Hana Kimura’s death is all over the news, even mainstream news outlets that don’t normally cover pro wrestling like Channel NewsAsia and BBC News have reported on it.
I’ve not followed Hana’s wrestling promotion, Stardom, for about one year. There’s just too much wrestling to watch every week, so I was forced to be selective in my viewing. However, I did watch Hana perform live last year at Shinkiba for their New Year shows, and I continued to follow Stardom’s shows on their streaming service, Stardom World, for a few months.
If you’ve never watched Stardom before, imagine Japanese female wrestlers similar in size and build to Riho (from AEW). Now imagine each of them coming out to flashy, gaudy, and over the top entrance themes. I remember the first time I watched Oedo Tai (a faction in Stardom made up of delinquents dressed in goth gear) coming out for their entrance. I was seated in the front row when Kagetsu, Oedo Tai’s leader, flashed an angry glance at me and my friends. She was followed by the rest of her gang, who entered the ring and proceeded to perform a choreographed dance.
I was both perplexed and enthralled at the same time. That’s when I understood what Stardom’s wrestlers were all about: They are both athletes and idols — they kick ass in the ring, and then do whatever else they want for the sake of entertainment and showmanship. Japan’s pro wrestling scene has a predominantly high male viewership, especially if it is female pro wrestling. In Japan’s entertainment culture, it is not uncommon for female performers to pander and win over their male audience.
I’m one of the very few male spectators who is not interested in pandering or idol pageantry. I just want to watch good pro wrestling, and the Stardom girls are on a totally different level. Many of them are not even legal adults. There’s a trio of sisters named Hanan, Hina, and Rina. You can tell that all three siblings are just high school students who haven’t even turned 18 yet. Utami Hayashishita, widely touted as Stardom’s next prodigal talent, is only 21-years-old. Utami is lighter than me (I’m hovering around 56 kg) and packing less muscle than me, and yet she is able to suplex bigger opponents more than twice her size.
I remember watching a title match on Stardom World between Utami and Piper Niven. Yes, the Piper Niven from NXT UK. Utami won the belt after delivering a lifted, suplex finisher to Piper. Utami is 40+ kg while Piper is billed at 95 kg. What should be physically impossible for someone of Utami’s size, looked effortless and easy. Stardom is the sporting world’s paragon example of how size does not matter. As long as you have the technique, skill, and coordination with your opponent, anyone can be a pro wrestler. Even an underage high schooler.
Hana Kimura’s wrestling style is best described as all-rounded. Like many of her colleagues, her smaller size requires her to focus more on speed and technique. I found no problems with her wrestling and enjoyed her antics with Bobbi Tyler, her tag-team partner from the Tokyo Cyber Squad faction.
I never imagined that the word “cyber” would come back to haunt Hana in the last days of her life. Again, I’ve not followed Stardom or Hana for close to a year, so I will let my pro wrestling friend and No. 1 Hana Kimura fan, Naufal, explain:
She has been harassed on Twitter for months over the costume incident in Terrace House [a Japanese reality TV show], where she went on a verbal rampage on Kai for ruining her wrestling costume, although Hana was also partially at fault due to her carelessness. This resulted in Kai leaving the show.
Every time she tweets something, Terrace House fans will slander her. And unfortunately it took a toll on her and broke her. She posted photos of herself slashing her left forearm. There was blood all over, and she said sayonara (goodbye).
According to Naufal, Hana is also of mixed heritage (half-Japanese and half-Indonesian), and this might be another contributing factor to her depression. In Japan, citizens of mixed heritage are ostracised by both the older and younger generation. The most famous example is Ariana Miyamoto, the first half-Japanese to win the Miss Japan beauty pageant in 2015. Even after her victory, she continued to receive hateful remarks and scorn from her fellow citizens on social media.
Ah, fucking social media. I’ve blogged a few times in the past about how social media discourse has changed dramatically in the last several years. Twitter especially, is notable for being far more toxic than other SNS platforms. What should be an online hangout for sharing artwork and discussions, of seeing what your favourite celebrities and idols are up to, has become the death sentence for a 22-year-old. I’ve not seen the negative comments posted about Hana, and I am not going to bother searching for them. If we respond to hate by giving attention to the haters, if we react with even more hate, then it becomes a neverending cycle of suffering.
On the way back from Shinkiba last year, me and my two friends boarded the train at Shinkiba station to return to our hotels. After taking our seats, suddenly, we saw Hana standing near us in the same train car. She was still in her ring attire, dragging her luggage and wearing a face mask.
My friend’s very prominent “LOS INGOBERNABLES de JAPON” t-shirt was a dead giveaway that we were all wrestling fans. Hana was using her phone, and when she saw us she very quickly and nonchalantly headed to another train car. It was never our intention to stalk her, it just happened by pure coincidence.
“See lah, your LIJ shirt gave us away!” my other friend joked. It was a small, slightly amusing chance encounter. But I imagine that it wasn’t amusing for Hana — someone of her prominence, a popular pro wrestler who would become a future reality TV celebrity, must have had her fair share of stalkers and overzealous fans. She was just being street smart.
Rest in peace, Hana Kimura. Thank you for that fun memory at Shinkiba. May you finally find peace in that starry heaven in the skies. We are Stardom.