Japan Skates' interview with Akiko Kitamura at Thornhill Summer Skate, August 19, 2007

By Mark S., (c) Japan Skates 2007.

For photos and videos from the interview, please click HERE!  Photos from the competition are HERE!

Thornhill Summer Skate is an excellent opportunity to see the Japanese team debut their programs for the new season.  It is also one of the few competitions where there is time to meet the members of the team and sit down for an interview.  With the enormous popularity of the Japanese skaters, it has become all but impossible to ask for their time during the season, unless we visit them at their training facilities.  So not only is Thornhill our "home competition" here in the Toronto area, it has become a very fun event on our calendar.  Unfortunately, the entire Japanese senior ladies team (Akiko, Aki and Ami Kobayashi) withdrew from the event shortly before the short program was to take place, citing boot problems.  Still, the girls showed up every day to watch the event and cheer on their countrymen in other events, so we were able to hold the interview.

When Gregg and I started this site, we wanted to feature not only the ladies who were already on the Japanese senior national "A" team, but also top juniors who were starting to receive some senior assignments.  Mao and Mai Asada, Aki Sawada and Akiko Kitamura all fell into this category of exciting future stars.  Akiko was a top member of Japan's national junior teams, had placed an impressive fifth at the Japan senior Nationals, and won two junior Grand Prix events in 2005-06.  She capped off that season by being named to the Four Continents team in Colorado Springs along with Yukari and Mai, finishing an impressive ninth in her senior international debut.  In 2006-07, the Japan Federation was hoping she would challenge for the world junior title, but a serious foot injury forced her to drop out after one event and miss the remainder of the season.  This is her first full year as a senior, and she is attempting a brave comeback.

At Thornhill, junior competitor Kana Muramoto (sister of Satsuki Muramoto) acted as Akiko's interpreter.  Kana attends an international school in Japan and speaks excellent English.  I have put Kana's translations into the first person. 

JS:  Japan Skates
AK:  Akiko Kitamura

JS:  Welcome Akiko, nice to see you.  We're sorry that you withdrew from the competition.  Why did you withdraw?

AK:  I changed my shoes (skates).  I had new shoes when I came here, and now I'm trying my jumps with my new shoes and new edges.  I'm not consistent with all the triple jumps yet, so I withdrew from the competition.

JS:  Do you usually change your boots during the summer?  How often do you change them?

AK:  When I was in Japan, I couldn't find good shoes.   I don't change them that much, but when I came here I couldn't find new shoes that matched my feet...I had just changed them.

JS:  What brand of skate do you wear?

AK:  I wear "Riedell" skates.

JS:  How long have you been in Canada and where have you been training?

AK:  Three weeks, at the Granite Club.

JS:  Is Josee Chouinard still at the Granite Club?

AK:  Yeah!

JS:  And what were you working on specifically?   Were you working on programs, or on specific elements?

AK:  I'm trying hard getting my jumps back to normal, because I was able to jump triple flip and triple Lutz easy, but after I injured my leg I couldn't
jump anymore, so I'm trying hard to recover them.

JS:  Are you pleased with your progress this summer?

AK:  Ah...  not that good!  I'm doing my best to try and get back to normal.

JS:  What is your music for this year?   Short program and free skate?

AK:  I'm using the same short program as in previous competitions...  "Shakira",  "Romeo and Juliet" in the free.

JS:  The Tchaikovsky or the modern?

AK:  The modern one, from the movie.

JS:  Who is your choreographer?

AK:  Catarina Lindgren, the wife of Tom Dickson.

JS:  Tom used to do choreography for you too, right?

AK:  Right.

JS:  Were you doing choreography when you were here?   How did you meet with your choreographer?

AK:  This time, Catarina came to Japan, and then she choreographed my free program.

JS:  Who chooses your music?

AK:  My teacher...my coach, Mie Hamada.

JS:  What is your favourite type of music to skate to?

AK:  I likes exotic songs...

JS:  Do you have an example?

AK:  Do you know "Quidam" from Cirque de Soleil?   I like that.   I'm really good at dancing, so...

JS:  Is that your background?  Is dance an interest?

AK:  Yes, but not too serious.

JS:  Do you have any assignments this season, competitions?

AK:  I'm going to start my competitions in Japan, in really small competitions.   I have to be in the top ten or five to go to the next level, and then the All-Japan competition.

JS:  Like the Nishi-Nihon...regionals and sectionals, that sort of thing?

AK:  Yeah.

JS:  So what is your goal for this season, what placement?

AK:  To compete in the All-Japan competition and to come in the top ten.

JS:  How about long term?  Do you want to compete until the next Olympics?  How long do you want to continue?

AK:  Do you know the Winter Universiade?   I want to go all the way there.

JS:  Akiko, you were one of the top junior skaters in Japan, and this is your first full year at the senior level.  How do you feel about that?   For example, you have Mao and Miki and Yukari and all these strong skaters in Japan...how do you feel about competing against them?

AK:  I don't take that too seriously.  I just focus on my own skating, and am not intimidated.

JS:  How do you measure success?   In North America, we sometimes think of the Japanese ladies as a team, as opposed to individuals.   When you win a medal, is it for yourself, or is the medal for Japan?

AK:  The medal is for myself.

JS:  Last year, you competed in one junior Grand Prix event, the Spin of Norway, and then did not compete again.   What kind of injury did you have?

AK:  So, there was another skater, Satsuki Muramoto.  Before I went to Norway, I injured my leg.  The second time I injured it, I had to go back to Japan.  And then Satsuki got a better rank in the junior Grand Prix Norway, but I was supposed to go to a second Grand Prix event.  But I didn't do that well in Norway, so I chose to go back to Japan, and gave the second Grand Prix event to Satsuki.  And then I went home and started all over and just tried to get back the different moves.

JS:  So what was your injury?  Ankle, knee?

AK:  I injured here, the muscle in my foot (showing the outside of her right foot).

JS:  What sort of therapy did you do?  Physiotherapy, exercises?

AK:  I just took medicine and that.  Medicine and training to get to back normal.

JS:  Did you skate a lot or did you rest?

AK:  I was resting.

JS:  How patient were people with you?  Your coaches and the Japan Federation expected you to skate last season, and then you were injured.  Were your coaches and managers patient with you during this time?

AK:  My coach was impatient, because I was always in the top five or something, but the other people were not that way.

JS:  We know that figure skaters are very busy people.  What is a typical day in your life when you're in training full-time?

AK:  When there's skating, in the morning I go to school, and then after school I skate all day, until night.  But when there is no skating, I go to a gym and then go to skate again.  Almost the whole day is skating.

JS:  So you go to school full-time during the day...  Are you in high school, or university?

AK:  University...that is, a college to become a trainer.  You know the trainers, coaches, they know all about the body.  I'm studying to be a trainer.

JS:  How do you feel if your friends are out at a party or are relaxing, and you have to train.  Is that difficult for you?

AK:  When I was middle-school or high-school age, I really wanted to go to the parties, but now I'm just focusing on skating, so I don't feel that much like "I want to go there".

JS:  Do you have a special diet that you have to follow, a strict diet?

AK:  I was once overweight, so I really had to diet, but I think I'm fine now.  There's something called a "fasting diet"... I took some vegetable drink, morning to night.  It was mostly focused on vegetables.  I took it every morning and night...but not now...when I was overweight.

JS:  What is your favourite and least-favourite element?

AK:  I like the steps, like the straight-line or circular steps, and I don't like the jumps (laughs)!

JS:  What is you least and most favourite jump?

AK:  The loop is the least (laughs)!   My favourite is the flip.

JS:  I know that you've won two Junior Grand Prix events before, the Harghita Cup in Romania and the one in Montreal (in the 2005-06 season).  What was your best-ever performance or career highlight?

AK:  The 2005 Junior Grand Prix in Romania.  The free program, I like that, yeah!

JS:  What was your favourite program or music?

AK:  "Poeta".  Lambiel has used that song, too.

JS:  What season was that?

AK:  The second year when I was in junior, so that's a long time ago!

JS:  Was that when you came to Kitchener, for the World Junior Championships, with Mao and Aki?

AK:  Yes!!!   You remember that!

JS:  Who were your skating heroes or influences when you were young?

AK:  Sasha Cohen (after much reflection).

JS:  That's a really elegant influence.   Who are some of your best friends in figure skating, from Japan or any

AK:  You know Nana Takeda?  I am really close friends with her.

JS:  I know you mentioned dance, but what are some of your interests outside of figure skating?

AK:  You know "body combat"?  I like that.

JS:  Is that a type of martial art?  Or exercise?  Aerobic?

AK:  Both of them.

JS:  Kind of like "Tai Bo"?  Aerobics and martial arts together?  Do you actually hit people?  Or just air?

KM  (Laughter) Air...  There's a kind of coach that practices with me, but I'm pretty much alone.

JS:  How about your family?  How many members are there in your family?

AK:  Four.  I have an older sister, and then my mom and dad.

JS:  You've had many gifts thrown onto the ice.  What is the funniest gift or the most memorable gift you've ever had?  (
Akiko thinking)  Maybe a message, or love letter, or something funny?

AK:  (Laughs) Oh, there was a love letter addressed to me!  It was this love letter that said "Be with me forever!"  That was in Japan.

JS:  Did he leave his phone number?

AK:  There was his address and his phone number!  (All say "Ooooh!")

JS:  (Gigi asking) Do you keep everything you receive?

AK:  Yes.

JS:  What is your dream gift?  What would you love to receive?

AK:  (Laughter)  I love accessories, so I would love to have that!

JS:  People from all over the world visit the website, and ask for information about you.   Do you have a message for all of your fans?

AK:  The first part is that I really feel thankful to all the fans who are watching my skating... and the second part is that I haven't been competing in a lot of competitions because I injured my leg, but I'm trying my best
right now.  So, to all the fans that are watching me, thanks for waiting for me...and "I'll be back"!

Japan Skates would like to thank Akiko for accepting this interview and giving such detailed answers.  We must also thank Kana Muramoto for being an excellent interpreter.  We hope to feature Kana in future years at this website!  Thanks also to Mie Hamada for organizing the interview despite always being so busy at these competitions coaching and chaperoning.  And, as always, a big thanks to the Japan Skating Federation for allowing us one more interview.

That weekend, we scheduled what we think will be our biggest interview yet.  Stay tuned, folks!!! 


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