Japan Reviews Wrestling

A Bit of Happiness in a Crazy Decade: 10 Years of Gatoh Move

Emi Sakura is one of the most incredibly multifaceted people in professional wrestling. The 27 year veteran can wrestle nearly any style, has trained a ridiculous number of other excellent wrestlers, and founded two different still running joshi promotions on the common idea that wrestling should be fun for both fans and wrestlers.

Gatoh Move, the promotion Sakura currently runs, is an absolute joy. In anticipation of their big 10th anniversary show this week (entitled Phoenix Rises) I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about one of my absolute favorite wrestling promotions.

Of course 10 years is a lot to cover and this won’t be complete nor an attempt at a proper history of the promotion for various reasons (starting with the fact that I was introduced to it a few years in). Rather I hope to provide a personal look back at some of what’s made Gatoh Move so special to me while also highlighting a few key moments and points of interest in depth.

At the end of 2015 I was lucky enough to make my first trip to Japan. I was already a big fan of women’s wrestling in general and was familiar with several joshi via their appearances in Shimmer (including several who had been trained by Emi Sakura, although I had no idea of that at the time). I was extremely excited to see as much wrestling as I could, and my schedule was packed with shows by a variety of promotions.

Due to strong recommendation of a good friend who was already a big Emi Sakura fan at the time, on the third day of my trip my fourth overall show introduced me to Gatoh Move. The four shows at four different venues from four different promotions were all wonderfully unique, interesting, and fun. Gatoh Move however was perhaps the most different from any show I’d seen before, and this was one of their ring shows in Itabashi Green Hall.

From the opening song and dance numbers, to the intergender tag match, to marveling at the skill of the younger wrestlers (although I’d later discover one of them already had nearly a decade of experience and was the company’s ace apparent), and so on it was a unique and enthralling experience.

And course the wrestling itself was extremely good. I only knew three of the wrestlers going in (Hiroyo Matsumoto, Hikaru Shida, and Makoto) but nearly all the rest would become familiar faces as time went on both in and out of Gatoh Move. Looking back at the main event in particular of Emi Sakura & Nanae Takahashi vs SAKI & Mizuki is kind of mind blowing.

I had a lot of fun, and was eager to see more of the promotion. As the saying goes, I hadn’t seen anything yet. The following week I went to my first (and second) show at Ichigaya Chocolate Square.

The venue has no ring and just barely holds a mat to wrestle on and a packed in audience (at the time) of about 70 people maximum including some watching through two large windows while standing in a side alley. The crowd is effectively the out of bounds marker and the wrestlers will often use the windowsill to jump off of. It’s a unique format and a great atmosphere.

The quality of matches they’re able to perform in such an environment speaks volumes of the talent of all involved, and I was instantly hooked. The wrestling Gatoh Move presents is unlike anything I’ve seen before or since, and the live experience is something special. I attended at least one Ichigaya show, as well Gatoh ring shows when they happened to coincide with my trip dates, every time I went back.

Gatoh Move was about three years old at the time, and it already had a sense of identity and a lot of the same elements that persist to this day. Which is incredibly interesting since one of the promotions’ greatest strengths is Sakura’s willingness to innovate and try new things.

But the central concept and feel of a small core roster of joshi wrestlers supplemented by both men and women guests from other promotions putting on fun shows has remained throughout the years I’ve watched, and among the many things that gives Gatoh Move it’s appeal.

I’ve (rightfully) mentioned Emi Sakura often as the shaping force of Gatoh Move, but part of that is also her wonderful ability as a trainer to identify and accentuate her trainee’s personal charisma and skill strengths.

The resulting vast differences in personalities and styles of the roster determine what Gatoh looked and felt like in any given time period. Sakura’s genuine appreciation of fan support also carries through and everyone in Gatoh has always been an absolute pleasure to meet.

When I started watching Sakura, Riho, Sayaka Obihiro, and Kotori were Gatoh Move. A year later the addition of Mitsuru Konno and Aasa Maika and regular appearances of freelancer (and former Sakura trainee) Aoi Kizuki brought a different dynamic.

And so on through the debuts of Yuna Mizumori and Mei Suruga, the eventual retirements of Kotori, Aasa, Aoi, and Mitsuru, and Riho’s departure  and the resulting debut of Gatoh Move Generation 4 (Chie Koishikawa, Sayuri, Sayaka, Tokiko Kirihara, Lulu Pencil, and Rin Rin (now Yukari Hosokawa of GLEAT)).

Each person/roster had a distinct effect on the promotion and matches and stories emerged from each group that both felt unique to them and at the same time like it fit perfectly into what Gatoh Move was.

A (very) short highlight list of some of my favorite matches and moments include:
Riho vs Masahiro Takanashi (4/27/19 ),
– Sakura, Mei, and Aoi all having singles matches against each other during the week before before Aoi Kizuki’s retirement show,
– the annual Gatoh roster 6-woman tag (like Sakura, Obi, & Riho vs Mitsuru, Mei, & Yuna from  12/31/18),
– Mei vs Mitsuru (12/26/19),
Yuna and Sakura’s feud, and
Lulu’s quest to regain her hat.

The ability to change and innovate drastically while still maintaining a core identity is a recurring theme over the years I’ve watched Gatoh Move. A couple years ago it became more important than ever.

To me Gatoh Move’s intergender matches were always intergender done right. From the very first match I ever saw of theirs to the wonderfully fun annual  Go Go Green Curry Koppun Cup annual intergender tag team tournament to the previously mentioned Riho vs Masa and so much more Gatoh has always known how to capture the proper feel of everyone in the match just being wrestlers competing.

This ended up playing a big part in one of most daring innovations Sakura had ever tried.

When Covid changed the world in 2020 Sakura’s small promotion with a home base unable to properly handle distancing requirements for an attending crowd was faced with a real question of how to survive.

Sakura embraced a rather crazy direction that could only have worked with her particular sense of innovation and risk taking, as well as an adaptable roster that was more than game for the challenges that would arise. Thus Gatoh Move’s twin promotion ChocoPro was born.

Not convinced that just doing Gatoh Move with no audience would be the right approach, Sakura envisioned a new presentation directly designed for streaming to bring live wrestling to fans all over the world in a way specifically tailored to the unique opportunities of wrestling without an audience in Ichigaya Chocolate Square.

While some might consider this philosophical premise a bit thin to differentiate a brand on, ChocoPro shows have developed their own feel and characteristics that make them distinct from Gatoh Move despite sharing a roster, creative forces, etc. One difference is that ChocoPro is a fully intergender brand, while Gatoh Move is technically a joshi company that has men wrestlers as guests (again a subtle but noticeable distinction).

But perhaps the biggest change to come from the creation of ChocoPro was the No Pay Wall philosophy. Every type of viewable content ChocoPro creates is put up on their YouTube channel for free, supported by optional sponsorship purchases, YouTube and Patreon memberships, etc as people choose and are able to contribute.

The commitment to make it work from everyone involved was incredible, and ChocoPro is as much a creation of Akki and Mei joining with or in place of Sakura on the live streams they started doing as added content to Gen 4 who all had to adapt to an extremely challenging situation in their rookie year to regular participants Masa, Choun Shiryu, Antonio Honda, Chris Brookes, and many more as it was Sakura’s. Seeing it succeed was both amazing and wonderful, as it really doesn’t seem like something anyone else could have pulled off.

Yet here we are two and a half years later with ChocoPro firmly established as a beloved sub brand of Gatoh Move to the point where it has and will continue even once Gatoh Move shows were able to start up again. Here’s hoping it will continue to prosper for a long time to come.

One last thing I’d like to talk about that I think perfectly underscores what Gatoh Move brings to the wrestling world is their casual trading program, Darejyo.

Darejyo is short for “Daredemo Joshi Puroresu” or Anyone’s Women’s Professional Wrestling. Started by Sakura and currently run by Mei (herself a former participant), the idea is to offer a suitable environment for any woman, regardless of age, experience, etc, to learn the basics of pro wrestling in a casual manner within a professional, safe environment. There are limits on the types of things they learn and try (avoiding more difficult and potentially dangerous aspects like certain types of strikes, etc) while still giving a strong introduction and base to build off of.

Darejyo’s had participants ranging from under 10 years old to women in their forties, and several participants have gone on to train and debut as full wrestlers including Mei herself and Gen 4 in Gatoh Move and even some in other promotions such as Diana’s Haruka Umesaki and Madeline.

There’s a ton more details that could be shared and praises to be sung about Gatoh Move, but I hope what’s here has been interesting and enjoyable. Here are the details on the 10th anniversary show, and it’s an extremely exciting and suitable card for such an event.

Phoenix Rises:
(7pm JST on 9/15/22, to be aired on YouTube at a later date)

  1. Toru Owashi & Sayuri vs Tokio Kirihara & Antonio Honda vs Sayaka Obihiro & Sawasdee Kamen
  2. Emi Sakura vs Miya Yotsuba (pro-wrestling debut)
  3. Riho, SAKI, & Baliyan Akki vs Minoru Fujita, Kid Lykos, & Kaori Yoneyama
  4. Orange Panna Cotta (Sayaka & Chie Koishikawa) vs Daisy Monkey (TJPW’s Suzume & Arisa Endo)
  5. Asia Dream Tag Title match: CDK (Chris Brookes & Masahiro Takanashi) (c) vs Isami Kodaka & Yuko Miyamoto
  6. Yuna Mizumori vs Mei Suruga

Visit Gatoh Move’s YouTube channel to check out all of their content. As previously mentioned everything they are doing goes up for free under Sakura’s “No Pay Wall” initiative, so if you do enjoy and are able / would like to support please see their patreon, join as a member of their YouTube channel, visit their store and/or donate directly via their PayPal.

Thanks to everyone in Gatoh Move for a wonderful 10 years and I wish them all the best for many more.

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