Kabuki Warriors Canvas 2 Canvas

For several years, I’ve been collecting wrestling portraits from WWE’s Artist-in-Residence, Rob Schamberger. Since I started decorating my home with his art, I’ve had the pleasure of befriending both Rob and his insanely talented wife, Katy. He is one of my absolute favorite people to discuss wrestling with, even though we’ve only met in person a handful of times. When he approached me about contributing to his Canvas 2 Canvas video for the Kabuki Warriors, I was absolutely floored.

I still cannot believe this is my life right now!
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Another Face of ROPPONGI 3K!What is THE SAKURA DENBU?

[The following article appeared in volume 23 of Team NJPW’s Official Fan Club Magazine (released on 3/27/2020). The Fan Club is limited to those residing within Japan, unless international fans use a proxy service to register. I cannot register for Team NJPW, but two friends sent me their copies of the issue as they no longer needed them. This is not an official translation by New Japan Pro-Wresting. Do not repurpose or repost the translations without permission.]

Fans know well that outside of being professional wrestlers, SHO & YOH collaborate together in a band called, THE SAKURA DENBU. However, the reality (of TSD) is quite veiled in mystery, so this time around, we’re going to unearth the origins of their band & what their plans for the future are in this special interview with SHO & YOH.

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KUSHIDA Bids Farewell to NJPW

In 2017, I saw a first round match in WCPW’s Pro-Wrestling World Cup Japan Bracket, featuring one of New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s top junior heavyweights, KUSHIDA, and one of the company’s rookies, a young lion by the name of Sho Tanaka. This match would be the start of my love for New Japan and their outstanding Junior Heavyweight division.

Immediately, I was a fan of KUSHIDA. From his technical skill set and his fast-paced wrestling style to his fantastic Back to the Future-inspired ring gear, the ace of the NJPW juniors made me finally start watching New Japan. His style reminded me of the amazing time I had at WWE’s Cruiserweight Classic in the summer of 2016. His wrestling was my gateway foothold into the world of New Japan Pro-Wrestling.

Despite regularly watching his NJPW matches, I completely missed the bulk of his time working in the United States with Ring of Honor. I finally got to see him wrestle live at Fighting Spirit Unleashed in Long Beach, California in September 2018. However, it wouldn’t be until November 2018, when I flew to Detroit and drove to Toronto, that I was finally able to meet him and tell him what an impact his wrestling had on my life.

“I had to fly from Orlando because you never come to Florida for shows any more…”

Through Twitter, I was able to connect with fans in Japan over the last two years, but it wasn’t until this past January, when KUSHIDA announced his departure from New Japan after eight years, that I was given the opportunity to give something back to one of the athletes who helped change my life. One of KUSHIDA’s most popular fan artists, Yama-san, reached out to me, asking if I could assist with checking the English she wanted to use on the farewell banners and support poster boards by the fans in Korakuen on January 29th. I never expected to be invited to assist in such a massive project, especially as a newer fan, living half a world away.

KUSHIDA’s final match was part of the Road to New Beginning Tour.

Proofreading and editing the signage, reminded me of countless times in Japan when I was teaching or working on projects. It rejuvenated my desire to resume studying in addition to working harder toward my personal goal of getting into Japanese-to-English translation. This was the first time in a very long time, where I didn’t feel creatively stifled. Looking back at it, this opportunity pushed me toward a goal that I have wanted to pursue for the last decade.

The trickiest translation was GO BEYOND ALL LIMITS, which would be made into a banner that would hang from the balcony of Korakuen Hall. His final NJPW shirt motto was “OVER the BORDER” with a fantastic design by HIROKU-san. Thinking about how KUSHIDA’s work transcended weight classes despite being the junior heavyweight division anchor and how he was setting out to explore the world to share his love for pro-wrestling, I felt it had multiple layers as well as greater meaning.

His final match in NJPW was against one of my other favorite Japanese wrestlers, Tanahashi Hiroshi, who was the IWGP Heavyweight champion at the time. I watched KUSHIDA’s final entrance live on NJPW World’s broadcast, and although I could not be there in person, seeing the fans bid farewell to one of their favorites made me cry.

It would be one of the last images of KUSHIDA’s final NJPW entrance: him posing on the turnbuckle with his arm raised above his head with a vibrant orange banner behind him, surrounded by a sea of fan posters. My contribution is a very small one in the entire scheme of his send off. However, seeing something I translated as part of a historic farewell to one of my favorite wrestlers.

Photos & event report at NJPW1972.com

I can’t begin to express how thankful I was to be included in the “top secret project” of this send off. Like KUSHIDA, this provided a way for fans in Japan and abroad to come together and thank him for everything he did with NJPW. Working on this project reignited my desire to study Japanese and continue building friendships with fans across the world.

After a fan report from the retirement match was posted, Yama-san pulled back the curtain on the behind the scenes contributors to the farewell project.

This would be one of my most precious moments in 2019, and the project I am most proud of in the first half of the year. As an international fan of NJPW and one who only started watching in the last few years, I’ve missed out on the careers of many of my favorite wrestlers. However, I enjoy watching KUSHIDA’s old matches and continuing to support him in the next chapter of his life in NXT.

My contribution to the entire process was an exceptionally small one, but impact it had on me is quite significant. I am so thankful to be a member of #TeamKUSHIDA, and for all the friends I’ve made in Japan and abroad as a result. Thank you, KUSHIDA, for bringing so many wonderful people into my life from around the world.

Note: I posted my experience on my Japanese blog, Everyday Karen, back in January, shortly after KUSHIDA’s final match.

The Kabuki Warriors’ NXT Homecoming

Within the same week of Rob asking me to contribute to his latest Canvas 2 Canvas video about The Kabuki Warriors, I got to watch them make history for the first time, by defending the WWE Women’s Tag Team Championships at NXT Live in Full Sail. I’ve been a regular at the NXT tapings since summer 2016, but the October 30th episode of NXT Live will be one forever in my heart. From their respective arrivals in NXT, both Asuka and Kairi Sane have become two of my favorite wrestlers. Watching the American chapters of their respective careers had truly been something special.

Coming Home to NXT

While the inaugural Women’s Tag Team Champions and fellow NXT alumnae, Bayley and Sasha Banks expressed their desire to defend the championships on all three WWE brands, The Kabuki Warriors would be the first to make it a reality. NXT’s Tegan Nox and Dakota Kai earned the opportunity to represent NXT against the returning champions, but they were given only a week to prepare for their opportunity.

The Kabuki Warriors send their regards.

Asuka: “Congratulations!
Kairi: “Congratulations!”
Asuka: “Do you two honestly think you are going to beat us? That’s absolutely impossible.”


Kairi: “They don’t stand a chance!”
Asuka: “We’re going to come to NXT to crush you!”

A friend with a last minute cancellation, enabled me to witness the homecoming for The Kabuki Warriors live. Earlier in the show, NXT teased the match with a fantastic video package of The Kabuki Warriors set to “Karate” by Baby Metal. If WWE would use this as their new theme, it would further cement their legacy as a cohesive tag team.

The Kabuki Warriors’ return home as changed women
Highlights from their first championship defense in NXT.
No subtitles were available for this video (link)

After their sneaky victory over Tegan Nox and Dakota Kai, The Kabuki Warriors are interviewed backstage by NXT Announcer, Jon Quasto. Lately Asuka’s use of green mist to ensure victory has raised many eyebrows.

Asuka: “That was hysterical, right?! Just when they thought they had it in the bag, I nailed her with the mist.” *laughs*
Kairi: “(Paige) Isn’t necessary. We don’t need her.”
Asuka: “Not in the least.”

Could Kai & Nox be Green with Envy?
Match recap and aftermath

Behind the Full Sail Curtain

During their time in NXT, both Asuka and Kairi were beloved by the NXT fans, so even though they finally ‘returned home’ as heels, the crowd rallied behind them, welcoming them hope with open arms and rounds of “welcome back” chants. It was great to see them enjoy their exceptionally brief stopover in Orlando. Although they were all business on screen, there was not shortage of heartwarming moments highlighting their return “home.”

Like a proud father, Triple H poses with two of his many “NXT children”
The Kabuki Warriors’ thoughts on their NXT Homecoming
WWE PC’s video diary of The Kabuki Warriors’ Homecoming is outstanding

Spirited Away from NXT

When a Superstar would receive their “call up” to the main roster, there is a feeling akin to a graduation. Asuka relinquished her NXT Women’s Championship on August 24, 2017 after a successful, hard-hitting title defense against Ember Moon. This was in part to her snapping her collar bone during the match, and needing time to heal up, prior to her main roster debut at Tables, Ladders, and Chairs (TLC) two months later, on October 22nd.

Incredible doesn’t even begin to describe Asuka’s journey in NXT

Asuka’s post-NXT accolades in WWE include one of the longest undefeated streaks, the first woman to be the Survivor Series Sole Survivor and Women’s Royal Rumble winner, Mixed Match Challenge Participant, SmackDown Women’s Champion and WWE Women’s Tag Team Champion… just to name a few.

Kairi and many of the signees from the first Mae Young Classic (fall 2017) would continue elevating the NXT Women’s championship in Asuka’s absence. Sane would go onto to not only win the inaugural Mae Young Classic, but also represent NXT in the 2018 Royal Rumble, the WrestleMania Women’s Battle Royal, and close out her first year in NXT, by finally winning the NXT Women’s Championship from her fellow Mae Young Classic finalist, Shayna Baszler. Shortly after, she and Bazler would have a rematch at Evolution, the first all women’s Pay-Per-View, in which she would lose to Bazler.

Sane started turning heads when she reunited with her fellow Stardom Alumnae and best friend, Io Shirai, forming the Sky Pirates, and putting their names into the conversation once the Women’s Tag Team Championships were announced. However, the team would be short-lived as Sane, too, would graduate from NXT on April 11, 2019 joining Asuka on SmackDown Live.

Sane charts a course for the next chapter of her career: On the Main Roster

NXT consistently provides the WWE with outstanding matches, especially with their women’s roster. With NXT Live on USA weekly, I hope that more alumnae drop by and shake things up. I also hope it isn’t very long before The Kabuki Warriors bring their power and energy back their Orlando home.

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I was caught on camera for two of the Top Five Emotional NXT Farewells.

The Slow Burn of The Green Mist

Today, a very special project went live over on YouTube. I was asked by a friend to contribute cultural context about two varying definitions of the usage of kabuki with regards to WWE’s Women’s Tag Team Champions, The Kabuki Warriors (Asuka and Kairi Sane). I was genuinely curious as to what prompted Asuka’s deployment of The Green Mist as a new method in securing victories over opponents. As I dove into the WWEs’ YouTube channel, I realized that intentional or not, it’s been very subtle teased for several years now.

I always found this NXT era mask rather curious…
Does using the Green Mist make for a tainted victory?
The Kabuki Warriors are no long in need of Paige’s managerial services.

Foreshadowing the Green Mist?

While researching for my piece for Canvas 2 Canvas, I came across some older videos of Asuka. At Tables, Ladders, & Chairs (TLC) 2017, she debuted against a former NXT rival, Emma, but also arrived with her green mist mask, a carryover from NXT. The Other clips were from her backstage diary at WrestleMania 34: New Orleans and the game trailer for WWE 2K19.

October 2017: Asuka’s Main Roster Debut Announced
Debuts at TLC 2017: New Roster, Same Asuka
April 2018: Who Inspired Asuka to Wrestle?
October 2018: Never Say Never

In summer 2018, Funko would release three Asuka Funko Pop toys, including an exclusive green mist mask variant. All these instances subtly nod to the possibility that the green mist could become an eventual asset to Asuka’s seemingly endless skill set. However, these brief mentions flew low under the worldwide radar.

Summer 2018 Wal-Mart Exclusive Edition (link)

I couldn’t find a secondary resource, it is worth mentioning that one site stated that dark green makeup in Kabuki theatre is typically used for supernatural beings. The otherworldly nature of Asuka and Kairi Sane as the Kabuki Warriors gives them a supernatural quality, which makes this an interesting suggestion. However, Asuka mentioned in the interview her inspiration The Great Muta, also uses the green mist, so this likely a nod to his wrestling legacy. I hope someone does a follow-up interview with her, so we could get some clarification as to the origins and intention behind it.

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Japanese Study with WEAR App

I am not a very fashionable person. However, I’ve been very keep to keep track of the outfits I plan, especially when traveling for wrestling. For quite a while, I have intended to keep a journal of the looks I coordinate for when I go to shows, so I can avoid back scrolling through my Instagram feed, to see if I’ve already tried a specific combination of clothing. Enter WEAR.

While the landing page is in Japanese, if you scroll all the way to the bottom of the page, you can change the language to English on the desktop site. With the mobile app, it defaulted to an English interface. You are also able to select country display from a select group of countries: Japan, USA, UK, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Mainland China, Singapore and Malaysia. In order to work on vocabulary building, I am keeping my country and language settings to Japanese.

My WEAR Profile will be part of my Japanese blog, Everyday Karen. I will use to showcase how I style my Japan-related clothing items, especially t-shirts. I tend to shop my closet or go thrifting to avoid purchasing new clothes, incorporating pieces of clothing I often wear to work. Also, as I continue my wellness journey, I want to remain spendthrift, as I have clothing ranging from size 16 all the way down to size 4.

I imagine I will see a shift in the outfit coordination as I re-release my heavily thrifted wardrobe back into the wild, but I hope that using WEAR will also catalog styles that really helped me feel my most confident. If my sewing aptitude ever manages to improve, I may take my most beloved pieces and attempt to tailor them into a smaller size.

One of the cool features of WEAR is the ability to select coordinated outfits together and write blog posts. I’ve seen posts where other users curate posts of outfits they love from other users, which is also another exciting feature. For someone insecure about their sense of fashion or being plus-sized, it is also one of the intimidating features because it shows you not only who likes your outfits, but also who has curated it.

I am still getting acclimated to the site, so I have yet to follow anyone, but I think once I upload a couple of more photos, I will start deep diving and seeking out styling advice. Japanese fashion tends to be a little more conservative than Western, which is why I liked it so much when I live there. Even when I was my slimmest, I will still very hesitant to show off my weight loss, but I am hoping that using WEAR will be one way to I can begin to overcome that obstacle.

I plan to make my posts as bilingual as possible, and my biggest challenge will be reminding myself to stop and capture outfits, especially ones that tend to become recurring looks. I’ve started to take notice of styling preferences, including denim, floral prints, pencil skirt silhouettes, and layers. Florida tends to have warm-to-hot temperatures most of the year, so I look forward to autumn-spring the most. Layered looks are more frequent due to gap in temperature from outside weather and indoor air conditioning/heating throughout the year.

Do you use any applications, website, or programs to track your outfits? What do you do when items are no longer in season or the right fit/size?

From the Vault: Finding Japan in Florida

It’s been three years, and these are some still of the best places to get a sampling of authentic Japanese culture and flavor throughout Florida. I will definitely need to do an update!

Karen Nerds Out

When I was seven, we visited Florida for the first time, and I fell in love with the Japan Pavilion at EPCOT. At the time, I was just another kid at The Mouse House, but it could very well have been the trigger for one of my epic life’s journeys. Growing up in Florida, I always longed for living in New York or California, so I could have better access to Japanese culture. During undergrad, I took several Japanese language and literature courses that would later propel me to the other side of the planet for five and a half years. Since returning in 2009, I’ve worked on finding slices of Japan closer to home in Florida, aside from my Japanese friends peppered across the country.

Can you tell that lately I’ve been missing Japan?1

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The Transformation of Io Shirai

A selection of WWE Japan videos and tweets of NXT Superstar, Io Shirai. While WWE Japan has taken to subtitling her content, I do continue to translate her tweets when possible.

05.08.2019 Io sends a heartfelt thank you to her fans!

“I received so many birthday messages not only from Japan and the US, but from around the world! Thank you so much everyone for your warm messages! I can’t thank you enough. There are so many messages that I wish I could like and reply to each and every single one! THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU SO MUCH!”
– Io (link)

06.13.19 Io waits over five minutes before saying 6 words and walking out.
07.10.2019 Io chooses to walk alone.

“Kairi ran off to be by Asuka’s side. Shayna always has her two goons. Do you why that is? It’s because they’re weak. I, Io Shirai, am moving ahead alone because there is no worthy to stand beside me.”
– Io Shirai (link)

08.09.2019 Candice LeRae is to blame. Always.

Tweet: “Throw out unnecessary things* after your break them.” – Io (link)

Video: “Candice… CAN…DICE… CANDICE!!!! Every single time I’ve lost has been that little brat’s fault!”

KUSHIDA’s Time in America

Several translations of TimeSplitter tweets and videos from WWE Japan, before they began adding English subtitles. KUSHIDA joined WWE’s NXT in April 2019 debuting the Wednesday after WrestleMania at Full Sail.

05.01.2019 after his debut match with Kassius Ohno

“I just finished my first match in NXT! Ugh, man… it wasn’t easy by any means, and as you can see, it was tougher than I expected. However, I was able to bring my training and experience from Japan, making me an unstoppable force here in my match. I know that I’m a long way from home, and Japan is really far away, but I hope I’m able to show you everything I am doing here from across the ocean. I hope you’ll keep a close eye on what I’m doing, and I’ll keep pushing hard to do my best to make you proud. “
– KUSHIDA (link)

05.30.2019 after this 3rd match with Drew Gulak

” We just finished a TV taping. New experiences are coming at me one after the next: getting settled here in Orlando, adjusting into a daily routine, matches and practice, too. I haven’t yet established NXT as my personal territory. I haven’t had much time to breathe, but through my in-ring work, I am working hard to represent Japan. I’m even studying English. I’ve learned a new English phrase: ‘I will take you to the next level, NXT!'”
– KUSHIDA (link)

I was able to see KUSHIDA’s series with Gulak live at Full Sail. They have outstanding technical chemistry.

09.11.2019 prior to WWE in Madison Square Garden, NYC

“So, I rented a car in NYC to drive around for the first time. ” The traffic was packed, lots of people honking their horns, the roads were packed… I couldn’t find the MSG parking lot… Whew! I was shocked at the price for hotel parking!! It was a good learning experience… (LOL)”
– KUSHIDA (link)

I also love celebrating a good bilingual pun on September 4th!