Now is the time for accomplished junior Nana Araki to shine.
The 17-year-old from Higashiura, Aichi Prefecture, will begin her third season on the Junior Grand Prix circuit on Thursday at the season-opening event in Courchevel, France.
Araki, a senior in high school, has finished in the top five of all four JGP events she has competed in the past two seasons, with her best result being second place in Minsk in 2017. While not spectacular, her skating is almost always solid.
The 156-cm Araki, who is coached by Yuko Monna, has made the podium at the Japan Junior Championships each of the past two years. She took home the bronze medal in 2017, the silver in 2018, and has to be considered a favorite for the title this year along with last year’s third-place finisher Tomoe Kawabata.
This is an important season for Araki, who needs to distinguish herself with a significant achievement so that she can carry momentum into next season, when she will likely be skating in the senior ranks, where assignments in the crowded field will be at a premium.
Araki spoke to the media at last month’s national team junior training camp at Chukyo University about her thoughts and hopes for the coming campaign.
Araki’s short program this season is to “Destino” from the South Korean TV drama “The Princess’ Man.” It was choreographed by Kenji Miyamoto.
Her free skate is to “Nausicaa” from “Valley of the Wind” by Joe Hisaishi and was choreographed by two-time world champion Miki Ando, one of Monna’s former students.
Araki looks up to Ando and enjoyed their collaboration on the free skate.
“I admire Ando-san as a skater,” Araki stated. “Working with her was a lot of fun and she was very detailed.”
Ando told Ice Time in a phone conversation on Tuesday that Araki is very determined this season.
“She wants to skate clean with self-confidence to make the world juniors,” Ando said. “In making her free skate we wanted to emphasize emotion, but decided to concentrate more on jumps. Nana is experienced enough to know how to express herself.”
Ando said she travels to Nagoya once a month to work with Monna’s team.
“Nana is a hard worker. I’m trying to help her in her final season in juniors,” Ando remarked. “I want her to do well in the Junior Grand Prix, but the nationals are the goal. If she does well there, she can go to the world juniors.”
Miyamoto has been collaborating with Araki for some time and she thinks that is beneficial for her.
“He knows my weaknesses now, so he gives me advice on how to improve my moves,” Araki commented.
Araki described what she is trying to relate in both programs.
“I want to show sad love of not being able to see each other in the short program,” Araki noted. “In the free I want to focus on the story. I also want to make a majestic performance because the music is magnificent and I hope it will tell the story to the audience.”
The teen said she came across Nausicaa online and liked it.
“Having a story makes it easier to perform,” Araki said. “Joe Hisaishi’s orchestra showed up on YouTube by chance and it made me want to use the song.”
Araki mentioned that she has been a fan of Studio Ghibli, the Tokyo-based animation film giant, since she was a child.
“I have always liked Ghibli,” Araki stated. “I own a lot of DVDs and have seen the movies repeatedly since I was little.”
The motivation for Destino was provided by her mother.
“My mother sometimes watched ‘The Princess’ Man’ and we have rented DVDs,” Araki remarked. “I thought I want to skate to it while listening to it as my mother watched it.”
Araki added that she has a good sense for judging when music is good to perform to despite never playing a musical instrument.
Araki is striving to sparkle on the global stage this season and find contentment.
“My biggest goal is to skate in the world junior championships and I want to finish my high school career with a smile,” Araki stated. “I have had a lot of events with frustrating results, and I wasn’t satisfied with my performance, so I want to move on.”
With her already refined skating skills, Araki believes her mental approach will be the key to success going forward.
“I felt I was losing because of my mentality last year, so I will just believe in myself more and skate this season,” Araki commented.
Participating in the junior camp for the third year, Araki has come to find the experience both enjoyable and beneficial.
“I looked forward to coming to the camp. It’s hard to practice alone,” Araki said. “But practicing with friendly rivals in the same age group keeps me motivated. The camp is very fruitful.”
Carolina Kostner, the 2012 world champion, was a guest instructor at the camp and gave Araki some good advice.
“My posture is rather hunched,” Araki noted. “She pointed it out multiple times. It connects with skating and jumps and other things, so I want to practice more and perform at the senior level.”
Live JGP coverage Thursday
Announcer Ted Barton will once again be providing his excellent perspective on the Junior Grand Prix telecasts on YouTube’s live stream. The season-opener in Courchevel, France, will begin with the women’s short program on Thursday, which is set to start at 9:15 p.m. (Japan time).
With Japan sending both Araki and Kawabata, the chances for medals look very good.
Yuma Kagiyama, who Ice Time profiled last week, will be Japan’s lone representative in the men’s event and has a good shot at winning it.
Barton’s combination of praise and constructive criticism has made him a favorite of Japanese skating fans over the years. He calls it like he sees it and is totally invested in his work.
Newer skating fans may not realize that it was Barton’s idea to begin streaming the JGP telecasts online several years ago. Each year the viewership grows and enables both fans and young skaters around the globe to watch and learn.
Shoma staying busy
Legendary choreographer David Wilson spent four days last week creating Olympic and world silver medalist Shoma Uno’s new free skate to Calum Scott’s “Dancing On My Own” in Nagoya.
Wilson told Ice Time his work with Uno “went really well” before returning to Canada.
It has been a busy month for Uno, who also skated in “The Ice” shows and saw his first TV commercial released. The product the star is endorsing is DHC’s “Hot Body Gel” (a body lotion) and features him performing his trademark cantilever.
Aurora Games get underway
A new competition for women began on Tuesday in New York and will run until Sunday.
The inaugural Aurora Games are “a first of its kind sports and entertainment festival featuring world class competition in women’s tennis, gymnastics, basketball, figure skating, ice hockey and beach volleyball,” according to the official website.
The extravaganza in Albany will be divided into a “Team World” and “Team Americas” in each event.
Ayaka Hosoda and Akiko Suzuki are part of Team World in skating, while U.S. champion Alyssa Liu leads Team Americas along with veterans Mirai Nagasu and Ashley Wagner.