It began with bare bones.
When Tokyo Joshi Pro-Wrestling was first founded their roster wasn’t big enough to field a hockey team. The women wrestled on a mat. No ring. No frills.
Their earliest shows, scant crowds packed into venues like the Shinbuya Entertainment Stage, felt more like some hip underground party than wrestling events.
This was not a promotion in line to compete in Japan’s crowded wrestling market. This was a minor-league startup radiating fun.
In January of 2013, TJPW’s first show, dubbed “The First Meeting,” featured only two matches. Cagematch.net lists the total match time for both bouts as six minutes and 46 seconds. The pattern continued for the next five events that occurred over the next 10 months. The cards were shorter than some Metallica songs. The same handful of wrestlers faced each other in various combos.
But even then, in its infancy, TJPW had a spark to it; an intriguing energy.
The wrestlers were raw. The production as minimal as you get. But it was fun. Tokyo Joshi Pro was its own thing, a celebration. Kooky and dynamic.
Plus, TJPW had a star in its midst from day one.
Miyu Yamashita wrestled on their very first show, facing KANNA in the main event, before going on to be one of the constants of TJPW’s early tight rotation.
In a way, this was not the Yamashita we see today who now serves as the company’s ace and an ambassador for the brand as she takes her head-kicking ways abroad. During TJPW’s inaugural year she was a teenager with a bubbly energy, a frilly white and pink skirt, and some mean dance moves.
This version of Yamashita fit what TJPW was trying to be – a cutesy, idol-focused, happy-go-lucky take on wrestling. In the years to come, she would replace that Sears photoshoot smile with a constant snarl. Dancing fell away from her entrance. She morphed into a cold-eyed killer, the End Boss of the promotion.
A World All Its Own
Despite their top draw’s ass-kicking ways, TJPW wasn’t built around hard-hitting ring action the way All Japan Women’s was before it. Instead, it was its wild cast of characters that served as the company’s foundation.
Yamashita, who has seen the roster grow and change from its infancy onward, pointed to singularity when we asked about what makes TJPW special.
“Our unique roster and the freedom of each wrestlers’ style,” she said. “Everyone’s so exciting (laughs).”
Relative newcomer Yuki Arai has experienced this togetherness as well. The pop-singer-turned-wrestler said: “Everyone is so unique, cute and they try their hardest. That’s probably why I got hooked onto it.”
It’s hard to argue against TJPW’s uniqueness. Throughout its first 10 years, it has boasted a roster that’s a veritable traveling circus of personalities.
Take Shoko Nakajima, the feisty underdog that stands at just 4’10” (147 cm).
She emerged from a series of defeats as a warrior in fur-lined battle gear. She claimed to be The Biggest Kaiju. Her heart was massive even if her stature wasn’t. And when needed, Nakajima would bring a bag of kaiju toys and spread their jagged plastic bodies on the mat for her opponent to slam onto.
Reika Saiki, known as The Muscle Idol, was a happy-go-lucky fighter with biceps as big as cantaloupes. She was a singer, a powerhouse, TV personality, a champion, a woman multi-talented much in the same way Miu Watanabe is today.
How many wrestlers do you know that double as one half of a kawaii metal group?
In 2017, a French aristocrat named Sakisama strode into the company with her nose high in the air.
She thought wrestling lacked beauty and wanted to change that by force. With her maid Martha at her side, she dominated TJPW. Her stable NEO Biishiki-gun grew into a powerful force, the demure and unscrupulous crew using mops, serving trays, syringes and underhanded techniques galore to win the Princess Tag Team Championships three times.
A woman briefly involved with that dastardly group has been one of the most unique and memorable characters during TJPW’s 10 years of existence. Hyper Misao is a superhero with a cheap-looking getup who is more than willing to break every written or unwritten rule to win.
Misao will nail her foes with cold spray in the eyes. She will crash a bicycle into your body. She will change the rules mid-match and turn the bout into a quiz show rigged in her favor.
Misao’s antics exemplify the absurd side of TJPW. It is odd and original personas like hers that have made the company stand out.
Rather than the traditional binary of heel versus babyface, good versus evil, TJPW has embraced an approach where the roster fights each other but as a sisterhood of sorts.
Raku, the all-powerful wrestler capable of forcing her opponents to take a nap mid-fight, explained: “Everyone’s unique! They feel like sisters, and we’re close!”
Maki Itoh, who many fans know from her AEW appearances and/or her sharing her love of English profanity on the internet, had the same sentiment.
“Everyone’s friends with each other,” Itoh said. “I love being alone, so I don’t really spend off days with others. But we take selfies once in a while, so I think we’re on good terms.”
Yuki Arai said, “We respect each other. Our desires not to lose to one another, and our road to improving each other is what I feel makes TJPW so enjoyable.”
As a fan, you can sense what Arai is talking about from afar. There is a palpable joy pulsing through the promotion. The wrestlers have fun. They like each other.
Yes, they are smashing into each other in pursuit of victory, but there’s a togetherness as they do it. They are fighting in TJPW but also fighting for TJPW.
Powerhouse singer in pink and International Princess Champion Miu Watanabe spoke of that sense of fellowship when talking to us about the appeal of TJPW:
“All the customers, all the players, everyone loves TJPW, and because it’s TJPW, we have this precious, precious happiness, and I love the joy of being able to share that happiness, that joy, that feeling of love with everyone and grow together! Anyway, I love TJPW!!! That’s what I mean!”
2016 marked a shift for the company. TJPW crowned its first top champion when Yamashita beat Shoko Nakajima for the vacant Princess of Princess Championship.
Not only did the kingdom now have its monarch, TJPW put on the biggest event in its history to that point. A January 4 show at Japan’s famed Korakuen Hall.
A near 1000-fan crowd may not seem like a lot, but this was a company that had 80 people in attendance for a Yuka Sakazaki vs. Miyu Yamashita match in 2014. This was a company drawing a few hundred fans the next year.
The first Korakuen led to more visits there, to bigger venues, to seeing its audiences expanding.
Fast-forward to the present and TJPW continues to reshape what its capable of. Last March, Grand Princess at Korakuen pulled in over 1,700 fans and many more via the Wrestle Universe streaming service.
Yamashita named this event as her favorite memory of TJPW so far. “Having our big show at Ryogoku Sumo Hall with everyone is the best as I was looking forward to it very much,” she said.
She may have to change her answer soon, TJPW is already set to outdo itself. The Ariake Coliseum, a massive sporting arena in Tokyo, will host the 2023 Grand Princess event. Soon after, TJPW is headed to the U.S. for a show at the Globe Theater.
This is light years away from the dinky venues where TJPW started. There’s a change afoot. The wrestlers can feel it and seem psyched about what’s ahead.
“It’ll grow really, really big!” Yuki Arai said when we asked what will happen next for TJPW. “I’m sure we can keep this level of uniqueness and charm and go to a bigger stage! I’m really excited for what’s next! I hope to be one of the frontrunners of TJPW when it does happen, so I’ll do my best to achieve it.”
Miu Watanabe was on the same page.
“I want people to know more and more about the happy space that is TJPW,” she said. “I want to let the world know about it, and I want our organization to grow so that we can share our happiness with people all over the world! I will do my best to be strong for that!”
Miyu Yamashita had similar thoughts of TJPW spreading its reach outside of Japan.
“With the pace Wrestle Universe has been evolving, our ways to reach out overseas has been expanding as well,” the three-time Princess of Princess champ said. “We’re doing our best to be loved by everyone around the world. I also hope we can have our America show once again, it’d be the best if we could have an American tour one day.”
Yamashita has been an international ambassador for the TJPW brand of late, traveling everywhere from Portland to Spain last year. And everywhere she goes, everywhere she is putting boots to skulls, she has people talking about the company she has long been a pillar for.
The same goes for Maki Itoh. The middle finger-waving renegade has been an increasingly familiar face on AEW and the American indie scene. Itoh wishes the same journey for her TJPW peers.
“The rookies are growing at such an astounding rate, so I hope they go and challenge for the belts. I think some of them should go on overseas excursions too,” Itoh explained. “I do my best in TJPW too but getting the support of the overseas audience is also very vital. I think that only Japan and America knows that I’m the Cutest in the World so…I think England, Germany, Spain, Korea and China needs to know this as soon as possible and I’d like to show them why!”
Raku, the wrestler who brings a pillow to her matches to a take a nap before or during the action, has big ambitions, too.
“TJPW is going to go wild!” she said. “I’ll do my best to become world famous along with TJPW!”
Yamashita and KANNA and the wrestlers on those first small-scale ring-less shows couldn’t have been thinking of international expansion. But a decade later, that’s where TJPW is, a powerhouse joshi promotion with its eyes on bigger things.
However large the company gets, however popular it gets, the one certainty is Raku’s prediction coming true – it will go wild. After 10 years of pool wrestling, cooking matches, aristocrat power struggles and a superhero on a bicycle, it’s clear that TJPW doesn’t know any other way to do this but go wild.
Quotes obtained in interviews (answers translated by TJPW) conducted by Wrestle Inn in 2022.