The Japan Junior Figure Skating Championships 2012

January 30, 2013

By Atsuko Kuryu
Photos © Keiko Kasai

The top young Japanese skaters got together in the Daido Drinko Ice Arena in Tokyo where the Japan Junior Figure Skating Championships 2012 were held November 16 – 18. There were 29 Men (boys really), 30 Ladies (well, girls) and 1 Ice dance team competing there. Ryuju Hino and Satoko Miyahara won consecutive titles. Ryuju showed two consistent performances and finished first in both programs. Shoma Uno was perfect in the short program and very good in the free skate, while Keiji Tanaka made several mistakes in both programs. Consequently Shoma stayed 2nd and Keiji finished 3rd. As for the ladies' singles, Satoko won her second title as was widely predicted. Riona Kato came in 2nd, and Rika Hongo 3rd, which was a little surprising. With Yura Matsuda in 4th place and Rin Nitabe in 5th, all of the top five ladies from last year, except Satoko, were replaced. Generally speaking, the level of the ladies' skating was quite high; most girls were very consistent and seldom fell during their programs. And their spins were fantastic. As for the boys, there were many unique talents there to amaze the audience.


Ryuju Hino had an edge error on his triple flip in both programs (short program to TaTaKu, Best of Kodo II, free program to Robin Hood) and stepped out of the landing of the triple Axel in the free. Other than that he did pretty well and got +GOE for most of his elements. He is a good spinner and got level 4 for 3 out of 6 spins and level 3 for the rest. He used to be known for his robotic movements, but has improved much in this area, which was especially noticeable during his free skate. His shaky landings have sometimes ruined his amazing jumps, but this was also improved. He got 71.35 and 138.50 points respectively and 209.85 overall.
"I was surprised the score was so high," Ryuju said about scoring over 200 points. "I was very pleased with this score. As for the Grand Prix Final, I try to think of every competition the same so I can skate as I do during practice. I also try not to think I'm the Japanese Junior champion too much. I only want to keep my calm there".

Ryuju spontaneously mentioned Yuzuru Hanyu, who won the NHK Trophy with the world's highest score at this time. They are about the same age and used to be rivals on the novice level. After Ryuju's injury, Yuzuru raced far ahead and Ryuju admires his old rival saying he'd like to meet Yuzuru at the senior Nationals. He said he is now cheering for him, but I somehow sensed a secret competitive spirit with Yuzuru in his way of speaking. Go for it, Ryuju!

Shoma Uno finished 2nd with a flawless short program (Tanguera) and an impressive free skate (Steps). He not only had awesome speed but graceful movements as well. In his short program he seemed to try to be more mature than he really is, which I didn't appreciate. However, his free program suited him very well for showing his own style of expression. He had an edge error on his triple Lutz and two footed the landing of his triple flip, but it was still a great performance. His score in the short program was 66.21, while he got 124.37 points for his free program. In the interview after the competition he admitted that he did very well through this competition, when despite some mistakes he could reach 2nd place, which was his best ranking at Junior Nationals. He said he looks up to Daisuke Takahashi and watching his performance always inspires him a lot.

For the former silver medalist of the World Junior Championships, Keiji Tanaka, this just wasn't his competition. He piled up the mistakes and stayed 3rd in both programs (65.21 points for the short program and 124.25 for the free). During this event he landed two fabulous triple Axels but stepped out of the one opening his free program. Even though he also made several mistakes on his other jumps, I think he has improved much in many ways. His body movements in the free program (The Untouchables) have become more sophisticated than last year and I enjoyed his danceable action during his short program to Afro Freak. "My condition was not bad," he said after the competition was over. "I don't know why I didn't compete well. Maybe it was a mental problem. I want to make myself stronger inside".


Sei Kawahara had bad luck in Higasifushimi because he had broken the blade of his skate during practice the day before the short program. He hastily put a new blade on but didn't have enough time to get used to it. He said he couldn't stop because the edge of the blade was too sharp and he couldn't take on the triple Axel or triple-triple combination which he usually includes in his repertoire. He was in a disappointing 8th place after the short program (to Sing Sing Sing) with 50.25 point, but did pretty well in the free skate (The Last Samurai) for which he got 107.26 points. He was in 8th and 5th place respectively (and 5th overall). His free program was really cool and I am looking forward to seeing it performed flawlessly under the right conditions.

This was the first competition as a junior skater for Taichi Honda (below), although he had competed twice as a selected novice skater. He didn't make the free skate during the last two Junior Nationals, but he did pretty well this time around. He stayed in 6th place in both programs and got 51.57 points for his short program to Hernando's Hideaway and 104.19 for his Casablanca free skate. He finished 6th overall. He seemed to be in good spirits and moved vivaciously through this competition. He was also really cute especially with the white jacket in the free skate. "I've never felt this nervous before in my life," Honda said after the competition. "The last two Junior Nationals were just challenges for me since I was only a novice. But competing as a junior is something else. I don't have any specific goals right now – the thing I have to do is to practice and improve day by day."

Shu Nakamura (above) did pretty well in the short program (53.13 points, 4th place) but had a disastrous free skate (96.69 points, 10th place) with three falls that dropped him even further away from the podium. He finished 8th overall, however, his performance was still fun to watch.

Three selected novice skaters entered; Sota Yamamoto, Taichiro Yamakuma, and Reo Ishizuka. Unfortunately Reo didn't manage to make the free skate but the other two skaters did pretty well, epecially Sota who ranked 4th overall. He showed good speed and high and consistent jumps. His spins were amazing. His short program was nice (47.32 points) and his free skate wonderful (112.29 points). During his free skate, the audience gradually grew more excited because his performance was so excellent for a novice skater. He definitely showed his potential and the audience will remember his name. He was 8th in the short program, 3rd in the free skate and 5th overall.

Taichiro Yamakuma also did a pretty good job. He got 51.29 points and became 7th in the short program to Chocolate, while earning 99.15 points and a 9th place in the free skate to Kill Bill. Finishing 7th overall was an excellent result for a novice skater.

Even though he didn't make the free skate, Reo Ishizuka showed off his improvements this year. We will surely see him in Junior Nationals as one of the top junior skaters next year.

In men's singles Japan has several unique characters who entertained the audience big time. Let me introduce some of them: Kazuki Tomono was again the audience favorite, as he was last year. He was in a disappointing 20th place after the short program, but bounced back to 7th in the free skate. His free program to The Incredibles got loud applause from the audience. Hiroaki Sato is also an entertainer, but unfortunately didn't show his true potential in the free skate.

Hidetsugu Kamata and Youji Nakano were also warmly welcomed by the audience; Hidetsugu with his own style of expression and Youji with his unique music choice and danceable moves.



Satoko Miyahara's short program to The Swan was a perfect one, for which most of the judges rewarded her +GOE. She is getting more graceful every time she performs her short program in front of an audience this season, and her free skate was even better. She said it was more difficult for her to interpret the music in the free skate than in the short program, but I think she expressed the spirit of Romeo and Juliet better than The Swan. It seemed that she could build her own world on the ice during her free skate even though she had a hands-down on her solo triple Lutz. She got 61.31 points and 111.37 respectively, and 172.68 total.

During the interview after last year's competition, she had spoken in a very soft voice as not wanting to be heard by anyone there. Now she had changed. She spoke louder and very steady. Her manners had matured like her skating. She explained about her performance: "I wanted to skate better than last year. I think I have improved my skating skills because I could keep good speed. I made a mistake on my Lutz, but I could collect myself after that, which I think is an improvement over last year". She said she was looking forward to competing in the Grand Prix Final and meeting wonderful foreign skaters whom she had never before competed against.

Riona Kato was only 5th in short program (Sahara) because of a minor mistake in her step sequence. It made her disappointed and she seemed to lose some in the program components scores. But her free skate (The Godfather) was fabulous. She moved beautifully and consistently. Her only obvious error was an edge call on her triple Lutz. Riona is only 14 but looked the part for this adult-like music. Her short program score was 53.90 points while her free program generated 107.57 points, which gave a total of 161.47. "I feel kind of obligated to skate better from now on as a medalist at Junior Nationals", Riona said in the interview. "Of course I'm very happy because I had my best skate all year here". She also mentioned the new repertoire she is working on: triple toe-triple toe, triple toe-triple loop, and triple loop-triple loop. She will include one of them in her program if it comes close to a 100% success rate.

Miu Sato, who placed 6th last year, didn't make free skate in the Western Japan sectionals, and could not compete at Nationals this year. However, don't worry Miu! Rika Hongo didn't make the free skate either in the same competition. But this year, she came back to this event and finished 3rd with a strong performance. She had not only good speed but also a lot of energy. You might not call her skating style particularly graceful, but would admit she is endowed with talent. Her flawless short program to Samson & Delilah put her in 3rd place with 55.47 points, and her dynamic free skate (103.87) earned her the bronze medal and an overall score of 159.34. "My only mistake was the triple loop in the middle of the program," she said while regretting the under-rotated jump on which she fell. "But I was able to do everything else I was supposed to". She also mentioned the failure at last year's sectionals: "The disappointing result from last year made me what I am today". Her free program was choreographed by her mother, Yuko Hongo, and Rika said that part felt a bit strange.

In the short program on the first day of the competition, Yura Matsuda was first out of all girls and attracted the audience with her brilliant performance to the music of Czardas. She had good speed and consistent jump. Her spin positions were really beautiful and she got 54.07 points for her efforts. Although not as impressive as the short program, her free skate was also very nice. Her performance to Crazy for You gave her 102.00 points, 156.07 overall. She would have needed some three additional points to reach the podium. "I made a mistake on my Lutz, but managed to pull myself together so I'm satisfied with my performance," the fifteen-year-old skater said. She declared: "I'll set my goal next year to get on the podium".

Rin Nitabe (below) did pretty well, too. Her only mistake was a step-out of the triple flip in the short program. She skated fast and moved naturally across the ice. She also showed good spins and consistent jumps; a technically great skater. "I was told by my coach to improve my expressive ability. She said I should become a skater who is able to get high points in spite of technical mistakes". "My free skate today was the best performance so far", Rin said in the interview, "so I was really satisfied with the result.

Miyabi Oba (above), 17 years old, was the second oldest among the lady skaters in this event. "I'm one of the oldest here. Watching young skaters breaking out this way is kind of like watching horror movies. I was terrified," the regular attendant of Junior Nationals joked. She performed a gorgeous short program to Tempest, and ranked second, but a disastrous free program, L'oiseau de feu, where she was 12th with only 87.40 points made her drop to 6th overall. Last year she was a cute little teen-ager, but this year she appeared surprisingly mature. When asked if she will move up to seniors next season, she answered, "I want to go to seniors but I have to talk it over with my coach." "I was in bad shape so me and my coach Momma did not expect a wonderful performance," the relatively old girl explained. "I think I was able to do a decent performance. And I'm very happy because they gave me relatively good component scores. Maybe I managed to show more mature expressions out there."

In Ladies' singles there were 4 selected novice skaters: Kaori Sakamoto, Wakaba Higuchi, Mai Miura, and Yuka Kito. Their results were also pretty good. Wakaba, Mai and Kaori ranked 7th, 8th, and 9th respectively. Wakaba showed a lovely performance with amazing spins. Her flawless short program and nice free program placed her 7th with a total score of 143.08 points. Mai fell twice in her free program; still she earned 140.14 points overall and stayed in 8th place. She is petite and rotated very quickly in the jumps. The novice champion Kaori stayed in 9th place because of two failed jumps in the free program. Her total score was 139.52. Even though only 15th overall, Yuka enchanted the audience with her cute and lovely performance. She is also a good spinner, as very young skaters often are.

Ice Dancing

Last year, there were a few new couples entering the senior stage. This year, there was a new junior team: Nana Sugiki/ Hirokazu Noguchi. They only started skating together last summer, so I asked how they found each other. Nana answered Hirokazu found her when she skated as a single, and asked her if they could get together. (At one time Nana skated with Taiyo Mizutani who is now teamed up with Bryna Oi. After that Nana skated as a single for a while.)

Hirokazu seemed to have trouble with his twizzles during practice, but did well in the competition. They looked a bit slow but their harmony wasn't bad. The balance of their appearance was nice and they are a beautiful couple. In the performance they showed beautiful lifts, for some of which the audience got really excited and gave them warm applause. Nana and Hirokazu are both university students and have more time ahead to enjoy their partnership. I wish them to hang in there for a long time.

Japanese Figure skating is flourishing right now, and while watching this competition, you got the impression that it will keep flourishing for at least 10 years or more. There are several up-and-coming skaters among the Japanese juniors, many who could become tomorrow's stars. Please keep your eyes on Japan's young skaters!


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