From the stage to the ring: The early years of Japanese women’s professional wrestling, 1948–1956

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Set against the background of uneven US-Japan postwar relations and a gendered media discourse, this article explores the early transformation of Japanese women’s professional wrestling, focusing particularly on the blurred boundary between women’s societal constraints and their own agency. Originating in 1948 on US military bases with a mixed-gender wrestling match between two older brothers and a younger sister seeking to support their family, the siblings, with a few others, soon shifted to presenting all-female bouts before American and Japanese audiences. The American female wrestlers’ tour in 1954 sparked the proliferation of women’s professional wrestling in Japan, inspiring more women to become wrestlers. In recent years, scholars of early postwar Japanese popular culture have applied a gendered lens to discourses of nation, sexuality, and intimacy. In keeping with this practice and to further complicate the field, this article argues that through the examination of the experience of women in the conspicuously gendered entertainment of wrestling, the tension between the “liberation” promoted by Americans and the patriarchal demands of postwar Japanese society is revealed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)61-85
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Women's History
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Sept

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Journal of Women’s History, Vol. 33 No. 3, 61–85.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Gender Studies
  • History


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