I first came to Japan in 2008 when Ice Ribbon was still using blue training mats for a ring. It seemed less a promotion and more an after school program where Emi Sakura set wayward tweens straight via teaching them dropkicks. Flash forward 3 years and the promotion has grown up in ways that could no one could have been predicted. It’s solidly one of Japan’s most popular Joshi companies, and has a cult international following that has lead to a TV run in Thailand and excursions US and UK.
The recent growth has not been without pain. Micro and popular young star Makoto left the promotion last year. This winter Emi Sakura, the company’s founder, trainer, matriarch and top star, also announced her intentions to depart. Some, prematurely, questioned if the promotion could or would survive the loss of Emi. Well before Emi’s announcement, the Ice Ribbon women spoke publicly about their desire to be less dependent on her to run the company. With this sort of foresight losing Emi will still be a huge blow, but there are a number of women who have the talent necessary to fill the gap and the promotion is conceptually independent of any one person. Certainly, the four shows I attended gave no indication that Ice Ribbon as a group had lost any of its passion, desire, or love for wrestling.
December 25, 2011 – 894 fans
Korakuen Hall, Tokyo, Japan
- Toshie Uematsu defeatedAoi Kizuki
- Maki Narumiya, Neko Nitta, and Meari Naito defeated Mochi Miyagi, Kurumi, and Dorami Nagano
- Ray, Sayaka Obihiro, and Hamuko Hoshi defeated Death Worm, Rubber Man, and Kappa Kozo
- Special Referee Minori Makiba – Riho defeated Seina
- Seina Retirement Match – Hikari Minami defeated Seina
- International Ribbon Tag Team Title – Emi Sakura and Tsukushi defeated Meiko Satomura and Sendai Sachiko to win the vacant title
- Makoto Oishi and Danshoku Dino defeated Hikari Minami and Ken Ohka, and Miyako Matsumoto & Jun Kasai
- ICEx60 Title – Hikaru Shida defeated Tsukasa Fujimoto (c) with a Top Rope Falcon Arrow to win the title
The first show was the biggest. Ribbonmania took place at Korakuen Hall on the largely irrelevant Christmas holiday in Japan. Upon entering the building fans were handed glowsticks. A Tiesto worthy sea of neon greeted the returning Aoi Kizuki, making her comeback at a crucial time for the promotion. Aoi faced Toshie Uematsu in the first match of the night and, considering how long she’d been away from the ring, she was golden. Aoi even managed to keep her trademark smile on the entire time, save when Toshie savagely facewashed her luminescent red cheeks.
Seina, first ICEx60 Champion, made her way back in the ring after an extended absence as well, but only to have her final match(es). She was scheduled to go out against younger sister Riho. However her good friend Hikari Minami, with tears and Riho’s help, tricked Seina into an impromptu mid-retirement ceremony match. The deception paid off and Minami won with a few seconds to spare. Makoto was there to give her well wishes to Minori Makiba, who special refereed Seina’s first match and was also leaving wrestling. They wept then synchronized danced to J-Pop.
The fate of the vacant International Ribbon Tag Titles was sorted out between the Ice Ribbon team of Emi Sakura and Tsukushi, and a Sendai Girls team of Meiko Satomura and Sendai Sachiko. Built on very similar concepts (Teens + Alpha Joshi Wolf Mother + distant Puro Indy father), Sendai and Ice Ribbon have waged endless war against one another for years. This would be Emi’s last skirmish as General of the Warabi troops. Though Satomura broke a bone in her leg just two months prior, she would scarcely miss one last chance to prove herself the dominant pro wres matriarch. As it turned out, it was the Junior members of each team that took center stage here, with Sachiko especially looking impressive. Impressive in loss, that is. The Ribbon Tag Titles stayed in Warabi.
At intermission, inescapable gaijin entropy led to a meeting with fellow International Puroresu Gigolos, Chris Vicious and Manchester Mike in the lobby. Fine lads, follow their continued exploits on twitter.
The homecomings continued. The World’s Cutest Wrestler Miyako Matsumoto, still officially of Gake Pro, began what appears to be an extensive return to the Ice Ribbon roster (she was forced out after being soundly defeated by Sakura earlier last year, on multiple occasions). It being Christmas, her multi-gender, three team tag match included lots of dancing, and a good bit of singing. Dance Queens Miyako and Minami and Karaoke King Jun Kasai seemed to enjoy it. Ken Ohka, did not, and tried to ruin everyone’s fun. Ken Ohka, as always, got his ass kicked for his efforts.
The main event was a battle of aces Tsukasa Fujimoto and Hikaru Shida. A year prior I watched as Fujimoto secure every title in Ice Ribbon, that included holding the tag titles with Shida. At that time Shida was just beginning her ascent, having the biggest match of her career when she faced top Joshi star Yoshiko Tamura for the NEO double titles. Since, the stock of both competitors has risen. They wrestled internationally, both for EVE and Fujimoto for CHIKARA. Shida also began to branch out domestically with a stint in SMASH with/against Syuri.
The good friends, but better rivals faced off in the main event at Korakuen Hall to see who would be the woman to lead Ice Ribbon into its next era. The match lived up to the circumstance. Shida and Fujimoto fought their young hearts out. Two women, who entered wrestling via acting gigs, put on a title match as worthy as any bout in Joshi in 2011. The end came when Shida used her signature Falcon Arrow from the top rope, driving Fujimoto into the mat, and winning the title. As Ice Ribbon’s top singles belt was wrapped around her for the first time Shida sobbed, the crowd cheered, and everything in Ice Ribbon was as it should be. Bull Nakano came out to offer Hikaru a spot in the main event of her retirement show. Massive honor.
Bull stayed around after the show giving interviews, canoodling with Emi, and generally being worshipped by all in her presence.
Ice Ribbon #365
December 28, 2011
Ice Ribbon Warabi Dojo, Saitama, Japan – 101 fans
- International Ribbon Tag Team Titles: Hikaru Shida & Maki Narumiya defeated Emi Sakura & Tsukushi (c) to win the titles.
- Hailey Hatred defeated Dorami Nagano
- Ribbon Takanashi defeated Sayaka Obihiro and Miyako Matsumoto
- Tsukasa Fujimoto defeated Hamuko Hoshi
The Ice Ribbon dojo is in a small town that’s dark enough and cold enough and far enough away from Tokyo enough to make one ask, “Where did I go wrong,” during the 20 minute walk from the train station. The existential crisis subsides once upon entering the building and feeling the IR brand of “happy” beaming from the trainees who greet you at the door.
There were more glow sticks this time. Tres rave and very necessary given the importance of the opening match. The soon departing Emi Sakura and her 13 year old partner Tsukushi teamed against ICEx60 champion Hikaru Shida and Maki Narumiya for the International Ribbon Tag Titles. If Sakura and Tsukushi succeeded in defending, there was a good chance that Emi would be leaving the promotion as champ, causing the titles to be vacated (again). Shida and Narumiya had none of it. Maki, hereafter referred to as The French Revolution, guillotine leg dropped her way through every Ice Ribbon show this trip. She showed she was made of star stuff, ready to take one of the open spots near the top of Ice Ribbon. Shida just showed why she was a beast, pinning Emi after at vicious running knee.
Hailey Hatred continued her Ice Ribbon campaign that began soon after her appearances in a TV Drama with the Innocent Candies. Japan’s toughest athress beat up smiley teen Dorami Nagano with relative ease. Tsukasa Fujimoto had quite a bit more trouble taking down Ice’s ‘It Girl’ Hamuko Hoshi (who was even more sexy in person and even more sexy than that wearing Yuki Miyazaki‘s old gear).
After the show, Hailey expressed her desire to continue in Ice Ribbon (likely because they have three belts she can win). The women got together and sang Emi a song. Once the ring cleared I thanked Tsukasa and Shida for doing our interviews, got the only 8×10 I’ll ever need, avoided fainting when Miyako said she knew who I was, then met up with Aoikougei, Flying Suihanki, and Youji to share beer and yakkitori before catching a late train back to the city.
Ice Ribbon #357
December 31, 2011
Warabi Dojo, Saitama, Japan – 130 fans
- Sayaka Obihiro defeated Neko Nitta
- Hamuko Hoshi, Mochi Miyagi, Kurumi, and Dorami Nagano defeated Hikaru Shida, Maki Narumiya, Tsukushi, Meari Naito
- Tsukasa Fujimoto defeated Miyako Matsumoto
- Emi Sakura and Ribbon Takanashi defeated Riho Hikari Minami
I mistakenly bought a ticket to the New Year’s Eve in spite of the fact that Anthony was landing in Narita that afternoon. I assumed he’d make it to his hotel with minimal damage (I may have been wrong) and headed to the matinée New Year’s Eve IR event. It was another bit of Joshi fun. No titles changed hands but Miyako Matsumoto changed a few perceptions. Coming into her singles match with Tsukasa Fujimoto, Miyako ‘had it on her mind,’ dropped the dancing, and tried to dismantle Tsukasa Fujimoto with the most aggression she could manage. The match was still lost lost, but respect was won by the Dancing Queen.
Tag champs Hikaru Shida and Maki Narumiya ruled most of a frenetic pinfall/submission/over-the-top-rope elimination tag, but were out smarted by The Lovely Butchers (Mochi Miyagi and Hamuko Hoshi). Expect title matches in the future for those minxes.
Emi Sakura teamed with Ribbon Takanashi who was dressed as Emi Sakura. The outfit seemed oddly fitting on her male partner. Double Sakura stoked the rage of tween terror Riho, who took all her abandonment issues out her opponents, before being pinned.
After every dojo show, the Candies get in a semi-circle and talk about their feelings. I missed on that session to go see if Ant was alive enough to plot a NYE night which may or may not have involved standing up girls from Brooklyn, Roppongi, paying $45 to check a coat, a club filled entirely with horny middle eastern guys and way too much American music (why does LMFAO exist), almost getting robbed, getting robbed, leaving the women to fend for themselves in order to watch more things that resembled wrestling with the likes of Joshi-4-Matt, Australian Dan, and a horrified Kellie Skater (more on that at a later date).
New Year Ribbon
January 4, 2012
Shin-Kiba 1st Ring, Tokyo, Japan – 289 Fans
- Hamuko Hoshi and Mochi Miyagi defeated Dorami Nagano and Meari Naito
- Neko Nitta and Makoto Oishi defeated Sayaka Obihiro and Black Buffalo
- Emi Sakura defeated Aoi Kizuki
- Triangle Ribbon Title Match – Ribbon Takanashi (c) defeated Miyako Matsumoto and Yasu Urano
- Hikaru Shida, Maki Narumiya, and Hikari Minami defeated Tsukasa Fujimoto, Tsukushi and Kurumi
- Battle Royal – Tsukushi defeated Emi Sakura, Tsukasa Fujimoto, Yasu Urano, Dorami Nagano, Moshi Miyagi, Hamuko Hoshi, Kurumi, Meari Naito, Aoi Kizuki, GENTARO, Black Buffalo, Makoto Osihi, Miyako Matsumoto, Ribbon Takanashi, Suzuki Minami, Hikaru Shida, Maki Narumiya and Sayako Obihiro
For reasons that will never be known, Anthony and I decided to spend yet another night Roppongi, the worst place in Tokyo. The night was bizarre and inexplicable and we needed to end our trip on a positive, Joshi related note. Thankfully, there was more Ice Ribbon. It’s not tradition for Ice Ribbon to run it’s first show of the year on January 4th at Shin-Kiba 1st ring. It’s also tradition that no photography is allowed. Last year that meant DDS could not bring you pics of Miyako Matsumoto wearing a ball-gag courtesy Michael Nakazawa (I swear it happened). Nothing that edgy was missed this year. There was a really strong Ice Triangle title defense by Ribbon Takanashi (who wore his man clothes this time), with Miyako coming up just short of the big win.
Then there was Animal War. Oasaka Pro’s Black Buffalo had his hands full with Neko Nitta, who is the physical embodiment of Crazy Cat Lady Syndrome (Veda Scott off the hook, for now).
Hikaru Shida and Maki Maruyami wrecked more shop, with Suzuki Minami in tow, during a six woman tag meant to highlight the best Ice has to offer in 2012. Tsukushi won the night, beating all the roster (and FREEDOM’s top man, GENTARO) in a Battle Royal. She personally eliminated both Emi Sakura and Tsukasa Fujimoto. Tween triumphant. The Ice Ribbon theme song played, the women came around and shook the audience members hands, and we left Ice Ribbon feeling pretty god damn happy thanks to Pro Wrestling, as the IR motto of “Puroresu de HAPPY” advertised.
I’ve been to about 10 Ice Ribbon shows at this point and every one has been enjoyable. Regardless of how young some of the roster members are, Emi Sakura, Tsukasa Fujimoto and Hikaru Shida are top-level wrestlers who fucking kill it every night. With Emi’s departure there’s now room for the very ready Narumiya step up, and Miyako seems keen on diversifying her brand. Sayako Obihiro and Minami Suzuki are going to transition from amusing to amazing at some point. Riho and Tsukushi are already pretty much monsters, aside from their size and age. Aoi is the most loveable Japanese wrestler this side of YOSHIKO. And so on. IR is strong with plenty of room for growth in Ice Ribbon. The irreplaceable Emi Sakura will be missed but visiting stars like Hailey Hatred can fill that role for now.
Enjoy a few hundred photos below. Video of Ribbonmania is already floating around and it’s worth a watch for the title matches. Until next time.