Hello! I suspect there’s a strong chance this interview will bring in some new people so if this if your first time finding my blog, welcome! Because I anticipate a bit of a new audience for this one, and because it’s coming up on a year since I started posting translations, I just want to restate that my Japanese proficiency is not perfect! I’m definitely still learning and practising every day, and the reason I started working on wrestling translations in the first place was because my interest was a great motivation to actually practice. That said, I’ve come a long way in the past year and I don’t think there are any mistakes that could wildly mislead anyone, just, you know, don’t start arguments with anyone over very specific wording or something. I mean, you shouldn’t do that in general, just especially don’t do it with my name attached. Now I hope you enjoy my work on another stellar interview by @ozaki_mugiko. Her next interview was with Saki Akai, and I will definitely be working on that one. Before that was released there was also a shorter one with Tam from before her title match against Mayu last fall, and I will probably work on that as well.
Part 1: “Why am I like this?!” Her despair continued into her idol era. How Maki Itoh discovered her wrestling way of life.
January 4th, 2018, Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling in Korakuen Hall. “Fighting Fired Idol” Maki Itoh enters the ring surrounded by a flurry of red and orange streamers. The way she captures the attention of the venue in an instant is incredible. However, her opponent is the exceptional genius entertainer Danshoku Dieno. During Dieno’s entrance he runs riot going wherever he wants, and the audience absolutely explodes.
Power, skill, experience. As an opponent Dieno has more of everything. Itoh has no chance of winning. But just as everyone is thinking that, she uses Dieno’s signature move – the Lip Lock. Which is a kiss. And on top of that for her, it was her first kiss.
She loses the match, but leaves people thinking she’s actually an amazing joshi wrestler. But at the same time, I feel like, “You didn’t have to do the kiss stuff, you were already a star on your own…”
“Because I was young I was just like, ‘oh as long as I can make waves that’s great.’ Like as long as I’m interesting, great. I didn’t think about it before or after. I didn’t particularly hold it up as My First Kiss, because it was like, moving forward I’ll probably get the chance to kiss lots of hot guys so it’s fine. I didn’t care about anything but pro wrestling.” The August 2021 Maki Itoh cackles while reminiscing about that time.
Because she injured her face a few days before the interview, she shows up at the interview location wearing black sunglasses and a black mask. I couldn’t see her facial expressions, so I proceeded with the interview feeling like I was fumbling in the dark.
Itoh was born on July 22nd 1995 in Ogori City, Fukuoka. With Fukuoka City only an hour away by train, it’s something of a commuter city. In such an insular town, she’d get teased just for wearing a mini skirt.
“From when I was a kid I was already a big attention seeker, stuff like Mezzo Piano or like, Blue Angel, I wore lots of super cute brand clothing, you know. The older kids would look at me with this feeling of like, “what the heck, what’s with her?”, like I stuck out and drew a lot of attention. So yeah, I did have problems. I was really bad at connecting with people, no matter what I did they hated me.”
Up until 4th grade she says she figures she “was liked well enough”, but then after that she felt like the atmosphere began to darken. However, as she was still basking in attention, she began to become full of herself. She says “When they’d tease me, that would boost my self-esteem.”
She wanted to be famous. She wanted to get famous, be rich, and throw it back in the face of everyone who bullied her. She liked to draw, and thought she’d like to be a manga artist. During school breaks, she would single-mindedly focus on things like her drawing to try and develop original stories. At least during those times, she could be her unusual self.
When she moved up to junior high, there was a boy she liked. She would get too embarrassed to talk to him face to face, so she spent loads of time drawing him. She wanted to spend even just a little bit of time together, so she went to the same cram school. One day, she found out he was a fan of AKB48’s Yuki Kashiwagi. She heard him say “I want to marry Yuki Kashiwagi” and thought if she became an idol he’d want to marry her instead.
In senior high she began auditioning to become an idol, and in July 2011 she joined the group LinQ as a second generation member. However she didn’t get popular at all, to the point where she couldn’t even appear in their concerts. She became a total shut-in, and couldn’t get out of bed in the morning. Unable to avoid the need to pass classes in school, she dropped out.
“While the other girls got popular and got solo parts and stuff, I couldn’t get anything like that…. And because of that I couldn’t like myself any more, or maybe like, I started to always criticize myself. I’d wonder “Why the hell am I like this?!”. I would have been okay if I had still been capable of just trying my best at least, but I just felt too low. That’s just what depression makes you feel like all the time.”
That was when she happened to come across pro wrestling. On August 13th 2013 she was a special guest at DDT’s Ryogoku Sumo Hall show and got to headbutt the president Sanshiro Takagi, which became a hot topic. This was despite her not knowing the first thing about pro wrestling. However, what she did understand was her ability to move people through wrestling. She thought she was probably well suited to become a pro wrestler.
President Takagi enthusiastically approached her and her guest appearances for DDT began to pile up. At that point it was still very novel for idols to wrestle, and as the media picked up on the story in a big way she began to think, “If I seriously go down this path, maybe I can get famous.” However, she had a preconception of joshi wrestlers having to abandon their womanhood, and that gave her pause.
“To put it frankly, I had this idea that they were like, “vulgar”. As an idol you can only have this good image, so I felt like if I went from that to becoming a wrestler, that meant I’d lost. So that’s why even once I decided to start wrestling, I didn’t want to tell the other LinQ members. So without even saying anything I moved to Tokyo, yeah.”
Looking back on it now, I wonder if there’s still anything she feels like she “lost” when she made the transition from idol to wrestler?
“Now I understand that when you come to a standstill like that you need to change course, but if you ask me to say whether I think of that as a win or a loss, I’m not sure I could say, y’know? Pro wrestling brings with it a very real risk of injury, maybe it actually is the case that I’m genuinely shortening my life compared to what it would be if I was an idol and the most dangerous thing I did was smiling. But for me, that would have been too boring. I got bored of being an idol.”
Itoh had gotten bored of being an idol.
“The same song, the same dance routine, the same formation, we never got to improve on anything. And because I wasn’t getting popular either, it was like, no one’s even looking at me. Like, I didn’t even get the chance to make eye contact with fans. I would be singing while wondering what I was even doing here. During a song I’d just be like, thinking about my lunch, you know?”
For that girl, pro wrestling was exciting. Every match made her nervous. Every time she had a match, she felt like the audience’s expectations were raised. She felt like if Maki Itoh can’t live up to those expectations then she’s useless, and she didn’t have the spare time to wonder about what’s for lunch any more.
“There was definitely pressure, but at that point, there had to be. There are certain things that you can only really express specifically because you have that pressure on you, you know. I work backwards from the idea of, “this is the kind of Maki Itoh the fans want to see.” So I think if I hadn’t had those expectations put on me in the first place, I wouldn’t have been able to figure out how to think like that either.”
Her pro debut was on December 11th, 2016. It was at Hakata Star Lanes, in a match against Miyu Yamashita.
“Miyu Yamashita is strong. But because I had lived a life that she hadn’t, I was still confident in myself in that regard. I thought that I had been able to see things she had never seen. Because I think, pro wrestling after all, more than winning or losing, is about how much you can move the fans emotionally, that’s the most important thing right? So because I had these experiences from my life and stuff that Yamashita didn’t have, I felt like I had this whole arsenal at my disposal that she didn’t have, so I wasn’t as scared as you’d maybe expect.”
The result was that Yamashita beat her, but she definitely got a response.
For Maki Itoh, her way of life comes out in her pro wrestling. That’s how she’s always gotten the fans’ support. However, she says “Lately, I can’t really express that, though.”
Unable to express her way of life – what the heck happened to Itoh?
Part 2: Pro wrestler Maki Itoh wasn’t strong and lost her “way of life”. But she declares why she “doesn’t need that any more.”
Not just limited to Japan, Maki Itoh boasts of her explosive popularity overseas as well. Undeniably, her appeal is the way her matches burst with her way of life, and her performances on the mic. But lately, she says she feels like she “can’t express her way of life” any more. What the heck could have happened to Itoh?
“In the past, I was an underdog, right? I was weak, I was always getting the crap beat out of me, so I was so so frustrated and I couldn’t take it any more. I already felt like my life had just been one thing after another, so this was just too much on top of it and I’d explode. But, if you get your ass kicked as consistently as I did, you’ll pick things up along the way too, and little by little I got stronger.”
With respect to not being able to express her way of life in her matches, she’d also worried about that. She started to think, “The way I was in the past, my pro wrestling was good then, wasn’t it?” That is, until recently, when she re-watched her January 4th, 2018 match against Danshoku Dieno. Towards that, she was, let’s say…. Harsh.
“That match really got people talking, that was like, the match that people knew me for, it defined me. But when I watch it now, all I think is “The Maki Itoh from back then was a nobody.” If I were to do something like that now, now I’m at the point where I could actually think about how I’m going to do things in the match and stuff like that. But now I also don’t know whether or not that would resonate with the audience.”
Back then, she felt like she wanted to let out absolutely everything that she could.
“I had always felt, like, “I’m gonna mess up my life”. The ring seemed as good a place to do that as any. Back then, nothing went smoothly, so I was always thinking “what’s even the point of living like this?” but, I gave absolutely everything I had to pro wrestling and people praised me, and that became my reason for living. So then before long, I was wrestling like I’ll do this no matter what it takes, and I didn’t care about anything else.”
She wrestled like her life depended on the support of the fans in front of her. But now, it’s different.
“I’m looking at it on a global scale, I want to do things that people will find interesting. So in order to do that, the way I expressed myself needed to change as well. So for example, I stopped doing the Lip Lock (a kiss, and this was before the Covid pandemic) kinda stuff, or the languages I used, I started using more English on social media.”
This year on March 7th, in Jacksonville Florida, Itoh made a surprise appearance at a PPV event for the American wrestling company AEW. Her popularity in America skyrocketed. Today she has over 130,000 followers on Twitter.
“I don’t know whether or not the appeal of Maki Itoh is that I would do like, the Lip Lock with Danshoku Dieno and stuff like that, but now I feel like that isn’t the Maki Itoh the people worldwide want to see. I want to do stuff that can make everyone happy when they watch, you know? Being bad at actually wrestling and that sort of thing, I’ve done enough of that. I want to do the kind of pro wrestling that won’t leave anyone feeling down.”
This year on April 17th, she had a Princess of Princess title match against Rika Tatsumi. Rika said something on the mic. “Maki Itoh has lost her edge, I’ll make her get it back.”
“I don’t think there’s any denying that compared to what I was like before I have mellowed out, but when Rika said that to me I thought, “Why does it seem like I’ve lost my edge?” and I started thinking about it again. And that was when I realized I don’t think I actually need that edge any more. Even if I don’t have that edge, there are still lots of good things about me.”
That may come across as overconfident. But she worked hard to build that confidence. “I can definitely say I like myself as I am now” she said, along with a bit of an embarrassed laugh.
It feels like times have changed. When she did the Lip Lock, somewhere in her heart she was feeling “I want to get on TV”, “For the sake of getting on TV I have to do things others won’t, stuff like throwing away my womanhood, or I won’t make it.” But that’s not how it is now.
On May 3rd 2019, at TJPW’s Korakuen Hall show, Itoh fought Aja Kong. After the match on the mic she confessed that she had spent 800,000 yen [~$7000 US] getting facial reduction surgery that nobody had noticed.
“Because I couldn’t get results in that match, I relied on my mic work. But nowadays I don’t want to overuse the mic. Now it’s like how much less can I use it, you know?”
You could say that it was Itoh’s strength on the mic that let her rise to where she is now. But when it comes to wanting to use that mic less, she says it doesn’t take any sort of extraordinary resolve.
“Moves and techniques and stuff like that, if I can do more then as I do them, I think I might wonder what kind of wrestler I am, I could lose myself. So I figured if that’s the case, then not doing more is a good thing. There was actually a time, I’d thought I wanted to get to a point where I could do lots of different moves and stuff, but now I mainly just use headbutts and DDTs and Boston crabs.
I don’t even do a single type of suplex. For example, if I threw like a really big foreigner like ‘BAM’ then I think the audience would get really hype about it, so I think it might be good to have maybe just one move like that. But I also don’t really want to be adding to my core moveset. I want people to be able to see me and quickly get a sense of like ‘that right there is Maki Itoh.'”
Itoh has a comical nature, but her chances to have more serious matches have been increasing.
“My comedy persona precedes me, but overseas maybe that wouldn’t land so well. But I think drawing out a reaction like “oh, she can actually move” is good too. I do think you can show your abilities to their fullest via comedy wrestling, but I think if that was all I ever did I would just get bored. I don’t think I could do either without a little bit of compromise between them.
She first began thinking about going overseas during her trip to America in April 2019. During Itoh’s entrance the audience was very excited, and her portraits sold incredibly well. The reaction of the overseas wrestling fans was huge, making them laugh had paid off. It was a different kind of fun than Japan. Itoh came back to Japan very quickly that time, but began studying English.
I wondered if at some point, she had actually started to want to move overseas?
“I’d want to do both at the same time. Overseas, I’d just be doing the third match every show or something like that. It would be the same situation as we were just talking about, if I was always doing that one thing, I’d find that boring too, so I don’t want to do that either. What I want to do is keep progressing. In Japan I can keep challenging myself in more and more difficult situations, and overseas is where I can have my fill of just having fun, it’s like every once in a while I get to switch it up and say ‘oh I can do this sort of thing too.’ If the fans can fall in love with me doing that and then I can bring that attention back to Japan, that’s what I think would be the best.”
Her ambition is to become so popular in the world of wrestling that action figures of her and things like that are sold overseas. However in Japan, more than becoming more popular, her goal is to enable her juniors to shine.
“Like recently SKE48 member Yuki Arai came to TJPW, that’s what I want for her. In the past I absolutely would not have thought like that, but now I’m doing well enough, I can be more considerate of others. If I think ‘Oh that girl could go farther doing it more like this,’ then I’ll give that advice. I get my enjoyment from that now, so I don’t really think about wanting to get more popular and stuff like that. But of course I do still care about doing stuff that my current fans will enjoy.”
In January 2018, Maki Itoh devoted everything of herself to pro wrestling, and liplocked Danshoku Dieno. It was an interesting match, to say the least. However, in August 2021, Maki Itoh has changed. Saying “I want to wrestle in a way where no one gets hurt,” she’s no longer under preconceptions like “the point of wrestling is to show your way of life” and “being a joshi wrestler means casting aside your womanhood” – she has been freed.
I ask her, “When you say wrestling in a way where no one gets hurt, do you mean in the sense of not excluding anyone and discriminating, things like that?”
She hesitates a moment before answering.