Scout Report by Wrestlingscout
Asian Values versus American Business
Some thirty years ago, in the book The Emerging Japanese Superstate, Herman Kahn predicted that Japan's brand of capitalism would turn them into the major economic world power. "Wise government bureaucrats" and "diligent workers who respected the authority labored to create national wealth" characterize this new brand. While Japan is still the leader of the Asian economy, their economy grew stagnant and they were hit hard by Asia's financial crisis in the mid-90s. People often blame "Asian values" for the country's inability to become the global leader they've been touted as being able to be. The same qualities that made Kahn predict their greatness seem to be playing a large role in their shortcomings. Outsiders, who once held Japan's system in high reverence in the 1980s are now reluctant to even associate with them. Furthermore, the government and business there do not reveal the true economic hardships to the public, which is ultimately more harmful than it is helpful. Many feel Japan needs to concern itself with "reinventing" itself in the near future.
The Japanese wrestling scene has been an example of this. While there were shady moneymen backing companies and individuals, there were also straight up businessmen who were able to succeed as well. Giant Baba was the ultimate example of an honest promoter, the Japanese equivalent of Paul Boesch, who was such an upstanding promoter that people would live and die with All Japan. He cleaned up the wrestling business, which had been dominated by the Yakuza (though they still have power to this day). He built a promotion wonderfully, but very carefully as to protect all the egos. But when push came to shove and money was laid down, All Japan lost some great talent to the short-lived SWS. This meant youngsters had to be elevated and Baba started promoting long main events with clean finishes it turned All Japan into the greatest promotion in the world and some would say ever. Baba's death shocked the Japanese wrestling world and soon after most of the wrestlers and front office walked out. Led by Mitsuharu Misawa and Mitsuhiro Momota, Pro-Wrestling NOAH looked to expand Baba's vision. That vision called the "King's Road" was the ultimate example of how Asian values could build something wonderful.
Antonio Inoki and New Japan Pro-Wrestling was and still the competitor of Giant Baba's vision. Inoki, who had been fired from the JWA after planning a coup (which was because his own promotion had failed) and started his New Japan in 1972. The company was based around Inoki, who was built by beating legit fighters and portraying himself as the best. Stars were created, but Inoki's top spot was unobtainable. It forced many out and it was not until Inoki was into politics and out of the ring that the preverbal glass ceiling was removed. New stars were made and it was this second breed, free of Inoki's looming shadow, who were able to give New Japan its peak in the mid-90s. New Japan, though not anti-tradition, was far more progressive and has always had the gimmicks that Baba rejected. What was the difference between All Japan and New Japan? Egos. To this day, "Inoki-ism" reigns and his dream of a single warrior who can beat anyone in a legit fight, entertain the crowds and most important make New Japan great is yet to be fulfilled.
These two companies are a blend of American business (remember Americans created pro wrestling) and Asian values. American culture is becoming the universal culture, just like English is becoming the universal language. Americans are revered in Japan and that is why gaijin wrestlers were crucial to building both promotions. While the natives are the true stars, their needed to be foreign counterparts and those stars became legends. Just like Herman Kahn prematurely romanticized Japan's brand of capitalism, this brand may thrive, but not for great periods. Either the workers grow tired of their subservience or the leader is a megalomaniac. In either case it is just human dream and dreams are infallibly finite. So what can be done?
Japan is developing into a nation of senior citizens because the lifespan is lengthening out and the birthrate is declining. The generation change has produced a country enamored with American culture, why do you think the WWF was such a success? The people want their wrestling to have that image base and no group has delivered quite what they want. While the diehard fans will always demand the very athletic style that we all know and love, the masses will be the determinant factor in years to come. If business continues to drop off they will make more and more American-like decisions (not necessarily WWF-like ones mind you). Wrestlers won't just be able to make it with the talent that Jumbo Tsuruta, Tatsumi Fujinami and Mitsuharu Misawa were able to make it on, they need to be bigger than life characters. That's why Giant Baba and Antonio Inoki are demigods. That's why wrestlers like Tiger Mask, Atsushi Onita and Kazayuki Fujita are able to become big names, they have the intangibles that make the difference. Look at All Japan now, there are all these cliques and the top stars, Keiji Muto and Satoshi Kojima, are doing gimmicks, but it's working. Look at New Japan, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, their craziest looking and most charismatic wrestler (after Masa Chono, whose still their biggest draw) is having to be elevated even though Yuji Nagata is undoubtedly better in the ring and Kensuke Sasaki better fits Inoki's dream. From Zero-One trying to recreate Bruiser Brody to T2P's bizarre new style, puroresu is becoming more Americanized. Is it a bad thing? It can be and while we may not ever see the unbelievable workrate matches of Baba's All Japan again, we'll certainly see some great ones. Wrestling is about evolution and innovation. So expect it, anticipate it and hope it is something you enjoy.
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