The Japan Junior National Championships 2013

December 21, 2013

By Atsuko Kuryu
Photos © Keiko Kasai

The 82nd Japan Junior National Championships were held November 22- 23 at the Gaishi Arena Ice Rink in Nagoya. There were 28 men; 8 from the Western and 20 from the Eastern section competing, 29 ladies; 12 Western and 17 Eastern, and 2 ice dance couples; one from each section. The number of skaters from each section was decided by the results of the last Junior Nationals. In Men’s single, Keiji Tanaka earned his first title, which he had long desired. Runner up was Shoma Uno, who delivered two flawless programs, while the reigning champion, Ryuju Hino, was third because of a devastating short program. Rika Hongo, who was third after the short program, nailed her free program and rose to first overall in Ladies single. Mai Mihara was second with a fantastic short program and Yura Matsuda came in third with two consistent programs. As for the Ice dance: Shizuru Agata/ Kentaro Suzuki showed two fine performances and won their first title while Kumiko Maeda/Aru Tateno became second, leaving the audience a strong impression of their pureness and freshness.


Skating to Instinct Rhapsody, Keiji Tanaka hit a triple Axel, a triple Lutz-triple toe combination and a triple loop almost perfectly in the short program. His spins were nice and well-centered and he received 75.93 points for this wonderful performance. But the next day something about him had changed. He fell on his opening quadruple toe and stumbled on the landing of two of his three combination jumps. Despite this flawed performance he got 139.36 points for his free program, mainly because of his high base value score. He well deserved to be the junior champion since he has the whole package and is now the strongest junior man in Japan. “It is my last season as a junior and I wanted to have a good performance because I had not done it before in this competition,” said Tanaka. “I know it is hard because the schedule is tight, but I will try to do my best for the Grand Prix Final. I guess I’ve been in a good mood lately.”

Shoma Uno, 15 years old, has gradually stepped up year by year. He was second at the Junior Nationals last year as well, but this time he earned the big total of 206.10 points. He didn’t include a quadruple jump in his repertoire yet, but tried a triple Axel in his free program. He fell on the attempt, but it was the only visible mistake through both programs. His spins were fast and original and his step sequences were full of spirit, so the audience gave him standing ovations for both programs. “I don’t remember how I felt during my performance, but altogether I’m very happy,” said the back-to-back silver medalist. “I was a little disappointed with the fall on my triple Axel, but satisfied with the other jumps.”

To the the crowd’s surprise, Ryuju Hino popped his opening triple Axel and fell, and scored only 59.69 points for his short program. Usually this program, TaTaKu, best of Kodo, fits him very well compared to his free program, Romeo and Juliet. But this time we couldn’t enjoy this exciting program with a great beat. Ryuju was fourth after the short program but came back and placed second in the free skate. Just like Tanaka, he fell on his opening quad toe, but landed seven triples to gain 136.98 points for his free skate. His total score was 196.67, which was not satisfying for him, but still enough to put him on the podium. His presentation of this free program looked better and better every time I watched him. “The short program was kind of a nightmare for me, but I could take back my jumps in the free,” said Hino recalling his performances throughout this event. “I will solve my problems one by one and will have better performances in the Grand Prix Final.”

The up-coming youngster, Taichi Honda, was fourth while Japan’s hope, Sota Yamamoto, finished fifth. Taichi’s performance was solid and joyful to his selected up-beat music. Sota delivered a fantastic short program which featured two beautiful level 4 spins and a level 3 step sequences. Unfortunately, because of his disastrous free program where he fell four times, he stayed only fifth. Kazuki Tomono, who had been a darling of the fans because of his cuteness and showmanship in the last Junior Nationals, came back with stronger technique. He nailed nine triples in both programs and even attempted a triple Axel, but it was under-rotated. He became sixth with a total score of 165.75. Sei Kawahara was only seventh because of the inconsistency of his jumps. He said he is now reconstructing his jumps for the future. I hope it works well because he is a very charming skater. Shu Nakamura, who was in eighth place with a total of 162.87 points, must have hoped for abetter result, but he was unable to make a strong impression during his skating.

At his first Junior Nationals, Tsunehito Karakawa finished ninth. He has outstanding expressiveness. At age 15, he already looked like he was creating his own world on the ice. What he needs is more difficult jumps. Hidetsugu Kamata, whom I mentioned for his unique style of expressiveness in the last Junior Nationals report, came back with level-up technique. He now included five different triples into his repertoire and is going to add a triple Axel. He was only seventeenth in the short program, but climbed to seventh in the free skate to become tenth overall with a total score of 153.68 points. Hiroaki Sato, who showed his own style and captured the heart of the fans, finished eleventh with 152.68 points. The top two novice skaters from the recent Novice Nationals, Koshiro Shimada and Sena Miyake, also joined this competition. Both of them were not only cute but also very expressive. Koshiro was seventeenth while Sena unfortunately didn’t make the free skate.


The heat was on in the ladies discipline. The short program rankings were dramatically changed in the free skate, but finally Rika Hongo claimed her first title with the total score of 163.12. She was third last year and third now in the short program. She turned the opening triple toe-triple toe combination to a double-triple and had a little stumble on the landing of the triple loop. In the free skate, she got an edge call on her opening triple Lutz and under-rotated the double Axel-triple toe combination. Other than that her free skate to Miss Saigon was outstanding. She looked so strong and brilliant that the judges awarded her 110.28 points for her effort. “I’m really happy that I could win my first title here in my hometown,” the 17-year old expressed. “For Senior Nationals I will try not to make any mistakes in the short program and I will also strengthen my expression so I can get a good score even if my jumps don’t work so well.”

Mai Mihara was second in the short program with a flawless performance, and she stayed second after placing fifth in the free skate. Her long program to Westside Story included three level 4 spins that were very impressive. “I’m so happy because I ranked second in my first Junior Nationals as a junior skater,” said the skater who joined this event last year as a novice and finished eighth. “In the future I want to be a skater who can entertain the audience.” The bronze went to Yura Matsuda who showed two relatively nice performances. Some of her triple jumps were under-rotated and her step sequence was kicked out in the free skate. However, she piled up five level 4 spins overall in both programs and earned 151.61 points in total. Her free skate to Crazy for You was bright and enjoyable. “I’m so happy to be on the podium because it was one of my goals coming into this competition,” Yura said. “But I’m a little bitter about my short program; I will never make those same mistakes.”

The overnight leader, Mariko Kihara, slid down to fourth after two falls in the free program. She performed her expressive Cotton Club short program maturely, and made a very strong impression. Who can believe she is only 16 years old? Her solid jumps and high quality spins are good enough to predict her to become one of Japan’s next top skaters. The reigning novice champion, Marin Honda, finished only thirteenth in the short program because ofher devastating performance. But she collected herself and bounced back to second in the free program, to place fifth in total. She is not only technically wonderful, but also has that natural showmanship. I’d like to suggest you remember her name, because if all goes well you will hear it among the top contenders in the future. Kaori Sakamoto, 13 years old, showed a solid performance and ranked sixth with a total score of 148.78. She fell once in both programs but still looked very consistent.

The reigning silver medalist, Riona Kato, was totally off in her short program and finished in unlikely fourteenth place. However, she came back with power and speed and placed third in the free skate. She was seventh all in all with a final score of 147.33 points. The only top ten skater from the Western section was novice Wakaba Higuchi. She failed to demonstrate her talent during her short program, but pulled herself together and rose to sixth in the free skate to place eighth overall. The runner up of the Novice Nationals, Yuna Aoki, showed a graceful short program and was fifth then, but dropped to fifteenth after some mishaps in the free skate. Miu Suzakialso showed outstanding performances which featured fast and beautiful spins, but she slid down to thirteenth overall. Even though the results would not be satisfactory to these last three skaters, they are all very young and learned a lot from this experience. We do have high expectations for all of them!

Ice Dance

Two fresh couples competed in Ice Dance. Shizuru Agata/Kentaro Suzuki won at their very first Nationals. When they started training together last year, Kentaro broke his leg and practice was on hold. But after his recovery they put in some serious work and although it wasn’t for long, they managed amazing performances in this event. They delivered wonderful lifts with beautiful position, and lovely spins in the free dance. Unfortunately they stumbled during the twizzles in both program. They received 98.22 points overall. “I don’t know if that score is high or low because this is only our second competition as ice dancers. But I don’t think we left anything out on the ice this time,” said Kentaro. “I want to work hard as an ice dancer even after my graduation from college. I will continue skating as a single skater, though.” His partner was not sure about their future, “I set my goals only to this competition so I don’ know how our future will be.” At this point they didn’t know they would be recommended to compete in the Senior Nationals in December and that their future together at least would continue to the end of this year. Hopefully they will work together even next year and longer because they are a good match as an ice dance couple.

The other couple seemed a lot more determined about their future. Kumiko Maeda/Aru Tateno delivered a lovely free dance which included a good twizzle and a level 4 lift.Their total score was 85.06. They looked a little slower but youthfulness and pureness made their performance more attractive. They pictured their future prospects in unity: “We want to compete internationally someday!” The eyes of the 16-year old boy sparkled along with Kumiko’s. “Ice dance is not so popular in Japan,” Kumiko said, “but I want to change this situation.” From now on, Aru wants to train mainly as an ice dancer while Kumiko intends to continue competing as a single as well. They praised each other, but Aru showed consideration for Kumiko’s future as a single skater and said she is great also as a single. Kumiko’s idols are Americans Tanith Belbin/Benjamin Agosto while Aru looks up to Meryl Davis/Charlie White.


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