I am a chat moderator for a wrestling podcast called Steve & Larson’s Going in Raw. In the last two years, I’ve been fortunate enough to be a community member and they afford me a platform to provide my input on hot topics, especially those related to women’s wrestling and Japanese wrestling. Over the last month, Kairi Sane, left NXT and debuted on SmackDown Live as the tag team partner of fellow countrywoman, Asuka. Last night, their tag team name was revealed to be The Kabuki Warriors, and there was a fair bit of fan backlash, from myself included.
This morning, I was asked to submit my thoughts on the announcement as well as some cultural/historical perspective for their live broadcast.
“Steve and Larson asked me to provide a little perspective as to the issues surrounding the big reveal of Kairi and Asuka as “The Kabuki Warriors.” I’ll be the first to admit, that I was rather upset upon hearing the news, but here is little perspective as to why:
Since Kairi’s call up, I have been frustrated that Asuka and Kairi have been assigned Paige as their manager, hype woman, advocate and mouthpiece. When both women were in NXT, they were given the opportunity to speak for themselves and worked hard to improve their English. Cutting a promo is difficult in one’s first language, and for all the grief people give the Full Sail Crowd, when they spoke, we quietly listened. Since their pairing with Paige, neither Kairi nor Asuka have really been given the opportunity to cut promos in the ring. They have someone speaking for them in English, but not someone who also speaks their language. It sends a message to the fans that Kairi and Asuka are incapable of communicating their goals and desires as a tag team because English is their second language.
The reveal of The Kabuki Warriors could have been better handled, largely in its execution. With all the vast resources available in the WWE, they elected to have a non-Japanese advocate announce the new team name at a pre-taped show abroad without an explanation behind the name selection. It made it seem like Paige was unveiling a new car, and not presenting the next dominant women’s tag team in WWE. It wasn’t Kairi and Asuka announcing to the world that they wanted honor their heritage by using the lesser known meaning of “Kabuki,” which lead to international outrage because outside of Japan its interpretation isn’t conveyed in popular media. Throw “Kabuki” into a search engine, you’re going to get the art form definition, one of which prohibited women from acting in part of for over 200 years. Also, while Asuka wears a mask, that is a tribute to NOH (No) Theater, a masked performance art while Kabuki actors wear extreme makeup. It is just confusing to those not familiar with Japanese culture, and it shouldn’t be upon the fans to explain it to one another. Honor the culture, but make sure you explain why.
Asuka shouldn’t have had to explain the lesser known meaning of “Kabuki-mono” which has a different meaning from “Kabuki” (theater) in a tweet, when they could have done all of this ahead of time with a single video package. The definition Asuka provides is “Edo-period (pronounced: “Eh-dough”) eccentric who attracted public attention with their eye-catching clothes, peculiar hairstyle, and weird behavior.” Without any explanation of this difference of interpretation, it is only natural that people can perceive it is lazy and racist. People had the same mixed response with SHO and YOH in ROH as “The Tempura Boyz” largely because there wasn’t explanation as to why they selected that naming.
With all the amazing work the WWE PC team is putting together compelling video, there isn’t a team who can do the same for the main roster Superstars? If you are going to take away their voices on live television, find an alternate way to present them by letting them use their own words and language. WWE Japan has been releasing backstage promos in Japanese between Kairi and Asuka ever since Kairi’s call up, but even with the vast resources of the WWE, no one is bothering to subtitle this for the western audience. They were genuinely excited to finally feel validated at The Kabuki Warriors because it made them feel like an official tag team, not just two Japanese women thrown together. Why wasn’t this or any of their other Japanese material subtitled in English, so the fans could understand their story? Considering the characters of Asuka (The Empress) and Kairi (The Pirate Princess)— this sudden name assignment without the proper clarification is wildly the issue, especially considering WWE’s track record with international talent.
Why many jumped to the offensive, is largely in part to how fans at the shows behave, especially toward the international talent. I have been to NXT House Shows while both Asuka and Kairi were in NXT and had to listen to ‘fans’ say absolutely sexist & racist things to them during matches, including geisha jokes and mentions of Pearl Harbor. Calling outraged fans ignorant or “so called” fans because they came to the defense of Asuka and Kairi should not be an issue because racism in the US (and abroad) along with the sexual comments made about them, is the greater concern.
Don’t make it about damage control or having their manager-advocate-mouthpiece do it for them.If Kairi and Asuka chose the name as an homage to Japanese culture and the kick ass Joshi Tag teams of the 80s-90s, right on… BUT LET THEM TELL THAT STORY TO THE UNIVERSE.
GIVE THEM THAT PLATFORM.”
The above is a compilation of my thoughts on the subject based on the following:
- My original reaction to the name announcement via UK taping spoilers.
- My reaction this morning to Paige’s curt response to an outraged fan.