Many New Japan Pro Wrestling fans were surprised when Harold Meij was announced as the promotion’s new President and CEO in May 2018. He had been a successful Senior Vice President of Coca-Cola Japan and later President and CEO of toy company Takara Tomy, but the businessman had no experience in the pro wrestling industry. In addition, though Meij had moved to Japan from the Netherlands with his family as a child and worked there for decades, much was made of the fact that he was New Japan’s first non-Japanese president.
In his first interview with an English-language publication, Meij opens up about what he loves about pro wrestling, what he thinks makes NJPW unique, concerns that the promotion is Westernizing as an attempt to increase their international audience, and more. This conversation is below and has been edited for length and clarity.
With Spandex: When we talk to wrestlers we usually ask them, “Who was your favorite wrestler as a kid?” As a wrestling fan, who were your favorite wrestlers?
Harold Meij: First of all, you talked about when I was a fan as a kid, so I’ll have to talk a little bit about that… Because I am from Holland, but I moved to Japan because of my father had a job there when I was eight years old. He actually joined a Japanese company at that time, which, in the early seventies, was very rare. I mean, you didn’t work for Japanese companies, let alone work for a Japanese company in Japan. And at that time, the only foreigners living in Japan were either U.S. military people or diplomats… For civilians, it was quite rare.
One of the things that really got me to pro wrestling was at the time, I only spoke Dutch, so I didn’t speak any English, obviously no Japanese, and I went to international school, and everything was in English, of course. But I didn’t even know how to say “yes” or “no” or “hello,” nothing. But one step outside of school, everything was in Japanese. I mean, you think people don’t speak English in Japan now, forty years ago nobody spoke English in Japan. So I had to be totally immersed in both languages all at once, which was quite difficult because, you know, there weren’t many Dutch people around… My father worked for a Japanese company, so he was working Saturdays, a lot on the Sundays, so I didn’t have a lot of time with my parents either.
And so the only TV that I could understand, and my father as well, was wrestling. Because you don’t really need any language to understand what’s going on. I mean, you know, just by seeing it on TV you get the story, you know what’s going on. You know what they’re trying to do, so you don’t need to have the rules explained to you. And I’m sure there were announcers and color commentators at that time as well, but even though I didn’t understand a hundred percent of that, I still got what’s going on. It was one of the few programs that me and my father could also enjoy, so not just the language, but even the age difference between me and my father at the time wasn’t an issue. He could enjoy just as much as I could as a little kid. So that was one of the reasons why I really got into wrestling from that age.