So, at the time of this writing the entire WWE Universe has turned heel on World Wrestling Entertainment. The hashtag of #CancelWWENetwork is trending world wide, and people are actively shilling both indy promotions and New Japan Pro Wrestling. So much so, that NJPW World went down temporarily from a sudden influx of hits they weren't expecting. It would appear to me that this would be a good time to write that primer on New Japan that Riv kept hoping I'd do but I was too lazy to actually do. Well, fuck it. May as well kick Vince while he's down by adding to the help in dropping the WWE and exploring other options.
I. About this guide
Most fans of Japanese wrestling are cunts. They're the hipsters on the wrestling industry. They will give you shit for wanting English commentary. They will actively insult you on a personal level for liking anything that ISN'T that. God forbid you watch WWE. You'll be viewed as a leper. They will claim they want more people to watch puroresu (essentially it means pro wrestling in Japanese. Just call it that. Fuck the official term), while actively acting like your standard hipster that doesn't want people in their nifty new clubhouse. I, however, don't give a shit what you watch. I, however, absolutely want subtitles or English commentary. And I, however, absolutely want more people in my fucking clubhouse. How the fuck else am I going to make fun of Tanahashi's awful air guitar gimmick? Plus, I think Riv would enjoy Taichi because he randomly takes his pants off mid match for some reason.
II. What is different about Japanese wrestling?
Despite what anybody may tell you, if you just load a Japanese wrestling match expecting to see something different on first impression you've only got a 50/50 shot of it looking like it isn't just another match. This is mostly because it takes some time to pick up on the fact that things are presented a little different. In America the story is the focus on the show. The wrestling is just kind of there because it's a necessary evil. Hell, Vince doesn't even like people using the word wrestling at this point. In Japan it's actually the opposite. The story is all told in the ring during the match, with very minimal out of the ring nonsense. When you see a promo it might sound like you're missing out on something really involved but in reality the dude talking is probably just saying "I beat you. You couldn't beat me. I am the better of the wrestlers. Hahahahaha."
Full stop: If you only watch WWE for the theatrics and not the actual in ring product you are probably going to hate New Japan. Not because you're an uncultured swine or whatever bullshit hipster puro fans may tell you. It's because you're not the audience they're going for. In Japan they still view wrestling as a sport. They KNOW it's fake just like we do, but they choose to view it as something they still take as serious due to the amount of bodily punishment the performers actually go through. A good way of explaining the difference in view point amongst fans is that when Rob Van Dam dove into the crowd once in the US and accidentally booted a woman in the crowd in the face she attempted to sue the company. In Japan the girl would giggle and excitedly tell her friends that she was part of the show. I can't tell if this is due to the respect for the show, of it's just one of the side effects of having a fucking A-Bomb dropped on your country.
Stylistically, in Japan you're liable too see a different type of match each match on the card. You'll have your high flying opener. Your American style slow build main event match. Your "I'm gonna hit you as hard as possible because fuck you" strong style match. Your comedy match. The idea is to have something for everybody, but I'll be honest in saying it may take a little while before you can recognize some of the match style differences. It took me a while to recognize a comedy match from a serious match without the commentary telling me that I'm not supposed to view it serious. To help you: Any time you see a dude named Toru Yano it's a comedy match, and not to be taken seriously. He kind of looks like Rodney Dangerfield in a Hawaiian shirt. This can also be a bit of a clash from WWE since WWE is very adamant on every match being the "WWE style." However, if you watch NXT and aren't so fully conditioned to the WWE style you may find it easier to get used to.
There are some other specific style companies in Japan. DDT is more flippy shit type of a company. They have ECW-esq type companies. We're focusing on New Japan since it's essentially the #2 company in the world, and is the main company in Japan right now.
Oh, and one last thing. The crowd is going to sound as if they're dead 90% of the time. This is because in Japan they view it as polite to only applaud after big spots. They will get rowdier during the main matches, but ultimately you're not gonna hear "you fucked up" chants and stuff like that here. So keep that in mind. The Japanese commentators will sound like they're having a coronary though, so don't worry about losing the excitement of others to perk up the match.
III. How can I watch NJPW?
You have a couple of options. The first is that if you have some random TV network called something like ASX that used to be HD Net you can watch older matches with English commentary to help you get introduced to shit. You can probably download the episodes, but I haven't done it yet so I can't tell you if the commentary is any good.
Secondly, every so often you'll see GWF air an english commentary feed of a live NJPW PPV. The first had Jim Ross and Matt Striker for Wrestle Kingdom 9, which is basically their WrestleMania for the year. You'll be paying the usual 40+ dollars for this, since it goes through PPV channels.
Lastly, and this is the one I use, you have New Japan World. NJPW World is essentially the WWE Network, but in Japanese. It's actually not all that difficult to navigate though the site when you use google translate. I have heard rumors that they're considering adding english subtitles due to the unexpected popularity with overseas customers. It costs 999 yen a month, which equates to something like 7 bucks.
IV. Notes about copyright
You may notice when you watch a New Japan show that sometimes the audio will just random cut out to dead silence. If you watch on NJPW World some Japanese text will pop up on the top of the screen to go along with that. What that text translates to is: "This song is muted as we don't have the broadcast rights for it".
The truth is there are two companies that air NJPW. TV Arashi and Samurai TV. NJPW World is run by TV Arashi. On Samurai TV rather than mute the audio they just dub over the songs with the Jimmy Hart fake versions of the songs. TV Arashi just mutes the entire audio of the show temporarily because they can't be fucked. It's annoying as shit, and can confuse the shit out of you when you're first trying to get into NJPW so I figured I'd warn you here.
Okay, I'm going to do this post in sections. This section is obviously the general info and intro section. Next I'll go over what the special events and the schedule is like (this is NOT a weekly company). Lastly I'll go over some of the more popular wrestlers to explain what I've gathered about their characters as a guy who doesn't speak Japanese and has to play it by ear. If only to illustrate that if you do give it a serious crack you will eventually "get" it. It'll just take some time. Riv can unload the whole thing to the site when it's all written if he gives enough of a shit to.
V. About the NJPW schedule
New Japan runs under a different schedule than what we're used to. This isn't like WWE where they're just all year round with absolutely no breaks while John Cena slowly deteriorates into a wheelchair. New Japan runs under what is known as a touring schedule. In other words: Sometimes they have full months off. Their television shows in Japan consist of the same best of format that we got with our American airing of their TV show. You can go from having three days in a row of NJPW to having no NJPW for a month and a half. It sounds complicated as fuck, but it's not too hard to get used to. Especially since NJPW World will actively tell you when a new show is coming up, and they do go over their schedule during intermission with English text every show. They still, however, have annual events that always happen. So what I'll be doing is going over the events that always happen, or at least the ones that are actually worth a shit. If they have a usual day, I will mention what that day is.
As a note: You'll see a fuck ton of tag matches on NJPW. This is because rather than during Orton vs Cena 48574 times in a row every week they have them interact while having the option of mixing it up with different partners. You'll rarely see people wrestle each other in a singles match unless it's meant to be the PPV match. The tag division is very strong in Japan.
January 4th - Wrestle Kingdom: This is an annual event that always happens from the Tokyo Dome. Dave Meltzer gives every match five stars and ritualistically masturbates over anything booked. This is what NJPW's equivalent to what we'd call WrestleMania is. Elaborate entrances. The biggest matches of the year. Look, if you understand the concept of WrestleMania then I don't really need to go over this match. You get it already.
January 5th - New Year's Dash: I'm not sure if this event happens on the 5th every year, but essentially this is follow up stuff to Wrestle Kingdom, used to set up storylines and feuds for the next tour. Usually has a few big matches, but obviously they don't want to use up too many of the year's big matches yet.
January - NJPW presents CMLL's Fantasticamania!: For some reason New Japan airs, and participates in CMLL Lucha Libre's Fantasticamania two-day pay-per-view. I have no fucking idea why this occurs, but the entire show is done in lucha style rather than Japanese style, and it just seems like a fucking fever dream. Watch this show if you just like wrestling, but you will literally miss nothing storyline wise by skipping this entire event.
February - The New Beginning: This is a two-day event which has several big matches. It would be equivalent to SummerSlam in that the matches are taken seriously, but it isn't as big as WrestleMania. Most of their PPVs will qualify under this description aside from the specialty ones.
March 6th - NJPW Anniversary Show: This is exactly what it sounds like. An event meant to celebrate the fact NJPW remained open another year. Usually it's just tag matches and one big match. A glorified house show. Watch if you like wrestling, but not a whole lot storyline wise will occur.
April - Invasion Attack: This is another SummerSlam-esq show.
April - Wrestling World: I didn't actually watch this show last year since the place I watched it at fucked out, but it's likely just another SummerSlam-esq show.
May - Wrestling Dontaku: Another SummerSlam-esq show. Like I said, you'll get maybe one or two shows a month if you're lucky, so they have an opening to try to make them seem like a bigger deal in spite of their relatively close time period to each other.
June - Best of the Super Juniors: This is basically the King of the Ring, but entirely comprised of cruiserweights competing for a shot at the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship. The winner gets a trophy and gets to fuck the owner's wife.
June - Dominion: Another SummerSlam-esq show
July AND August - The G1 Climax: This is the big must see event that isn't Wrestle Kingdom. This is a huge league tourney. What I mean by league is that it doesn't work like the King of the Ring. Essentially everybody is split into two blocks of 11 people. Each person must wrestle EVERY PERSON in their block at least once. A win gets you more points than a draw. A loss gets you less points than a draw. Once all of the matches have completed the winners of each block have a match against one another in the finals. The winner earns the right to compete for the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship or the IWGP Intercontinental Championship (they choose) at Wrestle Kingdom. To avoid confusion, the IC and World titles both main event shows. Think of the IC as "the other world title" rather than what you may be expecting from WWE. This event takes place over the course of 12 or so days.
November AND December - The G1 Tag League: Everything I said above, but with tag matches instead. Winners get a shot at the IWGP World Tag Team Championship at Wrestle Kingdom.
There may be scattered events in between all of those, and some years some of these things might not happen but usually will. So roughly you're looking at about two to six events a month, but some months off. Not a hard schedule to follow if you can be fucked to give it a crack. Shit, if I can find it I'll post the 2015 schedule somewhere eventually.
So that about explains the majority of that. We'll go over some of the wrestlers next.
VI. NJPW Wrestlers of Note
"The Phenomenal" A.J. Styles - You already know who this guy is. I'm not even going to bother writing much about him. All you need to know is that he's the current leader of the heel group Bullet Club. Who are essentially just a bunch of douches that act like WWE heels in a company that doesn't really do heels and faces.
The Time Splitters: Alex Shelley & KUSHIDA - You know who Alex Shelley is. His partner KUSHIDA is an excellent high flyer, who dresses like Marty McFly from Back to the Future. BTTF is also the theme they use for their tag team. One year at Wrestle Kingdom they came out in a fucking Delorian. Chances are KUSHIDA will be one of the two who gets your attention. It should be noted that when a name is written in all caps in Japan like KUSHIDA it means they are a heel. KUSHIDA is not a heel. No, I have no idea why his name is still in caps.
Kota Ibushi - Picture Jeff Hardy, but without drug issues, and without being sloppy as shit in the ring and awful to look at. You'll have Kota. He's essentially a fucking Mexican Jumping Bean that was born as a Japanese man. He will likely end up being one of the guys you watch for.
Takashi Iizuka - This man is a lunatic. He feuds with one of the commentators and constantly attacks him, and draws bikinis on his body with lipstick and shit. I have absolutely zero idea why he does this. He also enters through the crowd and terrorizes the fans. His signature move is taking a giant cartoony "metal" claw fist clearly made out of paper mache out and knocking out the opponent with it. He rarely is booked to matter. Expect to see him a lot in comedy matches. I usually have trouble even remembering this dude's name without looking it up.
Tomohiro Iishi - You are going to love this guy. He is a man with absolutely no neck, that works the "I'ma hit you as hard as I can" style. He seems to always be injured and just doesn't give a shit. From what I saw of 2014 he was probably the MVP of the company, and he'd be up there for the MVP of the entire business. I enjoyed literally every single one of his matches, and I'm not a guy that often goes higher than three stars for NJPW matches.
"The Rainmaker" Kazuchika Okada - A former TNA jobber who returned to Japan as a dude who does it all for the money. He became the equivalent of Randy Orton for NJPW where he was the main focus but wasn't quite the Cena of the company. He won the G1 last year, but lost this year at Wrestle Kingdom. Currently seems to be running under a story that he's losing it and needs to recover. One year at Wrestle Kingdom he entered holding a Buster Sword from Final Fantasy VII, and had an anamatronic velociraptor. For ...some ....reason...
Bobby Fish & Kyle O'Reilly: ReDragon - These are two Ring of Honor guys on loan for ROH. I normally wouldn't list them as they're brand new to the company, but they're currently the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Champions, so they're relevant for that reason. Chances are you know these two even better than I do if you actively watch ROH. Bobby Fish looks like a horses ass with that awful mustache.
Karl "Machine Gun" Anderson & Doc Gallows: Bullet Club - Two members of the Bullet Club heel faction. Doc Gallows used to be Luke Gallows from the Straight Edge Society in WWE. Anderson is the second-in-command of the Bullet Club. He makes machine gun noises with his arms. So if you're into that he's got you covered I guess.
Captain New Japan - This is a masked wrestler who wrestles in footy pajamas. He loses every match. If he is in a tag match he is going to be the guy who gets pinned. This is 100% guaranteed.
"The Cleaner" Kenny Omega - Another American guy. He is a newer member of Bullet Club, and is the current IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion. He revvs up his hairy arm and rubs it on the opponents face as a signature move. He used to enter the ring to the Dr. Wily theme from Mega Man 2.
Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan: TenCozy - These are two former IWGP World Champions who are winding down and instead are focusing on the tag division. When Tenzan does a Mongolian chop the crowd makes wind noises. Tenzan is also the man who invented the Anaconda Vice, which CM Punk popularized in America. Kojima is known for chopping the shit out of people in the corner for about five straight minutes. He'd be well liked by Chris Benoit.
Hirooki Goto & Katsuyori Shibata - These two are the current IWGP World Tag Team Champions. They are strong style wrestlers, with Shibata being particularly stiff looking. You are generally guaranteed to get a good match when you see these two wrestling. However, I would argue they work better as singles wrestlers. If they have an actual tag name I have no clue what it is.
Minoru Suzuki - This is the guy that helped bring MMA fighting into the mainstream with Pancrase in Japan. After leaving MMA he became a pro wrestler with the gimmick of "The Man with the Worst Personality in the World." He uses a MMA-based style, and frequently kicks the shit out of ring crew simply because he's an asshole. He is the leader of a heel stable known as Suzuki-gun. Suzuki-gun used to belong to somebody else, but Suzuki just stole it as a whole because fuck the guy who used to own it.
Kazushi Sakuraba - Another MMA fighter. This one can barely move. In his prime he was known as the Gracie Hunter because he fucked up Gracies in MMA fights more frequently than any other man in history. Now he just kind of looks like an old guy that needs help to wrestle. He wrestles in a T-Shirt. You will quickly learn to tune out almost any time he's "wrestling"
Shelton "X" Benjamin - You know who this is. I think they added X to his name because of Malcom X, and that being the only black person Japan knows about that isn't Bob Sapp. He is a member of the Suzuki-gun stable.
Jado & Gedo - An older tag team some of you may remember from when they wrestled on an ECW PPV back in the day. They are mostly comedy wrestlers these days, but secretly they book and run the entire company right now. So any booking idea you hate is the fault of Gedo. Jado loves Ric Flair and loves to do overly dramatic Ric Flair Flop spots during his matches.
Jushin "Thunder" Liger - The current NWA Jr. Heavyweight Champion. If you watched WCW back in the mid-90's then you know who this guy is. He has a terrible mask, but an awesomely cheesy theme music.
You will never hear his theme music because it gets muted. But google it (Riv's Note: fuck it, I'll just embed it into the middle of Justin's article, he'll forgive me). It'll feel like you're watching a fucking anime. This is because there is a fucking anime based off him.
TAKA Michinoku & Taichi - Members of the Suzuki-gun stable. You should know who TAKA is from Kai-en-tai in the WWE. Taichi is a dude that kind of dresses like the Phantom of the Opera and rips off his pants for some reason midway through matches. They're essentially low card comedy characters, but their heeling is surprisingly decent. I'd argue they should be a bit higher up the card, if not for TAKA's age.
Tiger Mask IV - One of the many people to use the Tiger Mask gimmick in Japan. He's a low carder. I understand this is because the guy behind the mask is a massive cunt backstage and nobody likes him.
Yujiro Takahashi - A member of the Bullet Club who has the gimmick of a pimp, but comes off as being more like Japanese Val Venis. His music is fucking fantastic. His finisher is called the Tokyo Pimps.
Ryusuke Taguchi - The former tag team partner of current NXT wrestler Finn Balor (known at that point as Prince Devitt). He is an effective enough wrestler who has the words "funky weapon" on his ass, because he uses Naomi's rear window as one of his finishers. He probably won't be one of your favorites. Kind of looks like a mix of Ricky Steamboat and Eddie Guerrero physically.
Hiroshi Tanahashi - This guy is THE John Cena on NJPW. He has been world champion more times than anybody in history, due to the fact that when NJPW was at it's closest to bankrupsy he was the guy who carried it on his back to bring them back to their current popularity. He calls himself the "1 in a century superstar" essentially saying that you only get a star of his level every century. He plays the air guitar as a gimmick, and people seems to like it for some reason. I enjoy him simply because one of his finishers is called the Sling Blade, and the commentators say "Shring Brade." He is the current IWGP World Heavyweight Champion. LOLTANAHASHIWINS
Davey Boy Smith Jr & Lance Archer : The Killer Elite Squad - Davey Boy was David Hart Smith in WWE's Hart Legacy. Lance Archer used to be Vance Archer in WWE, and Lance Hoyt in TNA. They are members of the Suzuki-gun stable
Tetsuya Naito - One of the higher up guys in the company, Naito is basically the Daniel Bryan of the company. A guy that does decent in the ring that is often the setup guy and never the main guy. He does a taunt where he holds his fingers open over his eye and I have no idea what it means.
Nick & Matt Jackson: The Young Bucks - SUPERKICK! SUPERKICK! SUPERKICK! SUPERKICK! SUPERKICK! SUPERKICK! SUPERKICK! SUPERKICK! SUPERKICK! SUPERKICK! SUPERKICK! Two members of Bullet Club.
Shinsuke Nakamura - Known over the internet as "Swagsuke" because he's the closest you'll get to a WWE guy, Shinsuke is probably the biggest star of the company. He is the current IWGP Intercontinental Champion, and has the best gimmick I have ever heard: While he was sent down to Mexico a few years ago to broaden his wrestling knowledge he was given some bad cocaine. The effects of this cocaine was that he believed himself to be the wrestling equivalent of Michael Jackson, and thus became the "King of Strong Style." You will love him, because everybody loves him. How can you not love Michael Jackson the wrestler?
Yuji Nagata - Former WCW wrestler, who now is a main guy in NJPW. Runs under the gimmick of the "anti-aging superstar" because he seems to have that Undertaker thing going where he actually gets better with age rather than slowing down.
Bad Luck Fale - The Underboss of the Bullet Club. He looks like what would happen if Taz fucked Kevin Nash.
Tomoaki Honma - Another jobber of the company that people want to cheer for. Best known for his spots in which he attempts a flying headbutt and misses completely. Kind of looks like Japanese Hulk Hogan. At last year's G1 tourney he literally lost every match, including the match that didn't count during the finals.
Toru Yano - A comedy wrestler that kind of looks like fat Hawaiian Rodney Dangerfield. His gimmick is that he keeps trying to shill Toru Yano DVDs. Entertaining for his antics, but you're not really gonna get good matches out of him.
YOSHI-HASHI - A member of the CHAOS stable, which is another heel stable that doesn't act like heels run by Okada and Shinsuke. The only notable thing about YOSHI-HASHI is that Shinsuke calls him "tacos" for some reason.
And that should be enough information for people to go on. I can probably answer questions if anybody actually has some so you can contact me on Twitter (@JustinDP) if you have any questions. If I feel like it I could try to hunt down some particular matches as examples via youtube so people don't have to sit there waiting for an actual full event to start to try it out for themselves. There are other people on the roster aside from the people I mentioned, but I can't be fucked.