Part I: Walking in storms
Hana Kimura’s wake was two Fridays ago.
While it was closed to the public, many joshi stars from the ‘80s, ‘90s and ‘00s were in attendance, including legends like Akira Hokuto, Chigusa Nagayo, Manami Toyota, Aja Kong, Mima Shimoda & Etsuko Mita, and current stars like Meiko Satomura and Hiroyo Matsumoto.
The ceremony, however, was Buddhist. The socio-cultural overlap of Buddhism and Shintoism in Japanese culture is deeply embedded into the country, meaning that what sounds esoteric to the West can often be commonplace behavior abroad.
Traditional Buddhist ceremonies often call for a picture of the deceased to be placed atop the casket, along with flowers and other personal items of theirs.
White flowers are commonplace at funerals, though most of the flowers at Hana’s ceremony were pink.
Towards the end of the ceremony, an announcement: For a brief time before the end of the wake, the casket would be open for anyone who wanted to see Hana once more.
“It just looked like she was sleeping.”
Fumi Saito is one of Japan’s top wrestling journalists, authors and historians. He was also was among the select few in attendance on at Hana’s wake.
“She wore lots of makeup and had on this really shiny lipgloss. It didn’t feel strange, though. It just looked like she was sleeping.”
Saito noted she was buried alongside many chocolate candy bars, her favorite junk food.
Kimura was also buried with her iconic neon-green ring outfit.
It is the costume she is wearing on the most recent cover of Weekly Pro Wrestling in Japan from her match at the Tokyo Dome this year.
It is also the costume that sparked an incident between herself and a male housemate on a recent episode of Netflix reality show Terrace House.
Hana Kimura was cremated the next day.
On March 31, the night the ‘Costume Case’ episode aired, Kimura was was flooded with comments reacting to how she acted toward housemate Kai on the episode.
From the night the Terrace House episode aired until May 22, the day before her death, Hana had received approximately 2,200 tweets.
According to a recent NHK article, more than half of the tweets did not relate to the ‘Costume Case’ incident, nor were the tweets in support of Kimura.
However, nearly 40% of the tweets were classified as “aggressive,” according to the same article, most of them echoing a sentiment of “get off the show” or “go away.”
Some replies even included the word “dead” in comments directed towards Kimura.
Kimura is now at the center of Japanese media and has become the number-one symbol of social media cyberbullying in Japan since her death. Members of the Japanese government recently cited Kimura’s death as a call to reform online commenting on the internet.
Here is the English translation of Kyoko Kimura’s message to Hana’s fans:https://t.co/8JSOu2lWCs
— 𝓕𝓪𝓻𝓻𝓪𝓱🥀 (@farrahakase) June 2, 2020
Kyoko Kimura (Hana’s mom) as translated by @farrahakase on Twitter.
This tweet I’m posting right now is for Hana’s fans and all of you who need love and feel sadness, so they can feel supported and can heal, even a little bit. So the remains of their grief won’t turn into tatari.
Please refrain from using strong language when giving other people advice online. Please reply to me publicly with you social media accounts instead of sending me direct messages (DMs) when you respond to my tweets. I’m grateful to listen and know how you feel, but I am unable to respond to everyone right now.
Of course, this is not possible. But I am working on clarifying various things in order to prevent such horrendous things from ever happening again.
I’m moving forward. I am not demanding for apologies or exposing those who did the slandering. That is what I should do.
I want everyone to look out for each other from now on.
Hana’s fans also include young children, so please be mindful of the words you choose.
I would be grateful if you all take a step back and read you own thoughts before you it behind as a tweet.
Few are like Kyoko Kimura.
Born on March 19, 1977, Kimura fell in love with pro wrestling after seeing the legendary matches between Terry and Dory Funk Jr. vs. the Sheik and Abdullah the Butcher in All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW).
The Sheik actually wrestled many of his final bouts for FMW. While there, he also introduced his nephew, Sabu, to the Japanese audience.
While still in high school, Kyoko saw a documentary about the Sheik on television. It was from this point she decided to become a pro wrestler.
In 1993, Kyoko dropped out of 10th grade and joined the FMW dojo. She was in the same rookie class as Masato Tanaka.
It was a short-lived dream, however. After injuring both of her knees early into her training, Kyoko was forced into early retirement from wrestling.
But it wasn’t the end of her journey.
She has the ‘adventure bug.’
At this point, the door had closed for Kyoko—or at least one in Japan had.
“She’s a free spirit, an adventurer, you know? She’s kind of fearless,” Fumi Saito explained. “She has the ‘adventure bug.’”
“She told me she read my articles in Weekly Pro Wrestling, and from those, she decided that [going to] Mexico or the Malenko school in Florida would be the best schools for her.”
Kimura then moved to Mexico to learn lucha libre. She stayed in Tijuana, where she met Eiji Ezaki, the young man who would turn into superstar flyer Hayabusa only a few years later.
After a few months of living and learning in Mexico, Kyoko was forced to go back to Japan because she ran out of money.
A lotus blooms in Indonesia.
Kyoko wouldn’t stay in Japan for long. After working a few jobs and saving some cash, she spent time traveling around Asia next. Much of her time was spent discovering Southeast Asia, but she also spent time in Indonesia, where she would earn wages as a dishwasher, and other side-jobs, saving money.
At 19, Kyoko met an Indonesian man whom she’d marry. It was a short-lived relationship, though. After the couple had Hana in 1997, Kyoko and her husband separated, and Kyoko decided to move back to Japan with Hana and live as a single mother, a concept that means something much different in Japan than in the West.
Single mothers usually cannot work long hours in addition to their childcare responsibilities, which seriously diminishes their chances of getting hired in Japan.
It’s also common to list one’s family members on a resume, though this often means if a mother lists a child but no husband, employers will grill her about the children, about who’d be taking care of them, or about whether or not they’d be able to find reliable yet elusive daycare services.
According to Kingston & Michiko Osawa’s Japan: The Precarious Future, while 77% of Japanese women with a college degree want to rejoin the workforce after first having a child, only 43% are able to land a job, compared to the 73% of those who get re-hired in the United States.
Despite the circumstances, Kyoko would spend the next five years raising Hana by herself, a single mother in Japan, while still pursuing her dream of becoming a pro wrestler.
In part two, we will take a look at…
- Kyoko and baby Hana’s early years at the JWP dojo
- Kyoko’s dive into intergender deathmatches and MMA
- Moving from Tokyo to Okinawa and back again