Joshi Puroresu has existed for over seventy years as a highly valued market in its home country of Japan. Throughout history, many Joshi— the general nomenclature for female Japanese wrestlers— traveled across the ocean to participate in Western wrestling. Yet, arguably, the most recent arrivals have garnered the most media attention. New viewers watching them on screen suddenly open up a completely different side of professional wrestling— not just new brands, but new talents, storytelling, and styles to appreciate.
Miyu Yamashita, Yuka Sakazaki, Maki Itoh, Mei Suruga, Jungle Kyona, and ASUKA (also known as Veny) recently visited North America to fight on the independent circuit and on WWE and All Elite Wrestling. Their names, along with Kairi (formerly Kairi Sane), Hikaru Shida, Asuka, Riho, and Io Shirai (now Iyo Sky), flash across social media practically weekly with popular gifs and vids. These wrestlers are famous in their native promotions, but many fans are only now seeing them.
World Wonder Ring Stardom and Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling are two of Japan’s Joshi affiliates (TJPW). TJPW and DDT Pro Wrestling share a banner with Stardom. Ice Ribbon (founded by Puroresu veteran and frequent AEW guest Emi Sakura), SEAdLINNNG, World Woman Pro-Wrestling Diana, and Sendai Girls’ Pro Wrestling (owned by Meiko Satomura) are more significant companies. Many of the women on film now helped build contemporary Joshi Puroresu and are making an effect beyond.
After Miyu Yamashita’s championship match against Thunder Rosa on a recent episode of AEW Dynamite, many fans voiced their support for her career on social media. Yamashita is one of the founding members of TJPW, helping build the company from the ground up. Known as ‘The Pink Striker,’ Yamashita’s skill comes in her precise technique and devastating blows. She is a stoic individual with a fierce competitive streak, having become the TJPW Princess of Princess Champion (their highest possible achievement) three times and counting. One of her closest allies and friends, Maki Itoh, is a star in her own right as well. Known most often for her crass social media presence and fiery energy, Itoh’s story is deeply complex and now permanently tied to Yamashita as both friend and competition.
Within Stardom, which is primarily faction-based, it’s likely to see many other familiar faces. Io Shirai is one of the promotion’s most well-known and decorated talents. Calling Stardom her home promotion in 2011, Shirai soared due to her raw talent and electrifying presence. She was the founder and leader of Stardom’s Queen’s Quest faction, along with HZK (pronounced Hazuki) and Momo Wantanabe. Its members wear cat-like masks and have won practically every Stardom award. Shirai won the World of Stardom Championship twice, both for almost a year, before joining WWE in 2018. Shirai, one of the finest wrestlers in the world, breaks barriers wherever she goes.
Thanks to the effort of the women within these companies, the subgenre’s significance reaches beyond Japan and spreads internationally. Fans worldwide watch Stardom’s pay-per-views and weekly shows to make 5 Star Grand Prix predictions each summer. Comedic overtones and a campy attitude propel TJPW moments beyond wrestling’s social media circles. While both organizations play different roles in professional wrestling, their employees share indisputable skill. Many are recognized on Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s annual Women’s 150 list, which ranks the year’s most significant female athletes.
WWE Grand Slam Champion Sasha Banks trained and competed in Japan to emulate Joshi. Thunder Rosa, Toni Storm, and Dakota Kai have all worked with Joshi. Its impact on the wrestling world is undeniable, and the women involved deserve more credit than they are often given.
When Western fans hear of Joshi Puroresu, it’s frequently associated with various negative stereotypes— most of which are tied to racism and misogyny. Many fans dismiss puro altogether without realizing long term influence on the wrestling they watch today. For those seeking more opportunities to immerse themselves in women’s wrestling, Puroresu is a fantastic opportunity to do so. Especially in regard to complexity, there are unique characters and storylines in almost every promotion— nothing can be taken at face value. Each match has purpose, even the wacky and wild. Of course, like all promotions, brands, and companies, no one Joshi promotion is free of criticism. However, their impact and influence deserve more recognition in the wrestling industry.
After all, Joshi Puroresu helped shape all of professional wrestling as we know it today. Based on the swift rise of upcoming stars, it’s almost guaranteed this will continue into the future.