On the Ontology of Okada and Makabe (or, Reality in Japanese Wrestling)

We’re watching some New Japan Pro Wrestling from 2013 on AXStv, in which Kazuchika Okada and Togi Makabe are arguing over which of their styles is “real” professional wrestling. Makabe is being accused of being a “backyard wrestler” and Okada is the technician with the world-renowned dropkick. Okada said this about Makabe’s style, which leans toward street-fighting (he also wears a chain around his neck, hello signifier!):

I doubt that’s “real” professional wrestling. I am a genuine pro wrestler. So I think my wrestling is the real deal.

I’m not well enough studied in the art of Japan’s puroresu to analyze in detail the cultural nuances that distinguish it from its American counterpart, but I want to point out here the philosophical difference in the overall ontology (if I might dare to attempt an adaptation of that word to the world of wrestling) that arises in their contrast. In America wrestling, authenticity is discussed in terms such as real or fake, professional wrestling vs. sports entertainment, outcome predetermined but injuries and pain very much genuine. But in Japan there is an entirely different notion of what is “real” in professional wrestling. In Japan, wrestling is on a different point on the beingness spectrum, though it is a few steps further toward the authentic and away from the contrived. Like, it’s outcomes are still predetermined, but it is more like a legitimate battle of endurance by wrestlers whose personas are closer to their selves. I’m not saying Japanese wrestlers aren’t characters playing out a choreographed fight, but they’re not quite as much this as American wrestlers.

Does this make sense? And do I have it about right? I’m still a relatively casual and occasional viewer of Japanese wrestling (mainly because wow, professional wrestling is a time-sink of a  hobby!) and I’ve hesitated until now to bring it into the world of theories here. But I couldn’t help but be intrigued by Makabe and Okada building a feud around whose wrestling is real. For them authenticity is all about wrestling style, not about whether it is a performance or a contest. Whether or not wrestling itself is “real” isn’t even a point of contention, it’s all about whose tradition, not unlike a martial art, is the more bad ass. Japanese wrestling isn’t about entertaining us with a sport-like show, it’s about showcasing athletic skill and talent, an entirely different definition of the concept of real.

I welcome comments on this one; I’m just at the beginning stages of understanding how reality works in Japanese wrestling and would love to start developing this idea.

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