Nothing speaks to Tokyo Joshi Pro-Wrestling’s growth in 2022 like the scale and spectacle of Grand Princess.
It’s not just that the show drew TJPW’s largest crowd to date, it felt bigger. A team of men in pink robes carried Miu Watanabe to the ring. A leather-clad, cigarette-smoking Kamiyu rode into the arena on a motorbike like something out of a John Wick film. Neo Biishiki-gun came out in grand style as well, complete with fog and flowers, a massive fuzzy throne for its queen Sakisama and enough swagger to power a small city.
All of it had a distinct WrestleMania feel to it, a pomp, a flashiness that punctuated TJPW’s evolution from humble upstart promotion to major player on the joshi scene.
This is where TJPW is headed. Its crowds are larger. Its relevance is increasing. Its shows greater in terms of both size and quality.
It helps that its roster is the best it has ever been. Miyu Yamashita remains the company MVP, the ace, the top gun, but the depth around her continues to improve. This was a breakout year for both Suzume and Miu Watanabe.
Suzume shined night in and night out on the undercard, looking like someone TJPW is going to have to find a place for in the spotlight. Watanabe charged toward the top of the heap with a memorable performance in the Tokyo Princess Cup. In some ways, Miu was the main character of the company in the second half of the year, the emotional focus, the hero on a quest to prove herself among giants.
Beyond them, Yuki Arai impressed in her second year, Juria Nagano gave off star vibes, and lower card talents like Arisu Endo and Moko Miyamoto showed promising potential, too.
It helped too that the company was able to bring in fresh faces for the first time in a long time. For the past two years, the COVID pandemic made damn sure TJPW didn’t welcome any new talents from abroad. That changed as restrictions lessened, as the world inched toward normalcy. 2022 saw the company open its gates to foreign wrestlers again.
RevPro’s Alex Windsor reigned as International Princess Champion. Willow Nightingale teamed with Yuka Sakazaki at TJPW The Mountain Top. And in one of the biggest matchups of the year, AEW star Thunder Rosa collided with Yamashita at the Summer Sun Princess event.
Billie Starkz and Millie McKenzie also made their TJPW debuts this year. After pinning Yamashita (believe it or not) at Shinjuku FACE, McMenzie challenged Yamashita for the Pro Wrestling EVE Championship at All Rise where Starkz took on Sakazaki for TJPW’s top title.
Both women flourished. They had showings that will surely get them invites back.
The gaijin who made the biggest impression, though, was Max The Impaler.
A bruising, monstrous figure with a warthog’s demeanor may not seem like a great fit for such a bubbly and cutesy promotion, but actually Max was a perfect match. They terrorized the roster (Pom Harajuku in particular), their beastly aura making for quite the interesting contrast to the TJPW team.
Their matches at the Princess Cup shows, Wrestle Princess 3, and Dream on the Ring were highly memeable spectacles.
There’s plenty more to explore if TJPW invites her back. Besides digging deeper into Max’s pursuit of Pom, there’s the teased Aja Kong vs. Max the Impaler match still on the table.
The ease of travel restrictions also saw movement in the opposite direction as TJPW wrestlers traveled abroad.
AEW fans saw plenty of Yuka Sakazaki who competed in the Owen Hart tournament qualifiers (along with Maki Itoh) and wrestled on the AEW Fight Forever video game promotion event.
Maki Itoh was a filthy-mouthed vagabond who carried the TJPW flag everywhere from Vancouver to Atlantic City, GCW to AEW. Her trip to the US included a clash with her archrival/tag team partner, Yamashita and clashes with Mia Yim and Masha Slamovich.
Yamashita did some traveling of her own including stops in Deadlock Pro, Spain, and New Jersey against Slamovich, Trish Adora, and Miyuki Takase. Most notably, she headed to AEW to challenge Thunder Rosa on Dynamite for the AEW Women’s Championship.
Fans outside of Japan got to see her live and in person more than they have ever have before.
In her interview with Wrestle Inn earlier this year, Yamashita said: “To be able to wrestle at many places and go against many wrestlers is my first goal. I don’t really think of myself as an ambassador, but I want to show my style to the world.”
That’s what she did, even if her Dynamite bout with Rosa was far from her best showing. People outside of the joshi bubble were watching Yamashita (and Itoh) in action this year, a most excellent way to advertise the TJPW brand.
Whether it translates to new fans following the promotion or not, it’s clear TJPW’s plans include lending its talent out in the search for added exposure.
Amid all this growth and attempts at expansion, TJPW stayed true to itself. It is not trying to replicate what STARDOM is doing, it remains a home for the cutesy and off-kilter, as we saw with all the trademark absurdity the company delivered in ’22.
The captain of that ship was of course Hyper Misao who began the year with a ladder match against Shoko Nakajima where the winner had to “rescue” a stuffed tiger hanging above the ring.
The masked hero hit her foes with the usual doses of cold spray to the eyes, quizzing them in the ring, and every dirty trick she could pull off. Misao even brought guns to the ring several times, a grin stretched on her face as she waved pistols around haphazardly.
Her crowning achievement in 2022 was a bout with her doppleganger. Sort of.
Misao beat DDT and Pro Wrestling NOAH president Sanshiro Takagi in a Falls Count Everywhere match at Grand Princess in March. Takagi was dressed like Misao, painted-on bikini top and all. As goofy and ridiculous as this all was, it had a surprising amount of emotional resonance much like Misao’s match against Jun Kasai years ago.
Takagi and Kasai were the two wrestlers who inspired her to take up wrestling when she was struggling with depression and living as a shut-in.
Misao wasn’t the only one in on the kooky fun side of things.
TJPW hosted a Cooking Match between Arisu Endo and Yuka Sakazaki where the competitors had to forego headlocks and clotheslines for gathering up ingredients, musical chairs, and cooking up a dish backstage. The October 24 Universe Members show featured a four-way match wrestled under Among Us/Werewolf rules. Plus, we got the entire roster fighting in a swimming pool at TJPW Midwinter Pool Wrestling.
Name another match that had a wrestler knock nine others into a swimming pool with a Russian Leg Sweep and someone using a showerhead as a weapon. Name another promotion that gives you dumb fun like that, hard-hitting action at the top of the card, and a musical performance before every show.
TJPW didn’t suffer any game-changing losses, but spring did bring a drop in roster depth as Nodoka Tenma and Marika Kobashi both retired.
Tenma left in March, but not before facing her tag team partner and sister-in-arms Yuki Aino at Grand Princess.
Their so-so match is indicative of Tenma’s run. She never did anything spectacular. Instead, she was a solid roster-filler and as one half of the BAKURETSU Sisters, a dependable part of the tag division.
Tenma’s absence left Yuki Aino in a weird spot as their partnership defines so much of her character and role. But toward the back half of 2022, she and Raku began teaming, a duo that’s proved to be a good fit.
Before Kobashi followed Tenma out the door, she had singles matches against Yamashita, Nakajima and Misao in what was undoubtedly the best stretch of her career. She also teamed and wrestled against her idol Abdullah Kobayashi on the same night at TJPW Inspiration. In April, Marika got the traditional joshi sendoff—the gauntlet match against the whole roster.
She was starting to improve, showing more promise throughout all of this.
As those midcarders moved out, a karate-fighting nurse came charging in to replace them. Juria Nagano debuted at the Grand Princess event teaming with Moka Miyamoto against Arisu Endo and Suzume.
Even if the actress/nurse/karateka/wrestling rookie was clearly limited on offense, Nagano showed plenty in the intangibles department. She can always add moves to her karate strike-heavy arsenal. The fact that she had so much presence so fast is a great sign of what’s to come.
Like Yuki Arai, Nagano will likely be a part-timer saved for the bigger events, but she’s a welcome addition regardless.
For the second straight year, TJPW had its best tag teams compete in the Futari No Princess Max Heart Tournament. If this event is sticking around, it’s going to be a great way to spotlight folks. And the more years it’s contested, the stronger legacy it will have.
The January single-elimination tourney had some fun moments and matches but didn’t offer anything must-see.
ASUKA and Yuki Kamifuku made for an intriguing team with all kinds of chemistry and charisma. They made such a perfect duo as two long-legged and cocky strutting birds of prey. Kamiyu and ASUKA made it to the semi-finals by upsetting Yamashita and Itoh aka 121000000.
The tournament’s other big, surprising result saw the Magical Sugar Rabbits lose in the first round when Shoko Nakajima and Hyper Misao knocked them off.
Ultimately, Hakuchumu (Miu Watanabe and Rika Tatsumi) beat the BAKURETSU Sisters in the finals which earned them a crack at Sakazaki and Mizuki at Grand Princess for the tag titles.
In the summer, the ninth edition of the Tokyo Princess Cup
The next wave of stars, namely Miu Watanabe and Suzume, were the stars of the show. Everyone’s favorite bee knocked off Rika Tatsumi to make it to the semis. Watanabe outlasted then-POP champ Shoko Nakajima before beating Yamashita, earning the pink-clad powerhouse a spot in the finals.
While it looked like this might be Watanabe’s ultimate moment, an open door to the TJPW top tier, the company again went with a familiar face. Sakazaki bested Miu to win the whole thing.
The Princess Cup gave us all the bangers the Max Heart didn’t. Watanabe vs. Yamashita is firmly in the TJPW MOTY conversation. Yamashita vs. Misao, Tatsumi vs. Suzume, and Shoko vs. Watanabe were all quite good as well.
Both Miu and Suzume came out of the Cup looking like bigger deals when they entered.
The Princess Tag Team Championship and the tag team division in general belonged to the Magical Sugar Rabbits for half the year. Mizuki and Yuka Sakazaki entered 2022 as champs, and they ended up achieving the third 200-plus day reign in the title’s history.
The Magical Sugar Rabbits had an excellent reign, stomping on Arisu Endo and Suzume in an emotional mostly one-sided match and pushing back against Watanabe and Tatsumi.
It wasn’t until July, when Yuki Arai and Saki Akai beat them at Summer Sun Princess, that Sakazaki and Mizuki’s grip on the gold loosened.
Maki Itoh began the year claiming gold, not the one many fans wanted her win, but the company’s secondary title, the International Princess Championship
After beating Hikari Noa for the belt on January 4, Itoh defended against Yuki Arai, Yuki Kamifuku and Rhio, in addition to a defense abroad against Mia Yim at a Prestige show in Portland.
In a surprising move, Alex Windsor won the belt off Itoh at the Summer Sun show. It felt like Itoh was due for a longer reign, to go on representing TJPW abroad against foreign challengers.
Windsor did not remain champ for long. Miu Watanabe took her down at Wrestle Princess III to win her first singles title of her career.
Miu should eventually win the Princess of Princess title. She should eventually be the queen of this whole place. She’s fully capable of being a cornerstone in the coming years.
A reign with the International title, though, will be a nice appetizer to all that.
What of the Princess of Princess Championship? As it true on many a year, we began with Yamashita wearing the top crown. She beat Mizuki in a strong match on Jan 4 and lost to Shoko Nakajima in a moving in-ring story at Grand Princess in March.
These were two of the best matches in the championship’s history, more evidence of Yamashita’s greatness.
Shoko took over, her second time as champ. After successful defenses against Yuki Aino, Hyper Misao, Yuka Sakazaki at Cyberfight, and Rika Tatsumi, Nakajima’s reign ended at Wrestle Princess III in October. Yuka, fresh off her Princess Cup win, battered her longtime rival en route to becoming only the second wrestler (along with Yamashita) to win the POP title three times. Sakazaki now heads into 2023 as champ, a collision with Yamashita looming.
Is Miyu going to take back the gold? Will Yuka hold serve? The bigger question is whether TJPW will put the belt on a fresh face rather than its go-to trio of Nakajima, Yamashita, and Yuka. The promotion has prime options to put in that spot should it be more future-leaning.
Wrestler of the year: Miyu Yamashita
Runners-up: Yuka Sakazaki, Miu Watanabe
Watanabe came on strong at the end of the year and is looking like the bona fide star her supporters have long said she can be. Sakazaki excelled in both the singles and tag realms.
But even if it’s a boring, here-we-go-again pick, you have to go with Yamashita for TJPW’s Wrestler of the Year.
Miyu had the match of the year and was in several of the strongest contenders for that award. Beyond that, her matches were often the most powerful and memorable. Watanabe’s terrific Princess Cup run peaked with her clash against Yamashita. Nakajima’s moving title win came against Yamashita. Some of the best stuff from the tag team division involved Yamashita and Itoh fighting side by side.
Despite TJPW seemingly pulling Yamashita away from centerstage, she remains its driving force, its alpha. That is, until someone can force their way into that role.
Match of the Year: Miyu Yamashita vs. Miu Watanabe (Tokyo Princess Cup)
Runners up: Shoko Nakajima vs. Rika Tatsumi (Summer Sun Princess), Miyu Yamashita vs. Mizuki (Jan. 4)
Watanabe triumph over The Pink Striker was an absolute thriller. People throw the term “star-making” around too liberally, but this is a true example of that kind of match.
Miu fought and clawed, her heart aglow, against the always dominating Yamashita. It was a performance that showed she’s ready for the top tier. It pulled you in, urging you to root for this spritely warrior.
Miyu vs. Miu delivered on both emotion and action. It’s one of those matches that will likely serve as fans’ entry point to the promotion.
Who to watch for in 2023: Juria Nagano
Runners-up: Miu Watanabe, Suzume, Yuki Arai
Nagano is primed for a memorable year. She’s already shown a feel for the showmanship side of the game. Combine that with her karate-centric offense and general magnetism, and you have the makings of a wrestler you should keep your eye on.
If TJPW puts some faith in her, Nagano has the skills to make them look smart.
But she’s not alone in being in prime position for a big year. Nagano, Endo, Arai, Suzume, Watanabe—The future of TJPW is here if the company embraces it. Build around Watanabe, showcase Suzume, and/or make Nagano a bigger piece of the puzzle. You can’t go wrong with any of those options.
Ridiculous strong storytelling, quality wrestling at the top of the card, and booking outside talent is all key to what this company does, but there will always be an air of stagnancy if TJPW doesn’t move past leaning on its standby cornerstones.