The 🤼 プロレス thread! Learning Japanese through pro wrestling

After threatening to start this thread for months, here it finally is!

This thread is for Japanese pro wrestling specifically, since the focus here is on using pro wrestling as a learning resource for Japanese. But if there’s sufficient interest in discussing pro wrestling as a whole, we can start another thread in the campfire section. Of course, the way the pro wrestling industry works, it’s inevitable that there will be some crossover regardless.

The first three posts in this thread can be edited by anyone! If you have anything to add or any corrections to make, feel free to edit it. I’ve only been watching wrestling since 2019, so my own knowledge is quite limited.

This is a long post. Sorry! I tried to make it very accessible to people who know nothing about wrestling, but who might be curious about it. This is intended as a general reference post, so read as much or as little of this as you would like.

Why professional wrestling is good for Japanese language learners

Pro wrestling is fantastic for immersion because it’s a rare example of media that you can watch and understand the basic story of even without understanding a single word of the language, since most of the storytelling happens without words, and the commentary is completely optional. This means that even as a complete beginner, it’s a great source for listening practice that won’t leave you bored or frustrated because of your lack of understanding, since the primary focus is on watching the match anyway. But the more you do understand, the more nuance and details you’ll be able to appreciate, so it’s a great incentive to learn more.

Wrestling is also great reading practice in the form of twitter and text interviews with the wrestlers. Twitter in particular is fantastic because wrestlers will use their twitter accounts to build storylines and further feuds (as well as just tweeting about everyday things in their lives), so it’s good motivation for daily reading practice with small, manageable amounts of text.

The other thing that’s really fun about wrestling from a language learning perspective is that pro wrestling is a very global industry, with a lot of cultural exchange between America, Japan, and Mexico (as well as other countries), and wrestlers frequently travel between different countries to perform (in a pre-pandemic world, at least). So there are all kinds of entertaining interactions between wrestlers who speak different languages, and a general spirit of welcoming international fans and wrestlers and forming connections despite language barriers.

Why professional wrestling is good

The appeal of pro wrestling can be difficult to explain because it’s a very weird medium for a lot of reasons. It’s sort of a cross between sports and theater, and often uses a lot of carny language since it originated in 19th century carnivals in America and still hasn’t outgrown its roots.

Pro wrestling is similar to soap opera or long-running shounen anime because storylines unfold over a period of years, with gradual development happening over many hours of content. The most unique thing about the medium is that it happens in real time. One minute in pro wrestling is one minute in the real world. The results to matches are scripted and determined ahead of time, but the matches themselves are stunt fights performed in a single take in front of a live audience, and they require an incredible amount of skill as well as requiring the opponents in the match to work together in order to keep each other safe and make the performance believable. It’s gymnastics with a plot.

Wrestling fans know that wrestling is “fake”, but enjoy suspending their disbelief and participating in the performance by acting like everything they’re seeing is real. Part of what is so compelling about pro wrestling is that it essentially offers a glimpse into an alternate reality running parallel to our own that is populated by larger-than-life characters and operates according to slightly different rules. It’s a really fascinating blend of real and fake.

For an in-depth explanation of a lot of basic concepts in pro wrestling (as well as a brief introduction to my favorite story in wrestling), Super Eyepatch Wolf has a really good video essay about it. I watched this when I was still very new to wrestling, and it was a fantastic introduction.

If you aren’t a video essay kind of person, this is the written essay that transformed me from someone who hated wrestling into someone who was absolutely obsessed with it. It’s a long description of one pro wrestling storyline involving a decade long gay love story.

However, I can’t recommend pro wrestling without also mentioning that the pro wrestling industry has a lot of awful history. You get the horrors of the entertainment industry in general, plus it’s happening in an industry where the companies are always lying to you. Even though everyone knows that pro wrestling is scripted, there is often a taboo (especially in Mexico and Japan) against breaking kayfabe by publicly acknowledging that the results are predetermined. All of this creates a culture where it’s actually expected that you’re being lied to, and it can make it easier for companies to get away with doing shady stuff.

As I heard another fan once describe it, pro wrestling is the best artistic medium of all time with the worst industry of all time. The industry can be a very evil place, but the medium itself can tell incredibly moving stories that will bring emotions out of you that you never knew existed.

How プロレス storytelling works

Japanese pro wrestling, or puro as westerners often refer to it, typically does almost all of its storytelling in the ring. This is in contrast to WWE and other American companies, which often feature non-wrestling segments and extensive backstage scenes on their shows. This can make it difficult to follow at first, if you’re unused to how wrestling matches can tell a story and convey character beats.

Pro wrestling storytelling happens both long-term and short-term. Each individual match has its own story, and individual matches function sort of like episodes in the longer story of the characters involved. You can watch a match in isolation and still get really invested in it, but the emotional payoff gets better if you view each match in the context of the larger story.

On a very basic level, wrestling storytelling is simple: the characters are in a fight, and each side wants to win. Because pro wrestling is “worked” (meaning matches aren’t real fights), this involves a concept called “selling”. When a wrestler gets hit by a move, they sell the move by acting like it hurt them a lot more than it actually did. As the match progresses, generally the wrestlers sell the damage from it more and more, until finally one of the wrestlers hits a move that the other wrestler can’t come back from and gets the win.

There are multiple ways to win a match. The two most common are by scoring a pinfall or winning by submission. To pin someone, both of their shoulders need to be touching the mat while the referee counts to three. If the person getting pinned lifts their shoulder or kicks their opponent off of them before the count reaches three, they avoid getting pinned. A wrestler wins by submission by putting their opponent in a painful hold and forcing their opponent to tap out. If a wrestler manages to reach the ropes, the referee will force their opponent to break the hold. Pins also do not count if part of the wrestler’s body is over the ropes.

The ropes (there are typically three) are attached to the ring posts with turnbuckles. Wrestlers often climb or leap up onto the ropes to do moves from the air, and many moves specifically happen at the turnbuckles because the ropes are more steady there. The turnbuckles are covered by padding, though it isn’t uncommon for wrestlers to cheat by pulling the padding away and exposing the steel turnbuckles, which they can then throw their opponent into. The portion of the mat that extends out past the ropes is called the ring apron. This is frequently referred to as “the hardest part of the ring” during matches, and moves on the apron are considered more dangerous. Wrestling rings vary a lot in shape and size.

Most matches go to “one fall,” which means they end after someone gets pinned or taps out, but in a two out of three falls match, the match continues until one side wins two falls. Most falls are only legal if they happen inside the ring, but in a falls count anywhere match, they can happen outside as well. In an elimination match, getting pinned or submitted (or falling out of the ring after going over the top rope) eliminates that wrestler from the match, but the match continues until everyone on one side has been eliminated.

Matches can also end by disqualification if a wrestler gets caught severely breaking the rules, or by countout if a wrestler is outside of the ring long enough for the referee to count to twenty (ten in some promotions, but I think twenty is more common in Japanese wrestling). They can also end by knockout if the referee determines that a wrestler has passed out. These tend not to be super common in Japanese wrestling, but you will see them occasionally, and matches will often tease these outcomes to add more drama. Most matches also have a time limit (the number varies according to the match, and according to the promotion). Time limit draws are fairly uncommon, but they do happen.

And of course, matches can have any number of other stipulations, which can be pretty much literally anything. Some are more traditional: hardcore matches, ladder matches, hair matches, etc. But some of them get pretty creative and/or wild! Western fans often have a perception of puro as being more sports-like and serious than American pro wrestling, but this isn’t true of all companies.

Tag team wrestling is a large part of Japanese wrestling. Many promotions divide their wrestlers into factions, and often shows will primarily consist of tag matches with few singles matches. Wrestlers will fight alongside their factionmates and get involved in their feuds, and their relationships with both their partners and their opponents will shift over time.

In a tag match, technically only one wrestler from each team is allowed to be in the ring at the same time, and if a wrestler wants to swap with a teammate, they must physically tag that person’s hand at their team’s corner (there are two main corners: the red corner and the blue corner, plus two neutral corners). There is a grace period (usually ten seconds in puro) before the first person has to leave the ring, so it is generally during this time that all of the cool tandem moves happen that are the entire point of tag team wrestling in the first place.

Of course, wrestlers frequently break the rules, and tag matches in particular often end up a little messy, with wrestlers coming into the ring illegally to help their partners and break up their opponents’ pin attempts, or overstaying their ten seconds after they tag out. Usually these are not offenses that referees deem worthy of disqualifying someone over, so naturally that means they happen in pretty much every single tag match. A wrestler can usually get away with doing something illegal as long as they stop doing it before the referee counts to five.

Foreign objects like tables, chairs, weapons, etc. are often brought into matches, usually illegally (though they are allowed in no disqualification matches). Despite most wrestling violence being worked, matches do occasionally involve blood. Deathmatch wrestling in particular has a tendency to get bloody. Sometimes the blood in a match is accidental (bleeding “hardway”), and sometimes it is intentional (the usual tactic is by blading). If you struggle a lot with the sight of blood, there are plenty of companies you can watch where it almost never happens! It’s something that I also struggle with, so I felt the need to mention it.

As with any sport or athletic performance, serious injuries do sometimes happen in wrestling, but this is pretty uncommon. It can sometimes be hard to tell if a wrestler is really injured or if they’re just selling a worked injury.

Most Japanese wrestling promotions have trainee wrestlers, and they typically start out at the very bottom of the pecking order and have to gradually work their way up the ranks by gaining more experience before the company gives them any wins. It can be very rewarding to follow a specific promotion long enough to see someone debut as a trainee, then start to actually win matches and get prominent storylines.

Some promotions also have weight classes. Often they just have two: a heavyweight division, and a junior heavyweight division. Usually heavyweight wrestling championships are given more prestige, and these matches typically are the main event over junior heavyweight matches (the main event is the match that happens last, and it is generally the most important and most anticipated match). There are some stylistic differences between heavyweight wrestling and junior heavyweight wrestling, and each has its own charms. Junior heavyweight wrestlers tend to lose to heavyweight wrestlers in one-on-one encounters, and juniors frequently take the pin from heavyweight wrestlers in tag matches, but not always!

Like all athletes, wrestlers have short careers, and there comes a point where they may still be talented but are pushed out because of their age, or may have to quit for the sake of their health. Wrestler retirements are usually very emotional, both for the fans and the performers. Often, bigger name wrestlers will get a full retirement tour before their final match, where they face (or team up with) their notable rivals in the matches leading up to the end.

Interesting conflicts play out between younger talent (who feel overshadowed by the stardom of legends overstaying their time) and older talent (who aren’t ready to step out of the spotlight and don’t want to “put over” the younger talent the way tradition mandates). This is even more tense when it happens within the close relationship of a trainer and their student.

A very basic concept in wrestling is the existence of heels and faces. A face (from the word “babyface”) is generally the hero of the match, and is the character that the fans are supposed to root for. A heel is generally the villain, and is the character that the fans are supposed to boo. Heels frequently cheat in matches and attack other wrestlers after the match in order to give themselves an unfair advantage.

Heel/face dynamics can be very complex, but these are the basics. It’s also important to note that racism and xenophobia have a long history in wrestling, and marginalized people and foreigners were often boxed into the heel role. Wrestlers who “have” to be heels because they don’t have the traits to become successful faces are often sympathetic on a meta level. There are also “tweeners,” which usually refers to wrestlers who are supposed to be heels, but are too beloved by the fans to be truly treated that way in the narrative.

Many matches are heel vs face matches, but not all of them, and wrestlers can also temporarily take on the opposite role in a heel vs heel or face vs face match in order to give the crowd someone to root for, or fully shift alignment during a match (known as a “heel turn” if it’s a face turning evil, or a “face turn” if it’s a heel turning good again).

Wrestlers all have their own movesets, which vary drastically depending on their body type and abilities, their heel or face alignment, their pre-wrestling background, their preferred style of fighting, and aesthetics. In addition to having signature moves that they’re known for doing, wrestlers usually have at least one finisher, which is their most powerful move. Most finishers have a unique name that the wrestler came up with (or that another wrestler came up with, once upon a time).

True to their name, a finisher is usually the move that finishes a match (but not always). These moves are harder for wrestlers to kick out of or escape, and depending on the finisher, it can be a very big deal if the opponent manages to kick out of it after it has successfully been hit. This often says something about the relationship between the wrestlers or their relative power levels at the moment.

One of the most fascinating aspects of wrestling is that it’s very intertextual. A spot (scripted series of moves) in one match will reference other matches, sometimes from a week or two ago, sometimes from many months or even years ago. Wrestlers will frequently reference each other by their choice of moves. This can mean using moves from vanquished opponents, or using moves from their friends or mentors, or using moves that their heroes or enemies use, sometimes as a homage, sometimes as a taunt. Sometimes they reference history from entirely different companies than the one they’re wrestling in now.

The costumes that wrestlers wear during matches is generally referred to as their “gear.” Wrestling gear itself can be used to tell stories, with wrestlers choosing particular motifs with symbolic importance, or using colors to represent particular things. Wrestling gear, like moves, sometimes references other wrestlers. Wrestlers will often debut new gear at important moments in their career, or bring back old gear when they’re trying to make a particular point.

All of these things provide the basic building blocks of wrestling storytelling. The decisions that wrestlers make during their matches give us a lot of insight into who the characters are. Some of them are cruel, while others are more mischievous. Some are powerful and overconfident, and some are well-intentioned but naive and inexperienced. Even without hearing any of the wrestlers talk, just by watching them wrestle, you can generally get an idea of their personality.

If you want to see an example of how all of this comes together, here’s a very in-depth essay on the storytelling of one match, which ties into the story talked about in the essay linked above.

Many promotions also have post-match and/or pre-match interviews with the wrestlers, where they have a space to comment on their match, their opponent, or on literally whatever they want to talk about at the time (Kenta, a NJPW wrestler, managed to turn some of his post-match comments into an otome game where he was romancing the camera operator). These interviews often aren’t shown in the venues (except for sometimes the very last interview after the main event) or included in the video uploads of the shows, but might be uploaded separately, and can sometimes be found in places like youtube or twitter.

The post-match interviews are optional, but they’re very important for establishing the characters’ motivation at the time, which helps make the matches a lot more meaningful. If you follow a promotion over a longer period of time and watch all or most of the matches and watch (or read) the post-match comments alongside them, you will see the characters shift and develop over time. Significant developments, like a character turning heel, will often be foreshadowed in the post-match comments.

Storylines are also built through press conferences and longer interviews with the wrestlers, as well as informal interactions between the wrestlers on twitter. All of these things tend to be optional to read or watch, but can be very entertaining and make the stories more compelling.

Japanese wrestlers usually keep kayfabe in interviews, and on their twitter accounts, and any place where they appear as a public figure. This means they don’t acknowledge that pro wrestling is scripted, and they stay in character in these settings. Many wrestlers also keep their personal lives private, though occasionally details will get out into the public, often because of some scandal.

It’s very common for Japanese wrestling promotions to have bigger shows spaced throughout the year with a lot of smaller shows in between them where storylines are advanced more gradually, and with less at stake in the matches. If two wrestlers have an upcoming big singles match for a championship belt, for example, the smaller shows will often have preview matches where the wrestlers in the upcoming match face off against each other in tag teams. These shows are typically less dramatic, and the wrestling is often less intense, so some fans choose to skip them and only tune in for the bigger shows. Personally, I really enjoy the smaller shows, because I appreciate seeing the build-up to the big matches, and I love watching how the relationships between the characters develop over time.

Usually title matches (and non-title feuds) have a deep ideological or personal matter at the center of them. The tension between the wrestlers can be caused by personal betrayal or ambition, or it can be caused by something as abstract as ideological differences concerning the direction of the company or concerning pro wrestling in general.

The “why” of the match is really the meat of the storytelling. Why does each wrestler need to win this fight? This is where wrestling grabs you by the heart. Once you become invested in one side winning, the match becomes even more compelling. Triumph becomes even sweeter, and defeat feels devastating. Sometimes it takes many years for a wrestler to finally get the big win that you’ve been waiting for. Sometimes it never happens. As a fan, all you can do is keep hoping.

One last note on プロレス during 2020-2021: the covid-19 pandemic affected pro wrestling just like it affected other sports and performance media. Wrestling for the first couple months of 2020 in Japan was normal, but after the pandemic hit, things changed a lot.

For a chunk of 2020, as well as parts of 2021, the only wrestling shows that were happening were shows filmed without a crowd. This drastically affects the medium! Crowds have traditionally been an extremely vital part of pro wrestling, and it can be hard to watch matches without them. Some promotions did some very experimental matches during this time that would not be possible in normal conditions.

Once crowds were allowed back into venues, the audience was allowed to clap and stomp their feet, but not verbally cheer or boo (since singing and shouting spreads the virus). As of the time of writing, this rule is still in place. The clapping is an improvement upon silence, but the crowd’s inability to cheer and boo means there’s something noticeably missing from the matches. If you watch wrestling from this period and are wondering why the crowds are so subdued, this is why.

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Some プロレス companies to watch, and where and how to find them

Disclaimer: depending on when you read this, some of this information might be out of date! I’ll try to remember to update this post if anything major changes, but the worldwide pro wrestling landscape is constantly shifting, and new companies are always popping up, or starting new partnerships with each other (or falling out with each other), or undergoing shifts in style and popularity.

This list is far from conclusive, and some of this is subjective! These promotions also range dramatically in size. Some are owned by very large companies, and others are essentially the indies. Wrestlers often move between promotions, or work in multiple places at the same time, so if you start watching one promotion and then check out another, you might see some familiar faces!

I’ve separated the promotions into three categories based on how much Japanese you’ll need in order to understand the stories. You can definitely still enjoy watching wrestling without having a lot of context, but it’s easier to get invested in the characters if you understand what they’re saying!

If you do decide to buy a subscription to any of these companies, I recommend doing so at the beginning of the month, because most companies bill you on the first day of the month, so if you sign up near the end, you’ll get charged again in a few days.

If you want to get the full experience of following a promotion and watching current shows live without having to pay for the content, I recommend ChocoPro. If you can only afford one subscription and want a lot of variety and the best value for your money, I recommend buying a subscription to Wrestle Universe, which will get you DDT, TJPW (my favorite promotion!), NOAH, and Ganbare, among others. But with wrestling, the best thing to do is to follow your heart, so I would find a wrestler or a story that speaks to you and let that decide what content to seek out.

This list focuses on promotions that are currently active. I don’t know a whole lot about companies that existed before I got into wrestling, because I find it most exciting to keep up with ongoing stories rather than spending a lot of time watching historical matches. If anyone else wants to add a section on promotions that have gone out of business, feel free!

Most accessible (have some official English translation)

ChocoPro, NJPW, Stardom

ChocoPro | チョコプロ

Description: ChocoPro was a promotion born during the pandemic. It’s sort of a spin-off of the promotion Gatoh Move, which was also started by Emi Sakura. ChocoPro was created specifically around the constraints caused by the pandemic, and was designed to be broadcast on youtube without any audience members in attendance. It operates with a no paywall initiative (any money it brings in is through donations, sponsors, and merchandise sales), and accessibility is explicitly one of its main goals.
Style: ChocoPro is an intergender promotion, so shows have both men and women wrestlers, and they wrestle each other regardless of gender. The tone is overall pretty light, with a lot of comedy and silly stuff and nothing too violent, but there is still a lot of emotional depth to the characters and the stories, and if you get invested, it will absolutely make you cry. ChocoPro uses a very nontraditional venue: instead of fighting in a ring, the wrestlers fight on a mat on the floor in a very small room. It takes a little getting used to, but it gives everything a more intimate, informal vibe.
Commentary?: Yes, there is some Japanese commentary! The wrestlers take turns refereeing, wrestling, filming, and commentating, so most matches have commentary of some sort. The commentary is often in Japanese, but is sometimes in English if Akki or Chris Brookes is doing it. The audio quality can sometimes be a little uneven, which can make it difficult to hear, though.
Subtitles?: No. There is a live chat, though, and many of the fans chat in Japanese during the show, so there is some reading practice there. The wrestlers will also occasionally read names and messages from the sponsors that are written in Japanese. Some of the Japanese during shows gets translated, but generally Akki just translates it out loud after the other wrestler speaks.
Other materials: Most of the wrestlers have twitter accounts, and some of them have blogs, too. A lot of this material is just in Japanese with no English translation.
Where to watch (free): All ChocoPro shows are available on youtube completely for free! There is no paywall of any sort! The channel also has a lot of older matches from Gatoh Move, and lots of non-match content as well.

New Japan Pro Wrestling | 新日本プロレスリング

Description: NJPW is the biggest wrestling promotion in Japan, and it is also the most internationally-minded, having just launched their American expansion in 2019 (as of the time of writing, they also have partnerships with Ring of Honor, All Elite Wrestling, and Impact in America, Revolution Pro Wrestling in the UK, and Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre in Mexico). For many modern day fans, NJPW is synonymous with プロレス. NJPW is owned by Bushiroad, which also owns Stardom.
Style: NJPW is a men’s wrestling promotion that primarily features strong style wrestling. It has a sports-based presentation, and most of the storytelling happens in the ring (as opposed to backstage segments and the like). Generally it has a more serious tone, but there are comedy wrestlers and occasional comedy matches, as well as plenty of funny interactions, so there are lighter moments, too. NJPW is very well known for its long-term storytelling, and matches are booked long in advance.
Commentary?: Yes, there is Japanese commentary for pretty much every show! Most recent shows are also available with English commentary.
Subtitles?: Live shows and uploads of shows are not subtitled. Backstage comments and press conferences and lots of other video content will get uploaded with English subtitles for Japanese, and Japanese subtitles for English (and both language subtitles for Spanish). If you watch the backstage comments on youtube, you can toggle the subtitles on and off. Video packages hyping up individual matches will usually have at least some Japanese subtitles.
Other materials: NJPW has a lot of interviews and articles that get translated into English (as well as regular social media roundup posts with translations of tweets). But plenty of interviews and materials (like blog posts and many tweets) don’t get officially translated, so if you want to read them, you’ll have to translate them yourself!
Where to watch (paid): Most shows are streamed live on NJPW World, and the site also has an extensive video library of past matches and shows, as well as backstage comments, press conferences, and various promotional videos.
Where to watch (free): NJPW uploads a match to youtube every Monday! These expire every week, though, so you only have a small window of time to watch them. Lots of non-match content is also available for free on NJPW World and sometimes youtube as well.
English website | English youtube | Japanese website | Japanese youtube

World Wonder Ring Stardom | スターダム 女子プロレス

Description: Stardom is the biggest 女子プロレス promotion currently, and is the most well-known internationally. Stardom and NJPW are both owned by Bushiroad, but so far there has been very little crossover between them in terms of cross-promotional events, and they each have their own streaming service, requiring separate subscriptions.
Style: Stardom is a women’s wrestling promotion with a modern joshi puroresu style. Its tone and presentation are comparable to NJPW, with a more sports-based presentation and serious stories, with some lighter moments. Stories are paced much faster than NJPW, though, and matches are (generally) much shorter.
Commentary?: Most shows don’t have commentary, but the big shows generally do! If there is commentary, I think typically Japanese is your only option.
Subtitles?: Stardom subtitles most of their shows with English subtitles. The quality of these subtitles varies, so the better your Japanese, the more discrepancies you will notice, haha! Unlike most of these other companies, Stardom does not make most of their shows available to be streamed live, so the shows are already subtitled when the VOD gets uploaded to the website.
Other materials: A lot of content gets left out of what gets translated for English-speaking fans. The match uploads generally have pre-match comments, but don’t have the post-match comments, and if you want to watch them, you have to seek them out on twitter, or read the transcriptions (in Japanese only) on the website. Press conferences are also not translated or subtitled, but transcriptions are usually available in Japanese. And, same as other promotions, most of the wrestlers are on twitter, and there are interviews and other things you can seek out.
Where to watch (paid): Stardom’s streaming service is located here. It requires a monthly subscription. Stardom also does occasional pay-per-views, which are available on a separate service. The PPVs offer the rare opportunity to watch Stardom shows live, but can be pricey. The PPVs are uploaded to Stardom World a few days after they air.
Where to watch (free): Some matches (and very occasional full shows) are available on youtube! Stardom also has a program called We Are Stardom, which is a weekly show on youtube with matches as well as an explanation of the surrounding events and comment clips, with loads of subtitles in Japanese.

Moderately accessible (have some unofficial English translation)

TJPW, DDT, NOAH, GLEAT

Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling | 東京女子プロレス

Description: TJPW is one of several promotions owned by CyberAgent, and it is currently part of the CyberFight umbrella, though all of the CyberFight promotions continue to have very different styles and presentation despite now having the same ownership. The benefit to getting into any CyberFight promotion is that the same subscription service contains all of them! TJPW is one of the most accessible Japanese women’s wrestling promotions for English-speaking fans (besides Stardom). They also have an informal partnership with AEW in the United States, so occasionally TJPW wrestlers will show up there. TJPW wrestlers also often appear in DDT, usually in the bigger shows.
Style: TJPW has a very unique vibe because all of the wrestlers on the roster consider themselves “friends but also rivals.” They don’t really have traditional heels or faces (the only true heel in TJPW is Sakisama, plus whoever she is allied with at the time), and the only real faction is NEO Biishiki-gun (Sakisama’s faction). The matches are often comedic and lighter in tone, though TJPW is absolutely capable of having very intense, hard-hitting matches.
Commentary?: Most shows don’t have commentary, but the larger shows typically do. For recent shows, both English and Japanese commentary is available.
Subtitles?: No, except for occasional video packages before big title matches. DDT/TJPW English Update usually live translates shows on twitter, and he also translates the post-match comments after each show.
Other materials: Most of the wrestlers are on twitter and/or Instagram, and some of them have their own blogs. Magazines and online publications will sometimes publish interviews or other articles on the wrestlers and stories. There are also post-match interviews for many of the matches, which are often shared in video form on twitter, or occasionally edited into the VOD shows after the matches. Transcriptions of these interviews (in Japanese) are on the DDT website. Another English resource for TJPW is the Dramatic DDT blog, which contains descriptions of matches and events, and sometimes recaps matches that are not covered by Mr. Haku’s live translations.
Where to watch (paid): TJPW shows can usually be watched live on Wrestle Universe, which also contains a backlog with years of content.
Where to watch (free): Some matches get uploaded to the TJPW youtube channel! There have also been a few shows streamed on Abema.

DDT Pro Wrestling | DDTプロレスリング

Description: DDT had humble origins as a small indie promotion that spent a lot of time parodying other wrestling companies, particularly WWE. They’ve always had a dedicated core fanbase, but in recent years have grown to be one of the largest pro wrestling companies in Japan. Sanshiro Takagi, who was president of DDT since 2005, is currently president of the entire CyberFight umbrella, which includes TJPW and Pro Wrestling NOAH, among other brands.
Style: DDT is infamous among western fans for having a lot of ridiculous matches and off-the-wall comedy. One wrestler on the DDT roster is Yoshihiko, for example, who is a blow-up doll, and who has been wrestling for DDT since 2005. But while the comedy is absolutely an essential part of the brand, DDT also has a lot of more traditional wrestling that is very high quality, so the shows have an incredible amount of variety. DDT only has one female wrestler officially signed to the company (Saki Akai, pictured in my icon), so they primarily do men’s wrestling, but there is some intergender wrestling, and there are occasional all-women matches.
Commentary?: Many shows have Japanese commentary! English commentary is available for a few, but it’s rare.
Subtitles?: Generally not, except for occasional video packages before big title matches. However, occasionally there are powerpoint presentations during a match, or other shenanigans involving text onscreen. DDT/TJPW English Update usually live translates shows on twitter, and he also translates the post-match comments after each show.
Other materials: See the above section for TJPW. Here is the DDT twitter account.
Where to watch (paid): DDT is available through Wrestle Universe, and DDT has the most content on their streaming service out of all of the promotions available there. A few shows are available on Fite, all with English commentary, I believe.
Where to watch (free): DDT uploads some matches to their youtube channel. I think even a few matches have been exclusively uploaded there (a few DDT Extreme Championship matches that took place outside the ring in places like a spa). There have also been a few shows streamed on Abema.

Pro Wrestling Noah | プロレスリング・ノア

Description: NOAH was formed in 2000 by Mitsuharu Misawa, who left AJPW and took a couple dozen wrestlers with him. For a time, NOAH was the top promotion in Japan, but they have suffered many hardships over the years, and by 2019, they were very close to going out of business. CyberAgent acquired the company at the end of the year, and in 2020, NOAH and DDT merged their management and formed the umbrella company CyberFight, allowing them to save costs while still preserving each promotion’s unique style.
Style: NOAH is a bit of an outlier in comparison to the other CyberFight promotions. It is much more traditional than DDT, and does exclusively men’s wrestling. It also has a much more serious tone, and is known for its very hard-hitting style. The promotion has a lot of older wrestlers who can absolutely still perform at a very high level, and it also has a delightfully chaotic junior heavyweight division.
Commentary?: Some shows have commentary, but many don’t. Some recent shows have English commentary available as an option in addition to Japanese.
Subtitles?: No, except for occasional video packages before big title matches. Mr. Haku (DDT/TJPW English Update) doesn’t generally do live translations for NOAH unless they’re crossover shows with DDT, so live translation isn’t as readily available, though Pro-Wrestling Noah Eng live tweets some translations, and metal-noah on twitter often tweets some translations as well. NOAH also has a brand new official English language account!
Other materials: Post-match comments are often posted on twitter (or occasionally edited into the uploads for VOD shows), and transcriptions of the comments (in Japanese) are available on the NOAH website. Many of the wrestlers have twitter accounts, and wrestlers will also make blog posts, or write magazine columns, or will get interviewed by various publications. Hisame translates post-match comments, interviews, and many other materials on her blog.
Where to watch (paid): Shows from very recent years (2020 onward) are available on Wrestle Universe! Many new shows can also be watched live there. Unfortunately, it is fairly difficult to find a lot of NOAH matches prior to CyberAgent acquiring the company, but the newer content is very accessible. Supposedly they’re working on uploading some older shows to the new Wrestle Universe website.
Where to watch (free): Many NOAH shows are streamed live on Abema! Generally you have a week to watch them for free on Abema, and then the VOD ends up on Wrestle Universe. A few matches get uploaded to youtube.

GLEAT

Description: GLEAT (rhymes with “great”) is a men’s and women’s wrestling promotion that was formed to bring back the UWF style, which uses a blend of martial arts and pro wrestling as its foundation. They’ve trained some of their own wrestlers in that style, but have to supplement the roster with existing legends outside of the promotion.
Style: The UWF style tries to be as close to real sports as possible. It’s mainly about striking and grappling, and there are two ways to win: one is to simply knock out or tap out the opponent, and the other is to make them lose five points during the match. The UWF style allows you to see the subtle nuances in wrestling because every wrestler is so fundamentally sound at grappling and striking, and matches can be very tense.
Commentary?: There is Japanese commentary!
Subtitles?: About half of their videos (including documentaries and comments) are subtitled. There are also a lot of official and unofficial English tweets that explain things, and there are some English translations of Japanese tweets.
Other materials: There is a wrestler blog, Gleatful Days, but it is unfortunately paywalled. Many of the wrestlers are also active on twitter.
Where to watch: GLEAT sells their shows as PPVs with a certain window of rewatch time, then they upload the shows to youtube for free after a while. It’s pretty easy to get nearly all of the content for free!

Least accessible (have little to no English translation)

Ganbare, AJPW, Oz Academy

I’m much less familiar with these companies, since my Japanese isn’t good enough for me to be able to regularly follow them. There might be more resources out there that I’m unaware of, and these descriptions are likely incomplete. Feel free to elaborate on this information if you have corrections or clarifications! Also feel free to add other promotions that I’ve left out.

Ganbare Pro-Wrestling | ガンバレ☆プロレス

Description: GanPro is also part of the CyberFight umbrella, but they’re a smaller promotion than the main three (DDT, TJPW, NOAH), and as of right now, they don’t currently have any dedicated person doing unofficial translation work for them. This makes them more inaccessible, though the wrestlers have mentioned that they would love to have more international fans watching the promotion.
Style: GanPro is CyberFight’s indie promotion. They do a fair amount of intergender wrestling, but the roster has more men than women. The promotion’s tone is unique because many of the wrestlers came to GanPro because they felt unsatisfied with their wrestling career and were looking for something different. The dynamic between the wrestlers is often very chaotic, which is part of its charm as a company, but they’re all very proud of GanPro and want it to continue to grow.
Commentary?: Typically not.
Subtitles?: Some of the content has Japanese subtitles!
Other materials: GanPro also has backstage comments, which are uploaded as (unsubtitled) videos, and which are transcribed on the results page of the DDT website.
Where to watch (paid): GanPro is available on Wrestle Universe!
Where to watch (free): GanPro also has a youtube channel, which contains some matches, interviews, virtual meet and greets, and miscellaneous other content.

All Japan Pro Wrestling | オールジャパン・プロレスリング

Description: AJPW was the largest promotion in Japan for a few decades in the latter half of the 20th century. However, in 2000, Mitsuharu Misawa left the promotion to create Pro Wrestling NOAH, taking a lot of other wrestlers with him. AJPW struggled in the aftermath of this talent exodus, and was no longer the top promotion in Japan. They’ve endured, though, and are currently undergoing a resurgence. AJPW is the second-longest running promotion in Japan.
Style: AJPW is a men’s wrestling promotion, and its style is fairly traditional Japanese wrestling. Its stories tend to be very character driven, but move at a pretty slow pace, which allows for more emotional investment in characters and factions. AJPW favors obvious in-ring storytelling over promos and backstage interviews, which makes it easier to follow storylines without strong proficiency in Japanese.
Commentary?: No.
Subtitles?: Recent shows have had Japanese subtitles on their last few recap packages and the accompanying promos!
Other materials: AJPW has backstage comments for some shows, but not all of them. There is also twitter, interviews with the wrestlers, etc., but most of it is untranslated.
Where to watch (paid): AJPW’s streaming service is located here.
Where to watch (free): They also have a youtube channel here, and they semi-regularly upload entire shows there.

Oz Academy | OZアカデミー

Description: Oz is a joshi promotion founded by Mayumi Ozaki. It’s one of the very few joshi promotions that has survived from the joshi bust to now, and it serves as a way of linking joshi legends to modern young talent and elevating them in part so that they can do well in other promotions that they’re in.
Style: Oz does a lot of faction-based storytelling, most of it centered around Ozaki’s own faction dominating the company. It has an interesting tone because the heels are the stars of the promotion, and evil always triumphs in the end. Matches often get a little bloody. The older sensibility of joshi wrestling aesthetics is still alive in Oz, in contrast to the idol aesthetics that are present in most modern joshi wrestling promotions.
Commentary?: There is Japanese commentary.
Subtitles?: Oz shows that air on TV have (Japanese) subtitles! You might be out of luck with live streams, though.
Where to watch (paid): Bigger shows are streamed live on mahocast as PPVs, and are available for two weeks afterward. Smaller shows are usually on the subscription service nicopro a week or two after they happen. Nicopro gives you access to a variety of small promotions with a good month of availability for each show. It’s good practice for navigating websites in Japanese.

Further reading

I started out obsessively reading essays about wrestling before I ever watched a single match. Here are some of my favorites that I’ve collected over the past few years (feel free to add others!).

Essays about pro wrestling in general

Seeing the Future: On the Foreknowledge of Wrestlers (August 5, 2019)

Real Time: On the Rhythms of Wrestling Storytelling (April 9, 2019)

Blood, Sweat, and Tears: The Proof in the Spectacle (May 14, 2018)

ChocoPro

Lulu Pencil’s Hat (November 20, 2020)

Lulu Pencil: Is Caring Enough? (May 26, 2021)

Broken Hearts and Broken Pencils: The Conclusion to ChocoPro’s Pencil War (July 22, 2021)

DDT Pro-Wrestling/New Japan Pro-Wrestling

that one tweet thread about the Golden Lovers, annotated (March 8, 2018)

A Body From the Balcony: The Devastating Erotics of Omega-Ibushi at Budokan Hall (February 12, 2018)

Stories That Are True To Our Hearts: Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi (February 23, 2019)

New Japan Pro-Wrestling

Into the storm/Crash of the lightning bolt – 30 years of Jyushin Liger and Minoru Suzuki (September 30, 2019)

The Unwinning Champion: Rancière and the Dialectic of Yoshi-Hashi (May 6, 2019)

The Stars His Destiny: On Wrestling, Caring, and Tetsuya Naito (June 11, 2018)

A Phoenix from the Ashes: Tetsuya Naito and the IWGP Intercontinental Championship (December 28, 2018)

Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling

Hyper/Ballad: Misao and The Spark Of Life (October 30, 2019)

I Was Kirin Fuyuno. Now I’m Hyper Misao. (August 2020)

New Era Charisma: A Brief History of Maki Itoh (May 2, 2021)

Stardom

The Ballad of Tam Nakano (April 29, 2019)

Tears of a Sky Blue Hyper Technician: World Wonder Ring Stardom, Shinjuku FACE, 11/11/2016 (December 3, 2016)

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Match recommendations

Feel free to add to this list! Please only add matches that are free to watch and which are not illegally uploaded. If you can, provide a short description to make it easier for people to understand the story.

DDT

2019.7.15 Akito vs Asuka

DDT EXTREME Championship—IPPON Light Tube Death Match

This is one of my all-time favorite matches! It’s also a great place to start since the violence isn’t too intense, which is why I listed it first. This is the most tense wrestling match that I have ever seen. There is zero margin for error here for either wrestler. Leading up to this match, Asuka accused DDT Extreme Champion Akito of being boring, and she wanted a deathmatch involving hundreds of light tubes to prove that she was a better fit for the Extreme title. But Akito thought that the fear of breaking one light tube was greater than the excitement of smashing hundreds of them, so he devised this stipulation instead.

The match starts with a demonstration of the rules: regular wrestling rules apply, but if you break the single light tube in the match, you lose. If both people are touching it and it breaks, the person on the offense loses. If the tube is on the mat and someone is thrown onto it, the person who was thrown loses. It’s an incredible stipulation, and the result is an immensely creative match! DDT uploaded the match to youtube after it placed 11th in the Net Pro Wrestling Awards’ 2019 list of best matches.

ネット•プロレス大賞2019 最優秀試合11位/【ノーカット版】蛍光灯IPPONデスマッチ 王者 彰人 vs 挑戦者 朱崇花 2019.7.15 大田区大会 - YouTube

2008.8.6 Kota Ibushi vs Kenny Omega

This is the first wrestling match I ever watched! But, that said, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend starting with this one. It’s a really intense match, and the camerawork is rough. But this is probably one of the most important wrestling matches in recent history, in terms of the far-reaching effects it had on the industry as a whole.

It’s also the beginning of a love story. The background of this match is that Kenny Omega, a Canadian nerd, found a DVD that contained footage of Kota Ibushi’s wrestling. Kenny watched it and immediately realized that he and Ibushi shared the same vision for pro wrestling. Naturally, Kenny wanted to fight him. So he filmed a DDT-style match at home, and issued a video challenge to Ibushi. Ibushi saw it, and DDT was interested in bringing Kenny over, so they booked him for a match and a short tour in Japan. The match turned out awesome (it even won an award), and Kenny loved being in Japan, and DDT loved having him, and Kenny and Ibushi were both incredibly taken with each other, and, well, the rest is history.

This is a best two out of three falls match, falls count anywhere (so pins can happen outside the ring). And this isn’t in the version uploaded to youtube, but after the match, Kenny is so emotional that he breaks down in tears, and Ibushi comforts him. It was the first time Kenny had ever cried after a match.

【特別公開】 飯伏幸太 vs ケニー・オメガ / 2008.8.6 東京・新木場1stRING - YouTube

2014.9.28 Kota Ibushi & Kenny Omega vs Tetsuya Endo & Konosuke Takeshita

KO-D Tag Team Championship

Kenny spent most of his time in DDT in a tag team with Ibushi. The Golden Lovers held the DDT tag team championship multiple times, and they were two of the top stars in DDT, both as singles wrestlers and as tag team wrestlers. But at the end of 2014, Kenny leaves DDT to wrestle in NJPW full-time. Ibushi continues wrestling in DDT, though he’s juggling a dual contract with NJPW at the same time, and it ultimately ends up burning him out, causing him to step away from both companies for a time.

So this match happens near the end of the Golden Lovers’ time in DDT. It’s a bittersweet match, because the Golden Lovers story gets a lot angstier in the years to come, so this is sort of the end of an era. Kenny and Ibushi are defending their tag belts against a pair of wrestlers who were seen as the future of DDT: Tetsuya Endo and Konosuke Takeshita. When Kenny (and later Ibushi) left DDT, they basically entrusted the fate of the company to Endo and Takeshita (both of whom are still with the company doing incredible work to this day). In a way, this match is a passing of the torch.

ケニー!DDT離脱前最後のタイトルマッチ【期間限定/試合ノーカット】王者組 飯伏&ケニー vs 挑戦者組 遠藤&竹下 2014.9.28 後楽園大会 - YouTube

ChocoPro

I’m recommending these three matches as a mini-trilogy of sorts, so I suggest watching these in order! I spoiler-guarded some details in the later matches to preserve some surprises.

2020.11.11 Emi Sakura & Lulu Pencil vs Chris Brookes & Yuna Mizumori

Before this match, Lulu Pencil, ChocoPro’s biggest underdog, put her hat on the line in a match against Chris Brookes. Lulu lost the match (she always loses), and lost her hat. If she wants to get it back, she has to earn Chris’s respect.

Lulu’s faction is called Pencil Army. Despite the faction centering around her, she’s by far the weakest person in it, and the other members are talented veteran wrestlers who join her after defeating her because they’re impressed by her tenacity and spirit despite her lack of power and inability to show results. Lulu’s tag partner in this match is Emi Sakura (“Emi Pencil”), who is the person who trained her.

This match is an “I Quit” match, which means the only way to win is to force your opponent to physically say “I quit” out loud.

ChocoProLIVE! #63 "I Quit Match" {Pencil Army VS Chris Brooks & Yunamon} - YouTube

2021.4.30 Pencil Army vs Best Bros & Egg Tarts

This match is the first time the entire Pencil Army is teaming together after Chris Brookes joined them! Pencil Army seemingly has the edge in this match, at least in terms of having far more experience and championships between them. But the Best Bros are the reigning tag team champions in ChocoPro, and Lulu has still yet to win a match. Will having the support of so many strong teammates finally be enough for her to get her first win?

ChocoProLIVE! #110 Pencil Army VS BestBros & Egg Tarts - YouTube

2021.7.21 Lulu Pencil vs Chris Brookes

Going into this match, Lulu still has yet to get a win in her two years of wrestling. Chris says that if she never wins, she cannot call herself a wrestler. That merely trying is not enough. He accuses her of turning the other members of Pencil Army into jokes by bringing them down to her level. Lulu is determined to finally get a win and prove him wrong, but so far, all the determination in the world has not been enough.

This match is a 30 minute ironman match, which means that the match will go for exactly 30 minutes, and the person who scores the most falls during that time wins.

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I’ll try to remember to post links to interesting matches on youtube as they get uploaded! Several of the companies I watch upload at least one free match weekly, and there are some gems in there.

Also, I’ll update the links in the top posts when this change happens, but the Wrestle Universe video service is changing. They’re actually offering a few months essentially for free, so it’s a great time to sign up for it.

Oh this is all great thank you! Have you seen the film パパはわるものチャンピオン? I saw it in early 2020 as part of a Japanese film festival in the UK. I used to be really into wrestling a few years (mostly TNA/Impact) but then they changed the TV schedules and it was no longer convenient for me watch it and I sort of drifted off. After seeing that film, I thought I’d like to find out more about japanese wrestling, and then everything shut down for a while with the pandemic! Definitely going to explore some of the youtube content you’ve listed.

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I have seen that film! For folks who haven’t seen it, or who have seen it and want to revisit it, here’s a nice essay about the movie, and about the experience of watching it as a fan.

The wrestlers in that movie are portrayed by actual NJPW wrestlers (Hiroshi Tanahashi plays the titular wrestler), and it draws on some aspects from their actual lives/storylines, though Tana is not a heel in actual NJPW. He’s one of the most beloved figures in the company, and is considered the “ace” of the promotion, who carried the company on his back through hard times.

There’s actually a strong chance we’ll see Tana appear in an American company in the near future, haha! He’s currently the IWGP US Champion in NJPW, and in the past year, that title has been held by several AEW wrestlers, and has been defended on AEW’s programming. Jon Moxley, who recently lost the belt, explicitly called out Tana for a match. Of course, this is pandemic-dependent, since the pandemic makes travel very hard, but there seems to be interest from both companies to have that match.

Also, one funny connection is that NJPW originally had a partnership with TNA years and years ago, but they ended that partnership because they weren’t happy with the treatment of Kazuchika Okada (who plays Dragon George in the movie) when he did his excursion there. However, just this year, Impact managed to mend some bridges, and Impact once again has a partnership with NJPW! Sometimes things in wrestling manage to come full circle somehow.

I will say, with regards to NJPW, that the company has had kind of a weird year, and they’re in a bit of a slump creatively right now. They’ve had a recent run of misfortune, both because of the pandemic, and also because of injuries and illness. And coupled with some weak storylines, their shows haven’t been quite as compelling as they have been in the past.

But if you try out recent stuff and don’t find it especially compelling right now, there are loads of old matches in their video library that are still very good! There are also plenty of other companies to check out, haha, if you don’t jive with NJPW specifically. I just thought I’d recommend them if that movie intrigued you.

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I can also vouch for wrestling being a good learning motivator. Although I would describe my wrestling enthusiasm as less intense than @fallynleaf 's :slight_smile:, getting into NJPW in ~2017 was certainly one of the things that led to my starting to learn Japanese, and a lot of my first book purchases were wrestling ones.

Kind of like getting into an idol group (just with dramatic staged fights instead of songs or let’s plays or whatever), I think maybe the way to get into wrestling is to just come across one or two performers you gravitate toward and figure out from there how to follow them. Then it’s a natural motivation to want to keep up with your studies to hear what the performers you look up to are actually saying. And the more vectors you have to want to read or hear stuff in the language, the higher the chance you’ll stick with learning it, I think.

For me originally that was Shinsuke Nakamura, who in being a lanky weirdo doing his own thing in a field I would have assumed previously was just wall-to-wall straightforward beefy dudes helped get me through some tough times. What started as “I dunno about wrestling but I like watching the way that one guy moves” eventually spiraled into liking wrestling (and not being especially thrilled about that one guy’s career arc after that)

But everybody’s going to have different performers they’re drawn to, and there’s definitely enough variety and niches that there’s surely something to enjoy for anyone, somewhere!

It’s a pity the biggest promotions don’t post more matches permanently free - the streaming services are accessible enough though that “I want to follow X person - what are they doing now? I’ll try it for a month” is probably the easiest way once at the curious stage.

Although, honestly as much as it’s surely the company with the most baggage at this point (in every sense of the word) - if completely new to wrestling the most accessible option might be the WWE Network, especially since people might have it without realizing it if they’re subscribed to Peacock (that might just be a US thing?). I don’t know what’s on there anymore these days, but at least once it was a ridiculous trove of content for the price, and while this isn’t exactly an endorsement, I remember watching old Royal Rumbles in the context of corny historical artifacts being not a bad way to kill a lot of time and try to answer my burning “wait what is pro wrestling anyway?” questions at the time.

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It’s a shame that NJPW’s buzz from 2016-2018 is essentially gone now. 3-4 years back, almost every match in the G1 Climax would have its final stretch being posted to Reddit and would have loads of upvotes and comments. Now, they hardly get uploaded at all and receive next to zero interaction.

Their shoddy booking has gone to oblivion ever since EVIL won the belt. Clap crowds and their top stars being cursed with injuries hasn’t helped either.

To be fair, no matter what was booked I think it would have been hard to maintain English-speaking buzz when the biggest non-Japanese stars that generated a lot of it in the first place founded a competing promotion and then a pandemic shut down travel.
Sometimes I do accidentally watch a match from a few years ago and remember what crowds are supposed to sound like though… Maybe someday…

On an unrelated note - Jungle Kyona just illustrated for me another wrestling-related benefit/aid for learning to read Japanese :sweat_smile: - being able to read an alarmingly grim-looking twitter announcement straight through no problem and verify that it’s about leaving a promotion not retiring altogether or any bad circumstances. Sad to not see her return to Stardom and get revenge on Konami, but surely understandable and I hope she lands on her feet somewhere.

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That was one of the two big reasons I started learning Japanese, too. I learned my first Japanese words from Naito, Tanahashi, and Okada, and understood my first complete Japanese sentence from Kenny Omega when he was in NJPW. I’ve heard they are trying to get Tana on AEW for a match or two. I would love to see that!

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I’ve never had any exposure at all to pro wrestling before, I was only vaguely aware that it existed thanks to this forum :sweat_smile: But this thread got me interested in giving it a try! I’m still a bit overwhelmed with where to actually start though. By skipping through some clips uploaded on Youtube, Stardom seems interesting to me. Is there any convenient way of going about finding performers that might be interesting to follow? Like, are there any overviews of active performers + short descriptions of their stories? Or do I just randomly watch clips until someone sticks out to me? :smiley:

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Honestly, NJPW did just fine for themselves in 2019, despite loosing the Elite that year. But for whatever reason, they’ve been unable to book creatively around the pandemic. Which is odd because Stardom, NOAH, DDT, and TJPW have all experienced growth, I think, particularly Stardom, which is owned by the same company as NJPW, so you’d think they’d look at their own sister company as an example.

I know for me personally, a lot of the issues I’ve had with their booking have been, well, kind of the fallout of the speaking out movement (or rather NJPW’s lack of doing literally anything in response to it), namely the increased prominence of Will Ospreay in the company, Chase Owens in the G1, the attempt to rehire Marty Scurll, etc. Not that other companies are necessarily better in this regard, but when this is happening on top of weaker storytelling, it’s hard to get excited about the overall direction of the company. I wonder if maybe NJPW just managed to alienate a bunch of different parts of their audience all at once, haha.

But, well, for better or for worse, I’m still very invested in some of the wrestlers in the company, and I am still waiting on that Golden Lovers reunion storyline they’ve been teasing more and more recently…

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I linked a couple essays on Stardom stories in the second post above (under “further reading”), but they’re a little out of date at this point, unfortunately! If you’d like to read more, my friend @ItsDanaNow has a blog where she writes about Stardom and translates interviews and press conferences and such, and the interviews are a great way to get some insight into a few of the performers if you’re looking for a more in-depth introduction.

She has translated interviews with Mina Shirakawa, Tam Nakano, Mayu Iwatani, and Utami Hayashishita. If your Japanese is good enough, or if you just want some reading practice, you could also read the original Japanese text for these interviews, haha!

I think randomly watching clips can be a great way to discover a performer that you really like! I tend to be an essay person myself, so reading articles and interviews does a lot to get me invested, but I did get really into TJPW after becoming obsessed with one tag team that I just really liked watching, so I’ve had it happen that way, too.

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One way to get to know a lot of wrestlers is the big round-robin tournaments (everyone separates into two blocks and fights everyone else in those blocks to accumulate points - people with the most points fight each other in the final; winner gets a shot at a title) that a lot of the promotions hold every year, and Stardom’s, the 5 Star GP, just ended.

So you might be able to find 5 Star GP 2021 previews (like this one ) or reviews that would double as a Stardom preview since most of the roster is in it, and the final show is on Stardom World with English or Japanese commentary and might not be a bad place to start if intrigued enough to spend money (it’s a lot of singles matches, but it’s a good way to see how each wrester’s styles differ).

Otherwise, this free manga chapter is funnily enough, a good introduction to the factions and their vibes (albeit a slightly out of date one).

My Own Quick Stardom Overview

Stardom, like NJPW, is divided into fairly loosely collected factions that usually determine who a wrestler is going to team up with in preliminary tag matches (which are often lead-in matches to the headlining story-driven matches). the factions are:

Stars
Your straightforward heroes, your Stardom vanguards. Mayu Iwatani is definitely the one to watch here - she’s great, has a mean suplex and gets called a zombie for taking a lot of punishment in a match but always rallying. She’s the “icon of Stardom”, and has been with the promotion since the beginning, outlasting stars who headlined previously but left or retired. She used to be a 引きこもり, and I would say projects an endearing air of lack of confidence. One consistently fun thing is before her matches she throws an armband into the crowd pitcher-style, and it’s shot in such a way that you can only tell how good of a throw it was (or often wasn’t) by her facial expression.
She’s also currently struggling to keep the heavily depleted Stars ranks from being stolen away by the next faction…

Oedotai
Your jerks! Your villains! If anyone’s gonna hit someone with a chair or get disqualified for choking somebody with a chain, it’ll probably be them. Tora Natsuko is the current leader but I believe she’s out with an injury.
The one to watch right now would be Starlight Kid - she was Mayu’s sidekick basically in Stars until losing a match with a convoluted stipulation that meant she had to join Oedotai, and she’s very much embraced her new role and look, immediately seeming much more confident and composed and converting that into a title victory and strong momentum. Mayu and Starlight had a match in the finals I linked, and while I haven’t watched it yet - I very much want to, as it’s having gone from this:


to this:
image
is certainly the makings of a good wrestling story.

Queen’s Quest
Queen’s Quest are proud warriors, a great well of talent who mainly do their own thing and don’t really feel like villains or heroes.
Momo Watanabe is the leader, and she’s great, but the one to watch here now would be Utami Hayashishita, because she’s the current world champion for the company. She unseated Mayu after last year’s 5 Star GP, and she’s certainly earned her reign with some great matches. Also apparently as a kid she was on a reality show about her dad that was very famous in Japan. She’s still quite young and new, not an icon like Mayu, and her championship matches tend to get upstaged by Giulia’s attention-grabbing antics, so she’s determined to prove she deserves the title and spot she has through strength.
As the top champion, whoever wins the 5 Star GP finals is probably going to get a match with her as a reward.
image

Donna Del Mondo
Donna Del Mondo is run by Giulia, who would be a great one to watch… but she’s injured and had to drop out of the tournament. Giulia’s brash and attention-getting, to the point that she’s possibly the biggest rising star Stardom has right now, and having come off a reign with the second-tier belt, she may be well-positioned to go after the top championship soon. Also - her hair is slowly growing back having lost it in a hair-vs-hair match.
DDM is small and relatively close-knit, so all its members stand-out and seem (natsu)poised for cool stuff, but Syuri might be the one to espeically watch right now because a heated rivalry is developing between her and Hayashishita.

Cosmic Angels
The newest faction, run by Tam Nakano, holder of the white second-tier championship belt (“Wonder of Stardom”). They’re more like, beauty and fashion oriented than most other Stardom wrestlers, but they’re just as rough-and-tumble as all of them. Tam Nakano especially seems to seek out painful hard-hitting matches, especially against her rival Giulia.

Also, while technically not affiliated with Stardom (she runs a different promotion, Marvelous), Takumi Iroha is great and shows up in Stardom pretty frequently lately. A match of hers with Iwatani is one I like to link since it’s a full long match that’s officially on youtube.

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Almost forgot to post this, but this is the free match NJPW made available this week! Warning, these expire every Monday (Japan time), so you only have a few days to watch it.

This week’s match is Yoshi-Hashi vs Kazuchika Okada from July 27, 2018. I actually haven’t seen this one haha, but I think I can give a little background:

Summary + links

Kazuchika Okada is widely considered to be one of the best wrestlers in the world. He had an incredible record-breaking nearly two year run as IWGP Heavyweight Champion, and had the title so much, that for a time, he was practically considered synonymous with it—until he lost it to Kenny Omega on June 9. This was right before the start of NJPW’s most important tournament of the year, the G1 Climax.

Okada, uh, did not cope very well with the loss of his belt. He dyed his hair, started bringing balloons to his matches, and started wearing long pants (famously dubbed the “long boys” by his factionmate Trent).

The G1 is a round robin tournament that consists of two blocks: the A Block and the B Block. Each wrestler in each block has to fight every other wrestler in their block. A win nets you two points, a draw one point, and a loss zero. The block finalists face each other at the end of the tournament, and the winner wins a briefcase that contains a contract allowing him to challenge for the IWGP belt at Wrestle Kingdom on January 4, NJPW’s biggest show of the year.

It’s a very competitive tournament, and the matches in it are famously very high-quality. It’s also a tournament that frequently pits two friends against each other in block matches. Such is the case here: Okada and Yoshi-Hashi are both in the same faction, Chaos. They’re also both in the same block in the G1.

Yoshi-Hashi and Okada have been factionmates and good friends for a long time, but their career trajectories could not be more opposite. Okada is possibly the most decorated champion of all time in NJPW. Yoshi-Hashi has yet to win a singles title—or, at the time of this match, any title (he has since won the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship, in the year 2020, 12 years after his debut).

Despite this, Yoshi-Hashi remains incredibly loyal to Okada, and Okada still respects and values him as a friend and partner. They’re going into this match as friends, not as people who are feuding with each other. But their friendship doesn’t change their determination to win and get those vital two points in the tournament.

Basically, this dynamic is NJPW’s most winningest champion (albeit in a bit of a slump) vs NJPW’s biggest underdog.

If you want to watch this match, you have two options! It’s available with English commentary or Japanese commentary. If you’re very new to wrestling and your Japanese listening comprehension isn’t very good, I might suggest watching with English commentary so that you get more of the background and explanation. But if you’re primarily looking for listening practice, the match will be very exciting on its own, so you won’t be missing a whole lot even if you understand none of the commentary.

If anyone has any corrections or additions to this explanation, feel free to add them, haha. This was before my time :sweat_smile:

Also, if you enjoy Yoshi-Hashi, there is a fantastic essay about him linked in the second post in this thread under “further reading.” His character has often been unpopular with western fans who don’t appreciate him because of his tendency to lose, but in my opinion, that’s exactly what makes him compelling.

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Also, as of today, the new Wrestle Universe streaming service is up! I updated all the links for TJPW, DDT, NOAH, and Ganbare so they link to the new website. The new website is substantially friendlier to international fans.

As I mentioned above, a Wrestle Universe subscription is currently free until January 4 (with the condition that you will have to pay the monthly fee for January)! It’s a great opportunity to check out any (or all) of those four promotions. If anyone springs for a subscription and wants match recommendations, there are so many I could give :sweat_smile:

Sincerely, thank you so much for explaining wrestling in itself. Before, when I watched TV wrestling ads or ,even when I watched Glow (Netflix), I could never understand wrestling as an entertainment/art form (it is all fake!). From now on I will respect it as I do with ballet or kabuki.

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For a while I’ve been reading 週刊プロレス magazine and summarizing my takeaways in the extensive reading thread but I suppose I’ll move them over here, if only so I don’t have to keep tagging @fallynleaf !

It’s one more very tangible way pro-wrestling can help with learning Japanese (I remember Koichi in an article talking about kendo magazines as study material and that stuck with me), and this year it’s certainly helped me get used to reading (and skimming) non-fiction material pretty quickly - probably more than I realize. And getting to know both the voices of wrestlers I already care about, and glimpses of wrestlers I might want to follow more than I do has been pretty rewarding.

Plus there’s a maybe unearned pride in like, just subscribing to something and picking it up each week, like “HA see I OFFICIALLY can read - I have a SUBSCRIPTION” even if I am lagging behind still… I’m subscribed via Kinokuniya as a fun excuse to use more of what that store has to offer, but when that runs out I might be prudent and switch to the electronic versions.

My own interest in pro wrestling definitely started as “huh there’s a whole weird world out there I don’t know anything about, go figure” so if anyone enjoys these summaries even as mild idle curiosity I’ll selfishly be pleased - but mostly they’re just to help motivate me to churn through them!

週刊プロレス No. 2128

The issue opens with Kota Ibushi interview about his upcoming title shot in the Tokyo Dome :grimacing: this is the one he’ll have to drop out of due to a sudden illness, but as of yet it seems like there’s no indication of that.
He mentions that comparatively, Takagi is 波のない while he’s 波がある, I think meaning that Takagi is stable and controlled while Ibushi has big ups and downs, and boy he sure turned out to be right about that huh.

Tanahashi talked in his column about how the back pain from being put in a Boston Crab is nostalgic since that’s something young lions feel all the time. It sounds like to make up for dojo grads not really being able to go on excursion in the same way, they’re having series of matches with veterans, which is why Tanahashi got put in a Boston Crab recently.

Especially before I got into Stardom, I felt a lot of trepidation around all the “Cinderella” branding, because I wasn’t sure how seriously the company took the wrestler as athletes. Nowadays I’m much more confident that they are taken seriously that way, and I gotta admit - I’d be motivated to win a wrestling tournament for the chance to wear an elegant dress as much as the title shot.


Asked about how it felt to win the Cinderella tournament and wear the dress, Saya Kamitani talked about how it reminded her of her idol background in a positive way, because then no matter how hard she worked she was always put to the side but now finally she’s managed to take center stage. She also talks a lot about how in the singing/dancing/idol part of show business, it felt like she had to always be striving for perfection in an unhealthy way, but with pro-wrestling, showing flaws can be part of your appeal and so it sounds like she accepts herself a lot more. She also talks about how if it weren’t for Tam Nakano she wouldn’t have come across pro-wrestling, so she considers her 師匠, which informs why she’s chosen to challenge for Tam’s white belt rather than the red belt.

Kenoh talks about facing the Great Muta and how Muta’s strength is presence. He references a 1996 match of Muta’s vs. Hakushi where Hakushi was able to match Muta’s presence and go toe-to-toe with him, so Kenoh implies his secret plan to beat Muta is to do like Hakushi and write sutras all over himself. But then the interviewer points out in a column last year Kenoh apparently already revealed that same plan: 「ムタ戦が決まったら、四国八十八ヵ所を巡礼する。そしたら、体中にお経が浮き出てくるかもしれないぞ。名前は”拳使無双”だ!」 and reminds Kenoh that because of the pandemic it would be a bad time to make the Shikoku 88 temples pilgrimage.

There’s a big interview with Naomichi Marufuji about his recent NOAH title win - they talk about the match with Mutoh and whether or not Marufuji is a NOAH icon. He says something along the lines of like, he’s never going to surpass people like Misawa, Kobashi, or Mutoh, but now he knows it’s not about surpassing the icons of the past, but being your own star to the point that you’re that unsurpassable figure to the next generation of wrestlers.

The magazine’s hiring! So if you fit the description of 週プロで働きたいというやる気とプロレス愛に満ちた方, feel free to apply! :slight_smile:
The accompanying picture is kind of interesting:


I guess all those match recaps are written live in a dedicated press area? I never really thought about it before come to think of it…

Giulia in her column talks about that great match between Utami Hayashishita and Syuri (which I believe Giulia was on commentary for), and she heaps a lot of deserving praise on it, comparing them to greek gods. One part, about the beauty of emotion, I thought was especially well put:

明るく、激しく、美しく。スターダムのスローガン。
「美しく」は普段、華やかな選手がたくさんいるってトコで使われてたような気がする。でも、あの試合の後のボロ雑巾みたいな2人の姿が、私を感動させてくれた。美しいって、こういう事だよなって。
全てを出し切って、思考力ゼロの死んだ魚みたいな目をした林下は美しかった。
その横で、ベルトが獲れなくて子供みたいに泣きじゃくる朱里。実力者の朱里は余裕があって、いつも何があってもニコニコしてて、練習でゲロ吐いてる私達の横でも笑ってる。あの朱里があんな悔しそうに泣くのを見て、私は見惚れた。朱里が流した悔し涙も、とにかく美しかった。

She also says what she likes about Stardom is everyone pushing each other to be the best - for example, she thought she thought her match with Tam would get best bout, so now she’ll have to step up her game!

There’s a feel-good Andre the Giant story in the history column - who doesn’t love those?!
It sounds like Andre was a big star in Japan in the early 70s appearing in 国際プロレス, and when the promotion was in serious trouble of losing television rights due to low ratings (or something like that) in 1974, Andre came back to Japan for shows with them and took a much reduced payment for it out of gratitude to the promoter, Isao Yoshihara. Mighty Inoue is quoted here as saying about why Andre did that: 「彼は日本人以上に義理を大事にしていた男ですから。」

There’s an interview with Meiko Satomura about her NXT UK championship win. She describes it as a highlight of her career (though admits that she’s the type to forget about past achievements and focus on the now), and she talks about wanting to transition into coaching and raising the next generation of wrestlers.

Takumi Iroha talks about returning from injury soon, faster than expected! (in the present, she already has, but hey still nice to see).

There’s going to be a series of interviews with SEAdLINNNG wrestler Nanae Takahashi in the next few issues. I confess I mostly know her from her cute dog in that “wrestlers and their pets” column a while back, but it sounds like she’s had a really storied career, stretching back to AJW. This column talks about the last days of that promotion and how she decided whether to stay or go as it started to fold.

Rina Yamashita talks about Risa Sera, and how the latter’s deathmatch determination in the face of online criticism and the like is what’s produced this sort of deathmatch renaissance in Ice Ribbon. If there’s any two wrestlers I’d like to see wrestle more often than I get the chance to, it would likely be these two. Maybe I should look back into that Ice Ribbon niconico channel…

In Mutoh’s column, they make an interesting off-hand comparison between Japanese and American wrestling - talking about how generational rivals are a special characteristic of Japanese wrestling, where in America they tend to build up disposable wrestlers for feuds (I suppose alluding to how WWE tends to build around one big star like Hogan or Cena or Reigns and then build up and feed a cycle of lesser monsters to them) - Mutoh jokes that that wouldn’t be possible in Japan because even if you threw away a wrestler you’d have to recycle!

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I also felt similarly! It didn’t help that I learned about TJPW right at the same time, so there was a lot of “princess” theming happening, and the presentation of both of those companies differed a lot from, say, NJPW, which was my first exposure to wrestling.

I will say, I do wish other joshi promotions that are less idol-based in terms of aesthetics were as accessible for non-Japanese speakers as Stardom and TJPW are. I’m hoping to eventually get to a point where I can expand my own horizons. I actually tried to include SEAdLINNNG, Ice Ribbon, and Marvelous in the original draft for this thread, but had to cut them because I didn’t know enough about them in order to describe them.

That said, in a vacuum, I do really enjoy Stardom’s Cinderella tournament, and TJPW’s whole vibe, simply because they’re fun! I’ve written several fics re-imagining TJPW storylines with various magical elements woven into them just because the stories themselves lend so well to that (one is a Revolutionary Girl Utena AU, another was planned to be an Alice in Wonderland AU based on the Magical Sugar Rabbits photobook, but I scrapped the concept in favor of re-envisioning the feud by having it swap places with a NOAH feud instead of sending the characters to Wonderland). I really enjoy how the TJPW roster often feels like the characters came right out of a video game, or a magical girl anime, or a fairy tale.

One of my favorite TJPW things, actually, is pairing it with NOAH just because the overall tone and style of the two promotions could not be more different. I loved the entire lead-up to CyberFight Festival, as well as the show itself, just because it was so awesome to see Miyu Yamashita standing next to Jun Akiyama and Keiji Mutoh, and their three championship belts were treated as equal.

In TJPW’s Wrestle Princess show last year, I also loved a couple spots from that main event that were quite literally moments right out of Pro Wrestling NOAH. I guess part of what’s so cool about pro wrestling is that princesses and dresses can exist in the same space as violent athletic performances, and neither invalidates the other, and they’re actually part of the same shared history and community.

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Oh, I forgot to mention this earlier, but the NJPW show happening tonight (it starts in, uh, just over an hour from now, 18:30 JST) is free to watch without a subscription! I think the VOD will still be free if you can’t catch the show live? It’ll be up at NJPW World.

It’s a G1 Climax show, which I would normally highly recommend, since it’s usually the most exciting time to follow NJPW during this tournament, but this year has been more underwhelming. If you want a couple hours of listening practice, though, it’s a good candidate. Both English and Japanese commentary are available.

They made the September 24 show available for free as well (here’s with Japanese commentary, and here’s with English). I’m bummed they keep making the B Block shows free and none of the A Block shows, because I like the A Block a lot better this year :sweat_smile: