FUKUOKA - With Rika Kihira and Mako Yamashita having moved up to the senior ranks, there will be a new titlist crowned at the Japan Junior Championships this weekend at Accion Fukuoka.
The favorites coming into the competition this year are Yuhana Yokoi and Nana Araki. Yokoi, an 18-year-old from Nagoya, earned the women’s bronze medal at the Junior Grand Prix in Armenia last month, while Araki, a 16-year-old from Higashiura, Aichi Prefecture, took third place in this event last year.
The singles competition starts on Saturday with the short program, while the free skate will be held on Sunday.
Araki will take the ice 22nd in the short program field of 30, while Yokoi is slated to skate 27th following Friday night’s draw.
There will be plenty of challengers for Yokoi and Araki, including 15-year-old Rion Sumiyoshi, who was third and fourth in her two JGPs this season. The Tokyo native impressed while making the podium at the Canada JGP and finishing just off it at the Slovenia JGP.
Sumiyoshi, who was born in Tokyo, is slated to skate 16th in the short program.
Other names to watch are Shiika Yoshioka, Tomoe Kawabata and Moa Iwano.
Two of Marin Honda’s younger sisters, Miyu and Sara, will also be in the lineup.
Mitsuki Sumoto, sporting a new haircut, is back to defend his title in the men’s event, while Sena Miyake, last year’s runner-up, also returns for another shot at the crown.
Sumoto will skate 24th on Saturday, while Miyake will be 22nd.
Sumoto’s biggest challenge may come from 17-year-old Koshiro Shimada, who qualified for the JGP Final next month via a second-place showing at the Austria JGP and third-place finish in Slovenia. Shimada, who hails from Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture, is coached by former two-time world champion Stephane Lambiel in Switzerland.
Shimada was second in the competition in 2016, but withdrew last year.
The top six finishers in both the women’s and men’s field will qualify to skate in next month’s Japan championships in Osaka.
Most of the top names in the history of Japanese women’s skating have won the Japan junior title. They include Midori Ito (1983), Yuka Sato (1988, 1989), Shizuka Arakawa (1995, 1996, 1997), Yukari Nakano (2000), Miki Ando (2002, 2003, 2004), Mao Asada (2005), Kanako Murakami (2010), Satoko Miyahara (2012, 2013) and Kihira (2017).
Japanese men who have worn the junior crown include Takeshi Honda (1995), Daisuke Takahashi (2001), Takahiko Kozuka (2005), Tatsuki Machida (2006), Yuzuru Hanyu (2008, 2009) and Shoma Uno (2014).