The language barrier can make it hard to get into Japanese Wrestling. Promotions like New Japan Pro Wrestling are slowly improving by making their websites, videos and streaming service more English friendly. Viz Media recently announced an English translation of WWE Superstar Shinsuke Nakamura’s autobiography (written before he joined WWE). Despite that, the best sources for more information in English is still other fans in the form of fan-sites or podcasts.
One such fan is Chris Charlton, who has launched an Indiegogo for EGGSHELLS, an English-language history book on Japanese wrestling’s biggest venue: The Tokyo Dome.
AiPT!: You have recently launched the Indiegogo for EGGSHELLS, which is your second crowdfunded book on Japanese pro wrestling. Please tell us about EGGSHELLS and why it’s different from other wrestling books.
Chris Charlton: A big part of what makes the book unique is what makes the Tokyo Dome unique. There are very few venues in the world that manage to provide such a clear picture of the history of an entire market like the Tokyo Dome can, in that it’s been the measuring stick of all major league Japanese promotions for three decades.
So EGGSHELLS goes show by show through every card held in the Tokyo Dome and in doing that I can tell the story of every promotion that’s run there, framed through those events. I can go into a lot of unseen depth for a popular promotion like New Japan, and for promotions like All Japan, SWS, DDT, UWF or others that don’t/didn’t have a lot of recognition to western readers, I can tell those stories in English for the first time.
AiPT!: One of the more unique things about EGGSHELLS is that you talked to a variety of sources, including the likes of Jim Ross, Kenny Omega and Kenta Kobashi. Which people were the most fascinating?
Charlton: Last summer I did some consulting and interview stuff with VICE to help get their wrestling documentary together. Between two days shooting with him for that and the two sessions I did for the book, I thought Kota Ibushi was amazing. He approaches wrestling very much with an artistic mindset and he’s very open about his process.
Soichi Shibata as well was tremendous to chat to. He didn’t know me at all and just responded to a cold email but clearly has so much passion still after announcing and writing for longer than I’ve been alive that it was instantly like talking to a good friend. A real pro, too — before we met he asked for a rough idea of what time period we’d be talking about, and when I get to his office he has a file of notes, places, dates, cards, everything right there. That level of professionalism.
AiPT!: The book covers 64 different wrestling shows at the Tokyo Dome. Were there any events that stood out in terms of how interesting or fun they were to write about and research?
Charlton: It’s the one hit wonders I really liked doing. The companies that ran in the Dome once or twice and then disappeared, like SWS, the original Wrestle-1, UWF and All Japan Women to an extent. That their histories are a closed book meant that I could write complete and self-contained stories that feel cohesive. And because there aren’t going concerns, people have been much more open about behind the scenes over the years. There’s a rich vein of Japanese material that I learned a lot from researching, and had a lot of fun writing about.
AiPT!: Your first book, Lion’s Pride, got great reactions from fans for its coverage of the history of New Japan Pro Wrestling. Were you surprised at the reaction to the book?
Charlton: I knew there was a gap in the market and a hunger for that sort of history. It’s been put on a pedestal a little bit I think because it is still unique — there still isn’t enough English language writing about the Japanese scene (as far as books go anyway). I’m surprised that it’s still being so strongly recommended by so many after three years, but there was also a lot to learn from and work on when it came to writing a second book. This time my aim was to go into much more detail, while Lion’s Pride was very surface level I think. So hopefully this has a lot more new information to people, while still being an accessible read.
AiPT!: One of the reasons that you provide such a useful insight into Japanese wrestling for western fans is the fact that you live and work in Japan. In some ways this lets you act as a bridge or guide for western fans who want to know more about Japanese wrestling. How do you feel about the role that have somehow ended up in?
Charlton: ‘Somehow ended up in’ is exactly how I’d put it! I’m definitely prone to imposter syndrome, so it definitely feels weird to be a go-to source for a lot of people. It’s meant I’ve done some amazing things, like get those interviews for EGGSHELLS, or work with VICE on their docs, but it takes some convincing for myself to accept that I do belong in these situations, and it can feel a bit overwhelming.
AiPT!: This may be the most commonly asked question in interviews about wrestling, but I’ll ask it anyway. How did you get into wrestling and when did you first come across Japanese wrestling?
Charlton: Wrestling in general: I was growing up just after ITV cancelled World of Sport in the UK, so my first real memories of wrestling was what they replaced it with in the form of early WCW. I drifted away from it when there just wasn’t the access if you couldn’t afford cable or satellite TV, and came back in my teens.
My brother was probably a bigger fan at the time than me, and had just left home. He’d come back to visit with a different tape of something or other. Everything from old WrestleManias to Robocop in WCW. One time it was the 94 Super J Cup and we were off to the races as far as Japanese wrestling went.
AiPT!: Since the majority of shows at the Tokyo Dome were promoted by New Japan, I though I’d ask a New Japan question: What are you looking forward to from NJPW in 2018?
Charlton: I’m looking forward to all these pieces they have coming together. New Japan’s gone through a process of gathering building blocks, of gathering the best talent, of constructing the best in ring product. Now that’s being joined by some really compelling stories, like the Golden Lovers and Bullet Club affair that are hooking audiences long term. Now the English language content side is steadily coming together. Now there’s the LA dojo opening. The idea of running an entirely new, localized territory in another market, at the scale that they are capable of; nobody has done that ever, WWE included. It could all blow up, in good ways or bad. Hopefully good.
AiPT!: Finally, is there anything else you’d like to say or talk about?
Charlton: Keep supporting the book, either financially or by spreading the word. As I’m writing this, we’re close to pairing the book with a series of companion podcast episodes and we’re hammering out details for a very very cool stretch goal of we make it even further. [Interviewer’s note: Chris recently announced that the next stretch goal will be releasing* EGGSHELLS *as an audio book on services such as Audible]
Chris can be followed on Twitter @reasonjp and @ESbooked . The Indiegogo for EGGSHELLS can be found here. If you want to read a free sample, click here. Chris’ first book, Lion’s Pride: The Turbulent History of New Japan Pro Wrestling, is available on Kindle from Amazon.