Seven Years Against Stardom: The Oedo Tai Story

Stardom is a company that has found itself constantly changing and evolving throughout its eleven year history, but for much of its existence there has been a devious constant lurking in the shadows: Oedo Tai. Like the promotion itself, this faction has undergone many changes and reinventions over the years, but they’ve lasted longer than any other group.

For seven years they’ve served as the chaotic evil that’s forced everyone else to constantly watch their backs, all the while throwing a middle finger at Rossy Ogawa and Stardom’s management. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing, but the faction has been integral to not only shaping Stardom, but so many of the performers who have walked through those doors.

The origins of Oedo Tai trace back beyond just the simple formation of the group. Although Act Yasukawa and Kyoko Kimura officially brought Oedo Tai into being during the 4th Anniversary Show on January 15, 2015, the group grew from another. The Kimura Monster Army was formed by Kyoko after she was forced to leave ‘Kawasaki Katsushika Saikyou Densetsu Plus One’ (often shortened to Kawakatsu-gun). For several years Kyoko led foreigners on a path of destruction before joining forces with an unofficial team of Act Yasukawa, Dragonita, and Heidi Lovelace (now Ruby Soho).

And thus, Oedo Tai was born. Kyoko Kimura and Act Yasukawa, two irresistible forces, leading Dragonita, Lovelace, Kris Wolf, and Hudson Envy. The original energy of the Monster Army mixed with Yasukawa’s Samurai spirit. The name even comes from Act’s love of samurai culture, Oedo calling back to the Edo period when these warriors ruled Japan.

As you might suspect from the original makeup of the group, Oedo Tai would become a haven for foreigners touring with Stardom, especially those who walked a darker path. Thunder Rosa, Nikki Storm, and Viper were just some of the names who spent time in the faction who you might now know from their exploits in America.

They were good hands, but they could only tour for short batches at a time, and the group struggled to put together a long period of consistency. Kris Wolf was the only gaijin who wasn’t flying in and out on tours, but a concussion took her out for some time. Co-leader Act Yasukawa soon suffered heinous injuries as a result of the infamous ‘ghastly match’ that led to her missing most of 2015. She retired after a short return to action, staying with the group as a manager through part of 2016 before eventually leaving the company.

Oedo Tai celebrated the addition of Kagetsu to their team. Credit: Stardom

One key addition to the group during this time would be freelancer Kagetsu. Alongside Kyoko and Kris, these three became the core of the group, and were bolstered in September 2016 when Kyoko’s daughter, Hana Kimura, joined the fold. When the calendar turned over to a new year, Kyoko hung up the boots and handed over leadership to Kagetsu.

The addition of Hana arguably saved the group from dying in 2017. Though small in number the trio were seemingly set: Kagetsu brought veteran experience, Hana was a high upside rookie to watch, and Kris Wolf had undeniable energy and charisma. However Kagetsu soon went on a hiatus for several months as she reconsidered her place in the business, and Kris Wolf had to leave Japan due to VISA issues. Even Rosa Negra, who had come in to bolster the group could only tour for a short amount of time.

Young Hana was all on her own waving the Oedo Tai banner. For all of her potential she knew without backup her mother’s faction would wither and die. She set her sights on Wonder of Stardom Champion, Mayu Iwatani, and put forth an additional stipulation for their upcoming title match: If Hana won, Mayu would have to join her in Oedo Tai. If Hana lost, then the group would officially be no more.

Hana didn’t win, but she didn’t lose either. The match resulted in a No Contest when Hana got the backup she desired. Kagetsu made her return to bring an end to the match, and then soon after Kris Wolf returned to Japan.

From the brink of death, Oedo Tai instead enjoyed a fiery resurgence that would lead to something of a golden era for the group. The all new improved Oedo Tai began wearing matching masks to the ring and performing elaborate dance routines. They were still rule breakers, but they morphed into something more akin to a dysfunctional family full of lovable rogues, especially after a months-long courtship of newcomer Tam Nakano led to her joining the group.

Oedo Tai manager P-Chan leading an attack on Yoko Bito. Credit: Stardom

When people speak of the best version of Oedo Tai, it is generally this time period they’re referring to. All four members were incredibly charismatic, and Kagetsu had turned herself into a bonafide main event calibre performer to give them some strength to boot. No longer relying on a revolving door of foreign talent, the group was able to forge an identity together. Much like how Los Ingobernables De Japon spoke to the rebellious misfits watching New Japan, Oedo Tai filled a similar niche.

Kagetsu’s addition of Natsu Sumire was a controversial one at first, both for fans and within the group – with Hana and Tam feeling the group was ‘pretty enough’ already and didn’t need the vain Sumire trying to hog centre stage. It took a while, but Hana and Tam eventually accepted her into the group, and her antics only furthered the chaos.

This dynamic would eventually be broken up as a hotly contested feud between Oedo Tai and Queen’s Quest reached its boiling point. The two factions went head to head in a two team, ten person gauntlet elimination match on January 21, 2018. The final person to be defeated would be forced to leave their group. It was Kagetsu’s idea, keen to strike at the heart of Io Shirai’s group, but it was Tam Nakano who was forced out after Momo Watanabe defeated her.

Although she ultimately lost the war against Queen’s Quest, Kagetsu managed to get the last laugh at the first Stardom draft, selecting Hazuki (then known as HZK), who had been left on the board by Io in favour of choosing AZM and Momo Watanabe. Alongside Hazuki, Session Moth Martina and Nao Yamaguchi were drafted in, and the group would later say goodbye to a departing Kris Wolf in March and then Hana, who chose to betray the group later in the year after her Mexican excursion.

Tam Nakano seconding Hana Kimura as she prepares for a match. Credit: Stardom

The departure of both Kris Wolf and then Hana Kimura felt like the big turning point for Oedo Tai (the former being the one holdover from the very first iteration). The group still retained its fun, rebellious nature but it was dialed down a bit. The dancing gave way to camo coveralls and a more bruising team with the additions of Andras Miyagi, Jamie Hayter, Bea Priestley, and Natsuko Tora over the next year.

They still enjoyed success during this time. Kagetsu had a lengthy run with the World of Stardom title, Hazuki had a defining run with the High Speed Title, and Natsu Sumire won her sole championship in the Artist of Stardom Title alongside Kagetsu and Miyagi. However they never quite captured that same magic from 2017. Both Nao and Miyagi weren’t with Stardom for long, and Oedo Tai started to get overshadowed by their old member Hana Kimura and her new faction Tokyo Cyber Squad, who tapped into that same rebellious energy but with a fresh twist on it.

After four years as its leader, Kagetsu would eventually pass the baton, retiring in February 2020. Hazuki seemed the logical next leader, only she too was gone, leaving the company a few months earlier and not returning until mid-2021 alongside STARS. Kagetsu handed over the reigns to Natsuko Tora, and before the group could find an identity under her the COVID-19 pandemic threw everything into chaos.

The team was shaping up to be Natsuko Tora, Bea Priestley, Jamie Hayter, Natsu Sumire, and the recent addition of Saki Kashima, who submitted her resume via cracking the Oedo Tai signboard over Mayu Iwatani’s head. It lacked the presence of Kagetsu, but Bea and Jamie were well positioned as both the tag team champions and capable singles performers. However when Stardom returned to running shows both of them were stuck in the UK due to lockdowns. Jamie would never make it back, and by the time Bea was able to return Natsu Sumire would be sidelined with a shoulder injury.

During this time questions started to be asked about whether the group had outlived its usefulness. Natsuko Tora, thrust into the leadership role, struggled to find her groove as a leader, turning to dull heelish tactics that killed match pacing and fan interest. She also needed time to be considered a top tier wrestler, and neither Saki or Natsu were particularly threatening, leaving them hopelessly outgunned by factions like Queen’s Quest and the new Donna Del Mondo. The comedy antics were scaled right back (despite having Natsu Sumire) and pre match promos were dropped, making it harder to both develop stories and character.

Devil Duo: Saki Kashima and Natsuko Tora. Credit: Stardom

The Oedo Tai that people had come to know and love was seemingly gone and what was left of it seemed to be on life support. If the faction had fizzled out and died in 2020 it wouldn’t have surprised many. They had a good run, lasting longer than any other faction in Stardom.

However they kept limping on, and 2021 would turn out to be a resurgence year for the group, despite it being as tumultuous as every other year.

Firstly, Natsuko Tora’s hard work paid off, becoming a more convincing leader both in and out of the ring. She had nailed her look from the start, but many of the kinks that affected her early leadership were cleaned up. She established herself as one of the premier talkers on the roster, became more comfortable in the ring, and led the group with a renewed focus and goal: To ruin every other faction.

They had already started in 2020 by bringing Tokyo Cyber Squad to its conclusion, essentially ending Jungle Kyona’s time with the company thanks to a betrayal from Konami. However it was their continued assault on STARS in 2021 that changed perceptions. They’d end up taking four members from the faction during this time: Ruaka, Rina, Gokigen Death, and then eventually the prize scalp of Starlight Kid.

It was that last member that made the biggest impact. From her debut Starlight Kid had been the quintessential babyface. Now with a new darker persona, gradually groomed by a manipulative Natsuko, took her to a whole new level. She was always destined to become one of the faces of the company, but free from the shackles of playing the ‘good girl’, Kid became one of the more captivating characters in Stardom.

By the end of the year Konami would leave on a wrestling hiatus, and Natsuko would be relegated to leading from the shadows after a horribly timed ACL injury put her on the shelf, ensuring that even as things were looking up nothing could be easy. A year of constant lineup changes was concluded by bringing in Momo Watanabe, who chose to step away from the Queen’s Quest faction she inherited from Io Shirai.

The delinquent 2022 iteration of Oedo Tai. Credit: Stardom

The Oedo Tai of 2022 is essentially a group of delinquent youngsters. Outside of Starlight Kid and Momo the group is on the weaker side, but they make up for it in numbers and gang tactics. Their mischievous behaviour suits them; they’re a bunch of kids acting up and rebelling – every member of the group had once been ‘good’ but when presented with a fork in the road, chose to be bad. They squat in the corner, hoods over their heads, taking every moment to flaunt the rules and aggravate authority.

This is not the Golden Era Oedo Tai, but any attempts to replicate that would come off as a weak imitation – that version was made up of once in a generation talents with a very special chemistry. Even Kagetsu struggled to keep that same vibe after the bulk of that iteration had moved on.

That’s ok though, because Oedo Tai is always growing and changing to suit the times. The Golden Era came about because it evolved from the era led by Kyoko. The 2019 era developed its own style as it combined old favourites with new characters. Then, they adapted again to suit the younger lineup.

The ability to constantly adapt and remain compelling has been crucial to the survival of the group, because it’s easy to forget that each individual iteration was only around for a short time. For as loved as that golden period of Oedo Tai was, it came and went in a flash. Tam Nakano was only with Oedo Tai for four months, and then two months later Kris Wolf was gone, just a little over a year after Kyoko first passed on the leadership to Kagetsu.

Oedo Tai has always been a tumultuous group, be it relying on touring foreigners or dealing with injuries. Periods meld together, lightly tied together by one or two members who have stuck around while new faces bring something new to the table. They’re constantly experimenting, finding some things to keep (trapping a foe in the ropes and gang-posing) and others to quietly discard (Natsuko Tora’s impossibly loud metal chain).

What’s important to note is just how important Oedo Tai has been to the careers of nearly everyone who’s stood under its banner:

  • The bevy of foreign talent who had direction, whether for just a tour or for years.
  • Up and coming wrestlers like Hazuki or Ruaka who needed a place to define themselves.
  • A middling freelancer like Kagetsu who would become one of the most iconic and memorable performers in Stardom history.
  • Performers like Natsuko Tora and Saki Kashima, who could be forced into be something they’re not, but thrive as their ‘rough around the edges’ selves
  • Stars in the making like Hana Kimura and Starlight Kid, who were able to prove their versatility as dynamic but charming heels.
  • Charismatic entertainers like Natsu Sumire and Kris Wolf who could thrive under a rebellious banner.

For all of the changes they’ve undergone, the one constant has been this: For over seven years Oedo Tai has been wreaking havoc on Stardom, serving as key antagonists for many of the stars the company has been built around. Sometimes they’d do so with brute strength, other times through hilariously silly antics.

It’s a faction that shouldn’t have endured as long as they have, but the spirit of rebellion against the status quo has kept that fire burning. As long as one person keeps their middle fingers pointed at management, the spirit of Oedo Tai will continue. Their dirty fingerprints are all across Stardom’s tapestry.