For many fans sick of pro wrestling as presented by major North American promotions like WWE, New Japan Pro-Wrestling is a bit of a godsend. Japan’s top wrestling company has all the pageantry and gimmicks, but presents them as serious athletic competition, creating a stark contrast with WWE’s “sports entertainment” model — and experienced a huge surge of popularity in the West during the 2010s.
That said, not every fan is over the moon for NJPW. While it may be tempting to prejudge those who don’t like New Japan, there are actually some valid reasons why a wrestling fan wouldn’t be into the King of Sport.
10 The Language Barrier
One of the most obvious things fans checking out New Japan will realize is that the promotion caters to the Japanese audience, which should come as no surprise. Most of the top stars of the promotion are from Japan, and as a result said wrestlers communicate with the audience in Japanese. Of course, NJPW offers English commentary options for nearly every show, and presents its backstage interviews with subtitles. The promotion strives to make sure that Anglophone fans understand what’s going on, but some fans can’t get over that language barrier, especially when there are loads of Western promotions that speak their language.
9 Lack Of A Weekly Show
In the West, pro wrestling fans are accustomed to a specific way of experiencing pro wrestling: watching a promotion’s weekly television show(s), which usually lead to a big pay-per-view event, followed by more weekly television to lead to the next PPV. New Japan produces content all the time, but it doesn’t have the same structure that fans are used to. Instead of having a Raw or SmackDown, NJPW uploads all of its events to its NJPW World streaming service, so fans have the option to watch hours of new wrestling content every day if they wish. That can be overwhelming for fans used to the established Western model.
8 Too Many Multi-Man Tag Matches
Fans who do actually attempt to keep up with every New Japan show may soon realize that the average event uploaded to NJPW World is pretty much a glorified house show. While there might be a consequential title match in the main event, most of the card is going to be multi-man tag team matches of anywhere from classic two-on-two bouts to five-on-five matches.
These tag team matches aren’t necessarily inconsequential, however — many are “preview matches” where rivals on opposing teams have smaller encounters to build up hype for an upcoming big match. While they can be extremely entertaining, some fans are turned off by the sheer number of these per event.
7 Long Matches
When New Japan finally gets to the big fight, it’s not uncommon for fans to see an epic unfold. The average NJPW bout is longer than what one might see on WWE television, and the main event matches are even longer. Main events at New Japan’s biggest show of the year, Wrestle Kingdom, tend to run a minimum thirty minutes and one of its all-time classics — the Kenny Omega vs. Kazuchika Okada 2/3 falls match — runs a whopping 65 minutes. As exciting as these matches can be, that can also be too much for some fans.
6 The Lack Of Female Wrestlers
In the West, fans are used to wrestling promotions being co-ed in terms of having a prominent women’s division. These days, not giving ample time to female wrestlers is a major sticking point for many fans — just look at AEW. New Japan notably lacks a women’s division, which isn’t uncommon in Japan where there are loads of major all-women promotions — including the NJPW affiliated Stardom. NJPW introduced the IWGP Women’s Championship in 2022, but aside from Mercedes Mone, the promotion can’t be said to have much of a female roster to date.
5 The History
As much as WWE spent decades trying to ignore it, wrestling is steeped in history. When it comes to a long-running promotion like WWE or New Japan, there’s years of continuity driving the current story and many championships have a sense of prestige because they existed in previous eras. For example, the WWE Championship has a sense of prestige because, among other things, it was held by well-known figures like Hulk Hogan, The Rock, and John Cena. Newcomers to NJPW don’t necessarily know the history and don’t necessarily have entry points like that. The English commentators attempt to convey historical context, but that can also be overwhelming.
4 The 2010s Gaijin Favorites Have Moved On
There were numerous factors contributing to New Japan’s popularity in the West during the 2010s, but one of the major ones is the Bullet Club. More specifically, NJPW boasted an incredible lineup of gajin (foreigner) talent including Kenny Omega, AJ Styles, The Young Bucks, and at one point Cody Rhodes, all of whom were members of the Bullet Club faction.
The BC was ridiculously popular with Western fans, but over the years all the above-mentioned wrestlers moved on from New Japan. For devotees of Bullet Club, that meant that the promotion lost all their favorite guys.
3 The In-Ring Style
To the average person, all wrestling is pretty much the same, but fans know there are loads of different styles and variations, and not every fan likes all of them. Many Western fans are used to the WWE sports entertainment style, which — to put it extremely simple — involves strong heel/face dynamics, a surprisingly strict structure, and no shortage of shenanigans. In New Japan, matches are structured to appear more competitive, with a focus on strikes and submissions, which NJPW founder Antonio Inoki termed “Strong Style.” For some fans used to the WWE style, New Japan’s approach to its in-ring product is hard to get into.
2 It’s Not WWE
If there’s one thing fans of anything shouldn’t underestimate, it’s the power of brand loyalty. Since the 1980s, Vince McMahon has spent countless millions of dollars convincing the general public that WWE is the organization of the sport, and it’s spent much of the 21st century as pretty much the only game in town. For countless fans, WWE is professional wrestling, and anything else is a distant second. That includes New Japan, a prominent company that’s delivered its fair share of GOAT level matches. At the end of the day, however, WWE is too ingrained in the wrestling fan consciousness for some of those fans to venture outside of it and get into NJPW.
1 There Are Other Options
All of the above isn’t to imply that fans who don’t necessarily love New Japan are xenophobic “E-drones” with a blind devotion to the house that Vince built. Because it’s not as popular in the West, it’s easy to look at NJPW as some indie alternative rather than what it actually is: the WWE of Japan in terms of profile and popularity. Fans of Japanese wrestling aren’t necessarily into New Japan, and have tons of other options: the hard-hitting King’s Road style of All Japan, the fast-paced, lucha libre inspired Dragon Gate, and the more comedic DDT, just to name a few.