This past January 4th, a talent purge of New Japan was rumored to have happened as stories broke that WWE had signed AJ Styles, Luke Gallows, Karl Anderson, and of course Shinsuke Nakamura. Obviously, the rumors became true over the course of a few months. All three members of The Club are the epitome of what Gaijins can aspire to be in the Japanese wrestling scene - Gallows learned how to be a better worker than his first stint in the WWE, Anderson for the most part only worked in Japan and became ingratiated with the culture, and AJ Styles solidified himself as a great worker the world over. The history of white workers in Japan is a long and rich one, as men like Stan Hansen became Gods in The Land of the Rising Sun.
Conversely, Japanese wrestlers have had their own fair share of success when coming over to the States. Currently, we are seeing what two of Japan's top stars are capable of here stateside as The King of Strong Style and The Empress of Tomorrow are both currently taking NXT by storm. Time will tell where they'll ultimately end up on this list, but they are here, along with 13 other entries, detailing great exports from The Land of the Rising Sun.
15 15. Masato Tanaka
14 14. The Great Kabuki
13 13. Kai En Tai
At an ECW Pay-Per-View, we were introduced to the Blue World Order's Japanese contingent, Dick Togo, Taka Michinoku, and Terry Boy. They worked a six-man tag at 1997's Barely Legal. Togo and Taka shed Terry Boy and their bWo routes and headed towards the greener pastures of the WWE. There, they added Yamaguchi-San, his wife, Shiryu, Mens Teioh, and Sho Funaki to become Kai En Tai. In the beginning, the group were an ensemble of Light Heavyweights from Japan who were assaulting their now former friend, Taka Michinoku. From there, Mrs. Yamaguchi would commit the ultimate betrayal, which led to one of the most infamous early Attitude Era segments, " I choppy, choppy your pee-pee."
12 12. Masahiro Chono
11 11. Bull Nakano
10 10. Hideo Itami
Currently, NXT is home to not one, but three of the biggest and brightest stars to have ever come out of the Orient. First is Hideo Itami, the former KENTA, who Daniel Bryan recently cited as having one of the hardest kicks in the business. Itami came in like a house of fire, leading the way for the new wave of world-class athletes that are coming to NXT. But prior to that, the Japanese star began to cement his legacy in America for Ring of Honor, where he did battle with current NXT Champion, Samoa Joe, teamed with the future Seth Rollins, Tyler Black, and of course put on memorable matches with Bryan Danielson, where he would challenge unsuccessfully for the ROH World Championship.
9 9. Asuka
Asuka is still undefeated and is now the current, reigning, and defending NXT Women's Champion - the first non-Paige, non-Horsewomen to hold the belt, mind you. The Empress of Tomorrow is quite possibly a fanboy's greatest fantasy come to life - a smoking hot Asian vixen whose a graphic designer and a video game journalist in her spare time, even garnering an Xbox 360 sponsorship deal with Microsoft. The former Kana worked all over Japan, including that parody-filled DDT promotion, both of Tajiri's promotions, Smash and Wrestling New Classic, as well as working for the all-female American promotion, Shimmer.
8 8. Hakushi
If you appreciate the way The Undertaker walks the ropes, then you'll truly marvel at the way The White Angel, Hakushi (Jinsei Shinzaki) did it. With a prayer, he deftly walked around the ring to deliver a crushing blow. He was a kamikaze-style wrestler. Essentially a luchador, an aerial artist who got the opportunity to work not only against Bret Hart in what is still one of Raw's best matches, but also against The Deadman himself in Japan, in what is an odd piece of footage if you can find it.
7 7. Ultimo Dragon
6 6. Antonio Inoki
If you don't know about Antonio Inoki, then it's time to sit under the learning tree for one moment and educate yourself about the WWE Hall of Famer. While he didn't make too many appearances in America throughout his career, his contributions to sports are too much to ignore on a list like this. He defeated Bob Backlund for the WWE Championship during his five year run, which is not recognized by either the WWE or the company he founded - New Japan. That's right, the creator of the Enziguri was the Vince McMahon of Japan, gifting the wrestling industry with the creation of NJPW in 1972.
5 5. Tajiri
Tajiri came to the States and worked for ECW alongside Mikey Whipwreck as the disciples of The Sinister Minister. The duo were a lovable, albeit twisted and maniacal tag team and their combined forces won the ECW World Tag Team Championship in a tournament at New York's Hammerstein Ballroom. After the fall of Extreme, the Japanese Buzzsaw, Yoshohiro Tajiri made his way to the WWE and then became quite possibly the company's most popular Oriental Superstar. He was batcrap crazy, willing to do anything and was a master in the ring. A former Cruiserweight Champion, Tajiri somehow wound up with Torrie Wilson and forced her to wear a kimono. Obviously forcing her to wear more clothes made him a vicious psychopathic heel.
4 4. Shinsuke Nakamura
Last, but farthest from least in the new class of Japanese stars is The King of Strong Style, Shinsuke Nakamura. The youngest IWGP Heavyweight Champion ever has done battle with Brock Lesnar and AJ Styles and happens to be the hottest thing in the industry today. His enigmatic charisma alone is something to behold. There is simply no way to quantify the abundance of "It" factor Nakamura has. No one has connected with the NXT Universe the way he has in well...ever. The NXT faithful in Dallas chanted "Holy $#!+" during his entrance... his entrance! The King came in with a king's load of hype and delivered tenfold and more was added just by watching his strut to the ring. His match with Sami Zayn became an instant classic for NXT and easily is a match of the year candidate. His match with Finn Balor had more hype than any match in NXT or WWE's recent memory.
3 3. Mr. Fuji
2 2. The Great Muta
While most mainstream wrestling fans wouldn't have had the opportunity to see The Great Kabuki on television, in the late eighties and early nineties, fans did have the chance to see his "son," The Great Muta compete in WCW. Muta even debuted with Kabuki's old manager Gary Hart. His brief time here led to feuds with Ric Flair, Sting, Lex Luger, and many other top stars. While early WCW wasn't as successful as they were during The Monday Night Wars, at least they knew talent when they saw it. Had he debuted during the height of the War, he probably would have been tossed into either The Dungeon of Doom stable or the Blood Runs Cold angles, neither which would have showcased how good he was in the ring.
1 1. Jushin Thunder Liger
There is no wrestling Superstar, regardless of nationality, who has the impressive resume of Jushin Thunder Liger. His resume could fill this entire list alone. After the New Japan dojo originally turned him down, Liger went to England and The Dungeon to learn his craft before returning to Japan to begin his career defining run as Jushin Thunder Liger. His greatest success stateside came in WCW where he, along with Brian Pillman showed American wrestling fans what Cruiserweights were truly capable of. Later on, he would wrestle a dream match at the 1996 Starrcade against Rey Mysterio. With the only glaring omission in his resume being ECW, thanks to his appearance at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn, Liger has worked in just about every single major North American promotion since his debut in Stampede back in the mid-eighties, including lesser known indies like PWG (against El Generico, the future Sami Zayn).
He has worked now for over thirty years and pretty much every single Light Heavyweight that ever meant anything to the business came up against Liger at some point. He's the greatest Cruiserweight of all time, a sure fire WWE Hall of Famer one day, and the quintessential best Japanese Superstar ever to make his way to North America.
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