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Q: It seems clear that Japanese fans believed wrestling was real when it started, and now they all know it isn't. Here in the US, goofy gimmicks and a hostile press exposed kayfabe decades ago. Did anything specific happen to break kayfabe in Japan?
>A: Similar to the US, there were always people who criticized it for being fake, all the way back to the Rikidozan-Kimura match. Still, I believe the ratio of people who believed it was "real" over those who thought the otherwise was much higher in Japan. As far as I know, major papers such as Mainichi, Asahi, and Yomiuri haven't covered puroresu results since the Rikidozan era. All sports papers still do, however.
>In modern day history, the biggest impact was probably the second version of UWF, which would eventually evolved into the MMA in Japan. I still don't think that was the biggest reason for the decline of puroresu popularity. I believe the failure to create a true crossover star was as much as the UWF/MMA if not more. After all, we haven't had a real star since Inoki and Baba.
Q: Why did "gaijin" remain such an important part of puroresu, even after WW2-related hostility faded? Was it about having enough great foreign wrestlers so that Japanese promotions would be seen as world-class?
>A: I wouldn't say "world-class"; to this day, neither All Japan nor New Japan has recognized its own version of the "world heavyweight champion". They never claimed to be the top of the world (although in the eyes of many fans, they really were). But at least they meant to be "international". Also, having gaijins would provide more variety in the bookings. I believe Rikidozan set a pattern by bringing different gaijins for each "series" (tours), having them beat the prelims and mid-carders just to get beaten by Rikidozan at the end of the tour. That way, those gaijins can always have a fresh comeback to Japan several months later. Usually, the gaijins were heels and Japanese were hometown heroes. This style continued until the mid-1980s.
>So, what changed? It's hard to pick one factor. Between the late-1970s and the early 1980s, some gaijins became so popular that they could no longer be booked as the heels (the Funks, Mascaras, Backlund, Steamboat, Hogan etc.). Still, they were always "gaijins" anyway. The rise of Riki Choshu in the early 1980s brought the hot feuds among the Japanese natives and showed a possibility that the promotions may not always have to rely on the gaijin talents.
>Another thing was the national expansions by WWF and JCP in the US, which limited the gaijin stars available to the US. Both companies always wanted to keep their top stars on their own tours, and the guys who used to wrestle in Japan could no longer be there. The so-called "world" champions stopped defending their titles outside their companies. On the other hand, some gaijin talents who were not signed by WWF or JCP (or decided not to) started wrestling in Japan almost every series. This might have lessened the line between the natives and gaijins. For example, some Japanese guys started teaming with gaijins regularly (Tenryu & Hansen, Kobashi & Johnny Ace).
>One more thing. This may be just my opinion. At least in puroresu (not in lucha libre or American style), the best match between two Japanese is always better than the best match between a Japanese and a gaijin. I think those great feuds among the natives in the 1980s and 1990s showed that.
Q: Was wrestling from the US widely watched in Japan? I know it has aired in Japan in one form or another for a long time, but it's hard to tell whether it was really that important.
>A: I don't think so, at least not in the pre-internet days. Magazines always had coverage on the wrestling scenes from North America, but in terms of the video footages, not much. New Japan and All Japan often showed matches from other countries especially when Japanese stars toured in those countries or NWA World Heavyweight Title was changed hands, but that was about it. Once a while, they might show a TV studio squash involving the wrestler(s) who would come to Japan for the first time, but it was rare. TV Tokyo, a minor network, used to air a weekly show in the 1980s featuring the cards from North America, but it didn't last long. The show also brought the controversies because they often showed the regulars of New Japan or All Japan and brought conflicts with other networks that had contracts with those promotions.
Q: Did you start watching US pro wrestling after you moved in '87? If so, how did you feel it compared to Japan?
>A: I couldn't wait watching the US wrestling. As soon as I got here, I checked the TV Guide and looked for it. What a total disappointment it was. Immediately, I was embarrassed to admit that I was a wrestling fan. We were always told that the US was the "mecca" of pro-wrestling. Historically it was, and maybe it still was then and is today.
>But imagine this. Here I am, growing up watching more realistic stuff from the early 1980s in Japan where it was treated more as a sport compared to the US, and what did I get? The infamous mid-1980s cartoony WWF, GLOW, etc. All the free TV shows were filled with squashes and interviews, which meant nothing to someone like me who didn't speak much of English. Plus, some of those shows were taped at small TV studios, which was unbelievable to someone like me who was so used to watch arena cards broadcasted live on TV. Looked so cheap. Well, it was the late 1980s, and wrestling in this country was already something to laugh about anyway...
>Speaking of the interviews, it is another big difference between Japan and the US. In Japan, we had a belief that real warriors show what they have in actions but not in talking. It changed over the years, but traditionally, samurai should keep their mouth shut. Here in the US, fighters had to talk before they actually show what they were supposed to do. Most of the time, they talked way too much AFTER the match when they were supposed to have fought tough matches and be too tired to talk. It took some time for me to realize that's just a difference in the cultures.
>Similarly, another cultural difference was the gestures and reactions. I've heard some people say Japanese were boring/bland, but to us, Americans are over-reacting and loud. Soon after I came to this country, I learned that that's how Americans were, but I couldn't connect that to pro-wrestling for a while and kept wondering why they had to talk too much before, during, and after the matches with a lot of facial expressions like they went insane. Again, I had to learn that's how Americans are in general. Until I got better idea and sense of the language and culture of this country, I never knew what was so great about Ric Flair. I still don't think he is the greatest, but now I understand why he is/was so popular here (I guess he was a great worker, but to many Japanese fans, he didn't look very realistic, especially compared to other world champs such as Race and Bockwinkel) and eventually became a fan myself.