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[ICE TIME] Shoma Uno Looks to Match Yuzuru Hanyu with Sixth Title at Japan Championships

Though the focus will be on Uno and Kaori Sakamoto, the Japan Championships will also determine which skaters will represent Japan at the world championships.

Two-time world champion Shoma Uno will be seeking his sixth national title when the Japan Championships get underway the week of December 18 in Nagano. 

Uno, who turned 26 on December 17, will be looking to move alongside longtime rival Yuzuru Hanyu with a sixth win at Big Hat when the men's short program begins on Thursday, December 21.

Kaori Sakamoto, also a two-time world titlist, will be aiming for her third consecutive national crown when the women take the ice for their short program on Friday, December 22. Sakamoto is fresh off her first win ever at the Grand Prix Final in Beijing earlier this month.

Though the focus will invariably be on Uno and Sakamoto, the Japan Championships will also determine which six singles skaters will represent the Hinomaru at the 2024 World Figure Skating Championships in Montreal in March.

What to Look For From the Men

The four days of riveting action will conclude on Sunday, December 24 with the announcement of the teams for worlds, junior worlds, and the Four Continents Championships.

On the men's side, three-time Olympic medalist Uno and Beijing silver medalist Yuma Kagiyama appear to be locks for the worlds squad. The real competition will likely come for the third spot, where world junior champion Kao Miura will be battling the likes of Shun Sato, Sota Yamamoto, and Kazuki Tomono.

Japan Championships
Shoma Uno (KYODO)

Uno is coming off a decisive loss to Ilia Malinin at the GP Final, and will be looking to stabilize his quadruple jumps in Nagano. 

Kagiyama, who finished third in China, is continuing his comeback from the ankle injury that forced him to miss almost all of the 2022-23 season. 

Miura was ill during the free skate at the GP Final and could not put on his best performance.

Japan Championships
Kaori Sakamoto won the Grand Prix Final women's title for the first time in her career on December 9. (KYODO)

Top Contenders in the Women's Field

The women's picture looks a bit clearer for Montreal, with Sakamoto, Hana Yoshida, and Rion Sumiyoshi, who all competed in the GP Final, ahead of the rest of the contenders. Rinka Watanabe and Rino Matsuike appear to be the only other two with a legitimate shot at making the team.

Yoshida took home the bronze medal at the GP Final with an impressive performance, while Sumiyoshi struggled and came in sixth. Sumiyoshi will be out to land her quad toe loop in her free skate to solidify her place on the team for worlds.

Though she is still just a junior, world junior champion Mao Shimada will likely present the biggest challenge to Sakamoto in Nagano. The 15-year-old Shimada is not old enough to compete at senior worlds, but could use her triple axel and quad toe loop to pull a surprise and defeat Sakamoto.

Japan Championships
Mao Shimada (KYODO)

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A Showcase for Japan's Top Juniors

In addition to Shimada, the Japan Championships will present an excellent chance for skating fans to see the nation's top juniors perform. There will be 15 of them competing against the seniors.

Shimada, who won her second straight JGP Final in Beijing, will be joined by fellow juniors Ikura Kushida, JGP Final bronze medalist Rena Uezono, Yo Takagi, Ayumi Shibayama, Haruna Murakami, and Kinayu Yokoi.

The junior men who will go up against the big boys include Shunsuke Nakamura, JGP Final winner Rio Nakata, Tsudoi Suto, Haru Kakiuchi, Taiga Nishino, Seigo Tauchi, Daiya Ebihara, and Sena Takahashi.

Japan Championships
Yuma Kagiyama competes in the NHK Trophy on November 25. (KYODO)

Kagiyama Reflects on Where He Needs to Improve

Kagiyama, who took home the bronze at the GP Final behind Malinin and Uno, spoke on his view of his current level in an interview with Web Sportiva that was translated and posted on

"I think it's necessary to have room for the entire program, including expression," Kagiyama was quoted as saying. "Giving up expression in exchange for quadruples is not good. 

"Deciding whether to turn the currently well-executed flip into a quadruple or add more toe loops is a dilemma, but I have to accumulate experience and practice to the point where I can perform with the current quality even if I add one more quad."

The 20-year-old Kagiyama recognized that he is going to have to up his game considerably to challenge the likes of Malinin going forward.

"Even if I participate in the world championships, I think I need to practice to the point where I can compete on equal terms with skaters like Malinin," Kagiyama stated. "So, considering adding more quads, I want to practice with determination. I don't know what will happen, but if I can participate in the world championships, I would like to challenge something there."

Pairs gold medalists Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara enjoy the spotlight after winning the world title in March 2023. (ⒸSANKEI)

ISU Skating Awards Nominees Revealed

The nominees for the ISU Skating Awards were announced on December 13. Several Japanese skaters, coaches, and choreographers are in contention for the individual honors this time.

The list of those nominated is as follows:

Most Valuable Skater

  • Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA)
  • Loena Hendrickx (Belgium)
  • Ilia Malinin (USA)
  • Riku Miura/Ryuichi Kihara (Japan)
  • Kaori Sakamoto (Japan)
  • Adam Siao Him Fa (France)
  • Shoma Uno (Japan)

Best Newcomer

  • Anastasia Golubeva/Hektor Giotopoulos Moore (Australia)
  • Chaeyeon Kim (South Korea)
  • Katerina Mrazkova/Daniel Mrazek (Czech Republic)
  • Nina Pinzarrone (Belgium)
  • Kimmy Repond (Switzerland)
  • Rion Sumiyoshi (Japan)
  • Hana Yoshida (Japan)
  • Emilea Zingas/Vadym Kolesnik (USA)

Best Choreographer

  • Shae-Lynn Bourne (Canada)
  • Sameul Chouinard (Canada)
  • Marie-France Dubreuil (Canada)
  • Romain Haguenauer (Canada)
  • Stephane Lambiel (Switzerland)
  • Julie Marcotte (Canada)
  • Benoit Richaud (France)
  • Adam Solya (Hungary)

Best Coach

  • Barbara Fusar Poli (Italy)
  • Romain Haguenauer (Canada)
  • Mie Hamada (Japan)
  • Michael Huth (Germany)
  • Stephane Lambiel (Switzerland)
  • Patrice Lauzon (Canada)
  • Sonoko Nakano (Japan)

In addition to the aforementioned candidates, the ISU will also award a winner for Best Costume, Most Entertaining Program, Special Achievement, and Lifetime Achievement.

Renowned designer Satomi Ito is nominated for two costumes she created last season. They include Mone Chiba's short program and Rion Sumiyoshi's free skate. Hiromi Watanabe was nominated for Shoma Uno's free skate.

The public can vote for their selections online at: until January 7, 2004.

On February 11, 2024, the winners will be announced at a live show in Zurich.


Author: Jack Gallagher

The author is a veteran sports journalist and one of the world's foremost figure skating experts. Find articles and podcasts by Jack on his author page, and find him on X (formerly Twitter) @sportsjapan.


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