Hailing from the gruelling and ultra-competitive Japanese puroresu circuit, Asuka (real name Kanako Urai) and Kairi Sane (real name Kaori Housako) have undoubtedly blazed a trail for joshi talent in the world’s largest professional wrestling company. Although already immensely popular in their homeland promotions such as STARDOM, JWP, Smash and NEO – they both decided to make bold leaps into the American market by joining the WWE.
Since then, both Asuka and Kairi Sane have impressed in the WWE’s developmental brand NXT, and on the main roster itself – winning over the crowd (and the creatives backstage) through their infectious onscreen personalities and outstanding in-ring performances in many instant classic matches. From becoming champions in NXT and SmackDown Live, to winning the Royal Rumble and the Mae Young Classic, these two definitely made their mark.
Now competing as a team called The Kabuki Warriors, Asuka and Kairi Sane are beginning a new journey in the company’s fledgling women’s tag-team division. Popwire caught up with Asuka and Kairi Sane just before WWE Live’s stop in Singapore last month to discuss their transition from Japan to America, the WWE’s high-pressure environment, their roots in joshi puroresu, their many talents outside of pro wrestling, amongst other topics.
Hi Asuka and Kairi! You both have traditionally been singles wrestlers, but now that you’ve been paired up, how are you enjoying life as a tag-team?
Asuka: Before Kairi came to SmackDown Live, I was feeling a little bit lonely because I was the only Japanese woman wrestler in the locker room. So I’m very happy to finally have Kairi around!
Kairi: I’m very happy too! Although we both came from Japan, we’ve never teamed before. I’ve been a fan of Asuka for a very long time, so it’s great to be able to work with her now. She’s given me a ton of advice. I like her passion, her strong style… and her smile! (Laughs)
Did you both meet in the joshi scene, or did you meet in the WWE?
Kairi: Yeah, we’ve actually never met before, although we did know of each other. We were from different promotions back then.
Do you still keep up with the joshi scene in Japan?
Kairi: Yes, I worked at STARDOM for about five and a half years, so I still keep in touch. I was the team captain there, so I took care of a lot of the wrestlers there. They’re the ones leading the joshi scene now, so even now, I’m always supporting them.
What would you say are the biggest differences between performing for the Japanese audiences and American audiences?
Asuka: I’ve noticed that the audiences look to, and respond to, different things. In America they’re looking for our individualism – distinct personalities and characteristics.
Kairi: We enjoy performing for both audiences. But I guess the key difference is that the Japanese crowd is usually more reserved while American crowds are rowdier. We can tell that they’re all enjoying the shows, just in different ways. The Japanese audience pay close attention and applaud at big moments. American audiences like to stand, chant, cheer and really get into the heat of the action.
Being in the WWE is a huge opportunity, but at the same time, having to move countries and totally change your life must also be scary. What convinced you that the WWE was the right step for you?
Asuka: Well, I’ve seen and done it all in Japan already. I believe that I can help elevate the evolution of women’s wrestling in America, and find new challenges in doing so.
In such a short time, you both have found so much success in the WWE. What have been your proudest accomplishments since you came over?
Asuka: It’s been five years since I’ve come to the WWE and I’ve had a lot of fun. But for me, my winning streak streak in NXT and the matches I had there makes me very happy. There were so many talented people competing for just a few spots on the main roster, and we feel honoured to be able to stand out on the big NXT TakeOver shows.
Kairi: Yes we both were NXT Women’s Champions, and that meant a lot to us. Of course, Asuka has also been the champion on SmackDown, and I’ve won the Mae Young Classic, so we’ve had quite a few special moments already. Given how many amazing wrestlers there are on the roster just waiting in line for their chance, we’re happy to have made the most of the opportunities given to us. None of this has been easy, but live by the samurai spirit, and we strive to continue performing at the highest level.
Asuka: Royal Rumble! Don’t forget the Royal Rumble! Winning that was pretty big too. (Laughs)
The WWE schedule can be gruelling and intense. How do you cope with the pressure of having to be on your A game at all times?
Kairi: It is a lot of pressure, and I feel nervous before every match because I want to give it my best. There’s always a level of uncertainty, but once the match begins, that all goes away because I’m having so much fun! I love wrestling, and I feel that it is only through our enjoyment that the audience can enjoy themselves too. This allows us to wrestle as naturally as possible, so whether we win or lose, it’s important to remember to enjoy wrestling.
Asuka: Honestly, the pressure helps because I’m the type that needs to feel the nerves to be at my best. Of course I cannot let it overwhelm me. But the pressure and a sense of nervousness helps me stay sharp during my matches.
Before we wrap up, let’s talk a little bit about your lives outside of wrestling. Kairi, you used to be an actress before becoming a professional wrestler. What inspired you to switch careers?
Kairi: Oh, it was a pure coincidence! (Laughs) When I was younger, one of my passions was acting so I tried to pursue that. In one of the theatre productions I was involved in, I was cast as a professional wrestler – a heel character. Someone from STARDOM actually spotted me in that play and invited me to one of their events. That’s when I fell in love with the art of pro wrestling!
Asuka, do you have interests outside of wrestling as well? I read somewhere that you used to be a graphic designer, a video game journalist, and that you also owned a hair salon….
Asuka: I’m still the owner of that hair salon! It’s called Another Heaven, and it’s located in Yokohama if you ever want to visit it. (Laughs) As for games, if you watch UpUpDownDown, you can tell I love video games. (Laughs). Yes, I used to write about video games, and I was a freelance designer for Nintendo DS. But unfortunately, I don’t have much time for design anymore. However, it may interest you to know that both of us actually designed our own costumes and ring gear! I’m happy that we still get express ourselves that way.
Is it true that you also designed the High Speed Championship belt back when you were at NEO? The same belt that is still currently in use at STARDOM…
Asuka: Oh wow, I forgot about that. Yes, I did design that belt.
Kairi: What! I was at STARDOM for so long, and even I didn’t know that. (Laughs)
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