In and out of the ring, Kikutaro is a funny guy. When I ask him how he felt about his Bar Wrestling match with Nick Gage a few hours after it took place, he makes a face and his friend, referee Keigo Yoshino, who had worked that match and others on the show, starts laughing.
“I feel, ‘Oh, back to dressing room?'” Kikutaro says. “I say just one word: ‘Oh, I still alive! Oh, big surprise!'” In the parking lot outside of LA’s Bootleg Theater, he points to an imaginary dead body on the ground and pretends to be his own ghost. “Oh it’s me! It’s me! Me? Huh?” He turns to Yoshino. “Keigo, Keigo! It’s me! It’s me! Hey, what are you doing?”
Yoshino puts his hands together in prayer and bows. “Oh, bye-bye. Bye-bye, he was a good guy.” The referee laughs and Kikutaro tells me, “I think like this: ‘Oh, I’m still alive.'”
Gage is far from the first intimidating wrestler Kikutaro has encountered in his twenty-five years in the wrestling business. Though he’s known as a comedy wrestler, he started his career working in promotions like IWA Japan, FMW, Big Japan, and Onita Pro, where hardcore and deathmatches were common.
Kikutaro says his biggest inspirations in becoming a comedy wrestler were Japanese comedy group The Drifters, comedian and filmmaker Takeshi Kitano, manga like Ike! Inachu Takkyu-bu, (known outside of Japan as Ping-Pong Club), and his lifelong love of making people laugh. He says some fans think “I have no skills for professional wrestling,” though he’s had serious matches too. But Kikutaro points out that “comedy is a need professional wrestling skill. So I have skill; I can do comedy.”
Kikutaro started wrestling as a masked comedy character “about twenty years ago” as “Ebessan,” a persona named after one of the Japanese gods of fortune. His current gimmick was born after he left Osaka Pro, who owned the rights to “Ebessan.” For over a decade now, he’s been Kikutaro, his costume a mask that looks like a cartoon face, a baseball cap, track pants, and, for the past few years, usually a Bullet Club parody t-shirt that says “Buffet Club.” Unlike most wrestlers best known for working under a mask, it’s not uncommon to see Kikutaro’s real face if you hang around a venue late enough. He’s known to walk by the merch area with his mask halfway off, perched on the top of his head, his full face clearly in view.
Along with performing for basically every major promotion in Japan and a lot of the minor ones, Kikutaro has wrestled prolifically in the United States for promotions including Ring of Honor, PWG, Chikara, and Impact Wrestling. His comic skill has been a hit with wrestling fans in both countries, but Kikutaro says the audiences usually react differently. “American fans always come to enjoy. Make some noise. Japanese fan is very quiet, like ‘Hey, what show me? What show me?’ Like this,” he explains.
“Sometimes big show, ‘Okay, I will enjoy!’ But many fans,” Kikutaro says, and proceeds to impersonate those fans, clapping quietly and looking around to imaginary neighbors. “Oh, clap hands.” He claps quietly again.
“Japanese people love, ‘I’m normally,'” he continues, “So, everybody wear Supreme t-shirt, okay, I get Supreme t-shirt. Like this. Everybody now in Japan, everybody drinking boba tea.” Yoshino laughs at this. “Okay, I buy boba tea,” Kikutaro says and mimes taking a selfie with a drink. “Instagram. Woo! Like this.”
Though audiences in different countries have different tendencies, Kikutaro says that wherever he wrestles, the message he wants to send to “wrestling fans all over the world” is the same. “Everyday, make laugh, make smile. Change life; change your life. Everyday have stress, some no-good friendship… payment issue, medical issue, but always, positive thinking and make laugh, smile, keep going. So, change life. You can change life.”
Kikutaro has been performing a lot more in the United States than in Japan for the past few years since he moved to Las Vegas, Nevada. He says he moved in 2016 “because I’m so tired wrestling business in Japan because always my dreams come true in Japan. I work with Onita, my hero. I work with Onita in explosion match. I have six-man tag champion with Onita, work All Japan, New Japan, Pro Wrestling NOAH, all of junior heavyweight tournament. Then I worked in New Japan Pro Tokyo Dome match, most biggest show in Japan, and I make popularity in Japan. Any achievement is already done. So I have no fun.”
Having achieved all he could wrestling in Japan, Kikutaro started focusing on his other job, voice acting. He says he had narrated TV documentaries and voiced animated characters and thought, “if I can just eat and pay only voice acting income, maybe I quit professional wrestling. But in my mind, another me said, ‘Hey, do you forget your dream?’ So, I have more dream in United States. I want to work [for] WWE.”
Kikutaro says he has “many friends in WWE” who he’d like to work with, including Samoa Joe, Daniel Bryan, and Kassius Ohno. The forty-two-year-old isn’t only interested in wrestling for the company though, but working for them in any capacity. “I hope anything. I want to work with WWE. This is my dream.”
He says tried to get WWE’s attention in the past, but gave up when nothing came of it. “Long time ago, WWE came to Japan. I sneak in, work ring crew, give many my DVD. Give, give, give, give. No answer. So I stopped trying.”
But Kikutaro realized that if he didn’t try to join WWE again, he would regret it. “Maybe if I don’t go to United States, maybe future I say, ‘Why I don’t go? Why I don’t go before?’ I don’t want say. So okay, I go to United States, then challenge. If success, very good. If not success, but I can say, ‘Here, I challenged! I challenged!’ That’s okay. I challenged. So, I want [to] chase my dream.”