It was a revelatory weekend at the recently concluded Japan Junior Championships at Tsukisamu Gymnasium.

What stood out most?

Three things — Kaori Sakamoto's grit, Yuna Shiraiwa's grace, Marin Honda's fragility.

This is what Ice Time took away from the events of the past few days.

Sakamoto's determination to walk out the winner was evident from the moment she took the ice in the short program on Saturday night. Her performance to "The Artist" was strong and gave her a narrow lead over reigning world junior champion Honda going into the free skate.

But the vibe after the short program pretty much summed up matters.

"This is an important competition because I can get the automatic ticket to the world junior championships by winning here," Sakamoto stated. She went on to add ". . . Tomorrow I'm going for it with big elements."

Meanwhile, Honda, who was in second place, less than three points behind Sakamoto, seemed somewhat indifferent to the outcome.

"I'm not so focused on winning and my placement here," Honda commented. "I just want to concentrate on my performance. I can still make the world juniors via selection if I don't win here."

While Honda's comments were provocative, one had to wonder if it was not some type of defense mechanism put in place to cushion the blow in case Sakamoto beat her.

Back at the Yokohama Junior Grand Prix in September, Sakamoto defeated Honda to win the title. It was a surprise result at the time, but based on what Honda said after the short program here it could be that Sakamoto's success has gotten inside Honda's head.

Sakamoto came right back on Sunday with another outstanding effort in the free skate to "The Color Purple" to score a decisive victory over Shiraiwa (who finished second) and Honda (who settled for third). Honda struggled through an error-filled program, ending up sixth in the free skate, and cried afterward.

Honda is an excellent skater who has everything going for her. Having already won the world junior crown, however, perhaps her desire is not as great as it was last season. Or maybe she is rattled by what has taken place this season.

Sakamoto, meanwhile, projects the image of a real fighter — somebody who knows what they want, and how to get it.

She clinched an automatic berth at the world junior championships in Taiwan in March with her victory.

Shiraiwa was fabulous in her free skate to "A Little Night Music" to place second for the second straight year. The crowd gave her a much deserved standing ovation as she finished and she really projected the image of a senior skater with an absolutely electric performance.

When Shiraiwa said after the free skate, "I would give myself a score of 80 percent on today's program," that should be a warning to her fellow skaters that she can get even better.

Based on what I saw from Shiraiwa on Sunday, I would not be shocked to see her on the podium at the senior nationals next month in Osaka. Shiraiwa was fifth at the same event last season.

Analytics: It certainly was not a big sample size, but Ice Time took note of something interesting during the Japan Junior Championships.

I tweeted out photos of both Honda and Shiraiwa following Friday night's draw. The shots were similar, with both wearing their junior high school uniforms.

The surprise came when I looked at the numbers the next day and saw that Shiraiwa's photo received nearly twice as many retweets as Honda's. I believe this really speaks to Shiraiwa's growing popularity among skating fans.

Honda certainly has a large contingent of fans both in Japan and overseas and understandably so. But skating enthusiasts clearly see something in Shiraiwa that is resonating.

Observation: It is worth noting that nearly all of the top skating writers in Japan skipped the Cup of China in Beijing on the senior circuit to cover the juniors in Sapporo on the same weekend. With the Pyeongchang Olympics just 15 months away, and the likes of Sakamoto, Shiraiwa and Honda all competing, the choice was not a difficult one.

All three could be in the mix for spots on Japan's Olympic team next season.

During Sunday's free skate I counted 19 still photographers and cameras from seven television stations chronicling the competition. It was definitely a big-time turnout by the media.

Getting attention: Mai Mihara came in fourth at the Cup of China on Saturday. Mihara, who placed an impressive third at Skate America in her first senior GP last month, was in position to make the podium again before botching her triple combination jump in the free skate.

This cost her major points and allowed Russia's Elizaveta Tuktamysheva to overtake Mihara for the bronze. Mihara finished less than two points behind Tuktamysheva (192.57 to 190.92) in the standings.

Despite the disappointment, Mihara earned the praise of analysts watching the proceedings from Beijing.

Eurosport's Simon Reed called Mihara's opening triple lutz/triple toe loop in her short program "a spectacular start" and hailed her performance as "brilliant."

"She is some talent," said Reed.

Reed's fellow analyst also had high praise for Mihara, saying, "I thought that was an absolute joy. Fantastic. She reminds me of Patrick Chan, the way he can generate speed effortlessly. Two crossovers and he is at max speed. Then a series of turns down the ice, doesn't lose any speed, almost generates speed while doing really difficult turns. It's just so impressive. That's a real natural talent."

Rika Hongo ended up fifth in China, after her sixth-place showing at Skate Canada, and could have difficulty making Japan's team for the world championships this season.

Next up: Ice Time has remained in Sapporo and will provide coverage of this week's NHK Trophy at Makomanai Arena. Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu headlines the card in men's singles for the final stop on the GP circuit.

Hanyu's primary competition should come from Jason Brown and Nathan Chen of the United States. Keiji Tanaka and Ryuju Hino will join Hanyu in representing Japan.

The women's singles should provide a bit more drama, with two-time national champion Satoko Miyahara, Wakaba Higuchi and Yura Matsuda skating for the Hinomaru and going up against Russia's Anna Pogorilaya and Maria Sotskova, as well as American Mirai Nagasu.

Miyahara, Higuchi, Pogorilaya and Sotskova are all in the running for the Grand Prix Final in Marseille, France, next month. Pogorilaya (first at Cup of Russia) and Sotskova (second at Trophee de France) have the advantage coming in due to better finishes in their first GP assignments, with Miyahara (third at Skate Canada) and Higuchi (third in Paris) needing to best both Russians while making the podium to improve their chances of qualifying.

Tribute for Takahashi: Nikolai Morozov, the renowned former coach of 2010 world champion Daisuke Takahashi, had high praise for his former charge in a recent interview with Russian sports newspaper Sport-Express. Morozov detailed how much he admired Takahashi's work ethic despite his fame.

"From time to time Daisuke Takahashi would come to Novogorsk (Russia) and I kept telling my skaters: 'look how he practices,' " Morozov was quoted as saying in a translation posted on the skating website by user Tahbka. "You would think he was popular and rich enough not to spend the whole day on the rink, but it was Takahashi who day after day came to the morning warmup, then a practice, did 2-3 run-throughs of his long program, had a rest during the day and in the evening would skate his program again a couple of times, while 'our' skaters I was not always even able to find to remind them to show up (at) the rink."

Morozov also talked about molding Takahashi into an Olympic medalist.

". . . When I took Takahashi I understood immediately it was a longtime project which will be the main business project of his life," Morozov commented. "But to achieve that I had to teach him how to move, how to skate, to listen to the music, choose the costumes, do his hair and, most important — love all that. Now Takahashi is not only very demanded in the shows but he also earns a lot. The same happens with Miki Ando."