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Joshi Wrestling Dates Back to The 1930s

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Found out this morning that Joshi might have started way before the 1950s. Juan Nunez from Reddit found this out. 

 

Quote

TL:DR I found evidence of an entire era of Japanese Women's Wrestling that isn't listed anywhere.

Let's start with a simple question without a simple answer: When did the Joshi start?

If you look at English sources, they'll say the 1950's. That's only true if you stretch definitions. Why? 1950's is when everything that we have today started. Most of today's major promotions in someway tie back to AJW if you go back far enough in the wrestler rosters and business personnel. All-Japan Women's Professional Wrestling Association(the AJW we all know) started in 1968 as a spin of All-Japan Women's Professional Wrestling Corporation when the Matsunaga brothers broke off in order to do their own thing. As far as history knows, The Corporation started in 1955 when Mildred Burke trained a set of women during her late 1954-early 1955 tour of Japan.

So that's as far back as current Joshi seems to go, but of course we know that there was Japanese Women's Wrestling prior to that. There were smaller Joshi promotions and titles that date back as far as we know to the 1940's. If you look at Japanese Wikipedia they list 1948 as the start. With 1930 being listed as the start of American Women's wrestling. That's not true, but that's a separate topic. Samurai TV did a quick history of Joshi as a part of the first episode of The Best Of AJW series that also lists the 1940's as the start. As far as I can tell the 1940's is as far back as the history of Japanese Women's Wrestling goes...until now.

The main article above is from the June 6, 1930 edition of the Honolulu Star newspaper. That would be a full decade and a half prior to our current understanding of history and if you read the article it looks like Japanese Women's Wrestling was already fully formed by that point. The article read surprisingly similar to Beauty Pair era tour of Hawaii in the late 1970's. We get the name of an Ace. We get a total number of wrestlers on tour as 26. Which larger than any one roster today and larger than AJW's roster in the 1970's. And my assumption is that they had to be popular in Japan for a local American promoter to take notice. That means that at the latest Joshi actually started in the late 1920's instead of the 1940's like we thought.

Why isn't this more well known? I know from my film history interest that the vast majority Japanese Media pre-World War 2 has been lost due to the war. Japan had one of the most active film industries in the world at one point and very few of those movies survived relative to how many were made. We also know from Japan, America, and other places that Women's Wrestling just wasn't covered in a widespread mainstream sort of way through most of it's history.

Pretty cool right? Spread the word. Joshi is older than we thought.

 

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Really interesting. I'm surprised that any sort of wrestling was popular in Japan back then. I always accepted the narrative that wrestling didn't catch on in Japan until some guys came over from America during the occupation and Rikidozan ran with it. Makes me interested in if we could find anything interesting looking through old Japanese newspapers.

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Really interesting. The article notes previous visits of wrestling troupes from Japan that would’ve been the 1920s. I’ve gotten the impression that American culture was quite big in Japan in that era before the War wiped out everything.

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Yeah, this is really interesting and surprising. Haven't done too much research on the subject but I also thought wrestling in Japan picked up post-WWII due to American influence during the occupation and as the country adopted democracy. Japan wasn't exactly at its nicest from the late 1920s to 1945. 

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I have read such an article from 1912 (should have been an Austrian sports magazine IIRC), it read a lot like those night club "wrestling" deals you had with the women for the longest time. So why you surely can debate if it was professional wrestling, you have to at least admire the ladies because they surely didn`t have it easy.

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This is really neat! Although, a couple clues in the article lead me to believe that it is sumo wrestling rather than (western) professional wrestling.

These are:

The boxing ring will be replaced by the traditional Japanese ring- Why replace the ring to a traditional Japanese ring unless the ring is very different from a boxing ring? Like a sumo wrestling ring perhaps...

The arena is to be rented by local Nipponese (Japanese) backers & enthusiasts - This suggests a primarily Japanese audience. In the 1920's Japanese made up 43% of the Hawaiian population. So, the good turn out they mentioned seems likely.

A multi-day tournament with a grand championship - This could go either way...

Although, sumo is very exclusive to men now there is evidence of women sumo and touring ones at that:

Quoting from another Reddit post:

"As far as what women's professional, competition sumo looked like, the magazine Sumo sekai from the early 20th century apparently had lots of evidence in the form of articles and pictures (should you be so lucky as to be at the archives in Japan, which I am...not). Similar to men, women wrestlers joined together in a traveling troupe or "league," and generally worked the same circuit of locations. They competed in shirts plus the traditional loincloth... "

I think there is a bias on how the word "wrestler" and " wrestling " is being interpreted in the original article.  To a non wrestling fan (even nowadays), Japanese wrestling would be most associated with sumo.So, 1930 seems even more likely as the distinction between different types, styles, forms of wrestling was probably not known to most people. So, there was no need to specify that in the article. But to be fair, it could be judo, or Olympic wrestling as well. But, sumo seems more likely than  western women's professional wrestling.

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On 11/15/2018 at 3:14 AM, G. Badger said:

This is really neat! Although, a couple clues in the article lead me to believe that it is sumo wrestling rather than (western) professional wrestling.

These are:

The boxing ring will be replaced by the traditional Japanese ring- Why replace the ring to a traditional Japanese ring unless the ring is very different from a boxing ring? Like a sumo wrestling ring perhaps...

The arena is to be rented by local Nipponese (Japanese) backers & enthusiasts - This suggests a primarily Japanese audience. In the 1920's Japanese made up 43% of the Hawaiian population. So, the good turn out they mentioned seems likely.

A multi-day tournament with a grand championship - This could go either way...

Although, sumo is very exclusive to men now there is evidence of women sumo and touring ones at that:

Quoting from another Reddit post:

"As far as what women's professional, competition sumo looked like, the magazine Sumo sekai from the early 20th century apparently had lots of evidence in the form of articles and pictures (should you be so lucky as to be at the archives in Japan, which I am...not). Similar to men, women wrestlers joined together in a traveling troupe or "league," and generally worked the same circuit of locations. They competed in shirts plus the traditional loincloth... "

I think there is a bias on how the word "wrestler" and " wrestling " is being interpreted in the original article.  To a non wrestling fan (even nowadays), Japanese wrestling would be most associated with sumo.So, 1930 seems even more likely as the distinction between different types, styles, forms of wrestling was probably not known to most people. So, there was no need to specify that in the article. But to be fair, it could be judo, or Olympic wrestling as well. But, sumo seems more likely than  western women's professional wrestling.

Looks like you're right in terms of Sumo. Here's a follow up from Juan 

 

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