By any measure, July 18th’s Summer Sun Princess was a landmark show for Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling. Not only was the crowd at Ota City Ward Gymnasium even larger than 2021’s Wrestle Princess II, it was noisier.
Earlier in July, TJPW’s sister company, DDT, tested lifting pandemic-related cheering restrictions, and TJPW was now following suit. The second largest women’s promotion in Japan also found itself in stiff competition with Stardom, whose show Stardom MidSummer Champions ~Kings Of MidSummer~ was taking place a train ride away in Tachikawa Stage Garden on the other side of Tokyo.
Collaboration with a Purpose
Summer Sun Princess also saw TJPW continue its efforts to collaborate with other companies, both at home and abroad. This included AEW’s current women’s champion Thunder Rosa in an AEW tournament bout with company ace Miyu Yamashita, as well as Riho and Hikaru Shida. Elsewhere on the card, EVE’s Alex Windsor challenged Maki Itoh for the International Princess Championship and Gatoh Move’s Mei Suruga teamed with Suzume. When rising US indie talent Willow Nightingale was forced to delay a visit to Japan due to via issues, the company even sought out Ryo Mizonami, one of the most talented freelancers on the joshi scene.
This was a genuine crossover event, one of the most star-studded joshi cards of the year. And yet, that isn’t what made Summer Sun Princess special. Instead of relying on the appeal of individual names or matches, TJPW continued to develop its formula for emotive, character-driven wrestling where every performer on the card feels important.
Unlike some other companies, TJPW’s limited roster size and show numbers mean it is truly possible for fans to watch every show. When followed for long periods, the viewing experience feels more akin to a coming-of-age drama than a normal wrestling show.
Ups and Downs, Pins and Championships
Part of the charm is in seeing how different characters react to each other, and getting to watch them develop and grow as performers in real time. You see the ups and downs, the eating pins and winning titles. As is embodied by the recurrent image of the entire roster standing together at their major shows, the tone of TJPW is very much about women helping each other grow and learn. It’s wholesome, but it still has an edge, thanks to the violent and ruthless sides of some of the wrestlers.
TJPW can be described as emotional not just in the sense that the major storylines and feuds primarily skew towards those kinds of conflicts, but also in the way that the wrestling builds and feeds off of displays of palpable emotion between the performers.
Nowhere was that more evident than Summer Sun Princess, where we got to see the entire roster react to hearing the roar of a crowd for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The promotion’s much beloved ring announcer Sayuri Namba was lost for words initially upon hearing the crowd, while resident hoss Miu Watanabe choked back tears as she and idol-wrestler group Up Up Girls opened the show.
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There was no better wrestler to exemplify the stirring mood of the evening than Rika Tatsumi, whose unique blend of current day joshi with the aesthetics and psychology of 1990s puro, has arguably been under-utilized by the promotion as of late. Such is her commitment to melodrama that the promo package for the match depicted her praying under a waterfall. In the main event, she thrashed, screamed, cried, looked out to the crowd, up to the ceiling in hope — emotions that made her heelish performance in the match that much more compelling. Having wrestled in front of clap-crowds in her championship run in 2020, hearing the furor of a crowd again only seemed to fuel her further as the relative underdog. While Tatsumi ultimately lost to a top rope senton, she took the entire crowd on the journey with her.
Another reason why Summer Sun Princess was such a resounding success was putting wrestlers alongside or opposite those from whom they can learn. The stoicism and grit of Miu Watanabe contrasted well with the showmanship of Ryo Mizunami, while Suzume learned from the vicious guile of Mei Suruga in securing a win over her tag team partner Arisu Endo. In spite of Hikaru Shida’s success in AEW, the promotion has wisely continued to use her to build up younger talent, and here she bonded with Hikari Noa over their mutual love of violence.
Most impressive of all was the new tag team formed between celebrated rookie Yuki Arai and the conniving veteran Saki Akai. Named “Reiwa no AA Cannon” — a tongue-in-cheek reference to the contemporary era in Japan and the name of Giant Baba and Antonio Inoki’s former tag team BI Cannon — the partnership will be a chance for Arai to learn from a different kind of professional wrestler.
Far from simply learning how to cheat, Arai had to develop a new sense of ruthlessness and opportunism in order for the duo to overcome MagiRabi (Yuka Sakazaki and Mizuki) in an outside contender for one of the strongest joshi tags of the year. Such was the dominance of the champions that only a team willing to cut corners could succeed, and the turning point in the match came when Arai saved Akai by blindsiding Mizuki in the back of the head with an axe kick. If this match was anything to go by, Reiwa no AA Cannon’s tag title reign is sure to be a treat.
What’s Next for TJPW?
As Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling expands to bigger stages, works with overseas promotions and builds on its working relationship with AEW, the promotion shows no sign of forgetting what its strengths are. Where Stardom’s rival show built itself around two big matches at the top of the card, TJPW relied on its formula for drawn-out character development and consistent quality.
At the same time, the promotion is in need of change if it is to continue its run of good form. The International Princess Championship was at least moderately successful in elevating domestic talent during COVID-19, but it remains to be seen if it will have the same impact now it is held by the UK’s Alex Windsor. Only four people have held the Princess of Princess title since 2018, and the promotion has failed to keep pace with the new intake by elevating talent into the main event. The result is a midcard-heavy roster that leaves you with an abundance of potential favorites to support, but less confidence that they will reach the heights that you want them to.
Once an outsider in the joshi scene, Tokyo Joshi Pro is finally coming of age in the post-pandemic era. What direction it will take from here remains to be seen, but you can be sure that the ride will be an emotional one.