Asuka, arguably the most accomplished Japanese superstar in WWE history, has experienced the rise of anti-Asian sentiment during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Asuka – a four-time WWE women’s champion and Royal Rumble winner – caught up with ET Canada for Asian Heritage Month. While most of the interview was a celebration of Japanese and Asian cultures, the highly accomplished superstar also detailed her experiences with racism.
“I have only one experience with racism. It was around the time when COVID-19 started spreading,” Asuka recalled. “In America, I was at the airport. A woman came towards me.”
“When she noticed me, she covered her mouth with her hand and ran away from me. I was shocked. It never happened before COVD-19. Oh my gosh,” Asuka exclaimed. “I didn’t understand. I was shocked.”
The uptick in anti-Asian violence and hate speech perplexes the renowned athlete.
“I hate it! I hate it! I don’t understand,” she said. “It’s a waste of time to be hateful. Why people attack other people? We are people, right? I don’t understand. I hate it.”
Asuka shared this piece of advice for people who want to help support their Asian friends and communities: “I think it’s important for non-Asians to understand and share the wonderful culture of Asians.”
Asuka wrestled extensively in Japan before signing with WWE in 2015. Growing up as a fan of pro-wrestling, Asuka gave a special nod to mythical wrestling figure The Great Muta, portrayed by pro-wrestling legend Keiji Muto.
“There are many great Asian wrestlers in the world. When I was a teenager, I watched wrestling on TV. The Japanese wrestlers gave me energy and courage. I want to entertain a lot of people like they did for me,” she said. “The Great Muta. A Japanese wrestler. He is so good and so cool.”
She also shared some of her favourite parts of Japanese culture, such as anime and Japanese cuisine.
“The graphics are beautiful and sound good. The stories are so good. I’m always watching anime and movies,” Asuka gushed. “But also I love American dramas. I think it’s important to enjoy and share and respect each others’ cultures.”
“You must try sukiyaki. Sukiyaki is so delicious!” she continued. “It’s sliced beef and soy sauce and sugar and tofu, vegetables. Oh! So good! Please watch my YouTube channel. I show you.”
Asuka’s inner circle laughed when she originally shared her ambitions of being a WWE superstar.
“I want to say to Asian girls, don’t give up on your dreams! When I was 16, I wanted to be a WWE superstar. One day I asked my mom can I be a WWE superstar, and she said, ‘No, you have to go college! I also told my high school teacher, ‘I want to be a WWE superstar.’ She laughed and said, ‘Don’t be silly.’ I was shocked.”
“I had no choice,” she continued. “I gave up on my dream once. I went to college and after graduating from college, I started training. I couldn’t give up on my dream. My friends gave me confidence, ‘You can do it, you can do it!’ I called a wrestling company in Tokyo. I left my hometown of Osaka, Japan. Now I am a WWE superstar. Don’t give up on your dream!”
Asuka retired earlier into her career due to Nephritis, an inflammation of the kidneys. In a full-circle moment, it was actually Asuka’s mother who implored her to push through.
“I had a problem, but I want to entertain people. It’s my goal. My mother told me I have to fight again.”
Asuka has traded shots with just about every woman in the WWE. When asked who she still wants to face, Asuka offered a few suggestions.
“I want to wrestle with Triple H and Ric Flair,” she teased. “I fought many great WWE superstars. Oh, [I want to wrestle] Ronda Rousey. One day!”
At the conclusion of the interview, Asuka left fans with this message: “People all over the world are watching WWE. My goal in WWE is to get more people to know me. I want to share the wonderful cultures of Japanese and Asians as an Asian.”
Asuka will challenge new WWE Raw women’s champion Rhea Ripley for the title at WWE Wrestlemania Backlash. The match, a triple threat, also includes Charlotte Flair. The pay-per-view event airs on Sunday, May 16.