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Colorful Japanese pro wrestler and mask maker starts new life outside Tokyo amid pandemic

Mister Cacao shows off the colorful masks that adorn his shop in Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture, on Jan. 20, 2021. (Mainichi/Tetsuya Shoji)

TAKASAKI, Gunma -- A new mask shop has opened here, northwest of Tokyo, though the products sold are not the kind of face covers people around the world have become accustomed to wearing due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Rather, the masks this store offers are the type worn by professional wrestlers in the ring.

    Fukumenya kobo (literally "mask store workshop" in Japanese), owned by Mister Cacao -- who makes masks and costumes and is a pro wrestler himself -- moved to the Kitafutabacho district from Tokyo in September 2020, after Cacao and his wife decided to get away from the crowds of the capital amid the coronavirus crisis.

    The masks and costumes Cacao makes have been used by Jushin Thunder Liger and numerous other famous wrestlers. The Mexican wrestler Mil Mascaras, who at one time took Japan by storm and was also known as "Masked Nobility" and "Thousand Masks," has a contract with Cacao. The masks that performers wear on sports variety shows are also made by Cacao.

    Pro wrestling had been staging a comeback thanks to the momentum created by New Japan Pro-Wrestling Co., which has signed popular wrestlers such as Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kazuchika Okada, and others. But with the spread of the novel coronavirus, many pro wrestling organizations were forced to cancel or reduce the scale of their events. "The pros of having my store in Tokyo, where most of the events took place, diminished," Cacao said.

    Originally from Japan's Kansai region, instead of heading back west, Cacao chose to move to Gunma, the home prefecture of his wife, the pro wrestler Vancouver Cat. Cacao talks of aspiring to make pro wrestling and mask culture take root in Gunma, and around five months since the store's move, passionate customers are already flocking to the shop, some even from outside the prefecture.

    Professional-caliber masks in various designs line the shelves of the store, located near JR Takasaki Station's east exit. Masks worn by the popular idol group Momoiro Clover Z, which Cacao made, are exhibited in the store. Various products with masks as part of their design are also on display, which even those who may not be pro wrestling fans can find entertaining.

    Cacao is also a promoter who founded the pro wrestling organization Fukumen Mania, and is looking forward to holding events in the prefecture once the novel coronavirus pandemic calms down.

    "I made a mask that incorporated the characteristics of Gunma Prefecture's mascot character, Gunma-chan," Cacao said. "There are a lot of materials in Gunma that get the creative juices flowing for me, as a mask maker. I'd like to make masks incorporating silk," he said, referring to the region's traditional specialty.

    (Japanese original by Tetsuya Shoji, Shibukawa Resident Bureau)

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