To view this PAPER PRESENTATION, search for the session title in the Browse by Titlelisting. (See the session title located immediately below ["In Session:"])
In Session: Unchained Bodies: “Women’s Liberation” in Postwar Japanese Culture
2: Inchoate Liberation: The Media Portrayal of American and Japanese Female Professional Wrestlers in 1950s Japan
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
8:30am – 10:00am EDT
Yonsei University, Republic of Korea
In November 1954, six American female professional wrestlers including the “world champion” Mildred Burke toured for the first time in Japan. Japanese newspapers and magazines welcomed them by cherishing their beauty and skills. Against the background of the massive popularity of male professional wrestling on television in Japan from early 1954 on, these “lady wrestlers” appeared to be comparable to their Japanese male counterparts in the eyes of reporters. The tour also sparked the formation of new organizations for Japanese women’s professional wrestling and many aspiring young women spontaneously joining them. However, media often trivialized Japanese female wrestlers as novices in need of more sophistication both as entertainers and athletes.
This paper examines the contrasting ways in which Japanese media portrayed the 1954 tour of Burke’s group and the subsequent emergence of Japanese female wrestlers in the mid-1950s. Historians of 1950s Japan have often discussed the male star wrestler Rikidōzan symbolizing “new Japan” under the U.S. military, economic, and ideological umbrella. By comparing the media images of the American and Japanese female wrestlers, this paper illuminates the post-Occupation emergence of gendered consumption of America against the background of the continued violence of unequal U.S.-Japan relation, while the Japanese female wrestlers were seen as incomplete and even a threat, provoking Japanese misogynistic sentiments.