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Hana Kimura's mother speaks about her daughter's life, sends message to online attackers

Kyoko Kimura is seen with her daughter Hana, then a schoolgirl, in this image provided by Kyoko Kimura.

TOKYO -- Kyoko Kimura, 43, spoke on July 4 to the Mainichi Shimbun about her daughter Hana, a pro-wrestler who died aged 22 after she was abused online over her appearances on popular Fuji Television Network Inc. reality show "Terrace House."

At times her answers became tearful, and she said that in the period before Hana's apparent suicide, her daughter had told her that the show's staff had tried to coerce her into slapping one of the other people on the show. Kyoko also opened up on how she feels about the social media trolls who attacked Hana online.

Kyoko had Hana when she was 20 years old. She chose her name because "it was easy to say, and I thought she would be adored for her name." About three months after the birth, Kyoko became a single mother, raising Hana all by herself. From a young age, Hana would dance in front of Kyoko's friends at gatherings. "She had a lively personality, and she was always fussed over," she said.

Her father was from Indonesia. When she started going to elementary school, some of the other children bullied her with taunts of "Go back to Indonesia!" There were days when Hana would come from school crying, but she kept up her attendance.

Hana, far left, and Kyoko Kimura, far right, are seen at a birthday party for Hana's grandmother, in this image provided by Kyoko Kimura.

As a student in junior high and then high school, she developed an interest in dancing, modeling and becoming a star. Kyoko was fully committed to supporting the things Hana said she wanted to do.

Kyoko was also a pro-wrestler. She said, "For the 15 years I was doing it, I would always show up to matches ready to compete; the thing that fueled me was my wish to work hard for Hana."

Hana first started showing interest in becoming a pro-wrestler when she was in high school. She had wanted to be an action movie star, but those ambitions gradually transformed into pro-wrestling dreams, and she made her ring debut aged 18. Kyoko said, "I thought she was really suited to it, and I felt relieved to see she'd found a place in life that she could devote herself too."

Hana reportedly chose to join the Terrace House cast from autumn 2019 because she wanted to "spread the word about female pro-wrestlers." Kyoko said, "She was excited to tell me that she'd heard people had come to see women's wrestling for the first time after seeing Terrace House."

But by the end of the year she was already mentioning to her family that she wanted to quit the show. With matches still part of her daily life, it was getting hard for her to take part in filming well into the night, and on top of that she'd noticed the abuse she was getting online.

But while she couldn't find a way to quit even with all that, the filming of the "costume incident" at the end of March provided an opportunity for the slander to intensify. One of the other show participants mistakenly ruined one of Hana's wrestling costumes in the wash. A tense argument with the housemate followed, during which Hana knocked off their baseball cap.

When the online abuse started to become more severe at the end of March, Hana posted a picture on social media showing she had cut her wrist. Kyoko was concerned, and got in touch, but Hana told her over and over that it was "fine." Kyoko wrote her a text reading, "Attacks online soon blow over, and it's just irresponsible people throwing stones from position of safety. You must absolutely not lose sight of the people who are important to you." Hana kept a screenshot of the message saved on her phone.

Kyoko and Hana Kimura are seen when Hana was a young child, in this image provided by Kyoko Kimura.

After those events, Hana deleted Twitter, Instagram and other social media apps from her phone, and tried not to look at them. But with wrestling matches put on hold because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the wrestling management company Hana was affiliated with apparently asked her to promote the sport on social media, exposing her once again to what was being said on the platforms.

On May 15, just days before her death, Hana revealed to her mother some of the details regarding the portrayal of the "costume incident" on Terrace House. On the drive back from a birthday party for Hana's beloved grandmother, she told Kyoko tearfully, "I was pushed by the staff to slap him. (Even though I'm a pro-wrestler) I can't slap people like that, so I knocked his hat off."

On May 19, Kyoko delivered Hana her favorite steak bento, Chinese-style rice bowl and pound cake to her house. It was the last time they would see each other. Kyoko recalled, "Hana was late for our meet-up. I ended up telling her, 'You're late.' Now I think about how I said that even though she was feeling down."

Regarding the portrayals on Terrace House, Fuji TV representatives said at a regular press conference held on June 3 that the company "does not coerce people to do things," and that it "does not instruct people to distort how they express themselves."

Referring to Fuji TV's account, Kyoko said, "Cast members are in a weak position. There's no way they're in a place to say that they can't do something they're asked to. Like with people who are victims of harassment, the harasser may say they perceived there to be 'no coercion,' but for the person affected it's different."

Lastly, Kyoko expanded on her feelings toward people who slander others, saying, "At first all I felt was enormous rage that was turning into hate, but now it's different." What changed her mind were the messages of apology she received. One of them wrote, "Whatever I say, I can't be forgiven, but I have disabilities and became unable to do the things I like. So I wrote those messages to relieve stress," and added, "There is no value in me living, so I will die."

Kyoko said, "I realized then that even people who insult others baselessly are looking for help. But, from my heart, I really don't want them to die. If you die, nothing is solved. If you feel responsibility, then live, carry that burden with you your whole life; if you can overcome those harsh thoughts, learn about how to properly use social media, and become happy with life."

(Japanese original by Haruka Udagawa, Integrated Digital News Center)

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