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US woman fights for her dream in Japanese pro wrestling

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US woman fights for her dream in Japanese pro wrestling
Ticker tape confetti rains on wrestler Act Yasukawa after her last match before retirement during a Stardom female professional wrestling show at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, Japan, December 23, 2015. Professional women's wrestling in Japan means body slams, sweat, and garish costumes. But Japanese rules on hierarchy also come into play, with a culture of deference to veteran fighters. The brutal reality of the ring is masked by a strong fantasy element that feeds its popularity with fans, most of them men.REUTERS/Thomas Peter TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY SEARCH "WOMEN WRESTLERS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Wrestler Mieko Satomura carries her opponent Kairi Hojo through the audience area during a Stardom female professional wrestling show at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, Japan, July 26, 2015. Professional women's wrestling in Japan means body slams, sweat, and garish costumes. But Japanese rules on hierarchy also come into play, with a culture of deference to veteran fighters. The brutal reality of the ring is masked by a strong fantasy element that feeds its popularity with fans, most of them men. REUTERS/Thomas Peter SEARCH "WOMEN WRESTLERS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
People watch women fight during a Stardom female professional wrestling show at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, Japan, July 26, 2015. Professional women's wrestling in Japan means body slams, sweat, and garish costumes. But Japanese rules on hierarchy also come into play, with a culture of deference to veteran fighters. The brutal reality of the ring is masked by a strong fantasy element that feeds its popularity with fans, most of them men. REUTERS/Thomas Peter SEARCH "WOMEN WRESTLERS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Wrestler Kairi Hojo jumps at her opponent Mieko satomura during their Stardom female professional wrestling show at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, Japan, July 26, 2015. Professional women's wrestling in Japan means body slams, sweat, and garish costumes. But Japanese rules on hierarchy also come into play, with a culture of deference to veteran fighters. The brutal reality of the ring is masked by a strong fantasy element that feeds its popularity with fans, most of them men. REUTERS/Thomas Peter SEARCH "WOMEN WRESTLERS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Wrestler Kaori Housako jumps at her opponent Mieko Satomura during a Stardom female professional wrestling show at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, Japan, July 26, 2015. Professional women's wrestling in Japan means body slams, sweat, and garish costumes. But Japanese rules on hierarchy also come into play, with a culture of deference to veteran fighters. The brutal reality of the ring is masked by a strong fantasy element that feeds its popularity with fans, most of them men. REUTERS/Thomas Peter TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY SEARCH "WOMEN WRESTLERS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Members of the audience watch female wrestlers fight outside of the ring during a Stardom female professional wrestling show at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, Japan, July 26, 2015. Professional women's wrestling in Japan means body slams, sweat, and garish costumes. But Japanese rules on hierarchy also come into play, with a culture of deference to veteran fighters. The brutal reality of the ring is masked by a strong fantasy element that feeds its popularity with fans, most of them men. REUTERS/Thomas Peter SEARCH "WOMEN WRESTLERS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Wrestlers fight during their Stardom female professional wrestling show at Shinkiba 1st Ring in Tokyo, Japan, December 6, 2015. Professional women's wrestling in Japan means body slams, sweat, and garish costumes. But Japanese rules on hierarchy also come into play, with a culture of deference to veteran fighters. The brutal reality of the ring is masked by a strong fantasy element that feeds its popularity with fans, most of them men. REUTERS/Thomas Peter TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY SEARCH "WOMEN WRESTLERS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Wrestler Kairi Hojo (top) jumps at her opponent Mieko Satomura as they fight in the stands during a Stardom female professional wrestling show at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, Japan, July 26, 2015. Professional women's wrestling in Japan means body slams, sweat, and garish costumes. But Japanese rules on hierarchy also come into play, with a culture of deference to veteran fighters. The brutal reality of the ring is masked by a strong fantasy element that feeds its popularity with fans, most of them men. REUTERS/Thomas Peter SEARCH "WOMEN WRESTLERS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Members of the audience watch female wrestlers fight outside of the ring during a Stardom female professional wrestling show at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, Japan, July 26, 2015. Professional women's wrestling in Japan means body slams, sweat, and garish costumes. But Japanese rules on hierarchy also come into play, with a culture of deference to veteran fighters. The brutal reality of the ring is masked by a strong fantasy element that feeds its popularity with fans, most of them men. REUTERS/Thomas Peter SEARCH "WOMEN WRESTLERS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Dancers leave the backstage area before a Stardom female professional wrestling show at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, Japan, December 23, 2015. Professional women's wrestling in Japan means body slams, sweat, and garish costumes. But Japanese rules on hierarchy also come into play, with a culture of deference to veteran fighters. The brutal reality of the ring is masked by a strong fantasy element that feeds its popularity with fans, most of them men. REUTERS/Thomas Peter SEARCH "WOMEN WRESTLERS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
A man takes pictures of ring announcer Fuka Kakimoto of Stardom, a Japanese female professional wrestling promotion, after a show at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, Japan, December 23, 2015. Professional women's wrestling in Japan means body slams, sweat, and garish costumes. But Japanese rules on hierarchy also come into play, with a culture of deference to veteran fighters. The brutal reality of the ring is masked by a strong fantasy element that feeds its popularity with fans, most of them men. REUTERS/Thomas Peter SEARCH "WOMEN WRESTLERS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Merchandize material is on display outside a Stardom female professional wrestling show at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, Japan, December 23, 2015. Professional women's wrestling in Japan means body slams, sweat, and garish costumes. But Japanese rules on hierarchy also come into play, with a culture of deference to veteran fighters. The brutal reality of the ring is masked by a strong fantasy element that feeds its popularity with fans, most of them men. REUTERS/Thomas Peter SEARCH "WOMEN WRESTLERS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
The President of the Stardom female professional wrestling promotion Hiroshi "Rossy" Ogawa sells brochures before the start of a wrestling show at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, Japan, December 23, 2015. Professional women's wrestling in Japan means body slams, sweat, and garish costumes. But Japanese rules on hierarchy also come into play, with a culture of deference to veteran fighters. The brutal reality of the ring is masked by a strong fantasy element that feeds its popularity with fans, most of them men. REUTERS/Thomas Peter SEARCH "WOMEN WRESTLERS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Wrestler Jungle Kyouna is getting choked during her Stardom female professional wrestling show at Shinkiba 1st Ring in Tokyo, Japan, December 6, 2015. Professional women's wrestling in Japan means body slams, sweat, and garish costumes. But Japanese rules on hierarchy also come into play, with a culture of deference to veteran fighters. The brutal reality of the ring is masked by a strong fantasy element that feeds its popularity with fans, most of them men. REUTERS/Thomas Peter SEARCH "WOMEN WRESTLERS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
A man poses for a pictures as he sells High protein foods outside a Stardom female professional wrestling show at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, Japan, December 23, 2015. Professional women's wrestling in Japan means body slams, sweat, and garish costumes. But Japanese rules on hierarchy also come into play, with a culture of deference to veteran fighters. The brutal reality of the ring is masked by a strong fantasy element that feeds its popularity with fans, most of them men. REUTERS/Thomas Peter SEARCH "WOMEN WRESTLERS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Professional wrestler Kris Wolf (L) and co-guest Thomas Belfer talk about life in Japan as they record a video for the Huffington Post at its office in Tokyo, Japan, March 12, 2016. Professional women's wrestling in Japan means body slams, sweat, and garish costumes. But Japanese rules on hierarchy also come into play, with a culture of deference to veteran fighters. The brutal reality of the ring is masked by a strong fantasy element that feeds its popularity with fans, most of them men. REUTERS/Thomas Peter SEARCH "WOMEN WRESTLERS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Wrestler Io Shirai carries a metal beam that supports the ring after the Stardom female professional wrestling show at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, Japan, July 26, 2015. Professional women's wrestling in Japan means body slams, sweat, and garish costumes. But Japanese rules on hierarchy also come into play, with a culture of deference to veteran fighters. The brutal reality of the ring is masked by a strong fantasy element that feeds its popularity with fans, most of them men. REUTERS/Thomas Peter SEARCH "WOMEN WRESTLERS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Stardom wrestler Kris Wolf greets fans as she enters the arena before her professional wrestling show at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, Japan, July 26, 2015. Professional women's wrestling in Japan means body slams, sweat, and garish costumes. But Japanese rules on hierarchy also come into play, with a culture of deference to veteran fighters. The brutal reality of the ring is masked by a strong fantasy element that feeds its popularity with fans, most of them men. REUTERS/Thomas Peter SEARCH "WOMEN WRESTLERS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Wrestler Kris Wolf (C) and fellow wrestlers scatter across the ring during their Stardom female professional wrestling show at Shinkiba 1st Ring in Tokyo, Japan, December 6, 2015. Professional women's wrestling in Japan means body slams, sweat, and garish costumes. But Japanese rules on hierarchy also come into play, with a culture of deference to veteran fighters. The brutal reality of the ring is masked by a strong fantasy element that feeds its popularity with fans, most of them men. REUTERS/Thomas Peter SEARCH "WOMEN WRESTLERS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Stardom female professional wrestling guest fighter Chelsea (bottom) trains with a fellow wrestler at a boxing gym in Tokyo, Japan, October 1, 2015. Professional women's wrestling in Japan means body slams, sweat, and garish costumes. But Japanese rules on hierarchy also come into play, with a culture of deference to veteran fighters. The brutal reality of the ring is masked by a strong fantasy element that feeds its popularity with fans, most of them men. REUTERS/Thomas Peter SEARCH "WOMEN WRESTLERS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Professional wrestler Kris Wolf (C) meets fans Eiichi Nakazato (R) and Eishi Matsumoto in a restaurant in Tokyo, Japan, March 12, 2016. Professional women's wrestling in Japan means body slams, sweat, and garish costumes. But Japanese rules on hierarchy also come into play, with a culture of deference to veteran fighters. The brutal reality of the ring is masked by a strong fantasy element that feeds its popularity with fans, most of them men. REUTERS/Thomas Peter SEARCH "WOMEN WRESTLERS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Io Shirai (top) performs a moonsault onto Mayu Iwatani during their Stardom professional wrestling show at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, Japan, July 26, 2015. Professional women's wrestling in Japan means body slams, sweat, and garish costumes. But Japanese rules on hierarchy also come into play, with a culture of deference to veteran fighters. The brutal reality of the ring is masked by a strong fantasy element that feeds its popularity with fans, most of them men. REUTERS/Thomas Peter TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY SEARCH "WOMEN WRESTLERS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Wrestlers Kris Wolf and Starfire fight during their Stardom professional wrestling show at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, Japan, July 26, 2015. Professional women's wrestling in Japan means body slams, sweat, and garish costumes. But Japanese rules on hierarchy also come into play, with a culture of deference to veteran fighters. The brutal reality of the ring is masked by a strong fantasy element that feeds its popularity with fans, most of them men. REUTERS/Thomas Peter SEARCH "WOMEN WRESTLERS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Wrestlers Kris Wolf and Kimura Kyoko carry their fellow fighter Act Yasukawa after her last match before retirement during a Stardom female professional wrestling show at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, Japan, December 23, 2015. Professional women's wrestling in Japan means body slams, sweat, and garish costumes. But Japanese rules on hierarchy also come into play, with a culture of deference to veteran fighters. The brutal reality of the ring is masked by a strong fantasy element that feeds its popularity with fans, most of them men. REUTERS/Thomas Peter SEARCH "WOMEN WRESTLERS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Wrestler Kris Wolf receives ice spray treatment during her Stardom professional wrestling show at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, Japan, July 26, 2015. Professional women's wrestling in Japan means body slams, sweat, and garish costumes. But Japanese rules on hierarchy also come into play, with a culture of deference to veteran fighters. The brutal reality of the ring is masked by a strong fantasy element that feeds its popularity with fans, most of them men. REUTERS/Thomas Peter SEARCH "WOMEN WRESTLERS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
A wrestler holds on to the rope during a Stardom female professional wrestling show at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, Japan, July 26, 2015. Professional women's wrestling in Japan means body slams, sweat, and garish costumes. But Japanese rules on hierarchy also come into play, with a culture of deference to veteran fighters. The brutal reality of the ring is masked by a strong fantasy element that feeds its popularity with fans, most of them men. REUTERS/Thomas Peter SEARCH "WOMEN WRESTLERS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Members of the media take pictures of Holidead during a Stardom female professional wrestling show at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, Japan, December 23, 2015. Professional women's wrestling in Japan means body slams, sweat, and garish costumes. But Japanese rules on hierarchy also come into play, with a culture of deference to veteran fighters. The brutal reality of the ring is masked by a strong fantasy element that feeds its popularity with fans, most of them men. REUTERS/Thomas Peter SEARCH "WOMEN WRESTLERS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Wrestler Act Yasukawa (R), jumps at Kairi Hojo during their Stardom female professional wrestling show at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, Japan, December 23, 2015. Professional women's wrestling in Japan means body slams, sweat, and garish costumes. But Japanese rules on hierarchy also come into play, with a culture of deference to veteran fighters. The brutal reality of the ring is masked by a strong fantasy element that feeds its popularity with fans, most of them men. REUTERS/Thomas Peter SEARCH "WOMEN WRESTLERS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
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TOKYO, April 7 (Reuters) - Forget cherry blossoms and delicate slices of raw fish. The Japan on which Kris Hernandez has pinned her dreams is the thud of body slams, sweat, and garish costumes - the world of professional women's wrestling.

"I fell in love with it - the drama, the excitement," the 31-year-old from the United States said of her first encounter with this unusual side of Japan.

"I was on the edge of my seat with every move, thinking 'Oh my God, how come they are not dead? Can I make a living doing this? Let me try'."

So Hernandez, who lived in San Francisco before coming to Japan, became the first foreigner to train from scratch and work her way up into Japanese women's pro wrestling.

She quit her teaching job and shared a house with women wrestlers, living off savings as she began a tough daily training regimen including gymnastic moves.

"I was pretty poor then, but I wanted to become a wrestler so badly. I would walk four hours across Tokyo to get to practice, do three-hour training and then get the train back," she said.

"If I saved the train fare one way, it would be all right."

She made her debut in August 2014 under the name Kris Wolf, wearing a costume with a wolf's head and tail.

Even in this world, which Hernandez says is harder-hitting than its U.S. counterpart, Japanese rules on hierarchy come into play.

"It's kind of militant - don't talk to the senior unless you are spoken to, clean, stay after until all the seniors leave, then you can leave. Arrive 30 minutes before the seniors," she said.

The money is not huge - she earns $250 for a weekly show - but that's not the point.

"I was doing it because it was cool," said Hernandez, who is now on a break after suffering a concussion.

The brutal reality of the ring is masked by a strong fantasy element that feeds its popularity with fans, most of them men.

But the rough and tumble may also be an outlet for many of the wrestlers in a country where women are usually expected to be demure and cute, Hernandez said.

"Sometimes it's a part of themselves that they cannot normally express," she said.

"I have met so many that are so sweet and shy outside the ring, and then you get into the ring and they explode." (Reporting by Thomas Peter and Elaine Lies; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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