INT. UNKNOWN PLACE
A man is sitting in an empty void, on a chair with wheels. He types on a keyboard frantically. Upon his face sits his spectacles, glimmering at a computer screen. He sits there, handsomely and intelligently – so humble and prestigious. Something catches his eye and he stares off to the distance before reacting to what appears to be nothing in particular.
MAN: Oh, hey! [chuckles] Didn’t see ya there! My name is Corey Michaels. Oh, what am I doing? Well… I don’t know. I guess I was writing, or about to. You caught me at an awkward time. Really, you should have told me you were coming. This is really inconsiderate of you.
Corey Michaels removes his glasses and groans, for no discernable reason. He stretches and yawns for fifteen to thirty seconds.
Corey Michaels: So, you’re interested in the world of Japanese professional wrestling, or as it is often referred to – puroresu. So, you want to….
Corey pauses, his facial expression morphs from animated and passionate to being lost in thought. He frowns.
Corey Michaels Oh wait, I’m still in script mode. Just a sec.
The fabric of the universe tears apart. No more visuals or acting. Only words. Only pain and suffering
Intrigued by New Japan’s Wrestle Kingdom, are you? The not-so-surprising debut of former WWE star Sasha Banks as Mercedes Mone has peaked your interest or the war between Kenny Omega and Will Ospreay? Perhaps Shinsuke Nakamura competing in a NOAH ring against Great Muta had you curious? What about Impact and NJPW’s Multiverse United, the fate of Jay White, or Kota Ibushi’s return to wrestling at Josh Barnett’s Bloodsport 9? That’s great! Kudos to you for taking a jump to something that is a great unknown. Puro is an exciting world. People beating the ever-loving piss out of each other, doing their best to hide the pain and show the strength of the indomitable condition of the human spirit that exists with all true fighters. It tells the story through the wrestling and leaves the emotion and action all in the ring.
Kind of like the best of AEW and WWE, however, the culture is different. Not just in Japan, but the fan culture of puro is staggeringly contrasted to western enjoyment in some respects, save for some independent promotions. There’s a lot to uncover, but I’m here today to help you get through the basics to ensure that you have an easy transition, should you need it, and take a dive into something wonderful.
Get ready, because this is a world you are not used to. I promise it’s worth strapping in for.
The Language Barrier
Ask any fan of puro and they’ll assure you that despite the distant worlds of the English and Japanese alphabets, the language of professional wrestling is universal.
However, it can get frustrating when you don’t know what is going on, what these moves are called, why certain moments hold significance. That’s understandable. But, as with introducing yourself to something new, you’re not meant to get it all immediately. That’ll come in time, and you’ll retain more than you think.
That said, there are promotions that offer English commentary, including the heavy-hitters NOAH and NJPW, with Stardom likely to adopt that same formula too (hopefully with women commentators). These experienced narrators make all the difference for someone who is foreign to the new things going on.
Wrestling in a country typically differentiates itself from other countries by how their culture dictates. In puro, you’ll see people invite their opponents in for a strike. Elbows, fists and knees are going to hit, and they’re going to hit hard. It’s going to feel gruesomely real, it mixes with the spectacle of the incredible move-set and the drama of the moment. So many layers create a big beefy sandwich that will leave your once-hungry eyes satisfied.
There’s different styles of wrestling in puro, namely the King’s Road Style and Strong Style, two branching roads of the same rugged path. There’s also deathmatch wrestling and comedy wrestling, both of which are self-explanatory.
Then there’s the fantastic world of joshi, which simply means women’s wrestling. Japan has a plethora of women-only based promotions, the cream of the crop being STARDOM with other promotions such as TJPW just as worthy of your attention.
- New Japan Pro Wrestling – The big one, the one who is described as the WWE of Japan in terms of popularity. NJPW has garnered a lot of love and attention from the professional wrestling fanbase. When jaded and lapsed fans left after WWE went PG and TNA/Impact was under the iron fist of Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff, the spectacle and awe of the lion-crested company captured the eyes of fans due in part to Kazuchika Okada’s rivalries with Hiroshi Tanahashi and later Kenny Omega. It’s a long-standing company started in 1972 by the late Antonio Inoki, and the stars are some absolute aces that keep fans coming back for more.
- Pro Wrestling NOAH – Born of a mass exodus from legendary wrestler and promoter Giant Baba’s All Japan Pro Wrestling in the early 2000s, NOAH continued to drive the hard hitting action continued by AJPW’s Four Pillars of Heaven and Jun Akiyama. Though founder and big star Mitsuharu Misawa is no longer here with us, he started this emerald beauty that made stars like KENTA (formerly Hideo Itami of WWE), Naomichi Marufuji and countless others. Though their populairty suffered, recent years have seen a return to form for NOAH thanks to stars such as Go Shiozaki, Kaito Kiyomiya and Katsuhiko Nakajima.
- Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling – TJPW is a great place to go if you’re looking for character and storylines over workhorse wrestling. It’s a place for the cute and funny and badass. Things can get unconventional, but it’s a great time for those who are used to the WWE’s or AEW’s characters – in fact, AEW features TJPW talent from time to time, with ace star Miyu Yamashita challenging then women’s champion Thunder Rosa for the AEW Women’s Championship. TJPW also houses the popular Maki Itoh, the big kaiju Shoko Nakajima, superhero Hyper Misao, and my personal favorite, Yuka Sakazaki.
- World Wonder Ring Stardom – A faction-heavy company, Stardom features a more competitive and action-oriented style of wrestling. The strikes are stiff, the pace is non-stop, and nothing stays as cute as it is on the surface. The women of Stardom are brutal, with a short but rich history filled with emotion as the stories are deeply entrenched in wrestling. Known for talents such as KAIRI (aka Kairi Sane), Toni Storm, Jamie Hayter, Ruby Soho and Io Shirai (aka IYO SKY), it’s easy to see why it’s been the apple of the west’s eye. For talents to watch if you don’t believe me, keep a look out for Giulia, Thekla, Tam Nakano, Syuri, and especially Mayu Iwatani, who lives and bleeds Stardom.
- DDT Pro Wrestling – For fans of Kenny Omega and Konosuke Takeshita, this is where it started. DDT is known for being a hilarious promotion, but their reputation for comedy often overshadows the sheer talent their roster holds. Some of the Japanese humor might not translate well for western audiences, but there’s always a laugh guaranteed. That is, unless someone challenges for the KO-D Championship, which emphasizes a more serious story. The KO-D, however, pales in comparison to the Ironman Heavymetalweight Championship, a title so prestigious that even inanimate objects have won it.
There are more promotions out there that you may find yourself discovering at some point, such as Actwres Gir’z, Dragon Gate, GLEAT, BJW, Sendai Girls, Choco-Pro, and so, so many more. Those will come in time upon exploration and experimentation.
In this technological era, wrestling is becoming more and more accessible than ever. And yet, sometimes things are still out of reach unless we research ways to access it. There are various sites and videos and streaming services. Numerous AJPW and NOAH matches are sitting on YouTube right now. Wrestle Universe holds TJPW, DDT, and NOAH. New Japan World is a great stop for everything NJPW and Stardom World is the same for Stardom. You just need to shell out their monthly costs.
The problem is, a lot of content from puro history isn’t as easily found. You’re just going to have to accept that. You have to come to grips with the fact that you’re not going to reach every facet of content for your favorite piece of media. Plus, you’re just getting started. Baby steps.
The wondrous thing about the internet is that it is a library filled to the brim with a plethora of knowledge and content. As mentioned above, you can locate some matches in whatever corner you need. However, there’s a question that will leave you overwhelmed, maybe leading you to giving up. “Where do I start?”
Fortunately, you have a lot of people on the internet that can set you on your way. Numerous articles, video essays and podcasts are all at your fingertips. Follow all the relevant things that you feel will be helpful. Your interest may grow, because with wresting in general there’s a lot of neat things in corners both big and small.
Moreover, there are plenty of people willing to teach about wrestlers, promotions, move sets and the small moments that speak to a greater universe. They’ve been where you are and would like to help more people. After all, wrestling is fun when you can interact, converse about and enjoy with others. Simply approach them if you want to know more. Ask and you shall receive.
Interacting with Fans
Community is a great thing. I personally have had great friends that helped me get to where I am in experiencing the parts of wrestling I was curious about. Joshi wrestling, Omega vs Okada, Rikidozan, 6/3/94. There’s so many corners beyond that, too. My own experience in wrestling as a child had little glimpses at matches and wrestlers such as Dynamite Kid vs Tiger Mask, Owen Hart vs Jushin Liger, and the likes of Pegasus Kid, Vader, The Great Muta, and the Japanese ventures of Cactus Jack and Terry Funk. I get to revel in all of that with my friends, and that’s amazing. It’s incredible. Enough to make me feel I’m a part of the experience of this fantastic medium.
However, wrestling fans are a rough lot, and some puro fans are no exception, especially if you’re slowly crawling out of the caverns of WWE. That’s just the risk you run because this is special to people. Wrestling means a lot to people, and for some, Japan is one of the almost untouched things. You don’t want someone coming into your house, telling you how to live, telling you that your way of life sucks, that you must live and enjoy things their way. That’s the understanding you must go into things with.
Beneath the abrasiveness, there’s a love for this side of wrestling. Here, you are presented some options: leave those with attitudes alone (they’ll make themselves obvious), grow a thick skin and just deal with someone dissing on wrestlers, matches and promotions you may still like, or walk away in general.
Puro fans tend to not want much intermingling, particularly with WWE. At first you’ll have to walk on eggshells when befriending them, but things will mellow out. People will accept you because in the end, you have your opinions and not everyone is out to alienate you and make you uncomfortable.
I personally have been turned off from Japanese professional wrestling by types of fans who are a little too intense with their love. I’ve come around it, because personally it was such a small thing and I’ve been having fun since. I’ll enjoy almost all the wrestling you throw my way. The angry, red, screaming faces and the furiously worded comments are naught but muffled sounds in the background when a glorious concert is taking hold, blaring all negativity away.
Take That Leap of Faith
There’s no one way to be a fan. You’ll find your seat and enjoy it your own way. Wrestling is fun that way.
It may be intimidating, exploring another whole world of wrestling, but you’ll get there. You’ll learn all these names and the way things are done. It’s a part of world culture, and honestly that’s pretty neat. Learning about life around the world is incredible. It’s different for others. Maybe they just want to see Japanese motherfuckers beat the absolute shit out of another Japanese motherfucker, and it’s that simple.
Either way, you’ll find that ledge and take that jump to see where you land. That’s all it is – a leap of faith.