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Japanese mask maker seeks to boost popularity of pro wrestling

  • JAPAN NEWS / YOMIURI

    Daisuke Kumagai makes masks to order, but he also produces a variety goods such as pouches, badges and tote bags with mask patterns. “I hope many people become familiar with pro wrestling through my masks and other goods,” he said.

TOKYO >> Wrestling masks add mystery and a star-like atmosphere to the spectacle of professional wrestling.

Daisuke Kumagai, 44, produces pro-wrestling masks at a workshop called Osanpos Kobo Destroy-ya in Sapporo, Japan. In recent years, he has been producing various kinds of items with mask motifs, which have proved popular among women.

“I hope many people become familiar with pro wrestling through my masks and other goods,” Kumagai said.

Kumagai was born in Sapporo. When Kumagai was a third-grade elementary school student he became interested in pro wrestling during the era Tiger Mask and other professional wrestlers were active. He was a huge fan of Mexican wrestler Mil Mascaras, dubbed “the man with 1,000 masks,” as he changed his mask every match, and Kumagai avidly watched his bouts on TV. Around that time, he made his first mask by cutting out parts of a paper bag and drawing patterns on it.

When the popularity of pro wrestling began to decline, Kumagai lost interest in the sport. However, when he was working part-time at a secondhand bookshop at the age of 27, he saw an advertisement in a pro wrestling magazine for courses teaching how to make wrestling masks. He recalled his childhood and thought, “It would be interesting if I seriously studied how to make them.”

He moved to Tokyo and studied for four years under a craftsman who had made a mask for Tiger Mask.

He mastered the techniques required to sew masks using a sewing machine and was introduced to suppliers of materials. He began his independent career as a mask maker in 2004, when he returned to Sapporo and opened the workshop. He got a steady flow of orders from mask collectors, such as middle-aged men who were followers of pro wrestling when it was at the peak of its popularity.

In 2012, he produced masks with motifs related to Hokkaido, such as the Sapporo Clock Tower and local specialty melons, and his pieces won an award at an art competition held at JR Tower, a commercial facility in front of JR Sapporo Station.

When his works were exhibited at the concourse of the facility, elderly women and children stopped to admire them. Seeing such people, Kumagai realized that masks were not only for collectors, and began producing various goods such as pouches, badges and tote bags with mask patterns.

As a result, he was able to attract a broader range of customers. “Eighty percent of my customers are now women,” he said.

In January, he had a solo exhibition at a gallery in Kita Ward, Sapporo, exhibiting nine masks for professional wrestlers belonging to Pro-Wrestling Sapporo, an amateur group based in the city.

Kyosuke Hatakeyama, 43, a member of the group, praised Kumagai, saying, “He carefully makes masks in accordance with our requests, such as finely detailed bordering. His masks are so strong that they don’t tear, even when they are tugged during matches.”

“Professional wrestlers who are usually quiet quickly transform after putting on a mask, which is interesting,” Kumagai said. “Customers appreciate the other kinds of goods I produce for their originality,” he added.

His masks cost up to about 30,000 yen (about $279) each.

He attends about 20 shows held across the nation each year. “I want more and more people to actually pick up my work. I want to make many more masks,” he said.

Some of Kumagai’s works are being exhibited at Chi-Ka-Ho, near Sapporo Station, in April, and an exhibition is being held at Sapporo Dome in May.

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