Tuesday, August 1, 2023

The History of Women's Wrestling in Japan

Women's wrestling has a long and rich history in Japan. It dates back to the late 1940s when women's wrestling was often presented as a novelty act. However, in November 1954 it was taken more seriously, as Mae Young, Mildred Burke, other American wrestlers, and Japanese wrestlers got involved with World Ladies Pro Wrestling, which presented events in the Kanto and Kansai regions of Japan. World Ladies Pro Wrestling made one of its biggest impacts at Kuramae Kokugikan in Tokyo, where one of their events drew 15,000 fans.

Japanese women's wrestling (or, "joshi puroresu" as it is also known as) promotions began forming in Japan after the World Ladies Pro Wrestling events, but the first one to be very successful was AJW, which was founded in 1968 and was able to get a TV deal with Fuji TV in the same year. Many of the top wrestlers became stars as the viewers enjoyed their fast-paced action and the focus on athleticism. AJW grew in popularity over the years to where its TV program began airing in the prime-slot in the 1980s. Women's wrestling in Japan experienced a boom period, as AJW eventually was joined on the women's wrestling scene by other promotions, including Japan Women's Pro-Wrestling (JWP) in 1986, and Hyper Visual Fighting Arsion (ARSION), in 1997.

Some of the most famous woman wrestlers who were in the industry during the 1980s to 1990s period in Japan include:

Manami Toyota

Considered by many fans to be the best of her generation, Manami Toyota captured many championships during her career that lasted three decades, including the AJW Championship, the WWWA World Championship, the IWA World Championship, the All Pacific Championship, the JWP Openweight Championship, the Triangle Ribbon Championship, the WWWA Tag Team Championship, the UWA World Women's Tag Team Championship, and the JWP Tag Team Championship. Toyota's IWA World Championship reign lasted 1,115 days, making it the longest reign in the championship's history.

After many years of being a superstar of the Japanese wrestling scene, Manami Toyota made her debut on the American wrestling scene in 2010 for CHIKARA. Toyota wrestled for them in 2011 (participating in its King Of Trios tournament) and 2012 as well.

Aja Kong

Aja Kong has captured many championships during her career that has been continuing for over three decades, including the AJW Championship, the WWWA World Championship, the Sendai Girls World Championship, the Queen Of ARSION Championship, the All Pacific Championship, the DDT Iron Man Heavy Metal Championship, the WWWA Tag Team Championship, the Japanese Tag Team Championship, the JWP Tag Team Championship, the Daily Sports Tag Team Championship, and the KO-D Six Man Tag Team Championship.

Aja Kong has also made her presence known in the United States on more than one occasion. In 1995, Kong participated in an elimination match at WWE's Survivor Series premium event, where she dominated the competition and was the sole survivor. Kong also competed on, "Raw" that same year.

Aja Kong also has promoting experience: In 1997 she founded Hyper Visual Fighting ARISON, which that she led until 2001. Kong won the promotion's Queen Of ARSION Championship in August 1999 and held it for 485 days, the longest reign with the championship in history.

In today's era of pro wrestling, Aja Kong has made appearances in AEW. Kong even participated in an AEW Women's World Championship Eliminator Tournament in 2021, making it to the semi-finals.

Akira Hokuto

Akira Hokuto is not only a legend of the Japanese wrestling scene, but she also impacted the American wrestling scene during one of its hottest periods. Already a former WWWA Tag Team Champion, former AJW Junior Champion, and former All Pacific Champion, Hokuto was one of the joshi talents introduced to the US audience in the 1990s, via WCW in 1995, while the Monday Night Wars were taking place between WCW and WWE. In 1996, She participated in a tournament to crown the first WCW World Women's Champion, which she won. Hokuto was never defeated for the championship, making her the only WCW World Women's Champion in history.

Bull Nakano

Bull Nakano has one of the most impressive resumes in Japanese women's wrestling. On the Japanese wrestling scene, along with having held the WWWA Tag Team, AJW Junior, and All Pacific Championships, she is the longest-reigining AJW and WWWA World Champion in history. In 1992, Nakano began wrestling in Mexico, where she won the CMLL World Women's Championship. In 1994, Nakano returned to WWE (she had wrestled for them previously in 1986), and after being with the company for only six months, Nakano won the WWE (WWF) Women's Championship, becoming the first Japanese woman wrestler to hold a WWE singles championship. The match occurred in November 1994 at AJW Doumu Super Woman Great War - Big Egg Wrestling Universe, with her opponent being Alundra Blayze.

A 4-disc DVD of AJW Doumu Super Woman Great War - Big Egg Wrestling Universe, which features 10 hours and 34 minutes of wrestling action by stars of the Japanese wrestling scene including Aja Kong, Akira Hokuto, and more, can be purchased here.

By the new millennium, the landscape of the women's wrestling scene in Japan was changing. JWP had split into two groups: Ladies Legend Pro Wrestling-X (LLPW-X) and Japanese Women Pro-Wrestling Project (JWP). Meanwhile, AJW and ARSION (known as AtoZ at this point), were not experiencing the same level of success that they once had. AJW lost its TV spot in 2002 and then went defunct in 2005. AtoZ closed its doors in 2006. However, the Japanese wrestling scene is always healthy- whenever major promotions close down, new promotions emerge soon after to replace them, as promotions such as Stardom, Ice Ribbon, Sendai Girls, and WAVE became new sources to watch some of the best wrestlers in the world, such as current IWGP Women's Champion Mayu Iwatani, current World Of Stardom Champion Tam Nakano, the longest-reigning Sendai Girls World Champion in history Chihiro Hashimoto, and comedy wrestling genius Sakura Hirota.

As these promotions continue to attract a growing number of fans both nationally and internationally, the women's wrestling is an important part of Japan's wrestling scene, and its future looks bright. And as its popularity grows internationally, I foresee more promotions connecting with the English markets inside and outside of Japan by providing information in English, helping them grow in visibility and show attendance. I am fluent in English and have experience in marketing and promotion, so I believe I could be a valuable asset to a Japanese women's wrestling promotion that is looking to connect with English-speaking audiences. I am also passionate about women's wrestling and would be excited to work with a promotion to help grow that part of the industry.

The potential growth for the women's wrestling industry in Japan is significant if more promotions connect with English-speaking audiences. One reason is that there is a growing interest in women's wrestling among English-speaking fans. This is due in part to the success of promotions like WWE and AEW, which have featured some of the best women wrestlers in the world. It is also due to the availability of streaming services like NJPW World and Stardom World, which allow fans to watch Japanese women's wrestling from the comfort of their own homes.

A second reason is there is a large potential audience for women's wrestling in English-speaking countries. According to digital strategy consulting company Gitnux, around 40% of WWE's audience is female. This suggests that there is a significant number of women who are interested in watching wrestling, but who may not be aware of the high-quality women's wrestling that is available in Japan.

A third reason is that connecting with English-speaking audiences would allow Japanese promotions to tap into a new revenue stream. By selling tickets to English-speaking fans, promotions could generate more revenue and help to grow the industry.

By doing this, Japanese promotions could reach a new audience and grow the industry of women's wrestling in Japan even more.

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