Wrestling had always been a major part of Japanese culture, with professionally-run promotions existing as far back as the 1850s. However, the first officially recognized period of recorded wrestling history is considered to be the "Giant Era", dating from the 1900s until 1933. This was a time when Giant Pro Wrestling was a massive success, with their wrestlers being national heroes. The promotion collapsed in 1933 though, under shady circumstances.
This led to the so-called "Dark Era", which lasted from GPW's demise until 1960. The public's respect for wrestling had been shattered by the way that GPW had gone out of business, and the complete lack of interest meant that no smaller promotion could even begin to think about trying to do business. There are no recorded wrestling events at all from this time period.
The 1960's saw the "Rebirth Era". Golden Canvas Grappling was formed in 1960, and began rebuilding the image of wrestling as a noble sport. Burning Hammer of the Wrestling Gods followed in 1966, and also presented wrestling as serious and competitive. The public, with the memory of GPW's disgrace having faded, started to come back, and by the end of the decade, wrestling was once again enjoying public admiration.
This admiration was turned into massive popularity in the "Elemental Era" of the 1970s. GCG and BHOTWG ruled Japan, with both enjoying runs as the number one promotion, only for the other to come back. GCG had more big stars, with heavyweight wrestlers like Sadaharu Jimbo, Hanshiro Furusawa, and Yoshinaka Toshusai being very popular with fans, but BHOTWG had the biggest of them all, Master Kitozon, who had gone beyond simply being a wrestler and was now a genuine cultural icon in Japan. However, it was the emergence of Elemental, a masked lightweight wrestler, that gave BHOTWG the edge, as he became the first wrestler to make the leap from wrestling star to mainstream media superstar, and he was able to bring a whole new young audience to the product.
The "Burning Era" took place in the 80s, as BHOTWG (despite the death of their figurehead Master Kitozon) went from strength to strength, while GCG fell from grace, something that many blame on former star Hanshiro Furusawa, who took over the promotion. Some of his business decisions were questionable, and allowed BHOTWG to dominate them; many believe that if it was not for the emergence of Yoshifusa Maeda as a genuine superstar for GCG, the promotion would not have even have survived the decade. BHOTWG on the other hand were enjoying massive popularity, with homegrown talents like Hooded Kudo and Optimus becoming huge stars, while foreign imports like Dread and Sam Keith made big impacts on the Japanese fans.
1996 was a year that saw a bizarre mirror effect between the two big wrestling countries, Japan and USA. From the 1980s onwards, both had been virtually dominated by one promotion. 1996 saw HGC debut in the US to provide some much needed competition, and the same thing also happened in Japan, as the "Pride Era" began; under the leadership of former GCG legend Sadaharu Jimbo, Pride Glory Honour Wrestling was formed, and BHOTWG found themselves with serious competition for the first time since GCG at the tail end of the 1970s. Boasting a pure style, PGHW had new stars like Koryusai Kitoaji, Hito Ichihara, Eisaku Hoshino and Eisaku Kunomasu, and were soon being seen as a genuine contender.
The latest twist in the story happened in 2006. A controversial change in style by BHOTWG triggered a "rebellion", which saw some of their biggest names, led by their figurehead Tadiyuki Kikkawa, walk out to form their own company, INSPIRE. This left BHOTWG with a huge hole in their roster, and the balance of power in the industry shifted. As 2007 begins, many would now say that PGHW, with their incredible roster boasting some of the finest pure wrestlers in the world, like Mito Miwa, Nobuatsu Tatsuko, Yoshimi Mushashibo and Shuji Inukai, are now the number one promotion in Japan. Others would say that BHOTWG are clinging to the top spot, but are on the verge of being ousted. Either way, 2007 looks set to be an exciting time for Japanese wrestling fans.
- Burning Hammer of the Wrestling Gods
- Combat Fighting Arts
- Inspire Diversity Group International
- Japan Pro-Women's Wrestling
- Japanese Championship Wrestling
- 5 Star Supreme Wrestling
- Golden Canvas Grappling
- Hinote Dojo
- Pride Glory Honor Wrestling
- WINNOW: Japanese Women's Wrestling