Japanese government officials are calling for action against cyberbullying, amid a national outpouring of grief after the death of professional wrestler and reality television star Hana Kimura.
Kimura, a cast member on the latest season of the Netflix show “Terrace House,” died on Saturday at the age of 22, confirmed World Wonder Ring Stardom, the professional wrestling organization that represented Kimura.
“We are very sorry to report that our Hana Kimura has passed away,” Stardom said in a statement. “Hana marched to the beat of her own drum. She was funny, charismatic and a truly kind person.”
The organization didn’t provide further information on her death, adding in a separate statement that “we are yet to grasp the details and continue to cooperate the investigation into the matter.”
It also said it would “work on the emotional well-being of our players.”
Shortly before her death was reported, Kimura posted a photo of herself with her cat on Instagram, with the caption, “I love you. Live a happy, long life. I’m sorry.”
News of Kimura’s death sent shockwaves through Japan and the broader “Terrace House” fan base, with many people pointing to the deluge of abuse Kimura faced from social media users in recent months.
The wave of online criticism and harassment was heightened after an episode that aired on March 31, showing an argument between Kimura and another cast member.
That abuse came under scrutiny and widespread condemnation after Kimura’s death.
Japan’s Minister of Internal Affairs and Communication, Sanae Takaichi, pledged on Tuesday to speed up government discussions around cyberbullying legislation.
Takaichi would head a government panel to discuss whether internet users could be identified if their posts included “slander and defamation,” she said.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga also expressed his condolences for Kimura’s death on Monday, saying, “It is important to improve literacy on the internet so that users won’t use comments to hurt others with slander.”
Former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama paid tribute to Kimura on Twitter, calling for punishment for “cowardly” anonymous cyberbullies.
Other cast members from “Terrace House” also stepped forward with their own experiences of online abuse.
“I was told if I become famous or join ‘Terrace House,’ receiving slander was unavoidable and it’s the tax of being a celebrity,” posted Ryo Tawatari, who left the show in February. “But is it really right? Honestly speaking, I receive lots of slander every day … Other members are in agony too.”
Emika Mizukoshi, who left shortly after Tawatari, described receiving messages online telling her to “go and die.”
“I also was slandered after joining Terrace House, and was hurt,” she said in an Instagram post. “But we on TV are all human and have feelings. Words can be deadly weapons … We have to end this trend where you can say anything to so-called famous people.”
The season’s upcoming episodes, which were set to air this week and next, have been suspended, said Netflix Japan in a statement.
International wrestling community grieves
Kimura was a rising star in the wrestling world. Her mother, Kyoko Kimura, was previously a famous professional wrestler, and Hana followed suit, graduating from a training academy in 2016.
She officially joined Stardom, a women’s professional wrestling group based in Tokyo, in 2019, and went on to win several championships and tournaments.
However, her role on “Terrace House” was what propelled her to greater fame – domestically and globally. The show, co-produced and distributed by Netflix, has gained international popularity in recent years, with a growing number of fans in the United States and Asia.
Sometimes dubbed an “anti-reality TV” show, “Terrace House” places six strangers together in one house, where they live and date throughout the season. Unlike typical dating shows, “Terrace House” is largely free of explosive drama and instead full of everyday mundanities like grocery shopping and day jobs.
Kimura joined the latest season set in Tokyo, which aired last May. While on the show, she discussed topics like the difficulties of being a female wrestler, public misconceptions about her job, and the struggle of work-life balance.
Fellow female wrestlers around the world took to social media after her death to pay tribute, express their condolences, and speak out against cyberbullying.
“There are no words that could possibly heal this wound,” said UFC Hall of Famer and former WWE women’s champion Ronda Rousey. “Cyberbullying is a very real and growing threat to us all as a society … Even a straw’s weight can be the one to break a camel’s back.”
“I didn’t personally know Hana Kimura, but it’s still very painful to learn about what happened,” said the WWE’s four-time women’s world champion Bayley. “When it comes to cyberbullying - don’t do it, don’t partake in it, and do not respond to it…Stand for something better.”
Other famous wrestlers who spoke out after Kimura’s death include Mick Foley, Nia Jax, and Kelly Klein.