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Japan Wrestling

Yoshiko

This is something I honestly never expected to write about. But for a variety of reasons a look back is in order.

Regardless of what anyone already knows or feels, I’d ask those who’ve stumbled upon this to please read to the end.

Yoshiko is a professional wrestler currently with a company called SEAdLINNNG. Last year she went viral and became know among non-wrestling fans due to her cooking videos on Tik Tok. The juxtaposition of this tough wrestler with rough language and mannerisms excitedly making cute, delicate sweets made her a sensation.

But for people even passingly familiar with joshi pro-wrestling, Yoshiko is primarily known as the culprit in a match turned real at the expense of a fellow competitor.

On February 22, 2015 Yoshiko was set to defend the top title of World Wonder Ring Stardom against Act Yasukawa. Instead of the professional wrestling match everyone expected, things immediately devolved into chaos as Yoshiko decimated Act with very real punches leaving her face bruised and bloody in a matter of seconds (pictured above on the cover of ShuPro coverage of the incident).

The competitors were separated to their respective corners so Act could be checked on, then the match went on in start and stop fashion for almost eight minutes. All of it was a continuation of Yoshiko brutalizing Act, until Kyoko Kimura had enough and took it upon herself to throw in a towel in from Act’s corner while restraining Act from getting back into the ring yet again.

I was not yet actively watching joshi promotions then, but was familiar with some joshi wrestlers via a US company called Shimmer. I only knew of Stardom by name and didn’t know of the two wrestlers involved so had no preconceived notions or attachments, but everyone watching any kind of women’s wrestling at the time heard about this. I subsequently watched it, which was viscerally difficult and disturbing. In Japan it’s become referred to as “The Ghastly Match” and its infamy endures with mentions and discussions repeatedly reemerging to this day.

Stardom management’s stubborn inaction when the match clearly should have been stopped immediately after the first separation is now often glossed over in retellings. But whether motivated by kayfabe, business interests, or something else entirely, they completely failed in their duties to protect their wrestlers by letting things go on so long when it was apparent the real fight was continuing. This is not to take any responsibility off of Yoshiko for what happened, but I feel it worth mentioning that the scope of it could have and should have been mitigated. They did try to address things after the fact, taking temporary pay cuts and instituting some new rules in the wake of it all.

The match was retroactively declared a no contest, and Yoshiko was stripped of her title and suspended indefinitely from Stardom. Act suffered multiple fractures and would require surgery, leading her to vacate her own title she already held going into the match.

Nanae Takahashi, one of Stardom’s founders, left the company to go “freelance” a few months after the incident amid rumors that she disagreed with Yoshiko being punished. She announced the creation of her own company just a month after that, and SEAdLINNNG would have its first show in August of 2015.

Defenders of Yoshiko were quick to point out that Act threw the first punch as an indication that it was an agreed upon shoot / not instigated by Yoshiko. However they were having a wrestling match and Act’s punch could very well have been a working punch. Also given the extent to which Yoshiko’s beating of Act continued, the “who swung first” idea is largely irrelevant. There were of course also many rumors about the general situation between the two wrestlers beforehand and speculation about what led to the incident.

I by no means claim to know every detail, or even most. It is not my purpose here to speculate on what’s unknowable or investigate rumors but rather to consider how what is apparent should be approached, particularly now.

Act returned to Stardom at the end of September, but a combination of the injuries sustained and her having Graves’ disease led to complications that prompted her to retire in December at Stardom Climax 2015 (which happened to be one of the first shows I saw during my first ever trip to Japan). It was sad to see her retire but the match(es) was an appropriate way to bid her well and I was glad she got to come back for a little while and leave somewhat on her own terms.

Whatever led to the altercation, what was clear about the situation was that one wrestler brutally assaulted another, repeatedly after separations presumably meant to try to get them back on track to the title match they were supposed to have, leading to the end of her career. I was certainly among those that didn’t think Yoshiko had a place in wrestling, no matter the surrounding circumstances.

And even if she did, it felt like her second chance came too soon.

Around the time of her retirement, Act stated that she forgave Yoshiko and hoped she would return to the ring. For a number of people that was the end of it. Act forgave her, fans would never know the behind the scenes details, and that was that. Others, including myself, didn’t share that opinion.

Act’s forgiveness was of course extremely important to consider, an a wonderful sign that she was able to move on, but in isolation I didn’t see it as sufficient with respect to Yoshiko returning. Yoshiko had still assaulted someone and come away with what felt like no real repercussions. The nature of kayfabe and the wrestling business in general meant no charges were filed. Just a couple weeks after Act’s retirement Yoshiko was back in an appearance for SEAdLINNNG, officially joining the company a month later and returning to the ring a month after that. She was out of wrestling for only a year, and returned not to the company that had suspended her while trying to address the incident but instead to one that felt like it had been specifically formed so she’d have someplace to return to. What happened was public (and horrific), and there wasn’t any public indication of Yoshiko having to earn her way back.

So given my personal views on the whole thing it wasn’t until a full year and a half after Yoshiko returned that I saw my first SEAdLINNNNG show in August of 2017. I was in Tokyo for a week primarily to see the rematch series of one of my favorite matches of all time. While I still had no interest in seeing Yoshiko I grudgingly decided I was not going to allow her presence on the card prevent me from attending to see two of my favorite teams in the world wrestle and support them. Besides, she was starting to show up in so many joshi promotions she’d be unavoidable anyway unless I just stopped attending shows in general.

Yoshiko happened to be facing my favorite rookie at the time, Mio Momono. Again I had never seen Yoshiko wrestle before. The match was great. So much so that it was actually my second favorite of the trip despite myself. And I’m specifically mentioning this to point out that it didn’t matter AT ALL to the subject at hand.

Too often athletes, entertainers, etc get passes on things because of their talent. It can easily cloud fans’ judgement. So I want to be clear that the fact that I discovered that night that Yoshiko was an extremely good wrestler did nothing to change my opinion on her actions or her place in wrestling. But there was something about that match and ones that would follow that DID matter in that respect, although I didn’t consciously realize it at the time.

That conscious realization solidified the following spring when I saw her wrestle Asahi from Ice Ribbon in another great encounter of the larger, brutish Yoshiko taking a fiery, determined rookie. Though the number of companies willing to work with her was significant, even more significant was the fact that they weren’t just working with her. Like Marvelous with Mio Ice Ribbon, a company I particularly personally trust to take care of their wrestlers from things I’ve observed over time, trusted her to work safely with their rookies. It really underscored that no one was afraid of anything like what happened with Act ever happening again. More and more companies that had no obligation to use Yoshiko or let their wrestlers face her had absolutely no issue doing so on any level.

Moving forward to present day, the last six months or so have seen a couple of surprisingly relevant, positive events related to the now six year old incident. In late 2020 Act returned to a wrestling ring as a participant in ACTRING, a show that combines theatrical performance and wrestling elements produced by Actwres Girl’z. In March this year both Yoshiko and Nanae returned to Stardom in special appearances for their big 10th anniversary show. Yoshiko, while reigning as SEAdLINNNG’s singles champion, was defeated by Stardom’s ace Mayu Iwatani (in a non-title match).

It is of course fantastic to see Act able to come back in some capacity, and somewhat fitting that shortly thereafter Yoshiko returned to the promotion where it all took place and in some sense faced her comeuppance.

What happened in Act and Yoshiko’s match will be remembered and revisited forever, and rightfully so. It was a horrible occurrence that shouldn’t be forgotten. But the issue with newer fans finding out about what happened primarily via things like What Culture’s article on brutal women’s matches, etc is that context about what’s happened since is usually lost. Again it’s totally appropriate to mention it in those discussions, but it’s a six year old event that doesn’t exist in isolation.

I can understand the perspective of those who think she shouldn’t have been forgiven, and again I was among them, but at this point she has been by all the people involved, by her industry, and of course by Act. I said earlier that I felt Act’s forgiveness was important but insufficient on its own. It’s not on its own anymore. The primary arguments that Yoshiko shouldn’t have been able to return to wrestling were the incident showing she was unsafe and that she didn’t face proper repercussions. There’s now five years of experience contrary to the former, and with every conceivable benchmark that one could have wanted before she returned now reached the timing of her return and other aspects of the latter becomes moot. Act’s back in wrestling. Yoshiko returned to the company who suspended her. Yoshiko’s trusted to work safely with companies’ most vulnerable employees. I don’t know what else could possibly be asked for at this point.

I don’t begrudge anyone who doesn’t feel comfortable watching Yoshiko given the incident happened at all, and the point of this is not to try to dissuade them. I’d just ask them to keep in mind when talking to people who have moved on that there are many valid reasons for having done so.

It’s not 2015 anymore. Talking about this like the incident just happened and Yoshiko is a currently a dangerous, untrustworthy monster is doing both her and the joshi wrestling scene in general a huge disservice.

To me Yoshiko has proven worthy of the second chance given to her, and like Act I wish her well with her continued career in wrestling.

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