by Masanori Horie

The Dawn Of Joshi Puroresu

Chigusa Nagayo
Chigusa Nagayo, the 34th WWWA World Champion, and Masanori

Aja Kong and Masanori
Aja Kong, the 38th and 40th WWWA World Champion, and Masanori

Japanese woman's professional wrestling, "Joshi Puroresu," has produced a lot of unforgettable wrestlers and had countless quality, risky, great matches for years. In all, 580 shows were held by eight offices last year (1998).

All Japan Woman's Pro Wrestling (since June 4, 1968) --- 184 shows --- 228,405 fans
JWP (since April 3, 1992) --- 111 shows --- 140,397 fans
Ladies Legend Pro Wrestling (since August 29, 1992) --- 35 shows --- 53,011 fans
GAEA Japan (since April 15, 1995) --- 38 shows --- 48,330 fans
Jd' (since April 14, 1996) --- 105 shows --- 95,923 fans
Neo Ladies (since January 9, 1998) --- 44 shows --- 53,914 fans
ARSION (since February 18, 1998) --- 60 shows --- 63,146 fans
OZ Academy (June 21, 1998, Club Citta, Kawasaki, Kanagawa) --- 800 fans
Woman Pro Wrestling's Legends show (August 14, 1998, Kawasaki Gym, Kanagawa) --- 3,200 fans
Woman Pro Wrestling's All-Star Show (December 26, 1998 Ariake Coliseum, Tokyo) --- 5,800 fans

However, their efforts haven't been crowned with enough success in Japanese pro wrestling history. This week's View From The Rising Sun will peruse the "dawn" of Japanese woman's pro wrestling, which was actually linked with the woman's pro wrestling scene in the United States.

The very first Japanese woman pro wrestler, Sadako "Lily" Igari (a.k.a. "Inokari") was born as the youngest sister of seven brothers and one sister in Meguro, Tokyo on March 3, 1932. Her oldest brother, Noboru "Chopin" Igari, and youngest brother, Seijiro "Pan" Igari, were very famous vaudevillians in Japan. When she was 14 years old in 1946, she joined her brothers' barnstorming troupe, named "Pan's Sports Show," on the road. They toured the country where the US Army was stationed for the Korean War (1950-1953) after World War II.

Then, the Igari brothers taught their sister Boxing and Judo, and started the "Garter Struggle Show" on the floor, without the ring and ropes, at the music halls in the early 1950's (Rikidozan [Mitsuhiro Momota] debuted as a pro wrestler on Sunday, October 28, 1951). They founded the "All Japan Woman's Wrestling Club" at Nichi-geki (Nihon Theater) Music Hall in the center of Tokyo in 1952. They scouted Katsumi "Rose" Tayama (perhaps the very first "heel" woman wrestler in Japan); Hiroi Hojoji; Yumi "Miss Potato" Katori, who was a stripper; Yoko Sakurai; Fumiko Nakada (13 years old); Masako Izu; and Yukiko Tomoe (the first woman's World Champion in Japan). They were trained by an amateur wrestling coach, Dr. Elmer L. Hawkins, who was stationed as a U.S. Army surgeon in Tachikawa Base in Tokyo.

Two of the pioneers of woman wrestling, the World champion, Mildred Burke (39 years old / Coffeyville, Kansas), Mae "The Great" Young (30 years old / Sand Springs, Oklahoma), and four other American woman wrestlers arrived in Haneda International Airport in Tokyo on Wednesday, November 10, 1954 (Mildred won a 20-woman tournament for the World title in Chattanooga, Tennessee on January 28, 1937). They had "The World Women's Pro Wrestling Matches" for US Army soldiers from Friday, November 19 to Sunday, 21, 1954. NTV, which has televised All Japan Pro since 1972, televised these shows live from 8:00 p.m.

Corsica Joe, Masanori, and Sarah Lee
Corsica Joe and his wife, Sarah Lee, with Masanori, in Knoxville, Tennessee, Friday, August 5, 1994 (Sarah beat Aiko Kyo to become the eighth WWWA World champion at Ota Ward Gym in Tokyo on Saturday, July 1, 1972, and she and Sylvia Hackeny beat Mariko Akagi & Peggy Kuroda to become the 30th WWWA World Tag Team Champions at Fukushima Prefectural Gym on Friday, November 16, 1973.)

In those days, Rikidozan carried the irresistible Puroresu (pro wrestling) boom at the daybreak of television in Japan. There were at least six woman's pro wrestling offices when Rikidozan's Japan Pro Wrestling (JWA) weeded other small (man's pro) offices out. Those woman's offices included (1) Igari's All Japan Woman's Wrestling Club, (2) All Japan Woman's Pro Wrestling Association (Top star Reiko Yoshiba is a little sister of the famous Matsunaga Brothers, (3) Tokyo Woman's Pro Wrestling Association, (4) Tokyo Universal Woman's Pro Wrestling (Asakusa, Tokyo), (5) Hiroshima Woman's Pro Wrestling Team, and (6) All Japan Pro Wrestling (Osaka). They formed the "All Japan Woman's Pro Wrestling Federation." They held all-star shows, named "All Japan Woman's Pro Wrestling Championship," at the Kokusai (International) Stadium in Ryogoku, Tokyo on Saturday, September 10 and Sunday, September 11, 1955, and Wednesday, January 4 and Thursday, January 5, 1956. The shows were sold out and televised live from 7:30 p.m. The stadium was old "Memorial Hall," where the very first (man's) pro wrestling card was held in Japan on Sunday, September 30, 1951, and changed name again to the "Nichi-dai Kodo" (Nihon University Hall), which was often used for big shows in the 1960's - 1970's. The first woman pro wrestling's commissioner, Sai-ichi Ueno, was a president of the stadium. They drew good houses for a few years; however, over-production of inferior (just "sexy" type) woman wrestlers made business go down. Sadako "Lily" Igari retired from wrestling in September, 1959.

Woman's pro wrestling promoters formed the "Japan Woman's Pro Wrestling Association" on April 22, 1967. The Matsunaga Brothers (Hisashi, Kenji, Takashi, Kunimatsu [referee, Jimmy Kayama], and Toshikuni) had run "Ju-Ken" (Judo vs. Boxing) shows in those days. They and their woman wrestlers joined the JWPWA, and Takashi Matsunaga became a business manager and trainer for them. Their opening show drew 5,000 fans at Taito Ward Gym in Tokyo on Saturday, April 29 (a public holiday --- Japanese Emperor's birthday). Touichi Mannen, the president of the JWPWA, sent Morie Nakamura to New York to meet Vince McMahon Sr. in November 1967, and the WWWF sent the World champion, Fabulous Moolah (35 years old / Columbia, South Carolina), Pat Sherri, Judy Grable, and Bette Boucher, from March 2 to April 2, 1968. The JWPW had 29 shows all over Japan with 18 Japanese wrestlers and 4 gaijin (foreign) wrestlers. Yukiko Tomoe beat Moolah to win the World Woman's title in Higashi-osaka City on Sunday, March 10, 1968, and Moolah won the title back in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka on Tuesday, April 2, 1968. They drew very good crowds every night. After the tour, Takashi Matsunaga and 17 woman wrestlers quit the JWPWA and started "All Japan Woman's Pro Wrestling," which is the oldest pro wrestling office here in Japan now. They had their grand opening show at the Civic Hall in Shinagawa, Tokyo on Tuesday, June 4, 1968, and another big show at Kudan Kaikan (five minutes from Nippon Budokan Hall) in Tokyo on Thursday, July 18, 1968. Daily Sports Newspaper's Shinji Ueda sponsored the Matsunaga Brothers and became the commissioner for All Japan Woman's Pro.

These are the All Japan Woman's crew in their early days.
Yukiko Tomoe (All Japan Heavyweight champion / the first woman's World Champion in Japan)
Miyuki Yanagi (wrestler / referee / coach / staff for All Japan Woman, and mother of the referee, Tommy Ran [ex-AJW wrestler, Masami Yagishita])
Katsuko Hondo
Reiko Yoshiba (sister of the Matsunaga Brothers, mother of AJW's office manager, Kage Kaoru)
Yoko Yamaguchi (sister of the Matsunaga Brothers)
Yuriko Amami (Hisashi Matsunaga's wife)
Keiko Endo (Takashi Matsunaga's wife)
The original Mariko Akagi (Kunimatsu Matsunaga's wife)
Kyoko Okada (cousin of the Matsunaga Brothers / All Japan Middleweight champion)
Aiko Kyo (Kenji Matsunaga's wife's niece / All Japan Lightweight champion / the first Japanese WWWA World Champion)
Yoshiko "Jumbo" Miyamoto (cousin of the Matsunaga Brothers / Five-time WWWA World Champion)
Midgets: Dynamite King, George Okabe, Kara Shuta, Pretty Atom

They had almost 300 shows for a year at the public halls and vacant lots on the road every year (at last, they could rent the Korakuen Hall in Tokyo for the first time on Monday, May 28, 1973).

On September 7, 1968, Jack Britton (father of Louis Cerdan [Gino Brito], grandfather of Gino Brito Jr.), as the president of the AGWA (American Girl's Wrestling Association), came to Japan to have a business meeting with the Matsunaga Brothers. Britton was famous for organizing a central booking office for midget wrestlers in the 1950's, and worked with Detroit promoters Bert Ruby and Harry Light. He had controlled the top midget wrestlers for years. Then, he sent the United States Girl's Champion, Kay Noble, and AGWA International Girl's Champions, Mary Jane & Lucille Dupre, to Japan (I met Kay Noble in Canyon, TX on September 12, 1997; she was a fine and very nice lady). Fuji Television (Channel 8) televised All Japan Woman's Pro for the first time on Sunday, December 1, 1968. They drew an incredible 18.9% TV rating. Matsunaga's opposition, JWPWA, still had their TV time slot (7:30 p.m. on Thursday) and ran their shows. They kept the relationship with Fabulous Moolah, and brought Moolah, Toni Rose, Princess White Cloud, Patty Nelson, and Donna Christantello. They were top woman wrestlers in the American wrestling scene. By the way, there were only two man's pro-wrestling offices, Junzo Yoshinosato's Japan Pro Wrestling (JWA) and Isao Yoshihara's International Wrestling Enterprise (IWE) in Japan in those days. In 1968, JWA's top star, Giant Baba, faced The Crusher, Curtis Iaukea, Dick the Bruiser, Jesse Ortega, Bobo Brazil, Bruno Sammartino, Killer Karl Kox, and Gene Kiniski for the International Heavyweight title (one of the Triple Crown titles in All Japan Pro now), and IWE pushed Billy Robinson as their top drawing card.

Mildred Burke founded the WWWA (World Women's Wrestling Association) in Reseda, California in January 1966. She sent the World Champion, Marie Bagnone, to All Japan Woman's Pro in September 1970. Then, they started a business relationship. Aiko Kyo beat Bagnone to become the third champion at Adachi Ward Gym in Tokyo on Thursday, October 15, 1970. It was the origin of the WWWA World singles title in Japan, and the title, which is called the "red belt" by both wrestlers and fans, is still the biggest symbol of not only All Japan Woman's Pro , but of all the woman pro wrestling in Japan today.

The 'Red Belt' of the WWWA

Woman Pro Wrestling Related Sites:
Women's Wrestling Illustrated
The Professional Wrestling Online Museum---Women in Wrestling
All Japan Woman's Pro-Wrestling Unofficial Home Page

Official Sites:
FMW ("Milky" Kaori Nakayama & Emi Motokawa)
GAEA Japan

Masanori with Yumi Fukawa
Masanori with Yumi Fukawa

Jessica Soto with Masanori
Jessica Soto with Masanori

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