International Princess Title. That determination has stayed with her, and Miyamoto has been in the main events on recent cards. Her karate-based tag team with Juria Nagano has also been a high point in her run.

Mahiro was a bit of a lost soul at the start of 2023, but in the spring, she had a transformative run that culminated in an all-time performance in Hype! Her style is very stoic and straightlaced, which is a stark contrast to the colorful and outrageous cast of characters in TJPW. Grand Princess ‘23 saw the debut of many rookies, which set a fire under Mahiro, who faced many of them in the multi-person tag match. Toga, especially being so aggressive in their face-off, appeared to be a wake-up call to Mahiro. During Hype! Mahiro really stretched out and took on a variety of roles as Hyper Misao toyed with space and time to try and assist Mahiro in getting a victory. Her continual loss in important matches, despite her size and strength advantage and struggle to gain footing, is an exceptional story arc that takes full advantage of her ability to project sadness and frustration and will make her eventual big win so meaningful.

Daisy Monkey has challenged for the Princess Tag Titles in the past and are both very dependable workers in the ring. Arisu Endo and Moka were doing hands-on training for the Dream on the Ring YouTube series. Endo, in particular, has had some important matches as she takes on bigger challenges. They are often the underdogs, but the crowd has really taken to the duo, especially Endo, who feels like a title run, be it singles or tag, is in her near future. Daisy Monkey have won the Max Heart Tournament and once again in the conversation for a tag title shot. Suzume is the fun, high-speed style wrestler that can be counted on to have a solid opening match with the large number of rookies that TJPW is getting up and running for the new year. Suzume can tap into a more aggressive side in matches, and that may be the key to her having greater success in 2024.

On The Path to Greatness

In the same way Mahiro was finding herself, Kaya Toribami is an incredible athlete with a unique look and style that is on the verge of greatness and is becoming more popular with each appearance. In the ring, she is very reminiscent of Shoko, with a lot of great kicks and lucha-style offense. She has struggled to be consistent, but the flashes of brilliance are there. Toribami did have a stronger effort when she beat Moka at Korakuen and is heading in the right direction.

Nao Kakuta, a ring general and one of the more tenured roster members, finally got the elusive title win with her partner Hikari Noa as Free WiFi. Unfortunately, due to personal problems, they had to forfeit the championships, but Kakuta continues to be a tent pole for the company. While she is fantastic in tag team outings, her match with Mizuki for the Princess of Princess Championship cemented her claim of being main event-worthy.

Hikari Noa, when she makes her return, will no doubt be an important player for the brand; she is another wrestler that can be placed anywhere on a card and flourish. Her occasional forays into hardcore weapons matches add a nice flavor to a show, and her potential as a singles star hasn’t even been close to being met yet, with the sky being the limit.

Rika Tatsumi is an unpredictable element in most matches, and her time in Daydream really adds star power to the tag division as she is one of the most popular players. Rika has even stated that she has an interest in regaining the Princess of Princess Title, which she had a somewhat brief run with in 2021. As a main eventer, she has been a bit underutilized, but that is likely to change as she becomes more relied upon as a veteran presence.

Yuki Aino has had a bit of a journey finding her place after her sister and frequent tag partner graduated. She really stepped up, though, when she teamed up with Ryo Mizunami. The duo is a good powerhouse unit that is a great challenge for the smaller TJPW teams and really diversifies the tag division. Speaking of Mizunami, she and the likes of Ram Kaichow and the legend Aja Kong are still visiting guests that help test and carry the younger roster to new heights.

Yuki Arai has her full-time idol work in SKE48 but is still a regular part of the crew; her match quality belies her being so new to wrestling, and Arai adds a big event feel when she does SKE48 performances in a TJPW ring. Her popularity in the music industry will continue to garner massive positive mainstream attention.

Keeping the Spirit Alive

Raku, Pom Harajuku, and Neko (when she heals from injury) are able to provide the fun and outlandish matches that are a hallmark of the brand. It is worth noting that Pom has become an integral part of multi-person tags, often as the sympathetic partner that can endure a beating. Also, the team with Max the Impaler is a beloved team the world over. Raku is also very capable of having serious bouts when called upon, but she does inventive comedy spots so well. A more determined Raku would be a welcome addition to their cards going forward..

The Old Guard That Light the Way

Veterans are helping, like Shoko Nakajima, Hyper Misao, and Mizuki. Nakajima is a decorated fighter who has done just about everything but is very much a test for the more inexperienced Joshi. She is also relied upon when big names from overseas visit for great matches. Nakajima has become very selfless and will often appear on shows, testing out the younger roster and cultivating them. Her team with Hyper Misao, Kyoraku Kyomei, can be a proving ground for newly formed tag teams and can also dive into lunacy.

Mizuki was the Princess of Princess Champion until the summer and was very much an MVP for the company; she fits in with all styles and stipulations and can do the dramatic match of the year or insane comedy matches. She has spent the majority of her career in TJPW but does branch out to places such as America, China, and Singapore, and will be an even stronger cornerstone this year.

Even Yuki Kamifuku has been reinvigorated with her Queen of Asia title run along with her great performances in the recent Tokyo Princess Cup that culminated with her big match in the finals against Yamashita. She is an all rounder who can delve into The Three Stooges style vaudeville or be a guiding force in the ring.

Hyper Misao is often in the three ways and is a bit like a mad scientist who experiments in the ring on each show; however, she played an important role when masterminding her produce show Hyper! Misao took a step back, made it a platform for Mahiro, and gave her the boost she needed. The first 2 rounds of the Max Heart Tournament were a showcase for her and Shoko and reminded everyone that she can go in the ring when called upon. Misao is one of the most creative minds in all of wrestling or any part of the arts world. Her desire to wrestle in an amusement park came to fruition over the summer. She was also a key point of chaos for the recent Aquarium show, which was another highlight and a boundary-pushing wrestling match. Misao has become the heart of Tokyo Joshi, as she can be both the grand storyteller putting on great matches and the iconoclast that creates avant-garde masterpieces.

Though her appearances are becoming infrequent, Maki Itoh is an absolute rock star that enhances every card she is a part of. One of the biggest names in Joshi, her skills in the ring are often overlooked, but she is a versatile performer and great ambassador when overseas.

Of course, there is also the Ace of the roster, Miyu Yamashita, who is currently the champion and the most accomplished in the company. The conscience and the person that all others are striving to be and to best. Just being across the ring from Yamashita is a feather in the cap of any wrestler. She has also been traveling abroad but continues to be the foundation and flagbearer for the company.

A lot of the wrestling world is changing in 2024. NJPW and STARDOM are also both having major shifts at the top of their companies, and this should be seen as an exciting time. This is an opportunity for fresh faces and new ideas to be put forth in TJPW and reshape the Joshi world in general.

Tokyo Joshi is also developing a large number of rookies in Wakana Uehara, HIMAWARI, Runa Okubo, Shino Suzuki, Haru Kazashiro, and Toga, with more set to debut in the future. This crop of talent, while retaining the vibrance of the past, puts an emphasis on wrestling moves and fighting spirit, which could end up being a game changer for the character of Tokyo Joshi. The frivolity and looser house blend may have reached its ceiling because, to many potential fans, it is a barrier with many other promotions having a crisp, polished formula. While they should not erase it, finding a balance with their past quirkiness and more serious attitude is the crossroads TJPW is standing at. A rundown of this rookie class will follow as a companion primer piece.

While change can make people feel uncomfortable and create an atmosphere of uncertainty, history has shown that major rearrangements can reignite wrestling companies and that new directions can be a fruitful path. What TJPW is and will become is unknown, but it will be exciting as new names are added to marquees and legacies are built.

All photos by Masahiro Kubota for Monthly Puroresu

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

Written by:

I mainly focus on making music, while writing on the side. After graduating high school, I studied guitar in the Seattle area. Music reviews really got me started with blogging and journalism. Meantime, I watched ‘90s AJW and Gaea throughout the 2000s & parachuted in for Ice Ribbon, Stardom, Actwres Girl’Z. I live in Edgewood, WA and am a proud member of the Duwamish tribe.