I don’t often discuss professional wrestling with my friends, but when I do, I sometimes end up comparing it to music. There are different trends that could be rising or falling at any given time. Maybe you like your tunes grave and serious, or maybe you prefer something more light and fun. Maybe you need thousands of finisher kickouts from Ring of Honor, or maybe you need imaginary hand grenades and time-traveling drum majors from Chikara. And just like in music, there are different international scenes in wrestling. So, whether you feel like the American wrestling scene is getting too predictable, or if you’re happy with the way things are and you’re just looking for more wrestling to fill your time, I’d like to call New Japan Pro Wrestling to your attention.
If you’re already familiar with NJPW, you’ll know most of the information I’ll be discussing here. However, speaking from a strictly statistical point of view, many people clicking this link will not be NJPW experts. So let’s look at this as a sort of introductory primer to New Japan, similar to Danielle’s excellent look at Chikara. I’ll be your guide as we take a trip to Korakuen Hall and the Bodymaker Colosseum for some of the world’s best wrestling. Enjoy!
So, what is New Japan Pro Wrestling?
NJPW is a wrestling promotion started in 1972 by Japanese wrestling legend and WWE Hall of Fame member Antonio Inoki. In terms of popularity, it’s #1 in Japan. No other company even comes close.
Are there a lot of other companies in Japan?
Tons of them! All Japan Pro Wrestling, Dramatic Dream Team, Pro Wrestling Noah, Michinoku Pro Wrestling, Osaka Pro Wrestling, Dragon Gate, Wrestle-1… and that’s not even getting into the women’s promotions like JWP, STARDOM, Sendai Girls, Ice Ribbon, and Pro Wrestling Wave.
Did you make some of those up?
Not a single one.
Wow. So, it’s not like WWE where the men and women are on the same roster?
Correct. For the most part, men and women wrestle for different promotions. The wrestling in the bigger promotions is great regardless of gender, though. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll see a women’s division in New Japan and watch Tsubasa Kuragaki destroying fools in the Tokyo Dome.
Gotcha. So, it’s safe to say that NJPW is a big deal in Japan, right?
Absolutely. If you make it big as a star in New Japan, you’re in TV commercials, fashion magazines, the whole nine yards.
Do you have any high-profile examples of NJPW stars achieving crossover pop culture stardom?
Exhibit A: The Japanese version of Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” music video, featuring Kazuchika Okada and Shinsuke Nakamura.
Wow. I’m assuming they were the guys with the championship belts.
As far as the wrestling goes, how is New Japan different from anything in America?
Well, let’s start with the smaller differences. It’s a twenty-count on the floor instead of a ten-count. Disqualification finishes are very rare. Strikes are much more stiff. The biggest difference is that NJPW is not really in the business of “sports entertainment,” at least as we know it here in America. NJPW calls itself “The King of Sports,” so they still consider themselves to be a professional wrestling organization. You won’t find backstage comedy segments here. An NJPW event is structured more like an indy show with insanely high production values.
Wait, this isn’t that macho, frowning, WRESTLING IS SERIOUS BUSINESS kind of style, is it? Because I have a Best of Davey Richards DVD at home with more than enough of that.
No, here’s the thing – NJPW is the best of both worlds! It’s fun AND hard-hitting. Actions always speak louder than words, so the storylines are played out in the ring with honest-to-goodness WRESTLING rather than backstage shenanigans. They’ve figured out that you don’t have to compromise between fun character-driven stuff and technical mastery. It’s a very Empire Strikes Back approach to wrestling.
You know how there’s this argument that dumb summer movies are somehow allowed and encouraged to be dumb simply because they’re released at a certain time, for a certain audience?
Is this going to turn into a FilmDrunk post?
Bear with me. There’s this faulty perspective that movies are either brainless popcorn fodder OR trying to clean house at the Oscars. That’s why we have people saying “Turn off your brain and watch Optimus Prime argue with Marky Mark.” They’re stuck in Either/Or mode. But some movies have the audacity to say they want to be action-packed rides while still being cinematically beautiful. You know, movies like The Empire Strikes Back! New Japan combines the action of the summer blockbuster with the skill of the A-list drama. They refuse to compromise because they hold themselves to a higher standard.
You’ve never had a girlfriend, have you?
ONE girlfriend, a while back.
I see. Is NJPW gaining popularity around the world?
Absolutely! Their internet pay-per-views are very popular on Ustream, and they just signed on with ProWrestlingTees to start getting official merchandise to the United States. You might also remember the two crossover shows they did with Ring of Honor back in May. If you’re a wrestling fan, it’s getting harder and harder to ignore New Japan.
That does it for Part 1 of this series – join me next time when I’ll cover the superstars of NJPW. Who is the coolest guy on the roster, and why is it Shinsuke Nakamura? Stay tuned!