The following interview with Shoko Nakajima originally ran in Japanese in Weekly Pro Wrestling issue 2009.
Shoko Nakajima, the “1.47-Meter Big Kaiju” of Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestler, has kept a comfortable distance from TJPW’s title scene recently. But that all changed at Shinkiba First Ring on April 13, when she issued a heartfelt challenge to Miyu Yamashita, the current Tokyo Princess of Princess champion. As her May 3 title match with Yamashita approaches, Nakajima bares her feelings towards her fellow wrestlers, as well as towards the belt that she’s yet to claim for her own.
Interview by Yuuki Ishii.
“Yamashita = Champion” — A hard truth to swallow, but the truth
What’s your impression of Miyu Yamashita right now, as you prepare to face her at Korakuen Hall?
Yamashita’s been the ace of TJPW since the moment it was founded, right? She’s carrying the whole promotion, right? I don’t think she was even aware of her position at first. But once she got the belt, I think the idea started to sprout in her head, like, “Okay, I’m the one who’s gonna lead this promotion.”
What is it, specifically, that makes you think so?
Here’s an example. Whenever new wrestlers come in from other promotions, or whenever we get new trainees, Yamashita’s right there, getting in with them. She’s got this intrinsic stupidity, which is probably a big part of it, but… I hate to admit it, but it just feels right for Yamashita to be the champion of TJPW to me.
This isn’t your first time facing Yamashita at Korakuen. Two years ago, you lost to her in the match to determine the inaugural Tokyo Princess of Princess Champion.
Things were so crazy back then! But I feel like I respect Yamashita more now than I did at the time. I couldn’t beat her, but still, as we fought, I was thinking, “Man, Yamashita’s got no sense.”
There we were at Korakuen, in this momentous match for TJPW, trying to decide who’d be the first to hold the belt. It was a ton of pressure! I’m sure she felt that same pressure, too. Right now, we can make it through matches like it’s no big deal, but I don’t think either of us would say we felt like that at the time.
Yamashita’s been a big deal to TJPW since even before that first big match. Do you feel like you can call her your “classmate?”
She had her exhibition matches before I did, but we made our formal ring debuts at the same time. If Yamashita’s part of the first generation, Let’s say I’m somewhere around generation 1.5. And then Yuka Sakazaki, Rika Tatsumi, Nonoko, they were the second generation.
When I first started training, I called Miyu “Yamashita-san,” and used polite language when I spoke to her. She was my opponent in my second exhibition match, which was about when we got to the point where we stopped using polite language with each other. Then it was off to our official debuts. So yeah, it feels like we’re classmates, at least. I wonder what it is. At the very start, we had that upperclassman-underclassman dynamic, but I’d say we gradually came to support each other equally throughout practice.
Yuka Sakazaki’s tears reveal a dramatic difference
At Shinkiba on April 13, your feelings towards Yamashita and Yuka Sakazaki came bursting out.
I see the two of them as people who can speak pretty cleverly. Then on top of her natural ability, Yuka’s got that face of hers that just says, “pfft, I don’t even practice!” But the truth is she works twice as hard as anyone else. I didn’t notice the huge gap between her mindset and my own until the three of us went to wrestle abroad.
You, Yamashita and Sakazaki went to the US to participate in Chikara’s “King of Trios” six-person tag tournament in August 2018.
Yuka took that really seriously, or at least way more seriously than I did. I noticed that right after the second round. We won that round, but Yuka was still crying her eyes out, because the match itself wasn’t as good as she thought it should be.
I was satisfied enough just to be wrestling overseas, but it was, like, just leaving a scratch, just connecting to the next thing. I guess I’d say I was amazed to see Yuka’s will to take that next step to really spread the name of TJPW further.
And then a representative from Chikara really let me have it. He asked me, “So, kicks are Yamashita’s specialty, Sakazaki’s a high-flier, but what’s your thing?” I didn’t have an answer at all. That made me super aware of how far I was from the other two. And look, in keeping with that, they’ve both got more excursions abroad since then! [Yamashita wrestled Maki Ito with DDT in New York City for WrestleMania week 2019; Sakazaki will appear at AEW’s “Double or Nothing” outside Las Vegas on May 25.]
Psychologically, those two are always on a level above anyone else in TJPW. That’s what makes it so different, in some way, to have a match with them. Absolutely.
How did you feel when you heard that Sakazaki would be wrestling at AEW’s Double or Nothing?
To put it bluntly, it felt like Yuka’d gotten a huge chance. I mean, it’s pretty big news, isn’t it? Of course, part of me felt bitter about it. But throughout my career in TJPW, there’s been plenty of times when I’ve noticed part of Yuka struggling against her super-carefree character. Or contrasting with it, at least. She’s been talking about how she wants to work abroad for a while now, and she’s finally hit the stage where that dream is becoming a reality.
I think about to that first trip to America, and seeing her crying there. So while it’s hard to swallow her success, the strongest feeling I have about it is just being happy for her. She’s hit the point where her dreams are coming true.
I’d say any bitterness isn’t even so much jealousy towards Yuka, as it is… viscerally confronting my own lack of consciousness. It’s not bitterness towards her, really; more towards my own insignificance, I guess? Either way, that was the moment I realized I couldn’t just keep going on the way I was.
Impatience bursts through freedom
And those feelings had something to do with how you challenged Miyu Yamashita for the title?
Yes, exactly. I saw one big dummy get completely enamored with America, and then I’d look at Yuka and that made me think about how she’s about to have amazing matches overseas… Faced with that, I thought, I’ve got to make my move, too.
I got a boost from Aja Kong at the March 31 show at Hakata Star Lanes, too. Her complimenting me like she did definitely gave me strength.
Yamashita defended her title against Sakazaki at that same Hakata show.
That was another motivator. I don’t know if my title match will be as good as that one, but I want to do the best that I can. I want to find the best, most powerful part of myself and let it out in my match with Yamashita.
Yamashita’s had ten successful title defenses. People call her the “ultimate champion.” Is there any area where you feel you have her beat right now?
Back when she wasn’t holding the belt, maybe it felt like it wouldn’t have been too tough to beat her. But now she’s the champ, standing at the very top of the promotion. That’s a big psychological boost, and it makes that proud part of her much stronger.
I don’t have a “proud part” that I can shield myself with. It’s plain to see that, by comparison, she’s grown much more than I have. I still think she’s got no sense, but she’s a “don’t think—feel” type, so it’s not even about having sense for her. Me, I’m a “think” type.
What are you thinking about going into the title match?
It’s nothing I can really talk about here, but I have a whole bunch of mental images already…
Let’s say you become champion at Korakuen. Do you have a vision for your title reign?
As a champion, I don’t think I’d be as scary as Yamashita. I want everyone to feel like they can challenge me, like they don’t with Yamashita. I don’t necessarily know where the chance to challenge me will come from, but I want people to go for it when they want to, even if they’re “undeveloped” as wrestlers.
The newer generations of TJPW are all training hard, but that doesn’t mean they’re all producing results. All the Up Up Girls joined at the same time, and they’re bound as a unit together, so I think it must be pretty hard on them when the audience ranks them.
Objectively, the one who practices the most is Miu Watanabe. But she’s clumsy, so all that practice doesn’t connect to her results. On the other hand, Hikari Noa is doing very well, and shows she’s got a good sense for the ring in her matches. I can’t help but think, seeing Hikari overshadow her like that must bug Miu. If I were champion, though, Miu could look at me and think, “I could take the belt off that small fry” and take a shot at it, which would let off some of that steam.
You haven’t challenged for the Tokyo Princess of Princess championship since January 2017, when you challenged Yuu for it. Have you been thinking about the belt since then?
Well, I haven’t been not thinking about it. I really put a lot of effort towards this year’s January 4 Korakuen show. I really felt like I wanted to go all the way, but I didn’t earn the right to challenge.
Miraclians [Nakajima’s tag team with Sakazaki] dropped the tag belts in February 2018, our duo just naturally drifted apart after that. So then I had no belt to defend, and no regular tag partner. That meant all the pressure was off, so I could approach matches more spontaneously. That was a free, relaxing, fun stretch of time.
You didn’t spend that time watching what the others were doing and start feeling antsy?
I did, but I figured just not paying that much attention was way easier. I mean, I really went out of my way to convince myself that was true.
But then those antsy feelings burst out of you now.
Right. They must’ve hit the limit and started overflowing.
For Anguirus, victory is the best revenge
When you put forth your challenge, you said Yamashita was like Godzilla, Sakazaki was Mothra, and you were… Anguirus.
Anguirus has been a favorite kaiju of mine for a while, but it’s always gotten the short end of the stick for some reason. Godzilla and Mothra are the kind of kaiju that get movies named after them, but there aren’t any movies named after Anguirus. Plus, Godzilla can shoot laser beams. And Mothra’s been able to change colors and shapeshift since the Heisei era [the Imperial reign that began in 1989 and ended in April 2019]. And what about Anguirus? No lasers, no flying; it just walks on the ground on four legs, like a regular, boring dinosaur.
Anguirus popped up in Godzilla’s movies every now and then throughout the Showa era [1926-1989]. But more often than not, it was just fodder to show the audience how strong another, newer kaiju was. Once that was established, Anguirus wouldn’t even be in the second act.
And once you get to the Heisei-era Godzilla films, Anguirus doesn’t even show up to do that. There’s something interesting about how unfortunate Anguirus is, which is why I like it. But in recent years, I’ve noticed some overlap between Anguirus and myself. This may be kind of arbitrary, but in my case, I’m just on the level where chances don’t come my way because my actual abilities simply aren’t up to snuff. But I still feel that affinity with Anguirus.
Godzilla and Mothra are the heroes. They’re fresh and exciting and popular; everybody knows them. Not many people know Anguirus.
Yeah, you can’t really say Anguirus is well-known.
Anguirus first appeared as Godzilla’s rival in the second-ever Godzilla movie, Godzilla Raids Again . In the movies after that, its position shifted so that it was more of a good guy, like Godzilla’s partner. After that, it gradually slid towards being the fall guy. But Anguirus isn’t a bad guy, not at all.
At Korakuen, you’re going to see Anguirus beat Godzilla, king of the monsters. If I can make that happen, that’d be the best!
Before we go, if you could get us fired up one more time about your title match…
I haven’t been Tokyo Princess of Princess champion even once since the belt was established, and I feel a bit like I’ve spent that whole beltless time playing all my matches over in my head.
If I can’t change course now, I don’t know what’s left for me except to keep going the same direction as always. Slowly dropping my pace, slithering to a crawl. And I’d hate to see it all end that way, so…
There’s no point if I don’t win, so there’s no way I can lose!