Osaka – I was shattered when I heard that Hana Kimura from the Japanese reality TV show “Terrace House” had passed away. She was 22.
I’m a fan of the show, which may be why it hit me harder than I would’ve thought. However, as reports emerged about her death — tied up in issues of cyberbullying and mental health — I realized that what I was really missing in the media was a celebration of her life.
Kimura was a joy to watch on “Terrace House.” She brought the authentic and multifaceted experience of being a mixed-race woman in Japan to the show, a sight that is rare in mainstream media here.
Fans of the show will also know that she was a second-generation professional wrestler, and that Hana brought the legacy of her mother, Kyoko Kimura, to the ring and our screens. Hana entered the ring under the guidance of her mother, initiated her own goals and started a mission that will continue after her passing. It was embodied in Tokyo Cyber Squad.
The Squad’s original name was the International Army, and its goal was to create a supportive community for non-Japanese women wrestlers in Tokyo. Kimura had previously spoken about being bullied at school because of her Indonesian heritage, and how this experience made her feel like an outsider in her own country. So she left Oedo Tai, a unit her mother co-founded, to start the International Army.
She also joined the wrestling promotion World Wonder Ring Stardom, and it was here that she adopted a colorful cyber-goth persona and began to perfect moves such as the “package piledriver.” When the number of Japanese members in the Army grew, its name was changed to Tokyo Cyber Squad, but the philosophy remained the same: Women’s professional wrestling deserved to be taken seriously, and individuality should be celebrated both inside and outside the ring.
In January of this year, Kimura was one of the first women ever to compete in Wrestle Kingdom, a two-night wrestling extravaganza held in Tokyo Dome, where a women’s match reportedly hadn’t been held since 2002. She also hoped to compete under the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) banner one day, like an actress dreams of Hollywood.
In the meantime, Kimura joined “Terrace House,” the immensely popular show that streams on Netflix and airs on Fuji TV. Viewers of the show had access to her life in and out of the ring, and she did wonders in dispelling stereotypes about women wrestlers — and Japanese women in general. Her teammates Jungle Kyona and Konami even made appearances, I remember one scene in particular that included an insightful conversation in which the women shared how they would often keep their professions a secret when on dates. During another visit to the show, Jungle Kyona tells Kimura, “You should want to be with someone who accepts you and your work, who likes you for who you truly are.”
Thus, in addition to showing the world how cool women’s professional wrestling is, we learned that Kimura was looking for love on her own terms.
What saddens me is the thought that she didn’t realize how much love she actually found on “Terrace House.” I’ve seen an outpouring of grief and tributes on social media that prove Kimura was making a difference in the lives of a lot of people, not just fans who surely loved her.
And not just love but admiration. She definitely earned my admiration both as a young woman who invested herself in her friendships with every emotion and who, just by existing, represented something that we don’t always get to see on TV: an authentic biracial woman who wasn’t there for a laugh or set dressing. I think her legacy will continue to be built on by way of Tokyo Cyber Squad’s message of solidarity and acceptance: “Everyone is different, everyone is good.”
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 119 in Japan for immediate assistance. The TELL Lifeline is available for those who need free and anonymous counseling at 03-5774-0992. You can also visit them at telljp.com. For those in other countries, visit www.suicide.org/international-suicide-hotlines.html for a detailed list of resources and assistance.