What is Joshi?
Joshi is Japanese for woman or girl so joshi puroresu literally means womens wrestling. The main difference with US pro wrestling is the focus – almost exclusively on the in ring product. In joshi there are few angles, screwjob endings are extremely rare and even heel/face distinctions are not always used. Certainly these things exist to a certain extent but the work is what is important.
The wrestling style itself is fast paced with a mixture of mat based work, high flying, brawling and the high impact moves seen in men’s puroresu. Watching joshi for the first time can be a little unsettling as most people brought up on a diet of US wrestling will have never seen women do bladeing or taking horrific head bumps. That standard staple of joshi, the double foot stomp, is also not for the squeamish.
What is the history of joshi?
Several womens matches were run in Japan during a brief period in the mid ‘50s, however the start of modern joshi stems back to 1968 with the formation of All Japan Women by the co-owners of the Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling Association the Matsunaga brothers.
The core audience of AJW was schoolgirls and the promotion took advantage of this demographic by pushing young faces, to the point where even a 15 year old held the title at one point. By appealing directly to schoolgirls The Beauty Pair vs. The Black Pair did the business during the 70’s. However AJW had instigated a mandatory retirement age of 26 for all wrestlers no matter how popular in order to constantly create new stars. Retiring ultra popular teams like the Beauty Pair did nothing for AJW’s bottom line with newer wrestlers not being able to fill the hole.
After the drop in business AJW hit pay dirt again with the Crush Girls vs Dump Matsumoto feud. The programme produced stellar work during the 80’s as well as lining the pockets of the Matsunaga brothers. Still, when their time came they too had to retire at the age of 26. This time however there was plenty of talent to build the promotion on thanks to the work of trainer Jaguar Yokoto and the fact that the popularity of AJW meant there was a large pool of eager trainees to pick and choose from.
Due to the depth and breadth of talent the ‘90s saw the rise of the modern joshi style of hyper work rate and numerous top tier wrestlers working the cards. As such most of the highest rated joshi matches come from this era with the output between ’92 and ’96 rarely being matched by men’s promotions.
After ’95 bad financial decisions by the Matsunaga brothers and the shift from schoolgirl fans resulting in less new trainees led to a slide in the popularity of joshi. It was at this time that some wrestlers took the decision to leave and start up their own promotions. The current joshi scene reflects the relatively low popularity of the sport though the numerous promotions resulting from the AJW exodus of talent means there is always a card being run.
What are the major promotions?
All Japan Women or Zenjo – short for Zen Nihon Joshi Puroresu – has been the number one promotion since the early days of the sport. All other promotions have in one way or another been formed by or use former alumni of AJW.
JPW was the next major promotion to be formed after AJW and ran it’s first shows in ’86. In ’92 internal pressure forced the promotion split in two with the formation of LLPW. JPW in its new form did however help to fuel to incredible cross promotional cards of the mid 90’s.
LLPW was the other promotion formed by the split of JPW starting out as a fairly small promotion. By the mid 90’s however it had grown to the extent where it could call the shots in inter-promotional matches with AJW.
GAEA was formed by former Crush Girl Chigusa Nagayo in the mid 90’s and soon eclipsed AJW as the top women’s promotion attracting workers of the calibre of Akira Hokuto and later Manami Yoyota.
ARSION was formed in ’98 by Aja Kong though she left after differences with management in 2001. Unlike AJW and GAEA, ARSION always seems willing to let younger stars have runs with titles as opposed to veterans controlling the scene. The company was recently renamed to AtoZ after Yumiko Hotta took control of the company.
NEO was formed by Kyoko Inoue in ’98 though the company went under several years later in returned a matter of months after and these days puts on mid level shows featuring mainly freelance talent.
Jd’ formed by former AJW champion and trainer Jaguar Yokoto. A smaller promotion than the others it has produced only a few genuine stars, The Bloody being the most notable.
Who are the major stars?
During the ‘70s The Beauty Pair and The Black Pair dominated the scene.
The ‘80s had the ultra popular Crush Girls (Lioness Asuka and Chigusa Nagayo) in their feud with Dump Matsumoto and Jaguar Yokoto saw in the new era by winning the AJW title in ’81.
The ‘90s saw the coming of age of numerous wrestlers. Akira Hokuto, Aja Kong, Kyoko Inoue, Takako Inoue, Shinobu Kandori, Yumiko Hotta, Cuty Sazuki, Kaoru Ito and Dynamite Kansai all put on their best performances in the golden era of joshi.
These days you can look out for Momoe Nakashani, Ayako Hamada, Ran YuYu, Tanny Mouse and Misae Genki as well as the veterans from the ‘90s in the ring.
Anyone I would recognize from American promotions?
You may recognise WWE wrestler Ivory when watching the Dreamslam show. Needless to say however she is clearly in the worst match on both cards.
Bull Nakano worked briefly in the WWF during ’95 in matches with Alundra Blaze before returning unceremoniously to Japan after drug allegations. Surviour Series ’95 saw a Joshi womens match between teams led by Alundra Blaze and Bull Nakano.
Akria Hokuto worked with Medusa (formally Alundra Blaze) in WCW and captured that promotions women’s title during ’96.
More obscurely the tag team of the Jumping Bomb Angels worked for the WWE during ’87 and ’88 winning the women’s tag team title. Yes, such a thing existed.
What are the recommended shows ?
Dreamslam I and II are considered the best wrestling cards of all time, featuring cross promotional matches between all the current Joshi feds of the time. Both have a five star match considered to be in the top 3 joshi matches. Dreamslam I is probably the better show due to the 30 minute Hokuto/Kandori war whereas the 2/3 falls tag match on Dreamslam II just fails to match up to the first match run at Dream Rush.
Big Egg Wrestling Universe was another cross promotion effort which is considered just below the level of the Dreamslam shows due to a large number of shoot matches clogging up the lower card.
AJW V*Top Tourney ’94 features a large number of highly regarded matches.
Queendom II, Queendom III and Dream Rush all feature some highly regarded matches.
As stated before anything between ’92 and ’96 should be a worthwhile purchase.
What joshi matches are recommended viewing ?
Shinobu Kandori vs. Akira Hokuto
AJW “Dream Slam I” (2/4/93)
Manami Toyota/Toshiyo Yamada vs. Dynamite Kansai/Mayumi Ozaki AJW “Dream Rush” (26/11/92 – 2/3 Falls WWWA Tag Titles)
Manami Toyota/Toshiyo Yamada vs. Dynamite Kansai/Mayumi Ozaki
AJW “Dream Slam II” (11/4/93 – 2/3 Falls)
Kong/Inoue/Inoue/Hasegawa vs. Kansai/Ozaki/Suzuki/Fukuoka
JWP (31/7/93 – Thunder Queen)
Yumiko Hotta vs. Lioness Asuka
AJW “Queendom III” (26/3/95)
Mima Shimoda/Etsuko Mita vs. Kaoru Ito/Tomoko Watanabe
AJW (21/9/97 – Cage Death Match)
Aja Kong vs. Manami Toyota
AJW “V*Top Tournament” (20/11/94)
Bull Nakano vs. Aja Kong
AJW “Wrestle Marinepad II” (14/11/90 – WWWA Title Cage Match)
Manami Toyota vs. Toshiyo Yamada
AJW (15/8/92 – Hair vs. Hair)
Double Inoues vs. Manami Toyota/Sakie Hasegawa
AJW “Queen’s Holy Night” (30/8/95 – 2/3 Falls WWWA Tag Title)
Meiko Satomura vs. Aja Kong
Mayumi Ozaki vs. Dynamite Kansai
JWP (17/3/95 – Street Fight)
Akira Hokuto/Shinobu Kandori vs. Aja Kong/Bull Nakano
AJW “Queendom II” (27/3/94)
Manami Toyota vs. Akira Hokuto
AJW “Destiny” (2/9/95)
Manami Toyota vs. Kyoko Inoue
AJW (7/5/95 – WWWA Title)
Megumi Kudo vs. Combat Toyoda
FMW (5/5/96 – Exploding Barbed Wire)
Manami Toyota vs. Aja Kong
AJW “Queendom III” (26/3/95 – WWWA Title)
Dynamite Kansai vs. Aja Kong
AJW “Queen’s Holy Night” (30/8/95 – WWWA Title)
Ayako Hamada/AKINO vs. Mima Shimoda/Etsuko Mita
Devil Masami vs. Chigusa Nagayo
AJW (28/8/85 – Hair vs. Hair)