The 2023/2024 All-Japan Figure Skating Championships

February 29, 2024
By Siyi Chen
Photo © International Skating Union (ISU)

The 92nd All Japan Figure Skating Championships unfolded as a captivating spectacle of beauty, skill, and rivalry, showcasing the peak of Japanese figure skating talent.


The defending National champions Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara pulled out of the Nationals again due to Kihara's lumbar spondylosis. Hence Yuna Nagaoka and Sumitada Moriguchi became the only pair skaters at the event.

Yuna and Sumitada finished with 56.07 points in the short program and 117.57 points in the free. The total score has increased by 38.25 points since their previous event, the NHK Trophy. They have made a significant leap in their first season.

Both skaters expressed their joy and confidence in their performance: "Since the NHK Trophy, we've discussed and practiced a lot, and reaffirmed our goals, so we could approach them confidently. It's great that we were able to deliver our best performance." Yuna was pleased with her success in the side-by-side jumps and throw jumps, which she struggled with at the NHK. Sumitada mentioned that he even approached all the male pair skaters at the NHK for advice on how to improve twists. The main advice he received was that it takes time, so gaining a lot of experience is crucial.

Yuna and Sumitada were selected for the Worlds' team with the condition to achieve the minimum technical scores. They were looking forward to sharing the Montreal ice with the reigning World champions: "They are our most admired pair. The initial goal is just to participate in the same competition as them and to reach a level where we can aspire to be like them. We want to work hard in practice and strive to get closer to their level in any way we can." Young pair earned their minimum for the free skate at the Bavarian Open and had a shot to get the short program's minimum at the Challenge Cup last weekend. Unfortunately they didn't succeed in doing that.

This is Sumitada's first senior season after finishing fourth at the Junior Grand Prix Final and the Junior Worlds with Haruna Murakami last season. Yuna was a single skater; she paired up with Sumitada and moved from Hokkaido to Kyoto in May 2023.

Ice Dance

The popularity of ice dance in Japan was sparked by Daisuke Takahashi and Kana Muramoto, who retired from competition at the end of last season after finishing eleventh at the World Championships. It seems that Misato Komatsubara and Takeru Komatsubara (Tim Koleto) will have the upper hand in their eighth year together, but the youngsters are making great progress with four new couples participating in the event.

The competition showcased rising stars Utana Yoshida and Masaya Morita, who claimed the bronze medal with a total score of 173.17. Despite a fall in the rhythm dance, they won the free dance with a captivating "Rise of the Phoenix" program. When asked about the idea behind the music and costumes, Masaya answered, "We wanted to express the story of Utana becoming a phoenix and flying high, then falling down weakly, but flapping her wings and rising up into the sky once again. She is the 'phoenix' itself dressed in red, while I am the shadow or the element to cheer her up, so the costume and the program structure are designed to enhance her presence."

Both Utana and Masaya are experienced ice dancers who have previously competed at the international level with different partners. They teamed up in June 2023 under the Kinoshita Academy with Cathy Reed. It was their first season together. Utana confirmed that the past months went by fast but were incredibly fulfilling. "The past half-year has been filled with support from our coaches and my partner. I'm very grateful for that," Masaya added.

Speaking about their favorite programs and skaters, Masaya said that he was impressed by Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, and Utana was inspired by Madison Hubbell's feminine strength in her performances.

The silver medal went to Azusa Tanaka and Shingo Nishiyama, a new team that paired up in May. They are training in Montreal, where world-class athletes gather to hone their skills at the Ice Academy of Montreal (IAM). Shingo placed third at the Nationals in 2021 with his former partner, Ayumi Takanami, while former single skater Azusa was completely new to ice dance. Before pairing up, Shingo had trained at the Toronto Cricket Club. "There was definitely time for an ice dance scheduled at the Cricket Club, but the main focus was on singles. To concentrate more on ice dance, I decided to change the environment. Now we are able to train with great coaches and teammates. Every day is stimulating," he explained. Both greatly appreciate training at the IAM, which is considered to have one of the best ice dance environments.

Shingo and Azusa chose "Super Mario Bros" as their rhythm dance music based on Romain Haguenauer's suggestion. Azusa's role is not the heroine Princess Peach but Luigi, the younger brother of Mario portrayed by Shingo. Shingo explained the idea behind the program: "It is not just a princess waiting for the hero at the finish line, but two brothers fighting together." Their free dance, "Giselle," gives a totally different impression, and Azusa loves her dress very much: "Since the music starts from the Second Act, Giselle is supposed to be dead, so my costume is more like a ghost, not the typical ballet-like attire."

They won the rhythm dance segment with 71.08 points, but due to small errors in their free dance, finished second overall.

Misato Komatsubara and Tim Koleto demonstrated their stability by winning their fifth national title with a total score of 178.39 points. Reflecting on the competition, Misato mentioned, "It was incredibly nerve-wracking, not much different from the Olympic selection." Tim added that he couldn't help shedding tears while walking before their performance. However, he met Kana by chance, shared a hug, and received encouragement from her, which boosted their confidence. He humorously remarked, "It's moving to be able to strive together to deliver our best. Maybe using 'Nakeru' (cry) instead of 'Takeru' for my Japanese name would have been better."


The women's event showcased a brilliant display of talent. Among the performers, Kaori Sakamoto emerged as the crowned champion, claiming the gold medal for the third time with a mesmerizing routines and gathering 233.12 points. Accompanying her on the podium were the silver medalist Mone Chiba (209.27 points) and the bronze medalist Mao Shimada (202.18 points). The junior Grand Prix Final bronze medalist, Rena Uezono, finished in 4th place, earning 200.69 points and the award for Best Newcomer.

Thanks to her resilience, Mone Chiba secured a national silver medal in her first full senior season. During the first half of the season, she faced setbacks due to health issues. In November, she was diagnosed with asthma. Luckily, the treatment went well, and she steadily improved both physically and emotionally, preparing herself for the Nationals.

The short program, choreographed by Misha Ge to the Gypsy tones of "Les Yeux Noirs (Dark Eyes)," marked a new genre for her. Finishing third in that segment, less than two points behind the second-place Mako Yamashita but also less than a point ahead of two other skaters, she was satisfied with her performance: "I'm relieved that I was able to deliver as I practiced even under pressure. My favorite part of the program is the step sequence. If you fall behind even by a beat, it's irreparable. I'm glad I could dance to it with great enthusiasm today."

There was a significant improvement in her free skate compared to her previous event. The tension of the final group never waned, but she dealt with all jumps successfully and showcased her graceful skating skills to the music from "The Legend of 1900." Reflecting on her first podium finish, she admitted she was surprised and addressed things to work on: "I have a habit of raising my shoulders when I'm nervous and feeling discomfort. I need to calm myself down with deep breaths to convey a sense of relaxation, which matches the elegance of the music better."

Mone transferred from her hometown Sendai to the Kinoshita Academy in Kyoto this season and became rink mates with Hana Yoshida and Mao Shimada. She expressed determination about this change: "Once I make a decision, I want to ensure that this choice wasn't a mistake. I want to keep evolving in the coming years as I'm ready to work harder."

For Hana Yoshida, however, this competition was less successful. She attempted the triple Axel in both programs, but they resulted in a fall and a pop-up. She was almost crying from disappointment after her performance. She finished seventh with 194.22 points overall. Fortunately, winning the Cup of China and getting bronze at the Grand Prix Final secured her a spot on the World' team together with Mone and Kaori. "The World Championships is my dream stage," she said. "Last season, I went with Mone to [Worlds 2023 in] Saitama Super Arena as a spectator. A year ago, I never imagined I would be able to compete at Worlds. I want to work at full stretch and skate as a challenger."

From the very start of her short program, Kaori Sakamoto displayed a stable series of jumps, spins, and steps, all earning level four. Her performance to "Baby, God Bless You" exuded confidence and power. "I am thoroughly satisfied with today's performance. I feel even more energetic now than when my condition was at its peak. I believe I showcased my best self. I was truly nervous to the point of breathlessness during the practice session. Things didn't go as smoothly as I had hoped, but I switched gears successfully. I approached it without overthinking, focusing on each element one by one."

As she struck the finishing pose in the free skate, she raised a triumphant fist. "My goal for this season was to achieve a triple crown at the Nationals and the Worlds. Accomplishing the first one brings a sense of relief," she shared. "To win the Worlds, I need to tighten up some aspects like spins. I'll work hard to make the necessary adjustments and deliver a flawless performance."

Kaori's unwavering commitment to excellence and her triumphant performance in Nagano have set the stage for a compelling journey towards the World Championships in Montreal.


The men's competition, as always at the All-Japan Championships, was the highlight of the week, and the participation of so many worthy contenders made predictions for the podium close to impossible. Sota Yamamoto won bronze, his first medal in his tenth Nationals, while Yuma Kagiyama finished with silver, and Shoma Uno defended his title, standing atop the national podium for the sixth time in his career. A fun fact: these were his thirteenth Nationals, while the newcomer Sena Takahashi is only 13 years old.

Sena (20th overall with 191.77 points) was the first to skate in the men's short program, and in the free skate, it was Daiya Ebihara (finished 19th with 192.96 points). Both are juniors who qualified to participate in the Nationals for the first time. Daiya won two bronze medals at Junior Grand Prix events this season and was awarded as the Best Newcomer. He was deeply impressed by his rink mate Kao Miura, who returned to training the next day after the Grand Prix Final with a strong determination to perform better at Nationals.

Same age as Miura, Shunsuke Nakamura (207.70, 14th) viewed the competition as a stepping stone towards seniors next season. Winning his first junior title, he aimed to experience the tension of including a quad toe loop in both programs, and he successfully landed both with positive GOE. He, Haru Kakiuchi (196.30, 18th), and Rio Nakata (200.27, 17th) were selected to compete at Junior Worlds this week.

For Kao Miura himself, the competition involved mixed feelings. He mentioned that the Grand Prix Final was incredibly challenging for him, as he was in poor physical condition, suffered from gastroenteritis, and lost about three kilos with unsuccessful efforts to regain them. He approached Nationals without being fully recovered and even had to visit a doctor instead of attending one practice session before the short program. "I was in line at the clinic with a one-year-old baby. The baby there cheered me up," he recalled. He did his best for the short program, landing two quads and a triple Axel with positive GOEs, but probably got tired towards the end of the program and got a change of foot sit spin invalidated (didn't have three revolutions - ed) and his combo spin with a change of foot got V. In the free skate, he made only one mistake on the landing of the quadruple Salchow. The rest of the program, which included two quad toe loops, two triple Axels, and all level four spins and step sequences, was performed with positive GOE.

Although he gained 280.08 points - a score good enough for silver last year - he placed only fourth now, the same result as two years ago. "I am pleased to say that my skating has definitely improved in these two years," he said. "My position was different this time. Before, I was a challenger with nothing to lose, while this year, I wanted to get as good a ranking and score as possible. I think I have improved my ability to put it all together under this pressure."

Sota Yamamoto got a total score of 287.00, finishing on the podium and fulfilling one of his main goals for this season. "Honestly speaking, my physical and mental condition has swung significantly after the Cup of China (event in which he finished sixth - ed.). There were days when I could skate with joy, and there were days when I couldn't motivate myself."

Landing two quad jumps and delivering a strong short program got him excited, as he made mistakes in it earlier this season in both of his Grand Prix events. With all the jumps executed cleanly and all steps and spins graded at level four, he concluded his "Exogenesis: Symphony" free skate with the highest technical score of the evening. His coach, Machiko Yamada, gave him huge hugs after the performance, and there were some tears of joy shed in the Kiss&Cry. Sota expressed a lot of gratitude and shared more about his journey: "I did what I needed to do during the practices, but there were days when my performance did not improve. Even so, I never gave up and continued to do what I could and should do each day. I am happy to see the result of my efforts finally pay off here. I will continue skating, and I see [potential for] further growth. I have been able to do my best so far thanks to the support of so many people, including my coach. I will strive to skate like this again to make them happy in the future."

Yuma Kagiyama showcased a strong comeback, earning the silver medal and improving on his eighth-place finish from last year. He kept both his programs from the previous season but refined them under the guidance of Carolina Kostner, his new coach. They trained together in Japan after the Grand Prix Final, focusing on details such as upper-body movement and line of sight during the steps. Despite the short break between the two competitions, he approached this time with high concentration and prepared his mind for the event: "Nationals have a unique atmosphere, and everyone comes here in 100% condition. It's the same for me."

He fell on the quad Salchow at the beginning of the short program, but didn't let the mistake affect him and finished third with 93.94 points. He delivered a flawless free skate to "Rain, In Your Black Eyes," concluding his performance with the "guts pose." Achieving the top score of 198.16, he said: "The level of the competition was higher than I had expected. I'm glad that I was able to give my all today. Next year, I will do my best to perform even better. I definitely plan to increase [the number of] quadruple jumps and ensure solid performances. I also hope to improve my physical strength, refine my programs, and surpass what I have achieved so far."

Shoma Uno delivered an impressive short program, scoring 104.69 points and comfortably distancing himself from the rest of the field by over 10 points. Yet, he felt that something wasn't quite right with his sensation on the ice. "My feel for the jumps was completely different in each practice session and the final warm-up," he said. 'I tried not to push the overall program too much and made the necessary adjustments by reflecting on my current condition and everyone's scores. I'm glad to be able to put everything together in such a high-level competition."

The men's free skate event was extremely fierce; all skaters in the last group delivered exceptional performances. Navigating the tension of the final skate was not easy, and Shoma was satisfied with how he dealt with it and his performance overall: "I am incredibly delighted to have secured victory, withstanding the pressure after stepping out of the first quadruple loop."

With the World Championships being his next competition, Shoma Uno recognized the challenge: "I understand that I need to deliver the best performance of my competitive career for a victory. I'll prioritize optimal preparation, ensuring I utilize the remaining three months' time effectively. I won't settle for a safe routine that could land me in second or third place. I don't want to have any regrets in my competitive life."

Held at the renowned Big Hat venue in Nagano, the championships brought together seasoned veterans and emerging talents, creating a dynamic blend of experience and fresh energy on the ice. Each skater left their mark on the ice in their unique way. And, as always, it was a delightful event we love to cover and feel privileged to do so.

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