Author: jamessgallacher

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Japanese Pro Wrestling. Looking Back on

Going back on my assumptions and thoughts on watching my first match, and doing more research about Japanese wrestling specifically the history and the major parts and figures in the business I found that my assumptions were lacking a tad as i focused on some small things and didn’t give enough room to talk about what I was watching and how I was reacting to it.

So through this blog post I will analyse further what I noticed the most from my match, delve deeper into the cultural aspects of it and bring up new things that I had wondered and seen through watching the match again.

the first point that I brought up in when watching the match was the crowd, which was a whole new thing to me as there was so many older viewers and the crowd was split pretty evenly in sex. This led me to the assumption that professional wrestling is watched mainly by people older than teenagers in Japan and that it does not cater to one sex more than the other, which is extremely good seeing as wrestling in the western world has always been seen as a show for children and mainly focusing on males. 

Another reason as to why the audience may be split evenly is that female wrestlers in Japan are treated with much more respect by the company and the audience than their counterparts in the western world. Japanese wrestlers or Joshi puroresu are portrayed as being just as hard hitting and physical as the males, sometimes more-so because of their size and weight! The Joshi puroresu aren’t seen as being a draw because of their looks or the size of their assets, like some other companies do/did but have actually shown themselves to be a strong crowd pulling force and have remained stable while the male wrestlers have faltered in times of scandal. Some of the most renowned joshi puroresu are Kana, Bull Nakano, Aja Kong, Malia Hosaka and Akira Hokuto.

Another part of the show that I found to be a different was just how quiet the crowd was and how uninterested they seemed at times. I know that if I was there I would be jumping out of my seat with excitement and joy. I first thought that the reason for the quietness what that they were watching the match from a technical standpoint and like a theatre play, where they would gasp when they see something dramatic or laugh when they see something funny. And that is sort of what happens but in between those parts they are silent. After some research I found out that this is quite normal, apart from the few exceptions…

The usual ‘ohhing’, ‘ahhing’, applauding and laughing are seen throughout when they are called for, but the silence is seen as a cultural thing as they are showing respect to the performers, just like you would a theatre show like I mentioned. This notion of respect for the performers has taken me off guard as I am so used to the crowd involving themselves in the world created in the ring and trying to make the show about themselves. This can be seen in a lot of western promotions such as WWE and to an extreme extent (mind the pun) the original ECW.

I then talked about the styles of the matches and the rules that are accompanying it, such as the hard hitting strikes and the rules such as the 20 count for being out of the ring and the flow of the match being more about getting moves in, being as technically sound as you can be and having the fighting being the forefront of the story. This is a completely different way of producing pro wrestling to some of the other cultures as most others rely on extremely story based content and putting the actual wrestling on the back end to progress the narrative. From what I gathered, in japan the wrestling IS the narrative.

Kayfabe, which is the portrayal of staged events within the industry as “real” or “true,” specifically the portrayal of competition, rivalries, and relationships between participants as being genuine and not of a staged or pre-determined nature.(WhatCulture,2015)
While kayfabe seems to act the same in all cultures, in Japan they way that they use kayfabe to their advantage is completely different. Just like how western cultures tell their stories like soap operas with wrestling in between, Japan portrays its product with what looks like actual fights where the only goal is to hurt the other person and win. The match that I watched was so physical and the elbows and slaps they were giving each other seemed to really leave a mark. So why would they be enduring all this extra pain if it wasn’ to make the fighting look more real. I think that Japanese wrestling prides itself on being the most technical and ‘wrestling’ wrestling promotion in the world as the amount of submission hold and grappling I saw in the matches that I have watched have outweighed any other cultures.

Japan focuses on slow pacing through the matches where it starts of slow with minimal exciting spots and mostly ground work, then ramps right up to the end where people are flying everywhere. it flows so well that It brings you into the story of the match more than having a long backstory about why these two people are fighting because they were picked by Donald Trump.

 

 

Japanese Pro Wrestling. Beginning!

Over the past weeks I have really been enjoying the idea of autoethnography and documenting my personal experience in participating in a culture that I had previously no experience with. The parts of asian culture that I had been looking at, involved movies and gaming which play a large role in my life and analysing how I interact with this taught me more about what I love.

For my individual research project I wanted to place myself in a part of Japanese culture that I have always heard about but never ventured into, and that was professional wrestling in Japan, or Puroresu in Japanese. I wanted to analyse my own experiences watching and seeing the similarities and difference between different cultures wrestling styles and politics, the atmosphere, impact and sociology behind it. I understand that to truly analyse my experience with japanese professional wrestling I have to draw on my own experiences watching western professional wrestling and comparing and contrasting between the two. Aslop states in Home and Away: Self-Reflexive AutoEthnography (2002) states that:

“By immersing ourselves in another culture, we can expand ourselves and our identifications by exploring the foreign just like a child explores its new environment. Discovering the unknown environment and unknown parts of our selves makes us feel empowered, empowered by expanding our potential and reinventing ourselves. We can do all this because away from home we get labeled as an outsider”

Taking this idea of exploring a new environment, I wanted to explore the environment of Japanese professional wrestling as an outsider, because i’m not a wrestler, a fan of Japanese wrestling or familiar of their culture surrounding the entertainment which is produced and consumed. The best way that I could do this would be to watch a series of matches or whole shows and record my experiences watching the show. Taking into account the crowd, the wrestling the commentary and everything that I notice about the culture surrounding it. Because of the rich history that professional wrestling has in Japan as one of the main territories of the sport, I will be going into this as a complete foreigner as I know nothing about how it has started or where it is heading. All that i know is that they wrestle.

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NJPW. Source.

I will research how they use media to distribute the product and how they market, sell and build a culture around it. Analysing how I access the content and understanding how Japanese wrestling has impacted the rest of the world, and how the rest of the world has impacted Japanese wrestling.

The methodology that I will use to explore Japanese professional wrestling will be one where I want to be full immersed in the consumption of the product. I will be watching the events and matches on the internet, as it is the only place where I am able to access the matches and is where they distribute the content. I will watch the matches in the language that it is broadcasted in, with no subtitles as I feel that can retract from the experience, as the commentators are known to heavily emphasise and emote with their voice.

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Japanese wrestler Kobashi retiring. Source

As I cant be a participant in this culture and actually go and see a match live, I have to conduct a non- participant observation and envision myself in the arena. I need to analyse and investigate the notions of space and place and see how my interaction with the culture is addressed or not addressed, as that plays a major part in how I conduct my analysis. As Ellis stated that an “autoethnographers roll is to they study a culture’s relational practices, common values and beliefs, and shared experiences for the purpose of helping insiders (cultural members) and outsiders (cultural strangers) better understand the culture. Ethnographers do this by becoming participant observers in the culture—that is, by taking field notes of cultural happenings as well as their part in and others’ engagement with these happening”(Ellis,2011)

Going on from this I went out and watched my first Japanese wrestling match! I didn’t know where to start so I looked up what was that best match to ever happen there and I found out that the majority of the best matches in the world have happened in the various promotions such as New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW), All Japan Pro Wrestling and Dragons Gate which are the largest.

The match was between Karl Anderson and Shinsuke Nakamura in 2012 and it was quite a show. The first Thing that I noticed was that the crowd in the area was almost silent throughout the whole match, and was almost watching it like a tennis match. They seemed like they were analysing the entire match and watching it for the technicality more so than the entertainment side. Maybe they view wrestling and its entertainment factor based off the moves and the different techniques that aren’t used as much in American Wrestling.

The audience was also older than what i was used to seeing and they were all dressed pretty formally, which took me off guard because i saw no merchandise at all, which is a huge part of wrestling.

On the wrestling side I found out that in NJPW the count out rules are different as to end a match the wrestler(s) have to be out of the ring for 20 seconds as opposed to 10, which in practice is a much better rule as it doesn’t seem as awkward when they referee is counting so slowly.

Along with this was how brutal and hard hitting the wrestlers are. The moves seem like they are actually hurting and it looks like i’m watching a MMA fight more than a performance.

Revisiting Godzilla

Going on from my first post about my autoethnographic experience watching Godzilla, I had noticed that I had picked up a lot of data about how I analysed the film in a cinematic way and how the film differed from movies based in Western culture. With this idea I wanted to further explore the assumptions I made and to make new assumptions on top of my first experience.

After doing some research on how Godzilla was created and the reasons as to why it was such an impactful film for its time it really backed up my assumptions and validated my autoethnographic research. My first thought was about how Godzilla was released after World War 2 and how he was a physical representation of nuclear disaster and who the japanese people faces such a horrific and destructive force. After going back on my assumptions and researching the history of Godzilla, it backed up my thoughts and a quote from the director of the movie Honda said that he “always envisioned the monster to be a physical metaphor for nuclear power; he intended the monster to demonstrate its attacks with the power and scale of an atomic bomb, but slower. He also insisted on loosely matching the texture of the creature’s skin to that of radiation scarring.” Along with this he also stated that he “had been wanting to make a film about the effects of nuclear devastation ever since his trip to Nagasaki, but the political climate in Japan at the time wouldn’t permit such a film to be made.”

Another analysis that I noticed after revisiting my previous post was that I was not studying the culture as much as the ways that they direct movies. Looking into the culture of Japanese filmmaking I found that it is extremely prevalent that they “dramatise power relations through lurid contrasts between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat by means of montages”.

Another director,  Akira Kurosawa who is described as being the master of mis en scene, as he created a world in his movies that capture the essence of Japan and reflected the struggle of its people to live a humble and moral life against hardships. One of his most known movies is ‘Seven Samurais’ and displays this perfectly.

After rewatching Godzilla again, I noticed that the power relations were extremely strong in the film between the love interests and the love triangle that was occurring, as it was almost taking over the flow of the film and focusing more on how their relationship was forming, as opposed to the actual threat of the city levelling monster. It was interesting as i am so used to movies that have the relationship being the background and the action being the forefront e.g. most marvel movies.

Godzilla in a scene from the film 'Godzilla VS. The Smog Monster', 1971. Toho/Getty Images

With my first encounter with the concept of auto ethnography I first thought that it would be some hard idea to wrap my head around but after putting it in practice i realised the it is extremely interesting as it takes away from the usual ways that we understand cultures. Ellis (2001) describes autoethnography as being “an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyze (graphy) personal experience (auto) in order to understand cultural experience (ethno)”.

Through the way that autoethnography is structured, it seems to allow for a more personal experience of how you interact and analyse a culture as you are not just watching, but actively being apart of the culture and the way of life, and as Ellis states that “Ethnographers do this by becoming participant observers in the culture” and the way that they do this is by studying “a culture’s relational practices, common values and beliefs, and shared experiences for the purpose of helping insiders (cultural members) and outsiders (cultural strangers) better understand the culture”

My first autoethnographical experience with Japanese media was with the movie Godzilla (1954) and it was really interesting as I found myself picking up on things that I never really thought about when it comes to the differences between Japanese film as opposed to Western film. The differences i found were that the movie uses different techniques to convey a story. The editing and the camera angles are extremely fast and the transitions are extremely harsh and there is no fading in our out. Which suits the way the movie is directed. They have a large focus on the love story and the lust of the female lead which almost takes precedent over Godzilla and is about how the relationship will turn out. It really shows how the audience values the action over the drama.

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Gojira 1954.

The movie also has parallels to what has happened to Japan during WW2 and the roll that nuclear radiation has had on the environment and the people. There are small shanty towns and coastal villages which don’t fare very well when disaster strikes. It draws on the ideas of permanence and the way that humans survive when facing disaster.

It was extremely interesting seeing how film is different but also similar in Japan as opposed to America and the way that I perceived the meanings of the film. The techniques used can show me how Japanese culture is portrayed in film. Going forward I would like to research more into how Asian film differs from other cultures film styles and markets, and the impact that it has on their culture as a whole. With research on film companies like Studio Ghibli and Toho.