Recently I was introduced to Japan’s electrifying world of 女子 プロレス (women’s pro-wrestling). I receive mixed reactions whenever I tell people that I am going to spend my day at the stadium watching watching the ill-mannered girls of Stardom Wrestling toss each other around the ring while screaming obscenities, but the surprised looks, laughter, and eye-rolling from friends upon hearing my unusual plans only make me more excited for the match.
Although I unquestionably love it now, even I was sceptical at first. To be honest, the first time I attended a Stardom match was just to support my friend who was performing, but once the lights went down, ribbons started spectacularly raining from above, and the dazzlingly costumed wrestlers stepped into the ring to fight, I found myself jumping up, beer in hand, and screaming along with the other crazy fans.
I had much more fun that I expected. Depending on the importance of the match, fighters have to endure 15 to 30 minutes of beating all while staying perfectly in character. There are of course some arbitrary rules that differ slightly among promotions. These rules are at times closely adhered to and, at other times, hilariously ignored. Either way, these guidelines are still important to understand in order to react appropriately to what is happening during the match.
• No hair pulling
• No using the rope
• No more than 20 seconds outside the ring
• No outside objects can be used
• No punching/hitting
• No using the corner
• To pin an opponent, shoulders must be touching the mat for at least 3 seconds
• Wrestlers can escape a pin by grabbing the ropes
Even though the popularity of women’s pro-wrestling has dwindled since its peak in the 90’s when matches were even a common occurrence on mainstream television, there is still a large group of (mostly male) loyal fans who attend, and the spectacle is showing no sign of stopping. Pro-wrestling junkies enjoy cheering on their favorite performers, and with so much variety among the wrestlers, there is no shortage of choices.
Girls can be small and cute, big and intimidating, tall and pretty, have short or long hair, wear masks, etc. Besides their appearance, the wrestlers also have different personalities. Some have a very sportsmanlike conduct while the monsters, who are usually foreigners, constantly break the rules and refuse to shake hands. Some wrestlers are even there for comic relief and do a great job warming up the crowd before the title matches.
While the matches can sometimes be funny, training is no laughing matter. My friend pointed me towards the film Gaea Girls, a documentary which reveals the daily, rigorous behind-the-scenes training that all the wrestlers undergo, and testified to its accuracy. These women endure emotional and physical pain in and out of the ring from their fellow wrestlers.
Although the choreography and the outcome of the match is almost always pre-determined, the injuries are very real. In fact my friend once took an elbow to the head and, to my horror, began bleeding so profusely that the match could no longer continue. As the trainers rushed over to wipe down the mat and clean up the bloody mess, that by then barely even resembled a human face, her opponent proudly danced around the ring waving her arms around soaking in her praise from the bloodthirsty audience.
Others do it to counter the expectation that Japanese girls should be かわいい
Still the women are willing to go through all of this just for the chance to make it big in the somewhat obscure world of Japanese Women’s Pro-Wrestling. Everyone has their own reason. In a society where it can sometimes be difficult, especially for women, to express their emotions and frustrations, some use pro-wrestling as a way to relieve stress.
Others do it simply to counter the expectation that girls should be かわいい and to push the boundaries. My friend joined to break free from the norm of being an American English teacher in Japan, and she hasn’t looked back since.
Whatever the reason, this is a group of people who truly believe in the value of hard work, and I love giving my support to the highflying pro-wrestling women of Stardom. I have had such a great time watching their matches. Men, women, old, young. Even children can enjoy going to pro-wrestling matches.
If you are looking for something new and exciting or want to watch girls wrestling with each other without being judged, you can check the schedule at the Stardom website.