Pro wrestling is one of the most versatile forms of entertainment, and no matter your interest you may find something in Japan that’s to your taste. If you like the combat of mixed martial arts — but with a guarantee of excitement — watch the Hard Hit promotion. If you like gymnastics, try the high-flying world of Dragon Gate. If spectacular stunt shows are to your taste — and you aren’t put off by a violent display — then Big Japan Pro Wrestling could be for you. Fans of physical comedy should take a look at the Dramatic Dream Team promotion. And if you want everything together in one package, New Japan Pro Wrestling is the major leagues where you’ll see some of the best in the world at performing this athletic drama.
While most towns and cities get touring shows, and a few even have their own promotions, Tokyo is truly wrestling central. Korakuen Hall in Suidobashi is the home of wrestling, with shows almost every night from different promotions. You can buy tickets in advance from the fifth-floor box office or get them on the day of the show at a ground floor window. While some shows sell out, you can always queue for standing room tickets on the day.
Right next door, the Tokyo Dome hosts an extravaganza on January 4 every year named Wrestle Kingdom: In 2018, an estimated 2,000 Westerners made the voyage to see the event in person.
Other venues hosting big shows include Ryogoku Kokugikan (where sumo tournaments also take place) and Budokan Hall. For a more intimate experience, check out Shink-Kiba 1st Ring in Koto or Shinjuku Face in the Humax Pavilion Shinjuku building, both of which are used by smaller promotions.
Crowds at Japanese venues vary, but in some cases, they’ll be quieter than you expect because they are paying close attention to the action. In other cases, they’ll cheer the heroes, boo the villains and get caught up in the drama of the performance. Shows are often convenient to attend, usually starting around 6:30 p.m. and finishing by 9:00-9:30 p.m., giving you time to check out the local nightlife afterward. Most venues let you bring your own food and drink, while some sell beer and snacks.
Pro wrestling is known as “Puroresu,” which is simply a shortened version of the Japanese pronunciation of the English term “professional wrestling.” Shows featuring an all-female lineup are known as “joshi” events, short for “joshi puroresu” (or woman pro wrestling.)
When buying tickets, you’ll normally want to ask for a “shiteiseki,” which means “reserved seat.” This means you get a specific seat and don’t need to worry about working out where you can and can’t sit. If you have trouble finding your seat, you can show an attendant or another spectator your ticket and ask “doku desu ka,” which means “where is this [seat]?”
Most venues are laid out with the seating blocks listed as north, south, east and west. While the signs for these are usually listed in English, the tickets themselves may only use the kanji characters, so they are worth learning.
While watching a match, you’ll often hear the ring announcer say a phrase like “go-bun” or “ju-bun,” which means that five minutes or 10 minutes, respectively, have gone by in the match. (Matches usually have a 30-minute limit, but it can be 60 minutes for a championship bout.) When wrestlers fight outside the ring, they have a count of 20 to get back in, though this is usually made in English.
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