A photo of the female professional wrestling team The Beauty Pair. This image was used to help promote a film based on their exploits in the ring.
Professional wrestling has a long, storied history in Japan. Active cultivation of the sport was started following WWII as the country was collectively mourning and recovering after the horrendous bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing approximately 200,000 people and other wide-spread, war-related devastation. The sport became hugely popular, and sometime in the mid-1950s wrestlers from the U.S. would make the trip to Japan to grapple with the country’s newest star athletes including an all-female “Puroresu” (professional wrestling) league, All Japan Women’s Pro-Wrestling Association, formed in 1955. Just over a decade later, the league would become All Japan Women’s Pro-Wrestling (AJW), and instead of going at it exclusively with American or other foreign wrestlers, the sport started to pit female Japanese wrestlers against each other which is just as fantastic as it sounds.
All-female wrestling in Japan in the 1970s was a glorious wonderland full of tough, athletic women happily defying cultural and gender norms. Matches were broadcast on television and a duo going by the name The Beauty Pair (Jackie Sato and Maki Ueda) were huge stars. Teenagers themselves, Sato and Ueda, were inspirational to their young female fans leading to the pair (and Sato as a solo artist), to be signed by RCA, producing several hit singles. They starred in a film based on their wrestling personas and sales of magazines featuring The Beauty Pair and other girl wrestlers were swift. The masterminds of the AJW—Takashi Matsunaga and his brothers—knew their ladies-only league was now unstoppable.
Japanese wrestling duo The Crush Gals, Chigusa Nagayo, and Lioness Asuka.
Female wrestling in the 80’s and 90’s in Japan was reminiscent of American producer and promoter David B. McLane’s magical GLOW (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling), and introduced more theatrics into the sport by way of heavy metal makeup, wild hairdos, and eccentric individual personas. In the 80s, televised matches would glue an estimated ten million viewers to the tube much in part to the insane popularity of The Beauty Pair’s successors, The Crush Gals. Both women had signature closing maneuvers; Chigusa Nagayo was known for her Super Freak and Super Freak II, and her partner, Lioness Asuka often finished off her opponents using one of her go-to moves like the LSD II, LSD III and the K Driller (a reverse piledriver). Like their predecessors, The Crush Gals were also musicians and put out a few singles during the 80s, often regaling viewers with songs during matches. Other ladies of the AJW such as Bull Nakano, Dump Matsumoto, Jumbo Hori and others had their own personal theme music. And since lady-wrassling was such a sensation (as it should be), the theme music created for various stars of the scene was compiled on a neat picture disc called Japanese Super Angels in 1985. Video games based on the goings on in the AJW started making the rounds in the early 1990s with titles from Sega and Super Famicom.
So, in the event all this talk about Japanese female wrestling has you wondering if it is still a thing in Japan, I’m happy to report it looks to be alive and well. I’ve posted loads of images taken from Japanese wrestling magazines, posters, and publicity photos from the 70s, 80s, and 90s featuring some of the ballsy women which took on the game of wrestling in Japan and won. Deal with it.
Bull Nakano and Dump Matsumoto.
Dump Matsumoto and her partner Crane Yu pictured with referee Shiro Abe after winning the WWWA Tag Titles in February of 1985.
Nothing says summer like ladies wrestling!
Dump Matsumoto flanked by two other female wrestlers.
The Crush Gals.
The Crush Gals, Chigusa Nagayo, and Lioness Asuka.
Lioness Asuka of The Crush Gals.
High-quality footage of The Crush Gals in a match against the Jumping Bomb Angels, 1984.
While I’m unsure of the origin of this sobering documentary on the AJW, here it is along with English subtitles.
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Big hair, big muscles, totally 80s: Glorious images & footage of the lady wrestlers of ‘GLOW’
Surprising photos of a young, good-looking André the Giant from the late 60s and early 70s
BIlly Herrington and the Japanese cult of ‘Stylish Gay Wrestling’ (NSFW)
The forgotten heroes of ‘Midget Wrestling’: Vintage photos from the 60s and 70s
Velvet portraits of wrestling greats