I was largely unfamiliar with the professional wrestling company Gatoh Move, and completely unfamiliar with 17 year old competitor Kotori, when I attended my first show of theirs on 12/22/15. Kotori was on opposite sides from another new to me competitor named Riho in a tag match also featuring wrestlers previously familiar in Hikaru Shida and Makoto. It was a very good match, and I left impressed with both of the younger participants and wanting to see more of them.
Of course “younger” in Joshi doesn’t necessarily correlate to experience, and the 18 year old Riho was the most senior competitor of the match with nearly 10 years as a wrestler. So it’s understandable that she overshadowed the least experienced a touch as far as first impressions go. But Kotori more than held her own against the veterans, and immediately showed well honed skills beyond her 3 years.
Once I got a chance to see Gatoh Move in their home environment the true depth and ability of the talent on their core roster became even more apparent. The 12/22/15 show had been a “traditional” wrestling show with a traditional wrestling ring. The reason I specify is that Gatoh Move’s home venue, Ichigaya Chocolate Square, is a small room with no ring and two large windows on one wall which are removed for the shows. The crowd itself is effectively the “rope break” marker and the wrestlers will sometimes use the front row to bounce off of for “running the ropes” and the windowsills to jump off of for high risk maneuvers. The limitations of the venue restrict the action in ways compared to “normal” matches, but also provide opportunities for creative variations on standard wrestling elements.
And it was increasingly clear under such constraints that Kotori was already a fantastic wrestler who was only going to get better. Complimenting her excellent instincts and skills benefiting from being trained by one of the very best in the world in Emi Sakura, Kotori brought an exuberance and enthusiasm to her wrestling that was downright contagious. I called her match with SAKI “pretty much as good a 7 minute match as you’ll ever see,” and I couldn’t wait to what she’d achieve going forward. Kotori’s infectious positive attitude also came across in her roundtable discussion, where she practiced her English by doing some translation for us visiting foreign fans.
The following year I had the privilege of seeing Kotori (now teaming with Riho instead of across the ring from her) crowned GM’s tag team champions in an excellent match main eventing the 12/21/16 show against Aoi Kizuki and Sayaka Obihiro. The undercurrent here was a more stern Kotori having something to prove as the least experienced competitor and being extremely aggressive in pursuit of the titles. She played the role perfectly and her emotional reaction to victory was genuinely moving.
It was great to see her development during the intervening year, becoming a little more focused and honing her skills even further. She was equalling impressive in the three other matches I saw her in that trip, including a fantastic 6-woman tag including the entire expanded core Gatoh Move Roster (Kotori teaming with Riho & Aasa against Emi Sakura, Sayaka Obihiro, & Mitsuru).
I was fortunate to make a short, unexpected trip back to Tokyo in August 2017, and was treated to seeing Kotori vs Aasa in the semi-finals of the Super Asia Championship tournament as the main event of the 8/26/17 Ichigaya show. Kotori’s win was a foregone conclusion with her en route to face partner Riho in the finals, but she and Aasa created tension and drama regardless in a fantastic match that felt like the big deal it should be. Kotori was beyond proud with her victory when talking to her after the show, and it was great to be able to share that excitement with her.
I didn’t know it at the time, but that would be the last opportunity I got to see Kotori wrestle live. Her “graduation” (retirement) from wrestling was announced on 10/26/17 due to graduating from high school and needing to move away for family reasons. A hiatus was considered, but Kotori wanted to try different things and chose to wrap up her wrestling career. Her last match was on 12/21/17, unfortunately a single day before I’d be arriving in Tokyo for my winter trip. While I am sorry to have missed that, I was lucky to have seen her wrestle as often as I did. I was also able to pick up the wonderful commemorative booklet produced looking back on her great, short career.
While I will always wonder what she may have achieved if she had continued and am sad to see Kotori go, I wish her all the best in whatever her future holds.