Akira Hokuto is a feminist icon. Not because she’s been in some of the greatest women’s matches of all time, held titles in numerous companies, or because she continued to wrestle after suffering a legit broken neck (watch her tag match against Kazue Nagahori and Yumi Ogura and try not to cringe when she takes that piledriver at 1:36). She is a feminist icon because she turned two fingers up at Japan’s conservative patriarchal culture, which dictated when women worked and when they stopped, whether they wanted to or not.
Japan’s postwar constitution, signed in 1946, established equality between the sexes, but life and culture has not yet lived up to this ideal. The notion of otoko wa shigoto, onna wa katei to shigoto (“men at work and women at home”) is at the core of traditional Japanese society: A woman’s role is to marry, have children, and be housewives in support of their husbands. Even in 2015, Japan is a “nation of housewives” and it’s generally accepted that women will leave the workforce after marriage. 70% of Japanese women stop working after their first children are born, due to financial and cultural restraints, as well as lack of childcare availability. Divorce is frowned upon and female divorcees are stigmatized for going against traditional values. It’s simply the woman’s job to be a housewife. This expectation to marry and tend house was evident in an unwritten rule at All Japan Women’s Pro-Wrestling (AJW) that required its wrestlers to retire from the ring when they turned 26 years old. For their health, so they can go home and start families.
Turn 26? Get out of the ring, get a ring on it, and get in the kitchen!
Got married? Mazel tov! To the kitchen!
Had a baby? What kind of mother are you?!?!! Feed that baby and make your man some dinner. To the kitchen!
Abiding by such rules was not for Akira Hokuto. Starting her wrestling career at AJW in 1985, she quickly built a reputation for toughness, tenacity, and skill in promotions all over the world, working matches in LLPW, JWP, CMLL, GAEA, and WCW. She co-held the WWWA World Tag Team title on multiple occasions and won the top women’s titles in AJW, CMLL, and WCW.
In 1993, the year she turned 26 and reached AJW’s mandatory retirement age, Akira met Shinobu Kandori at Dream Slam I and battled what is arguably one of if not the greatest match in all of women’s wrestling. The bout, which ended with rounds of stiff punches, raised the bar for what was possible in women’s wrestling and earned a perfect five-star rating from The Wrestling Observer. Further flipping the bird to convention, she married a luchador, Máscara Mágica, and moved to Mexico, performing as Reina Jubuki in CMLL. Her skills and her star were too strong, too bold, and too bright to retire to the kitchen.
Returning to Japan a divorcee in 1994, Akira Hokuto faced Aja Kong in the main event of “Big Egg Wrestling Universe”, an inter-promotional show held in the Tokyo Dome; the all-women event had a $4 million gate. Without taking inflation into account, Big Egg out drew WrestleMania X-7, where Steve Austin beat The Rock ($3.5 million), and WrestleMania XIX, which saw Brock Lesnar pin Kurt Angle ($2.76 million). Who ever said women can’t draw?
1995 saw her WCW debut — and a new marriage, this time to NJPW’s Kensuke Sasaki, a legendary wrestler in his own right. Akira continued to wrestle and became WCW’s first — and only — women’s champion in 1996. Hokuto and Sasaki welcomed their first child, a son, in 1998. Returning to the ring after a brief maternity leave, she wrestled for three more years and had her farewell match in 2002.
Akira Hokuto defied tradition and societal norms. She wrestled, aged, married, divorced, remarried, had a baby, continued to wrestle, and left the ring when SHE felt the time was right, not when a conservative patriarchal culture (repeatedly) expected her to.