Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Wrestling in Japan

The essay that Sam wrote on the WWE in Japanese culture was interesting because it dealt with a subject that isn’t often talked about. I’ve been a wrestling fan for quite some time and the only thing I had head before about wrestling in Japan is that there was a very large Japanese fan base. It was never really described, however, how the Japanese fans perceived the WWE or what the WWE has done to reach out to the Japanese audience.

The first issue that comes to mind in selling the WWE product to Japan is language. It’s hard to imagine the Japanese audience following an episode of wrestling without some sort of translator. This seems like it would take away from the overall effect of the WWE performance. I’ve watched RAW in Spanish before and it gets distracting sometimes hearing the commentators dub over the wrestlers’ voices. You hear the wrestler’s voice then you hear the commentator’s voice at the same time competing with one another. Even though this is entertaining in itself especially when they imitate female voices, I think that Vince saying “you’re fired” would have more of an impact than a translator saying it. Sam deals with this early on in the paper by describing how Shane kicked the translator off of the stage, by the request of the fans, and proceeded to speak in English. This shows that the language of wrestling can be universal because wrestling deals with universal themes and conflicts.

Another issue that came to mind is storylines in wrestling. A storyline that we as Americans find interesting may not be understood at all in Japan. As we have seen, the WWE does try to include storylines that appeal to its fan bases. With Latino fans, you have Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio and with Japanese fans, as Sam mentioned, you have Tajiri. I thought it was interesting how the WWE would play up Tajiri in Japan and make him seem like he was a bigger wrestler than he actually was, even receiving a title shot in Japan. Looking back on the mid 90’s, I’m curious as to whether Japanese fans knew that Yokozuna, one of the WWE’s top stars, was not Japanese. If they did know that he wasn’t Japanese this might’ve been a source of disinterest for Japanese fans during this period.

With little information known on Japan’s interest in wrestling, Sam’s essay serves as a valuable tool. It is the first step to understanding how other cultures perceive wrestling. As a fan, it’s interesting to see how the wrestling performance can relate to cultures outside of the U.S. and that wrestling has a much bigger following than most people can even imagine.


Omar said...

After watching many documentaries, especially the stories of Rey Misterio, Jr. and Eddie Guerrero, I too was surprised to see just how large a following American wrestlers had in Japan. Most of the time it's a sort of rite of passage to the big leagues in America.

I had never really considered how the WWE would sell the American style of wrestling to foreign fans. The shifting of storylines to favor the wrestler with which a foreign audience would most identify is a pretty interesting practice--especially considering these guys would probably come back to serve roles under the more popular American characters.

Sam Ford said...

I think that you both identify the main difference in WWE's approach to Japan versus Spanish fans, and it has to do with how many Mexican-American fans there are. WWE only pushed Tajiri like that in Japan, but they didn't make him a major character from week-to-week.

It is interesting to contrast this with WWE having a fan from out of the crowd in Italy win the title and to see if they can create an especially large following for him with their audience there...

David said...

Pro wrestling companies based in Japan used to be huge cash cows and presented some of the most advanced, skillful wrestling of the modern era. At a point in the mid-90s, New Japan Pro Wrestling was the most profitable wrestling company in the world running yearly Tokyo Dome shows typically drawing in excess of of 60,000 paid.

American culture is huge in Japan, and I think that is part of the reason why many American wrestlers have been some of the biggest draws in Japanese wrestling history (e.g., Brusier Brody, Stan Hansen, Steve Williams, Terry Gordy, Terry & Dory Funk, and others). Many other well-known Americans have made substantial money and names for themselves working in Japan. Hell, Hulk Hogan was a huge name in Japan before he came to the WWF.

WWE's popularity overseas is something they really need to cultivate considering their fading domestic pay-per-view buyrates. It seems as if that big international project announced last year hasn't been getting an extraordinary amount of attention.

It's unfortunate that with no viable competition, WWE has no motivation to change. We'll see what happens

Sam Ford said...

Interesting points, David. You can find a version of the essay referenced in this post here.

rohndawson said...

Taking advantage of these changes in the landscape of pro wrestling would not be an easy task, as almost every aspect of the business had changed. In fact, you could say it was a whole new business entirely.

Sam Ford said...

Good question, as to how much the wrestling model has really changed, to the point we could question whether it's apples to oranges these days...