8 Great is our new, extremely original listicle series where we take a break from snark and negativity to focus on the positive and list eight of our favorite examples of something great from pro wrestling. Matches, performers, shows – whatever is helping us enjoy wrestling in a particular week, that’s what this feature is all about.
Previously on 8 Great, With Spandex writers have celebrated our favorite things from the career of Dustin Rhodes, the original GLOW, and NJPW in 2019, as well as standout LGBTQ wrestlers. This week, I’m highlighting eight currently active joshi wrestlers who I like and think are worth checking out, but who you might not have heard of before.
At this point, enough Japanese women wrestlers have had mainstream wrestling exposure in the U.S. that you probably don’t need an explanation of what joshi is, but I’ll sum it up anyway just in case. In Japan, women’s wrestling usually takes place in totally separate promotions from men’s wrestling, though there are a few men’s promotions like Wrestle-1 that are mostly male with a smaller women’s division and some that host intergender matches.
Japanese women’s wrestling peaked in popularity in the late 1980s-early ’90s. Some performers from this scene and time period appeared on American wrestling TV when WWF and WCW briefly experimented with more athletic women’s divisions.
In the 2000s, Japanese women guest-starred in American promotions like Shimmer and Chikara, but more exposure to joshi came when WWE hired Asuka (fka Kana), then Kairi Sane (fka Kairi Hojo), and Io Shirai. Other joshi wrestlers have performed in the Mae Young Classic and in independent promotions around the world, including wrestlers from Stardom making guest appearances in Ring of Honor. Japanese women wrestlers recently gained even more international exposure by being featured on All Elite Wrestling shows.
At the same time, joshi shows in Japan have become more accessible internationally through not only the work of [heroic] bootleggers on the internet, but through promotions like Stardom, Sendai Girls, and DDT’s Tokyo Joshi Pro making efforts to promote and make their products more accessible to English speakers.
If you’ve taken advantage of that to make joshi wrestling the main type of wrestling you watch, the picks on this list are probably very basic and revealing of which promotions I watch the most (I’ve highlighted some TJP wrestlers before), but if not, this could introduce you to some wrestlers who might end up being some of your new favorites. This is not at all a ranking of the eight best women wrestlers working in Japan right now, but these are eight really good Japanese women wrestlers who you might not have seen before.
Yuu is a lovable powerhouse and a judoka. I doubt I will ever get tired of seeing this woman judo throw her opponents straight to hell. She began her career in TJP but has been working as a freelancer in Europe for a while, where she is sometimes the recipient of the most adorably positive pun chant in the business, “Yuu can do it!” Wherever she ends up next, she’s likely to be a fan favorite and an in-ring success.
2. Shoko Nakajima
I was going to put Shoko Nakajima, Yuu’s opponent in the match in this article’s first entry, on this list, and then AEW booked her for Fight for the Fallen so I already wrote about her a little in a preview for that show. “The Big Kaiju” is under five feet tall, super strong, and one of TJP’s better in-ring technicians, as well as their current singles champion. Some of her most compelling work has been with Yuka Sakazaki. They have similar skill sets, used to be Tokyo Princess Tag Team Champions together, and have been closely matched rivals in singles matches – and on opposite sides of the tag match above, where Nakajima teams with Riho to challenge Sakazaki and Mizuki for their tag titles.
3. Hana Kimura
Hana Kimura is the daughter of joshi wrestler Kyoko Kimura, but she doesn’t feel like someone in the business just because of family connections alone. Since she started her career for Wrestle-1 in 2016, she’s worked in Sendai Girls and Stardom, where she was a member of the popular Oedo Tai faction.
While she was in Oedo Tai, she went on one of those excursions to Mexico Japanese wrestlers have where they come back way more badass and giving way fewer f*cks (other recent-ish examples: Shinsuke Nakamura, Tetsuya Naito, Hiromu Takahashi) and went into a feud with stable leader Kagetsu that produced a banger of a No DQ grudge match. She recently signed full-time with Stardom and her charisma and strong character work are being put to good use as the leader of her own faction, Tokyo Cyber Squad.
As is always relevant to point out with Stardom, which is largely marketed to men, part of Kimura’s popularity comes from her being extremely attractive. But she has that combination of good looks and a cool persona that gives her a “men want her; women want to be her,” vibe (to be very hetero-normative about it) and makes it very easy for me to nominate her for Hottest Woman in Wrestling while knowing she is way out of my league in every way. Hana Kimura, I would love to hang out with you even you’re way too cool for me to ever sit at your lunch table.
4. Reika Saiki
Like Hana Kimura, Reika Saiki is a Wrestle-1 dojo grad and quickly successful 2016 debut. Her wrestling persona is that of a “muscle idol” – basically a lovable pop group member who’s also extremely jacked. In addition to the match above against TJP hoss Nodoka Tenma, I recommend checking out Saiki’s singles match with Meiko Satomura to see a really good use of her status as a powerhouse, but also a relative rookie wrestler.
Outside of wrestling, Saiki models and competes in fitness competitions and was a member of comedy pop group Deadlift Lolita with Ladybeard. She also does Q&As in both Japanese and English on her YouTube channel, in which she’s just as likable as she is in the ring.
Sareee could be the next joshi wrestler hired by WWE and it’s not hard to see why. She’s been wrestling in World Woman Pro-Wrestling Diana, Seadlinnng, Sendai Girls, and other promotions since 2011, and she’s currently both Diana and Sendai Girls’ top champion. She’s athletic, intense, and overall just really skilled in the ring and good at this whole pro wrestling thing. She’s also the second wrestler on this list about whom I’m going to say “also check out her singles match with Meiko Satomura!” because Sareee and Satomura had a really good, hard-hitting one earlier this year.
6. Takumi Iroha
Takumi Iroha, Sareee’s opponent in the match embedded for her entry, trained in the Stardom dojo and has worked for promotions like Seadlinnng, Pro Wrestling Wave, and others. Where Iroha has really come into her own though is Marvelous, the promotion run by Chigusa Nagayo. Iroha was inspired to start wrestling by watching Nagayo’s work in the Crush Gals and has since been adopted as the joshi legend’s protégé and sometimes tag partner. With quality wrestling skills and a likable persona/look that’s less traditionally feminine than those of most other joshi stars, she’s a fun and refreshing performer to watch.
7. Chihiro Hashimoto
This list is closing with two standout wrestlers from Sendai Girls, starting with Chihiro Hashimoto. She’s a former collegiate amateur wrestler, one of two women to win Tokyo Sports‘ Rookie of the Year award, and a bona fide hoss. Definitely check out she and Dash Chisako’s match against the Oedo Tai team of Hazuki and Kagetsu from Sendai Girls last year if you haven’t already and want some very good tag team action in your life.
8. Dash Chisako
And speaking of Dash Chisako, she’s our number eight! Chisako is the most experienced wrestler on this list, having made her debut for Sendai Girls in 2006. She has mostly worked as a tag wrestler with her now-retired sister Sendai Sachiko (they and Satomura made up the 2012 King of Trios team that earned Sendai Girls a lot of international buzz) but can very much kill it in singles matches too, like the one above with Shunma Katsumata (recently mentioned on With Spandex as the guy who brought his dogs to DDT BOYZ.)
The hardest thing about writing one of these positivity listicles about the current Japanese women’s’ wrestling scene was narrowing it down to eight entries. There are so many really good women wrestlers working in Japan right now who I didn’t list, but Yuu, Nakajima, Kimura, Saiki, Sareee, Iroha, Hashimoto, and Chisako are eight I like and think you won’t regret checking out.