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Joshi Puroresu



Women's Pro-wrestling in Japan has been vastly different than in other pro-wrestling countries like Mexico, Canada and the United States. Women were often side attractions and though they were popular, they were never considered marquee acts by many. In the years after World War II, Women's Pro-Wrestling in Japan or "Joshi Puroresu" began humbly in the underground. Two comedian brothers Pan and Chopin Ikari started a lewd version of combat between girls that evolved into All Japan Women's Wrestling Club in 1948. It was a small thing, but pro-wrestling was becoming increasingly popular in the mainstream with the rise of Rikidozan and his JWA group.

In the United States, it was pioneered by several ladies, but the real turning point came with the career of Mildred Burke. Managed by Billy Wolfe, who she also married, Burke and Wolfe created a troupe of female wrestlers that became a major attraction in the post-war years when pro-wrestling boomed in the States. After a split between the two, Wolfe succeeded in keeping Burke's career from overshadowing his and his sons new charges. Although her story is a sad one, she was forced to take her ventures abroad. In 1954, Burke brought her act to Japan and with the promotion of the 
Japanese newspaper Sankei Shinbun it was a great success.

The success of Burke's Japanese tour led to a national craze. Various promoters began vying for these audience and amongst them were still the Ikari brothers, but more notably Takashi Matsunaga and his brothers who "All Japan Women's Pro-Wrestling Association." The following year, promoters formed "All Japan Women's Pro-Wrestling Alliance," which established titles and unified the market. Eventually the alliance collapsed in 1957 and joshi puroresu nearly died. It was not until a decade later when men's pro-wrestling was recovering from Rikidozan's death that joshi puroresu reestablished itself with the formation of "Japan Women's Pro-Wrestling Association." Their appointed star, Yukiko Tomoe, won their title and even the NWA Women's title in 1968. The Matsunaga brothers eventually separated from the JWPA and aligned themselves with an American promoter to create the American Girls' Wrestling Association, which eventually became part of Mildred Burke's WWWA. 




All Japan Women's Pro Wrestling (1968-2005)

The Matsunaga brothers organized All Japan Women's Pro-Wrestling, which would become known as "Zenjo" ("Zen" meaning "All" and "jo" being short for "joshi" meaning "women"). In the early 1970s, they worked out a TV deal with Fuji Television. They also began holding larger shows and sixteen year old Mach Fumiake became their breakout star in 1974. She captured the WWWA World Championship, which would become Zenjo's signature title. Fumiake also became the first joshi puroesu star to sing and record an album - this would become a staple of the product in the decade. When Fumiake retired, the Beauty Pair (Jackie Sato and Maki Ueda) took over and in `76 and `77, they were perhaps the hottest commodity in puroresu. Their popularity inspired a generation of girls that took over in the 1980s. While the Beauty Pair had an appeal that inspired many girls, they were replaced by a crew of ground-breaking workers who took joshi puroresu to a new level. At the forefront was a pint-sized super worker Jaguar Yokota followed by the bully Devil Masami, Mimi Hagewara, the exciting Jumping Bomb Angels (Noriyo Tateno & Itsuki Yamazaki) and the hugely successful and very talented Crush Girls (Chigusa Nagayo & Lioness Asuka) who feuded with Gokuaku Domei, a stable of violent monster heels. A rival company started in 1986, but Zenjo remained the premier group through the interpromotional days in the early 1990s. JWP had much to offer, but Zenjo continued to pump out top-notch talent with ability, charisma and sex appeal. However, their manadatory retirement age that had kept their talent fresh, became detrimental as established stars and new promotions started up throughout the late 1990s. Others cited the company's strict policies. These comhined factors led to a fast decline for All Japan Women. In 2005, the Matsunagas were battling personal and physical problems and the group folded.

CLICK HERE for a full Zenjo alumni list



JWP Project (1986-)

The Matsunagas had more or less dominated joshi puroresu for the past twenty years. Their former star, Jackie Sato, helped start an opposing group in 1986. She used charismatic entertainers and legitimate fighters to capture the attention of fans. JWP had two key factors that made it appealing to talent. It did not have the strict rules and mandatory retirement clause that the Matsunaga brothers placed on their girls. Also its approach was to have a more traditional puroresu product without the wildness that Zenjo began employing. JWP had the potential to overtake All Japan Women, if it could remain alive long enough and not appear second-rate. They could, theoretically, sign up Zenjo's "old" stars and build off of those stars' fan base. The early years would be difficult, but JWP hung strong. They created an alliance with the UWA in Mexico and were able to import foreign talent. However, as time passed, internal politics began fragmenting the company and it led to a split in 1992 that saw the creation of two smaller companies - JWP Project and LLPW. The refined JWP had a deep roster with former AJW star Devil Masami and many of JWP's homegrown talents, namely Dynamite Kansai. The group also marketed their stars effective as sex symbols as Cuty Suzuki, Hikari Fukuoka and other did revealing photoshoots and became small-time idols. 

Carlos Amano
Command Bolshoi
Hikari Fukuoka
Azumi Hyuga
Shinobu Kandori
Dynamite Kansai
KAORU
Rumi Kazama
Plum Mariko
Devil Masami
Manami Toyota


LLPW (1992-)

After the JWP split in 1992, it became clear who the problems were between. LLPW's top stars were and remained - Rumi Kazama and Shinobu Kandori. Tough ladies with legit backgrounds and strong personalities, they became the focal personalities in the company. "Ladies Legend Pro-Wrestling" also had the support of veteran Noriyo Tateno, who helped them build up a base of young talent. Though they were never a top company, LLPW had two of the top stars and Kandori was consistently considered the top star by the Japanese media. Kazama headed the company through its first decade and then Kandori took over. It continues to produce a wide variety of stars who are either tough, sexy or unique.

Shinobu Kandori
Rumi Kazama
Michiko Omukai
Carol Midori
Mayumi Ozaki
Takako Inoue
Harley Saito
Eagle Sawai
Noriyo Tateno
Combat Toyoda
Shark Tsuchiya




GAEA Japan (1995-2005)

In 1994, Chigusa Nagayo returned to pro-wrestling and soon after founded her own company - GAEA Japan. The name is taken from the Greek goddess of the Earth and GAEA would use a lot of goddess imagery in their production. Soon after they began a working relationship with FMW, which had a unique women's division, as well as WCW in the United States. They began training a solid core of talent, which helped their growth. However, it was the regular inflow of established talent that helped GAEA became the first promotion to seize Zenjo’s long-standing spot as the top joshi puroresu company. In 2000, the Crush Gals were reunited and GAEA was able to attraction the attention it needed. However, Japanese pro-wrestling was on the decline as a whole and the fragmented and inconsistent nature of joshi puroresu led to a gradual decline for GAEA. Nagayo’s dream of innovating women’s wrestling worldwide never came to fruition, but her company certainly left a memorable mark before their closure in 2005. 





JD'Star (1995-2007)

In the wake of the joshi puroresu boom of the early 1990s, several different groups opened with distinct approaches. The Jd'Star promotion, with its subtitle, "Beauty Athlete," sums up the company's approach. Jd' is a small promotion and aside from featuring the legendary Jaguar Yokota, it never had any breakout stars like other joshi puroresu companies did. Yokota grew frustrated with the stagnation and left in 1998. Kiyu Uji bought Jd’Star, but could never do much with it. The company had a nice roster, but none with the ability or personalities to attract much attention. In 2001, Jd' established a gimmick of the "athtress" (athlete-actress), which used girls with model good looks to market them for their athleticism in the pro-wrestling ring and hopefully establish them as actresses. The stars created more controversy than anything and the attempt to create an idol never quite caught. Jd’Star continued to flounder in The ocean of Japanese pro-wrestling companies, before folding in the summer of 2007. 

Lioness Asuka
The Bloody 
Jaguar Yokota




ARISON

1998-2003
In 1997, former AJW business manager Hiroshi Ogawa opened ARISON with the support of stars Aja Kong and Sakie Hasegawa. Mixed Martial Arts was just taking off in Japan and ARISON used that element as part of its image. They developed a working relationship with BattlARTS that was pivotal to their stylistic development. Integrating lucha libre highflying was also crucial to the "Visual Fighting" style. ARISON's innovation was not limited to their in-ring wrestling. Like all of the companies that came after AJW, ARISON had some major stars to help it through its early stages. However, ARISON nurtured the young talent it had acquired from AJW and LLPW. Within a couple years, they had arguably the best talent pool in joshi puroresu. Although they, like most other companies, had a small roster, they were well-marketed as athletes and idols. The company struggled to take their product to the next level and began diverting from their original intentions. They had a pop group (which bombed), a champion (who did not use the style) and a booker (who focused on storylines, not match quality). ARISON's niche was compromised and they became just another joshi puroresu company. In 2003, Yumiko Hotta took over the remains and formed "AtoZ". 

AKINO
Faby Apache
Mary Apache
Chaparrita Asari
Lioness Asuka
Ai Fujita
Yumi Fukawa
Ayako Hamada
Yumiko Hotta
Aja Kong
Michiko Omukai  
Rie Tamada
Mariko Yoshida



NEO Japan Ladies (1998-2010) 

Despite the struggles of the puroresu scene and the joshi puroresu scene in particular, "NEO Japan Ladies' Wrestling" opened its doors in 1998. Promoted by Tetsuya Kouda, NEO became one of the unique promotions on the landscape. Its top star, Kyoko Inoue, was a colorful and popular star, but their undercard was always lacking. They ran a mixture of comedy wrestling, mixed gender matches and even incorporated mixed martial arts. This variety helped them pull in some decent crowds, but the company has never really become a top promotion. They closed once and soon reopened as simply "NEO," but little changed. Inoue's omnipresence on the top has been blasted as the reason for the company's stagnation over the years.  The group ran irregularly and worked with other companies for years before closing in 2010.

Amazing Kong
Chaparrita Asari
Kyoko Inoue
Etsuko Mita
Chikayo Nagashima
Toshie Uematsu


Joshi Puroresu Promotions (2000-) 

Not long after the turn of the millennium, pro-wrestling across Japan went into a depressed period.  Although joshi puroresu enjoyed a boom period in the early to mid-1990s, it had splintered into at least seven promotions a few years later.  As time passed, these diluted groups grew weaker and established talent tended to jump from one to another and the level of new talent was not what it had been.

When Arison folded in 2003, Yumiko Hotta and Mariko Yoshida tried to unify talent with "Major Girl's Fighting AtoZ" (because of "A" in "Arison" and "Z" in "Zenjo").  The following year, Michiko Omukai spearheaded her own group, M'Style, with some excellent talent from the former ARISON, from the dying Zenjo, from AtoZ and elsewhere. The company began strongly, despite the tepid nature of pro-wrestling in Japan at the time.  Yoshida also left AtoZ to form Ibuki, her own small company that focused on training young talent.

In 2005, the two largest companies All Japan Women and GAEA Japan closed.  The void left was quickly filled by a succession of well intending promotions that usually had an affiliation with larger promotion, relied heavily on outside talent and were primarily a training grounds for new talent.  Mayumi Ozaki's OZ Academy stable graduated into a promotion and began running monthly shows and even secured a TV deal.  Meiko Satomura worked with Jinsei Shinzaki and Michinoku Pro to create SENDAI Girls using GAEA's leftovers.  Zero1 backed an outfit started by former Zenjo wrestlers called SUN, although it fizzled out after a few years.  Following the closure of JdStar in 2006, top star Yumi Ohka led stars to a new group, Wave, which has managed to stay afloat longer than many of the other groups.  Emi Sakura started up Ice Ribbon in 2006 and worked with NEO and freelancers, but internal changes and business relationships saw her leave and its direction change.  


AKINO
Carlos Amano
Ai Fujita
GAMI
Ayako Hamada
Yumiko Hotta  
Azumi Hyuga 
Dynamite Kansai
Aja Kong 
Chikayo Nagashima 
Meiko Satomura
Mima Shimoda
Nanae Takahashi
Rie Tamada
Manami Toyota
Toshie Uematsu
Mariko Yoshida


Foreigners

Women's pro-wrestling has a legacy nearly as long as men's pro-wrestling. Mildred Burke's 1954 Japanese tour sparked interest in the sport and fourteen years later, a regular promotion with a TV deal was created. Another few years it was a national phenomenon again and by the 1980s it was a fixture of Japanese television. As with the men's wrestling, women from numerous countries were brought to Japan. There was not the same level of appeal or the same level of ability, but ladies from the United States, Canada and Mexico have all had significant runs in Japan.

Lola Gonzales
La Galactica
Madusa Miceli






I'd like to thank Information has been gathered from innumerable sources: Dave Meltzer, Zach Arnold, "PUNQ" quebrada.net Irving's joshipuro.com Michiko's defunct cherrybabe.com website (check it out through archive.org) James Phillips' site Matches collected from Dave Ditch, Phil Schneider, Al Esparza, Brandon Thurston. And, of course Duncan Royal and Gary Will's contributions to wrestling-titles.com

Subpages (1): All Japan Women (Zenjo)
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