In Memoriam: Hana Kimura

This has been a tough week in the world of wrestling. Former WWE wrestler, fighter, and the real-life God of War Shad Gaspard, died after being carried away by a ripcurrent while swimming with his 10-year-old son. Wrestling journalist Larry Csonka also passed away with week. And it all culminated on Saturday, May 25th. I’m sure a lot of wrestling fan were shocked, just as I was, when reading that Stardom wrestler Hana Kimura had died at the age of 22, a victim of suicide.

That was the one that really hit me close to home. So I’m going to ask my readers and editor to indulge me for just a few minutes. I’d love to write something that gave us all a positive distraction from the social depression we’re all currently living in, but I just don’t have it in me right now. I need to work this out.

I first saw Hana Kimura at a Ring of Honor TV taping in Fairfax, VA. She was with Oedo Tai and we saw them before the show doing meet and greets. I didn’t know much about Stardom, but my wife was into it and I was excited to check it out. I was at the table meeting Sanada and Evil from NJPW and they were at the table next to them. I felt really bad because it was clear that, like me, a lot of the other fans didn’t know much about Stardom wrestling. But as we passed, Hana and Hazuki waved at us. We were some of the very few people wearing Japanese wrestling shirts—I had on a Suzuki-Gun shirt and my wife was wearing a Tetsuya Naito/LIJ shirt. They didn’t speak English, but they did the Naito salute to my wife, and of course, my wife did it back. I thought it was a really cool moment. They didn’t need language to communicate their love of wrestling.

Naito/LIJ Salute

We had ringside seats to the show and when Oedo Tai came out, we completely fell in love. Hazuki and Kagestu were the kind of heel wrestlers you could never find in North American wrestling. They cussed. They spit on the crowd. They were sadistic, bordering on inappropriate towards the face wrestler. They were mean and nasty. But Hana was different. She was the youngest and she stood out. Not for her youth. It didn’t take long to see that her ring awareness and skill were leaps and bounds ahead of anything you could find in WWE at the time. And she acted like a mean girl. She poked fun at her opponent’s outfit. She broke up the match to strut around the ring and pose for the fans. They hated her.

 

I want to take a moment here to explain what I mean. Heel wrestlers (the bad guys) are not what they used to be. With kayfabe being dead, everyone knows wrestling is fake and that there are good guys and bad guys. Because of this, bad guys can’t be “really bad”. They can’t do nasty things and stay in character. They have to sign autographs. They have to make appearances. They can’t be real heels. But Oedo Tai were real heels. And when you hate a heel for doing heel things, that means they’re doing their job. It’s not the same as hating a wrestler for being a bad wrestler, or for having a dumb character or for not being good on the mic. When a heel is so in their character that you hate them, they got it right. There aren’t a lot of heels left in the business that you love to hate. MJF. The Miz. Chris Jericho. Minoru Suzuki. They’re good at being bad. And Oedo Tai were good at being bad. And Hana Kimura was good at being bad.

From that night on, we started following Oedo Tai and Hana Kimura. We found out that she was a second generation wrestler, the daughter of Joshi Pro and Big Japan Pro Wrestling star Kyoko Kimura. She was splitting time between Wrestle-1, Sendai Girls, and Stardom in 2018 when we saw her. We found out she won her first wrestling match at the age of 8 when she won a championship in DDT wrestling. She then immediately lost it to her own mother, which was probably hilarious and adorable. Hana Kimura was a workhorse. She was determined to make a name for herself. I never got an indication that she was content with being the child of a wrestling superstar and coasting on that fame. I won’t name names, but WWE and AEW are overflowing with people who are doing everything they can to make up for their lack of promo skill or in-ring ability by coasting on the goodwill their parents or grandparents earned when they were wrestling superstars. Not Hana. She wanted to write her own story.

After she left Oedo Tai, she joined Tokyo Cyber Squad. With Stardom losing a lot of top tier talents to retirement and WWE contracts, it seemed like the perfect time for Hana to rise up the ranks. They were going to make her their Ace (lead performer). She was going to be the Hogan. The Cena. The Rock. The Stone Cold. The kind of person that transcends the wrestling business and becomes a legit superstar. But now that’s all gone.

In addition to being a wrestler, Hana was a model and actress. She appeared on a Netflix reality show called Terrace House (I’ve never seen it, but from what I’ve read, it’s something like Big Brother or The Real World). On that show, she was edited to look like a villain. But the world of reality TV is even more fake than wrestling. It wasn’t the same kind of villain. Hana got upset at another housemate because they put their clothes in the laundry along with the wrestling tights she wore when she wrestled in the Tokyo Dome. She got upset and, of course, they framed her as the “bad guy” and she began to get hate mail. She was relentlessly cyber-bullied. 

Another side note: The Tokyo Dome is one of the last “Sports Meccas” that we have in wrestling. Do you know what a Sports Mecca is? It’s hallowed ground. It’s special. Wrestling there is the pinnacle of a lot of wrestling careers. For someone to destroy what she wore for that momentous occasion would make her justifiably upset. Would you go to Lambeau Field and set Brett Favre’s jersey on fire? Would you clean your house with a game worn Michael Jordan jersey? Would you let your dog play with Muhammed Alis boxing gloves? That’s the level of disrespect we’re talking about here. 

But that doesn’t matter to many fans. As bad as fandom in North America can be, it’s been widely proven that the fandom in Asian countries is on a completely different level. They really believe that entertainers belong to them. And when entertainers have the nerve to act human or vulnerable, they are made to suffer. Do a quick Google search on the astounding number of K-Pop idols that have committed suicide in the last 18 months. It’s depressing. And in my admittedly limited experience, Japan isn’t much different. These celebrity “idols” are constantly criticized. Stalked. So much is demanded of them. 

And when the fans pick a target, the cyber bullying is relentless. Hana Kimura was verbally abused non-stop. Can you imagine what that does to someone’s psyche? Their self-worth? Imagine you’re stuck at home because of COVID-19, you’re isolated from any support system you might have, you have nothing to distract you, and every time you turn on an electronic device, you have a message from someone telling you how much they hate you. How much could you take? I’m a grown man and I can tell you that it would break me. We’re talking about a 22-year-old girl. 

About a year and a half ago, one of my closest friends committed suicide. I constantly ask myself, “What did I miss?” I wish that I could go back and find that one hint, that one marker that may have told me that he wasn’t OK, that he needed help. But I go through every interaction I had with him in the weeks leading up to his death, and I can’t find anything. I’ll probably never know what, if anything, I could have done to stop him from taking his own life. So when I heard about Hana Kimura and saw the outpouring of support from other wrestlers and fans, I knew that they were asking themselves the same questions. By all accounts, Hana Kimura was always smiling and happy to help. She was a hard worker. She laughed and she had a good time when she was in the ring. I’m sure her friends and family are beating themselves up, wondering if they could have done something or if they did enough. Could they have saved her? Maybe they’re like me and they’ll never know. It’s a horrible feeling. 

Here’s what we do know. If we could find in ourselves to act like decent human beings when we’re online, things like this wouldn’t happen. Every fandom I’ve ever been a part of is guilty of the behavior that killed Hana Kimura. It doesn’t matter if you’re into video games, Doctor Who, Marvel, Harry Potter or wrestling, there’s always a group of people that feels that the performers to who entertain us belong specifically to them, to be praised or ridiculed or destroyed as they please. We give them names. Trolls. Marks. Whatever. But they exist in our fandom. They corrupt our “Geek”. They are not true fans. They are unhappy people who project their misery onto the things that bring them joy. And don’t even get me started on the “If you can’t take criticism and scrutiny, don’t be a celebrity” idea. Really? Because abuse is supposed to be a part of the process? You’re saying that the bully has a right to bully and the public figure has no business calling them out for it?

I’ve talked in the past about how much of a horrible place Wrestling Twitter is. I’ve seen people that claim that they love pro wrestling ridicule Nyla Rose for being transgendered. I’ve seen “lifelong wrestling fans” cheer for joy when Roman Reigns was diagnosed with cancer. I’ve seen them defend WWE for killing Owen Hart. I’ve seen them sending barrages of hate tweets at Sami Zayn for being Muslim. They are the worst of us. They are not fans. And they killed Hana Kimura. It breaks my heart that there will be no justice for this poor girl and the people responsible for her demise will continue in their miserable lives. 

If it seems like I’m rambling, I am. I don’t know what I’m trying to say. I’m hurting for Hana’s family. I’m angry at her bullies. I want us to treat each other better. That’s it, I guess. Why is it human nature to kill the things you love? I don’t have the answer for you. I’m gonna miss watching a fantastic wrestler do her thing and I’m sad we won’t get to see everything that she could have been. This isn’t how her story was supposed to end and it’s depressing that we let the story be written by a bitter but vocal minority. We need to be better. Twenty-two years is way too young. She had so much more to do. It breaks my heart.

Godspeed, Hana Kimura. Thank you for being here, if only briefly. I really hope you find some peace.

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or thoughts of self harm, please reach out to SAMHSA
and/or The Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

If you would like to donate to the family of Shad Gaspard, click here.

If you want to see some of the amazing work Hana Kimura did in her short life, I strongly suggest subscribing to ROH Honor Club or Stardom World. Even if it’s just for a month, it’s worth it. If that isn’t possible, Ring of Honor has posted her match from the G1 Supercard at Madison Square Garden.

Alex Watts

Alex is a lifelong sports fan and writer that has (against the better judgement of several producers and program directors) appeared on ESPN Radio and CBS Sports Radio. He lives in Washington D.C. with his wife, 1 child, 1 cat and an unhealthy amount of video game consoles.

Alex Watts

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