A Year Without Our Flower: Looking Back on the Life and Career of Hana Kimura

No matter how I spread my arms

I can not fly at all,

But unlike me, a flying bird

Cannot run fast on the ground.

Though I rock my body back and forth

It makes no pretty sounds,

Yet unlike me, a ringing bell

Does not know many songs.

A bell, a bird, and also me,

Everyone is different, everyone is good.

Misuzu Kaneko, “A Bell, A Little Bird, And I.” (Translated from Japanese)

“Everyone is different, everyone is good (later changed to special)” was the motto of Tokyo Cyber Squad, the vibrant rag-tag group led by Hana Kimura through 2019 and the first couple of months of 2020 before her unfortunate passing. The line, taken from the above poem, symbolises the spirit of both the group and its sparkling leader.

It would have been nearly impossible for someone like Hana to live by any other motto. There would be no ‘normal’ for her, with an upbringing that wasn’t exactly standard for the typical Japanese kid.

She grew up inside wrestling dojos and arenas as her mother Kyoko Kimura, a single mother at the time after a young marriage in Indonesia fell apart, trained and grew into her career as a professional wrestler. Instead of going to the park or arcades on weekends like most kids, she would sit and watch her mother get booed by crowds and bloodied by opponents. Hana followed her through this journey, including moving from Tokyo to Okinawa and then back while she was in Junior High.

All this while also being the victim of bullying because she was biracial. In such a homogeneous society like Japan, her Indonesian heritage made her stand out as a possible target.

Hana with her mother Kyoko. Credit: World Wonder Ring Stardom

Hana was naturally different, and so when she decided to follow in her mother’s footsteps and enter the ring, she used that to help craft her character. Or rather, characters. Hana’s early years in the ring saw her bounce around between wrestling as a cheerful face in Independent promotions like Sendai Girls and Wrestle-1 (where she had originally trained), and as a self-indulged heel in Stardom as a member of the villainous Oedo Tai faction (which when she debuted was run by Kyoko).

Right from the start it was clear there was something special about Hana Kimura. Her stage presence and charisma radiated like nobody else – it was hard to take your eyes off of her. All of her years growing up surrounded by wrestling; observing how crowds reacted to performers and spots, she had absorbed all of that to the point that the performative aspect of the industry was second nature to her. Hana’s background in dance and Idol training in Okinawa also didn’t go astray. She was a natural born entertainer.

She wasn’t afraid to take risks either. After a long run with Kagetsu as the Goddess of Stardom champions, Hana could have slid into a comfortable role as Oedo Tai’s second in command. Instead, she left Japan for several months to complete a Mexican excursion. Upon her return she chose to betray Oedo Tai and become the de-facto leader for the company’s fly in foreign talent, all the while trying new things with both her look and her wrestling style. Some things worked, some things didn’t, but much of what you saw in those wild months early into her return would form the prototype for what would become Tokyo Cyber Squad Hana Kimura.

‘Everyone is different, everyone is special.’

Hana with Tokyo Cyber Squad. Credit: World Wonder Ring Stardom

Tokyo Cyber Squad, like her previous group Oedo Tai, felt like a haven for wrestlers that didn’t fit the mould of the other groups. Come as you are and let yourself embrace what makes you special. A hard-nosed submission specialist like Konami stood next to Kaori Yoneyama cosplaying as a member of KISS, who stood next to a couple of kids (one who would become a miniature version of Hana), who were next to a couple of foreigners who couldn’t understand a word of what was being said. They’d come out to EDM music, waving neon lit weaponry, sometimes in matching camo gear and other times not because why conform to a single look?

Only somebody like Hana Kimura could make that work so well. Under her guidance Tokyo Cyber Squad quickly became the hottest faction in Stardom. They were cool, evoking a fun and rebellious vibe, taking what worked from similar factions like Los Ingobernables De Japon and tweaking it to fit their vision. Everyone within the group fed off of Hana’s natural energy and charisma to become better versions of themselves. Accolades quickly flew their way too: Hana, Konami, and Jungle Kyona quickly won the Artists of Stardom titles and then while the latter two became Goddess of Stardom champions, Hana would go on to win the prestigious 5 Star Grand Prix tournament.

Hana’s stock was rising at a rapid pace. She had been popular while in Oedo Tai, but it was as the leader of Tokyo Cyber Squad that her name really began to circulate globally. When Bushiroad bought out Stardom, Hana was being positioned as one of their top stars. She was alongside Mayu Iwatani and Arisa Hoshiki in all the marketing material, she was interacting with and slapping Bushiroad president Takaaki Kidani, and she was one of the four chosen to represent the promotion in their first appearance inside the Tokyo Dome, performing on the pre-show at the biggest wrestling event in the country: Wrestle Kingdom. WON podcast host Jim Valley spoke of how much more comfortable she seemed inside the Tokyo Dome compared to her three contemporaries. She shone brightest on the biggest stage.

A rocket was being strapped to Hana’s back, and her brand was growing outside of the wrestling industry as well around this time.

Hana winning the 2019 5 Star Grand Prix. Credit: World Wonder Ring Stardom

Enter: Terrace House

Terrace House was a Japanese reality TV series that began in 2012, and would bring in six strangers, put them in under one roof and follow their lives. Hana Kimura joined about halfway through their fifth season, doing so because according to Kyoko she “wanted to spread the word about female pro wrestlers.” She was a regular member until the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic put a halt to filming, and then the season would be prematurely cancelled following her tragic death.

The Terrace House experience ended up being particularly brutal on Hana as she received constant abuse online from fans of the show. In the aftermath of her death, her mother Kyoko brought forth claims that her daughter was pressured into escalating things within the house, and then editing the show in a way that misrepresented her daughter. This included trying to get her to slap one of her housemates after they accidentally ruined the wrestling costume she had worn at Wrestle Kingdom. Others on the show have since spoke of how they were pushed into acting a certain way, even as far as trying to get one of the guys to touch her breasts.

The incident surrounding her ruined costume led to sharp uptick in those hateful comments, numbering in the hundreds each day. There was a raw cruelness to the comments that were made public, either in the immediate aftermath or in the legal trials that came later. And she was receiving them every single day.

As this was happening, the world was being turned upside down with the Covid-19 pandemic. Tokyo, like many other places around the world, went into lockdown. So now Hana was trapped at home, bombarded with hate, without pro wrestling and her normal day to day life to help keep her balanced. She tried to switch off from social media, but there was pressure on her to be online promoting the company.

It all eventually became too much, and on May 23 2020 Hana Kimura passed away as a result of suicide. The news shook the wrestling world as friends, family, and those in the industry all dealt with the heartbreaking announcement and shared in their mourning. Wrestling lost one of their dearly beloved.

Hana, Konami and Jungle Kyona. Credit: World Wonder Ring Stardom

Hana’s potential was limitless. At a time when women’s wrestling was finally starting to get the global respect and spotlight it deserves, she seemed destined to be one of the true stars that would flourish under that newfound spotlight. The charisma had always been there, but she continued to develop her mannerisms and act to ensure even a singular appearance would be enough to hook you. Her in ring work had continued to improve, combining much of her mother’s stiff, brawler offence (like the Yakuza kick and shotgun dropkick) with some impressive finishing moves like the Hydrangea submission and the Package Piledriver. At 22 years old she was already becoming a ring general, remembering what she had learned watching the crowds at her mother’s matches as a teenager to pace matches and hit the big spots at just the right time.

Hana’s legacy could be that of a young star whose light died out far too quickly. The reality is that she was so much more than just a great pro wrestler. She was a great person.

It was abundantly clear the kind of impact Hana had on those around her. Whether it was 12 year old Rina who was such a fan that she wore her old attire to the ring and inherited her finishing submission, or the foreigners who were instantly welcomed and made to feel like a part of the family despite the language barrier. The close connections she built with both Konami and Kyona in Tokyo Cyber Squad, or with Kagetsu, Tam Nakano and Kris Wolf in Oedo Tai, or with Veny as they teamed together in the Japanese independents.

Everywhere she went she seemed to touch people, and they continue to carry on her legacy long after it would have merely been ‘polite’ to do so. They want to keep her memory going because her spirit can continue to be a shining light to others. That’s how you know she was a great person.

Hana with a one night only return to her Oedo Tai look. Credit: World Wonder Ring Stardom

Many of those people are coming together for MATANE (Japanese for ‘See you again’), a Hana Kimura memorial show taking place on the 23rd of May, the anniversary of her passing. While the State of Emergency in Japan will affect the show’s attendance, fans and performers alike will be looking to honour her memory and celebrate her life with this memorial show. For Kyoko, hopefully it might help bring some closure as she’s worked tirelessly over the past year trying to gain justice for Hana and protect those who might find themselves in a similar situation as her late daughter.

‘Everyone is different. Everyone is special’.

If Hana can no longer be here to remind people of this, then maybe it can continue to be spread in her honour. She was taken from this world too soon; the weight of how cruel humanity can be eventually became too much for her to bear, but her vibrant spirit will continue to live on in those who she left a lasting impression on. It’s a message we can all carry with us as we try to make our own way through this crazy world. Everyone is special, and everyone deserves to be treated as such.

A flower blooms and thrives when the light shines brightest, its beauty capturing the eyes and hearts of all who gaze upon it. The same was true of Hana. She was different, she was special, she was wrestling’s flower. Long may she bloom in heaven.

Hana Kimura inside the Tokyo Dome for Wrestle Kingdom. Credit: World Wonder Ring Stardom

Hana Kimura Memorial show ‘MATANE’
When: Sunday May 23rd @ 11:30am JST / 2:30am GMT / Saturday May 22nd 10:30pm EST / 7:30pm PST
How to watch: Live with English commentary and unlimited replays via Fite.tv for $14.99 USD