The 2022 NJPW Business Strategy Presentation on July 7 came to a close with a special address for NJPW and its fans, Kidani offering thoughts on a ‘2.1 era’ for new Japan and future growth.
‘This Hikosen Theater is actually Bushiroad’s own venue, and it makes me think we could do an NJPW theater show. Everyone in the back forgetting their lines… I’d like to speak to you as a fan, just like all of you for a second.
Through the pandemic, the wrestlers have all worked very hard, and you guys have helped by showing up for us. I’ll be honest, and I can speak freely because Naito isn’t here to make me pay, but I’ve been working every day constantly questioning whether this or that is the right way. But let me speak as a fan.
Compared to before the pandemic, there are fewer parties, the absolute minimum. We can’t drink together, and when we can, it has to be outside, it has to be well ventilated. I’ve been eating yakiniku for the past two years pretty much, because the extraction fans are so powerful there, in theory at least, the COVID doesn’t hang in the air. I don’t know how true that is, but all the same.
In all this, sometimes I’ve been able to get hold of a ticket and watch the matches at the venues. And all I can do is clap. I can’t cheer, and I can’t boo. And yet there are so many matches where I’ve wanted to boo instead of clap!
NJPW is doing great things. Having 2-3000 people in venues in the US is great. Famous Japanese rock bands will be in the US and not draw that number. So that is something for Japanese sports and entertainment to be immensely proud of. It’s deserving of more praise. At the same time, there is still such a big difference between NJPW and WWE in something as simple as YouTube subscribers. There are still a great many things that we can be doing.
Speaking as a fan, there is no sense in an NJPW that’s unable to change. That feels staid, or slow to move. That’s society in general! That’s what NJPW should always seek to challenge. To take the stress and the fatigue from fans in their work, their daily grind and make it disappear by showing them a dream they can live through, and give them the energy to change the world. Not just in Japan but on the global stage, I want us to keep moving. Emotions and dreams, that’s the business we’re in, and we can not be satisfied with where we are one bit.
So now let me go back to speaking as an owner. I’ve been working with STARDOM quite a lot, and AZM, Starlight Kid, these women are 19, 20, ad so skilled, so talented. That’s because they started very young. Pro-wrestling is a very difficult sport to learn, and as a result it’s important that we give young people avenues. I think it’s more than fine for high school students to join (NJPW). Train as they study. When they graduate they have an open door into NJPW full time, or they can opt to go through college and re-assess then. Kazuchika Okada graduated from middle school and then went to Mexico to wrestle, that’s another example.
We believe, and this goes for all sorts of groups that we manage too, that one practical live experience is worth doing something 100 times over in theory. I’d really like for those young talent to have an avenue, a place, even if it’s Shin Kiba (1st Ring), or (Shinjuku) Face. Have a place where rather than 100 hours of theory they have one moment to put that theory into practice. In front of 100, 200 people, it’s OK for a Young Lion to main event. Just give a faster avenue for them to gain practical experience in front of a crowd.
Fans will come with them, I think. There are a lot of fans who get in on the ground floor with young pop groups. I think there has been a thought process of only putting near finished products out in front of people, but I think that people enjoy the growth process. We have a new gym now, Bushiroad Well-Be, and I think we can create a place there where maybe teens, grade nine or starting high school can just try what wrestling training is like. And we can talk with them, and their families and maybe move from there.
There are lot of things in pro-wrestling that are leftovers from the old days. The move from sumo, a very hierarchical society. You come in and you have to wear black tights, have to shave your head. Now, there’s a lot of good that comes with that, because that character can creep in and the fans become more emotionally invested. But at the same time, completely doing away with character for these young kids is something left over from 100, 150 years ago, to make subordinates easier to control.
Now we live in an age where expressing character is so very important. So I think that while there should be a brief period where (new wrestlers) are blank slates, that should only be a short time before they show more and more character, as much as possible. And I think we should make a place for those wrestlers to develop and experiment and show that character to people. That’s what I’ve been thinking.
To go back to STARDOM, there was a time when many STARDOM women went over to WWE. Over there over the last few years, society has been increasingly non-gendered. There’s a problem when there aren’t enough female voices in your company, or female matches in your promotion. In Japan, that time has not arrived yet. But very soon there will be those voices within Japan that ask ‘why aren’t there women’s matches in NJPW?’ It isn’t yet, but that day will absolutely come. To prepare for that, I started going to STARDOM events and started talking with people there about coming together.
Back then, this was two years ago, their sales weren’t even at 200 million Yen. They couldn’t afford to keep the women under proper contract. We started from there and in the last two and a half years, their earnings have shot up 500%. Profits are up. The wind is blowing that way. Olympic wrestling is split evenly with the men and women, is it not? Even if people argue that people watch the men more than the women, that’s no excuse to give the women less air time or what have you. they have to be treated evenly, and it’s with all that in mind that I and Bushiroad acquired STARDOM.
Then as they were growing, NJPW advanced into the US and the UK and now here we are. STARDOM have gone from tiny venues to bigger and bigger buildings and their growth is exceptional. Although their subscriber count is low, they have the most monthly active users and views on YouTube of all channels in the Bushiroad Group. So I have high hopes for them, and for the crossover with NJPW as we create something new together.
NJPW has 50 years of history. But history goes hand in hand with legacy. If you sit on your history you’ll stay where you are, but if you build the legacy then you can be two, five, ten, a hundred times greater. Ten years ago, NJPW came into the group, and I feel that at that point we saw the birth of ‘NJPW 2.0’. Here, I think is the start of ‘NJPW 2.1’ . A new version. 2012 marked the start of 2.0, and I think this year’s G1 will be the real start of NJPW 2.1.
Why am I so passionate about all this? I really think I’m here because of NJPW. 47 years ago, when I was in high school (I’m 60 now), I had noting to enjoy in life. I’m not like (President) Ohbari, not a tall handsome sports guy. I’d buy four or five wrestling magazines, and read one and then next and the next. I’d keep up with what was happening in the States, and then years later rented a car and drove across the US watching wrestling. I went to Wrestlemania 5, 16 and 28.
But the first wrestling I watched live was in Kuramae (Sumo Hall). I still remember now. Singh had done this run-in, and had gone out the back. Some fan yelled ‘after him’ and off we went, about thirty of us, spilling out the building, me this awkward teen. Singh was trying to get in a taxi and we were trying to stop it. And Singh was swinging his sabre at us! The whole crowd parted, he got in the cab and left. That stayed with me. The emotions of that night. The courage that it gave me.
Just like that night 47 years ago I want to give people that same emotion, the same courage. The same faith in people to do something amazing in live, for themselves, or for their society. Or even just to live as a better parent, or spouse, or friend. I want NJPW to give people that. That’s the place I want to create.