Photos by Shoji Kudaka
Photos by Shoji Kudaka

Joshi-strong style rocks the crowd: Meiko Satomura and Sendai Girls’ Pro-Wrestling

by Shoji Kudaka
Stripes Okinawa

In the world of pro-wrestling, “strong style” is a phrase commonly used to describe Japanese pro-wrestling, which often becomes more than just a sports entertainment.

According to author Tomomi Nagare, it was coined in the 70s as a catchphrase for the New Japan Pro-Wrestling (NJPW), which was a newcomer at the time, to differentiate itself from the All Japan Pro-wrestling (AJPW), which was already a major organization.

The author explains that the NJPW tried to overtake AJWP by claiming their wrestling as the real deal as opposed to the showman-style of AJPW.

Almost half a century since then, strong style is now internationally recognized. Two-time WWE United States Champion Shinsuke Nakamaura, who is originally from NJPW, is known as the “King of Strong Style.” In the United Kingdom, where the independent pro-wrestling scene is hot, “British Strong Style” is a term often mentioned to describe their take on it.

But, in order to understand the current state of strong style, it would not be good enough just to follow the men’s side, because it has been shining bright on the women’s side as well. And it would be impossible to talk about women’s strong style without touching on Meiko Satomura, a.k.a. “the final boss,” of “joshi puroresu,” or women’s pro-wrestling.

Meet the Final Boss of Joshi-Puroresu 
Meiko Satomura has come a long way. Since her debut in 1995 at the age of 15, the wrestler has seen the rise and fall and comeback of joshi-puroresu. In her career, she was a champion early on, but saw major organizations fall in Japan, including her own. She took it upon herself to launch a new organization in a local city, struggling both in and outside of the ring. Starting with the challenges of putting on shows and training young wrestlers, she has also overcome multiple injuries and the Great East Japan Earthquake, which hit Sendai in 2011.

Now, Satomura is one of the most respected and sought-after pro-wrestlers. Between local shows in Sendai, and tours overseas, Satomura is impressing opponents and spectators with her Japanese “joshi-strong style.” Her appearance in the WWE Mae Young Classic 2018 became a highlight of the second annual tournament for women wrestlers around the globe. She has even gone toe-to-toe with acclaimed male wrestlers like WWE NXT UK Champion Pete Dunne a.k.a. “Bruiser Weight.”

Satomura spoke with Stars and Stripes about her ideas of pro-wrestling, the Sendai Girls’, and Mae Young Classic Tournament.

Sendai Girls’ Pro-wrestling

Web: http://sendaigirls.jp/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/sendaiglobal
On Demand video: https://sendaiglobal.pivotshare.com/home
Shows Coming up: 
May 18 Shinkiba 1st RING (Tokyo)
May 19. Okayama Mirai Hall (Okayama)
May 25. Aomori Hanamasu Kaikan (Aomori)
May 26. Sendai Yashiro no Hospital Aoba (Sendai)
May 27. Sendai PIT (Sendai) 

- For more info or tickets, contact Sendai Girls’ at info@sendaigirls.jp  or  022-395-6945. 
- Tickets are also available at http://c.tstar.jp/features/sunplaza/index.html (Japanese) as well.

 

On Sendai Girls’ and strong style 

Are there special feelings or excitement toward the shows you host in the home arenas in Sendai? 
Satomura: I think there are. When we launched our women’s wrestling organization 13 years ago, there were few fans. Even when we cast wrestlers from other organizations, we could host three shows a year at the most. Now, we hold about five shows a month. Sendai Girls’ compete in shows of other organizations too. That probably plays a part in boosting the number.

Some fans say “strong style” is something they are expecting the most from your shows. Would you say “strong style” is the core of Sendai Girls’ pro-wrestling? 
Satomura: ’Strong style’ is associated with very intense pro-wrestling…Those heated fights motivated me to become a pro-wrestler. I wanted to be part of contests where truly strong people collide. So, I started building up my body, as I dreamed of having ripped muscles.

During the Mae Young Classic tournament, WWE commentators often used the term “Joshi-strong style” to comment on your style of pro-wrestling. How would you explain the concept to fans in overseas countries? 
Satomura: In a nutshell, it starts with building up your body to the bitter end, so you can absorb pain regardless of what gruesome attack comes your way. Plus, it’s important that you can launch moves on each other without holding back.

Is that something you demand of Sendai Girls? 
Satomura: All the excellence in striking, suplexes, and submission is required. That is also something I have spent more than 20 years doing to get to where I am.

In the video footage of training at your dojo posted on your blog, it looked like the wrestlers spar pretty hard. Is the toughness part of their appeal? 
Satomura: You would not be able to do anything on a real stage unless you can achieve it in practice. So, it’s a step-by-step process in daily training. You need to take training seriously. You would need to practice hard to the point of hating pro-wrestling.

At one point you only had one wrestler other than yourself. Did many of wrestlers on the current roster join within the last four years? 
Satomura: Yes. Currently, I have eight members. Even when we had only two people, I thought ‘I will never give up, I will bounce back whatever it takes.’

Do you see your relationship with your master, Chigusa Nagayo, reflected in the relationship with your young wrestlers?
Satomura: I do, but apprenticeship is not something you can impose on others. It is something where the apprentice-to-be should seek out and grab the heart of her master even if she is rejected. As an apprentice, I served Nagayo for seven years, during which I was taken off the post seven times for making mistakes, and I still sought out her advice. After visiting the U.S., I came to realize an apprenticeship or education at a dojo is a culture unique to Japan. … Still, I believe what we teach in Joshi-puroresu in Japan will draw attention overseas.” 

Mae Young Classic
Tell us about Mae Young Classis Tournament. You said, “I want to show the world what true strength means. And I want to show the great history of Japanese female pro-wrestling.” Do you think you achieved that goal? 
Satomura: Although I lost in the semi-final, so many people admired my fights. I was walking on the runway leaving the ring with tears in my eyes. Then the crowd started chanting “Thank you, Meiko.” I was very thankful for the fact that my style of pro-wrestling was accepted, not only by Japanese fans, but also by fans overseas.

Did you feel that people were excited about not just your wrestling skills or physical strength but also how you entertain the crowd or the way you carry yourself in the ring?

Satomura: People who had not seen me wrestle before were probably surprised with each move I made. Although I lost eventually, I still felt that I had something to show and impress fans around the globe. This is not the end. …I want to see women shine more. Seeing people from various countries compete and shine in that tournament, I thought pro-wrestling is not just for the Japanese, but something where people around the world can compete and enjoy. …

Do you expect other members of the Sendai Girls’ to compete overseas? 
Satomura: I do. We had a show in Hong Kong in January. I think we will have even more opportunities in overseas countries. …

You compete in the Mae Young Classic. And in October you also attended the Evolution, the first ever all-women pay-per-view event for WWE as a guest. Were there any pro-wrestlers that you hope to fight? 
Satomura: Ronda Rousey is the one I want to fight.

What about her that attracted your attention? 
Satomura: First, her exceptional strength. She really stood out. When I saw her up close, her body shined with muscles. I thought, ‘Wow, I had never seen anybody like her.’ [If I have a chance to face her in the squared circle], I would like to try my striking skills on her. I want to continue working hard and achieve the goal.

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