Noob Japan: Everybody’s Different, Everybody’s Special!

As a wrestling fan, sometimes you are in the moment to witness all of the spectacular things that play out as history is made or unforgettable stories are told. These are memories that you carry with you because you were there.

Sometimes, that isn’t the case. Sometimes you miss out on things entirely and you don’t get to see the flame that others saw as it burns. 

As with many things in wrestling, I’ve missed out on a lot. One I missed out on was Hana Kimura.

I’ve seen glimpses of her; YouTubers covering her, small clips on social media, or hearing about her in passing in late 2019 and early 2020, sometime before I jumped deeper into the wrestling community. She looked interesting, like she could be a crossover star. 

Unfortunately, most of us know what happened in May 2020. It is still a hard time for many to remember. I personally remember opening up Twitter to a lot of upset fans, wrestlers, and people in general to the news that Hana Kimura had left us. I didn’t know how to react, as I didn’t know much, if anything at all about her, but I felt my heart break.

This is burned into my mind. It was among the first reasons I started to expand my scope a little more as I read and watched tributes pour in from across the globe. 

As I am aware that this is very much a sensitive topic, I will do my best to tread lightly as I present my thoughts and feelings. There are moments of humor and joy, as in my research I have found that Hana Kimura was as funny as she was charismatic, intense, and captivating. I genuinely laughed when making this, which made it all the more sobering when I reached the end of the final match in my selection.

I set out wanting to know more about Hana beyond what had happened and I was so glad to embark on this journey, because she was so much more, and is so much more.

What I Know
I have little to go off of here, save for the fact that I was researching factions for Stardom before I even started writing Noob Japan articles. Thus, I know that Hana served in two groups: Oedo Tai and Tokyo Cyber Squad.

The Oedo Tai days saw Hana playing a goofy, yet capable and dangerous heel in a group that had so much love for each other, much different from what the group reads as now – sort of like Bullet Club or NWO. The signature black bob and the sash around the hip gave a distinctive look to Hana. The way I read her time there, it seemed like she was a chosen one, that she was the one who would lead the group to greatness.

Hana’s Tokyo Cyber Squad group, I found, was an evolution of the International Army, rebranded under the vision of the former Oedo Tai member. This was, and is, a group of wrestlers who are neither good nor bad, but something in between. Essentially, what Sting and Stone Cold Steve Austin were as characters, that’s who these women are. They’re here to disrupt the status quo and win, win, win!

Credit: Stardom

When I think of Hana Kimura, I think of the cherry blossom flowers and of the thing she once said: “Everybody’s different! Everybody’s Special!”. I’ve heard stories and accounts of other people of just how kind and sweet she was, and those, along with what she did in her career, undoubtedly keep her memory alive forever.

Hana Kimura vs Kairi Hojo, April 22 2017 (Kairi Hojo Homecoming)
Within the confines of Shimin Hall in Hikari, Yamaguchi, Kairi Hojo defends her Wonder of Stardom Championship against the fresher face to Stardom in Hana Kimura, daughter of Kyoko Kimura and member of the villainous group Oedo Tai.

I’ve only been accustomed to Kairi in her time in Lucha Underground (as Doku), WWE (as Kairi Sane), and her return to Stardom in 2022 as KAIRI. I have not seen her at this time within her home promotion until this point. So this is like a two-for-one Noob Japan segment right here. You’re welcome.

Kairi enters the match, dead-set on victory. Nothing personal against Kimura, but it’s personal to the Pirate Princess to win in her hometown as she takes off her mask and hands off her helm to an outside woman. Hojo comes from the Yamaguchi prefecture in Japan, so she must win, otherwise she won’t want to show her face there ever again.

Kimura wears a gas mask, ahead of her time considering this is 2017. She relishes in the idea of embarrassing Hojo in her own home, as she unmasks. With her black lipstick and short black bob hairdo, she oozes a sort of charisma.

The match hasn’t even started, she has barely moved, and already I see that she has the intangibles. That look of charisma, the aura, the look of a wrestling superstar, and the smile that could dismantle anything. She waits – she waits to dismantle the veteran of the promotion. A star in the making vs a well-established one soon meant for other pastures and back again.

Kimura toys with Hojo right out of the gate, feigning an attempt to shake hands and then by dancing. Hojo isn’t one to be mocked, however. She grows impatient and just wants this over with. She deals the first blow with her elbow and the fight is on.

It doesn’t take long for Hojo to use her technical expertise to keep Kimura grounded, working to submit her opponent. The Dangerous Flower, however, battles out of it as the two roll around with quick fluidity.

Kimura uses this to her advantage to roll so the pirate is pinned for a two-count. Kimura is faster and deadlier and is not above using brutal tactics. Hojo has to strike with every fiber of her being.

When push comes to shove, Hana battles Kairi through the arena, using anything nearby to her advantage, even her teammates, who are hungry enough to eat the meat in front of them – so long as they save it for the alpha.

Hana plays with her food, but the prey this night isn’t going down without a fight. Kairi mounts an offense to gain the upper hand, leading to chest slaps. As her opponent lays dazed, she darts across the ring, wind rushing through her hair and blowing in her ears as she does a flying DDT for a two-count pin.

The Oedo Tai member isn’t as strong as before, making her vulnerable for the insane elbow drop, and even that results in a failed pin attempt, but Kairi remains optimistic. Though she climbs into a vicious hold that stretches Kimura beyond pain, she’s able to crawl out of it and mount her own comeback, exchanging strikes with the swashbuckler.

What I’ve grown to love about Stardom is that the slaps they give each other are dealt in devastating force, quaking the earth with the shattering impact. Both women tonight do just that, and recover on the mat. Kairi attempts another elbow, but Oedo Tai batter her to oblivion’s gate, leading to a very close pin that Kairi kicks out of.

Enough Oedo Tai shenanigans distract the referee enough so that Kimura can dissect her opponent, but Kairi just won’t stop. She wails like a soldier ready to die on the field tonight, and she has fellow troops of her own to assist in her survival.

Every iota of strength that Hojo can muster sends Kimura to the wooden plank and one last diving elbow delivers Hana Kimura to Davy Jones’s Locker as she retains. And still, the Wonder of Stardom Champion, Kairi Hojo!

Hana Kimura vs Yu Ishino, September 1 2017 (5 Star Grand Prix)
The 5 Star Grand Prix in Stardom is essentially their version of the G1 Climax, in a way. It is a tournament to build your name in the annals of Stardom, as well as a title opportunity later down the road.

In September, Hana Kimura found herself in the same block fighting her Oedo Tai leader – Yu Ishino. Normally, this would be a cause for drama. Instead, each of the current members of the group come to the ring – Hana Kimura, Yu Ishino, and Kris Wolf. Prior to the match, they cut a promo about how Hana has to win, implying that this match will be ten seconds long. They also hint at a new potential member, Tam Nakano, coming to the team.

The three enter the ring to their entrance music then proceed to dance in their funky masks, and it goes on for quite a while. They collectively break it down for our candy asses.

Wolf walks to the outside, while Hana and Yu disrobe and hang in the same corner.. The frustrated referee motions repeatedly for either of them to walk to the opposite turnbuckle. Instead, they hold hands and Kris Wolf just stands there. The referee is weary of this, because he doesn’t get paid enough to put up with such tomfoolery, and he corrals Yu to the opposite corner. He leaves said corner and cuts a passionate promo of how Hana must win this tournament, reiterating that this match will be over in ten seconds.

Much like Jeff Jarrett at WCW’s Bash at the Beach 2000, The Oedo Tai leader lays flat on the mat for a quick pin, confusing the referee, but he counts anyway, only to the count of two, for Yu kicks out unexpectedly. Hana screams out of shock and anger, and Yu screams, probably because he wanted to. Ishino then strikes first, and outmaneuvers Kimura all the way to the ropes. 

To diffuse the situation, Kris Wolf comedically tried to restore order – all for naught. Ishino brings the fire, being so far ahead, while Kimura uses the environment to her advantage, as she brings innocent and unassuming chairs into the mix. 

Honestly, I’ve been trying to keep a serious enough tone, but this match is so damn hilarious. Hana spits in the ref’s face, does the signature Oedo Tai pose on the ropes with Ishino trapped and Wolf posing with a sign. This is followed by Ishino holding some water in her mouth to spit at Hana, instead getting the referee due to her opponent ducking. Wolf keeps interfering and getting her ass kicked. 

The tone soon changes though, for Kimura controls the pace, showing she has all the potential and makings of a top star, but Ishino is more seasoned and knows what moves of Kimura to anticipate. The leader is not even a slow veteran either, as she flies around like a cannonball. 

This match is a perfect measurement to where both competitors are at this point of their respective careers. Hana has her intangibles at the forefront and tells a great story of someone who is almost there, but not quite, while Ishino is showing signs of slowing down, but shows she’s still agile and powerful, with the mind of a skilled chess-player. 

No matter how hard Hana fought, she wasn’t at Ishino’s level yet. Wolf still plays her part in tending to her teammates as they sit up and regain composure, and they just…talk. 

Hana didn’t understand why she was betrayed, Ishino reasons that he would never lay down for someone just like that – he’s a fighter. Hana has a long way to go to beat her. Ishino knows Hana’s on borrowed time, and he’s ready but she isn’t. Amid the drama, there is brevity and laughter. After all, as long as someone from Oedo Tai wins it all, that’s all that matters, right? 

All these emotions aside, Yu Ishino, Hana Kimura, and Kris Wolf join hands together and dance in the ring, once again ready to unleash their funky fresh dance moves upon an unsuspecting world once more, when they’re interrupted by Tam Nakano.

Befuddled, yet impressed at the bonding taking place, she finally agrees to join them, having been pursued by them for so long beforehand. Oedo Tai now puts on their masks and have another elaborate dance routine, excellently choreographed.

Part of me wishes they had Too Cool’s music playing in this dance. Why not? Why not mix the Attitude Era with modern joshi?

I tried to take this writing as seriously as possible, but with the love, goofiness, and charm of Hana’s time in Oedo Tai, it’s hard not to laugh, smile, and join in the silly nature. Watching her Oedo Tai matches leaves me wishing this era didn’t end.

Hana Kimura vs Hazuki, September 2 2019 (5 Star Grand Prix)
As with most relationships, no matter how dear, sometimes it all just simply falls apart.

A year following the incident between Kimura and Ishino, moments like the leader’s trick had begun to fester in the mind of Kimura. Oedo Tai, for the dysfunctional family it is, wasn’t for The Dangerous Flower anymore. At the 5 Star GP in 2018, Kimura would betray her teammates, assaulting them with chairs and turning away from them. 

The blackened flower soon bloomed into bright and attractive colors.

Credit: Stardom

Enter the Tokyo Cyber Squad, a team of women with neon-themed gear made to visually pop out in your mind. Stemming from the seeds of the former International Army, TCS set out to be different from the other factions in Stardom – it wasn’t the goodie-two shoes of STARS, nor the disdainful heathens of Oedo Tai. TCS were neither good, nor bad – they were the wrecking ball to the status quo of Stardom as a whole.

Hana Kimura’s star was rising at this point, following excursions to Mexico and the United States, where she became popular, bringing eyes to Japan with her. In a world after Hana Kimura, one can’t help but wonder how much bigger she could have gotten, for she was so close to the levels of former roster members now in WWE: Io Shirai and Kairi Sane. Hana did it without the broadcast of a major billion dollar corporation. 

Quick ramble – this match takes place in Korakuen Hall, and it is one of my favorite wrestling venues. I’ve seen it in some New Japan Pro-Wrestling shows, and it feels like its own environment, giving matches a different feel, sort of like the Hammerstein Ballroom in the U.S.A. It feels like a small, intimate setting, yet can add to a big fight feel. And that just so happens to be where the next two matches take place as well. That is all.

Hazuki is someone I am being introduced to for the first time. She seems rather ambivalent and aloof. She’d rather make this quick, and doesn’t want to entertain further conversation. Oh, and she’s from Oedo Tai.

Hana is decked out in white and pink and she has a gun. It’s fake though, so don’t worry.

Hana and Hazuki don’t charge headfirst, but casually enter a world of technical holds that lasts for over a minute, ending in a draw. Hazuki races around but Hana strikes and she is ever-so violent here. She relishes it. I don’t know if there is pre-existing bad blood or if she just hates Hazuki by virtue of being a member of Oedo Tai. Regardless, she spares no mercy.

Hazuki is no slouch herself though, and she battles out of the bloodthirsty offense to dish out some of her own, because man she is a brawler. I’d expect to see her in a pub fight rather than in a wrestling ring. That isn’t to say she is limited by that, as she delivers a beautiful missile drop-kick. 

Something I want to give credit for with Hana is that she is versatile in whatever style she needs to match her opponent while keeping her own signature offense. I’ve seen her be a high-flier, a technical wrestler, a down and dirty heel, and so much more. So much potential laid within her.

Neither woman has it in themselves to give up, and so far, this is my favorite match of each Hana Kimura fight I’ve seen thus far. I think I’ve become a fan of Hazuki, and at a great time, too as she’s made her return as of August 2021.

With a top turnbuckle missile drop-kick, Hana gets the victory and advances to the 5 Star GP, where she would later win in the finals of the tournament against Konami – a wrestler I’m not familiar with yet, but maybe someday soon.

Hana Kimura vs Bea Priestley, October 14 2019 (Korakuen Hall)
2019 proved to be a big year for Hana, and she has put on so many classics. On this crisp October night, she’d put her skills to the test against the top gaijin, Bea Priestley, as Hana again wrestled in Korakuen Hall.

Bea Priestley is more widely known to Western fans for her time in All Elite Wrestling from 2019 to 2020, when she was released due to being stuck in Japan thanks to Covid-19, and she is currently wrestling as Blair Davenport for WWE’s NXT UK as of the time I am writing this. I am familiar with her, but I don’t know her in this capacity…yet.

Hana’s pre-match promo is enthusiastic, and she starts it off with the now iconic quote: “Everybody is different, everybody is special!”

Priestley doesn’t share the same optimistic and cheerful demeanor. She’s disrespectful and wants to humble Hana. Oh, and she’s in Oedo Tai.

The bell rings and the women lock horns. And I can’t help but shake the image of Mavis from Hotel Transylvania from my mind when I see Priestley.

Kimura and Priestley are proficient technical wrestlers, something I’ve been noticing more with Hana’s work. Ricky Steamboat in particular would be proud of their deep arm drags. Quickly they find out they are evenly matched. In respect, Hana reaches out to shake Bea’s hand, to which the gaijin gestures with a middle finger. That’s not nice. Finally, she coaxes her in, before they just start spitting on and flipping the bird to each other. What the hell is going on?

Hana sways the action from outside and inside the ring, tossing Priestley into chairs like a supervillain chucks superheroes into skyscrapers in them there superhero movies these days. So much carnage! And Hana is still spitting on people! She spat on the ref! There are better places to spit, I promise.

Though she’s a tweener, Hana is sly on the type of offense of Priestley, as she too was a member of Oedo Tai – she knows their tricks and she plays back to it well. Throughout the match, she matches the devilish trickery and passionate intensity that Priestley dishes out.

Once she has Hana locked in, Priestley holds her in a crushing grapple on the mat that drains the consciousness out of Hana, as though she really wants to destroy her. Hana was barely hanging in there. She’s able to summon some of her willpower to keep fighting as devastatingly as she can, but it is clear that hold has robbed her of the fire she normally possesses. The poor woman barely makes it back into the ring.

With time, however, healing is possible, and Hana is able to survive and persevere against the odds and in defense she crumbles Priestley, sparing nothing and giving it all back. In what is one of my favorite parts of matches, the two trade failed pins quicker and quicker after any bit of offense available to deliver, purely driven on instinct and desperation, a common mentality in the darkest hour for wrestlers.

Still, Bea has the upper hand thanks to that hold from earlier, as Hana is still worn down and with a suplex pin, she gets the victory.

Hana is pulled away and Bea gloats. Sometime after the celebration (following a challenge by Mayu Iwatani for the champ), President Rossy Ogawa announces a new talent coming into Stardom, and one I’ve covered before. Giulia.

Hana Kimura vs Giulia, December 24 2019 (Year End Climax)
Tokyo Cyber Squad is a group unlike others in Stardom, as previously established. They’re just here to upset the status quo. But what if they met a force similar?

Donna Del Mondo are nowhere on the morality scale either, rather, they were women who aspired to push themselves and take what was meant for them. After all, what’s more delicious to women who aspire to take what they earn through effort and battle, than the fruits of their labor? And it is by that merit that DDM is also set apart from TCS. DDM is for outcasts and fighters to claim what is rightfully theirs, they don’t care about any status quo.

Hana Kimura and Giulia are women of Stardom that I am at this point looking forward to seeing lock-up in the ring. Both women are excited to face each other as well, giving the vibes that this is a dream match for joshi fans akin to the kind us westerners had for the likes of Brian Danielson and Kenny Omega. Hana herself describes this as a match of fate.

And here, she faces off against someone whose presence was also set to take over, as Donna Del Mondo’s leader in Giulia, who, much like Raymond, everyone loves. She says as much in her pre-match promo against Kimura, and she was ready to be tasted by the Dangerous Flower. 

As a ring announcer with a dress and cat ears calls the women to the ring, Giulia enters, looking totally badass in her hooded darkness as her song begins with epic, orchestral grandeur to head-banging mayhem. Kimura then follows, to the sound of dubstep in her neon and pastel colors, gas mask, pink hair, green tail-cape (or whatever it is), and a whole-ass sword. This means that Stardom has better gun control than the United States.

I am glad I am watching this match.

At the ring of the bell, these clashes of personality and style collide like two high-speed trains on the same track. It is a test of endurance with punches sent a-whirling until Giulia can take no more as she is held to the ground. Fortunately for her, she rolls out of it and on top of Kimura, leading to an arm lock that leaves the desperate victim to reach for the ropes. 

Feeling disrespected, Kimura spits in the face of Giulia, who returns with a shrug and a Cheshire grin before diving back into the waters of rage once more and her strokes paddle her faster across the current, only to be met with a vicious wave as Hana slaps her across the face. 

Undeterred by the strike, Giulia brings the battle to the outside of the ring, throwing Kimura to the crowd and up the rafters. Giulia drives Hana all across the arena, in a trek of violence and destruction. This match really elevates Giulia at this time and brings out her personality. 

She drapes Kimura over tables overlooking a balcony for punishment, but Hana slips away, leaving Giulia to shrug and let out a battle cry before positioning Hana back by the ring, to lead-up with a charging knee, but Hana has recovered enough to bring out a chair to stop the collision course. 

I don’t know who to root for here because I love both women at this point. 

Neither woman stays in control for very long, as they explode back and forth, treating the other with as little respect and regard as possible. They’re really bringing out the best and worst in each other; it’s easy to see they are hurting each other but refuse to give in until they can’t stand any longer.

Perhaps it is the will of the crowd, perhaps it is fighting spirit, but both women rise to their feet, racing and racing to stay in control, until Giulia gains the advantage in another hold, stretching Kimura until she replays a scene from earlier as she musters herself to the bottom rope for a break. Had it not been for her own quick wit, Kimura would have been slammed on the ground, but she binds herself around Giulia, weakening her to the mat, and stays in control, for Guilia is dazed.

However, as wrestling always shows us, they who hesitate are lost, and Giulia reverses the momentum. Every near-pin gives me heart palpitations, every hold shakes me rigid. I still don’t know who I want to win, but the song must always end at some point. Giulia takes an advantage from Kimura’s following rope break, as the silver-haired wrestler transitions her own pin into a hold that locks the bright wonder into a universe riddled with agony – here, there is no escape. Here, Hana taps out.

Giulia kneels in victory as her music plays while Hana slowly rises. In a gesture for respect, Giulia reaches out for a handshake, but The Dangerous Flower slaps it away and motions for a fist bump instead. Hell yeah. 

The joy and adrenaline that pulsates inside me from this action is brought back down to a bittersweet taste, as Giulia grabs a mic. She declares that now Hana loves Giulia and that 2020 was going to be delicious, and Hana would be back for another taste of Giulia. In words so hauntingly obsolete, she states that there will be more battles to come between the two. A future that was not to come.

Yes sir.
Credit: World Wonder Ring Stardom

A sobering reminder of a cold reality,

Hana Kimura is an athlete that the universe receives once in a lifetime, and sometimes that is all we get. I’d factor her as she was in life as she was in departure helped increase the number of fans, as the world flocked to see someone truly special. She’s a what-if, like Magnum T.A., a star of charisma like The Rock, and most importantly, she was Hana Kimura. 

She was incredibly young for someone who accomplished so much, whether it was representing Stardom at the Tokyo Dome during Wrestle Kingdom or being on the card for a sold out Madison Square Garden show while being on a reality tv show on Netflix. And she was just getting started.

It is by the devotion that her peers that continue to display their individuality and be themselves while putting on a show of passion and pain for the world to see that keeps her alive in our hearts, and it is the loving tributes she receives to this day, and the days to come, that keeps her alive in our hearts. 

So long as her mother, Kyoko Kimura and friends are around, she will not be gone, as her memory lives on in annual events to commemorate her life, whether it’s the 2021 MATANE or the 2022 BAGUS, we will see tribute to one of the best to have ever laced up a pair of boots.

Whether it was Io Shirai and Mauro Ranallo paying tribute on NXT, Sasha Banks and Kairi Sane wearing her name in honor in main roster WWE, or Kenny Omega wearing a shirt of her on AEW, and selling it with proceeds to go to her mother, Kyoko, that we see she still has ripple effects in the wrestling world, and much like Magnum T.A., she has made an impact in such a short amount of time. That is what makes her unique.

My Thoughts and Feelings
This was a hard article to write. Not just due to the emotional weight, but due to searching for the right dates and shows. Let me tell you though, it was well worth the trek. Right off the bat, it was obvious that Hana had “it”. Undefined characteristics that would embody truly being a character of professional wrestling that had no ceiling.

And yet I think of what Giulia said. She has a knack for keeping further rivalries and storylines open for later use, to keep us salivating for more. I think of what could have been, but I appreciate what Hana gave to us in the here and now while she was still with us.

The Dangerous Flower deserves to be remembered for what she is, what she was, and what she will always be: an amazing wrestler that is a once-in-a-lifetime talent. Not some day, not some topic on social media. It’s hard for me to ignore possible dream matches and fantasy bookings. What if she had gone to WWE’s black-and-gold NXT, or tore it up in All Elite Wrestling? What if she got to expand Stardom’s vision across the sea? She had the appeal and crossover ability.

All of these what-ifs will always sit, just like Giulia’s promises for the future. They’ll sit in a place that will go untouched. But her memory will live on, in existence eternal. Every single facet of her.

Hana Kimura was hilarious, vicious, heartbreaking, and impressive, in one package. She was also a human being, like the rest of us. We are deserving of love and compassion. We are the same, yet we are different, and she understood that.

“Everybody’s different! Everybody’s special!”

This is something we hear often, but it always bears repeating. So many people need reminding that they are their own person and they have so much to offer. 

Without going into much detail, I grew up feeling I was wrong because I was different. I spent so much time feeling alone and that I wasn’t going to matter much, and that I should just stay the course. I thought I had been alone for so long, and that I had nobody, and it took a lot to dig out of it.

It was due to my own fighting spirit and my own curiosity of what I was capable of, that I was finally able to see myself and see others.

In high school, my history teacher was popular with the classes he taught. He was funny and insightful, and he made me feel like part of the class and not some outcast. High school had been the best years of my youth thanks to people like him. He saw in me a voice that was crying out, even if I didn’t notice it. He knew I had something that needed to be heard.

Eventually I started writing. Poetry, short stories, and novels that I’m still working on. Eventually I made my way here, to my friends and to you, who is reading this, and if you are, thank you so, so much. 

So I maintain this: sometimes we humans deep down want to feel seen, to know there is someone out there who gives a damn and will listen. That’s what I try to live by, so that people can feel like there is someone who understands that things aren’t okay, that knows what they want, and so they can feel alive when they are at their most vulnerable. I’m not the best at reaching out myself, but I am doing my best.

We are given a short time here on earth, so let’s make the best of it, because after all, everybody is different, and everybody is special.

I’d like to close this out with a poem in memory of Hana Kimura.

Dangerous Flower

Spring breeze blows the petals
How brightly they bloom
Pretty pink cherry blossoms
They all look the same
But the petals are different

Yes sir, they are the most beautiful in season
Each petal has unique shape and form
Sometimes the color may vary
Still they are here and they say hello
For they all are different and special

Smile and smell the flowers while you can
Embrace and celebrate it while they’re here
Once in a while petals will fall
Gone with the breezes of Spring,
But we will remember them in Summer.