2019 Japanese Nationals Ladies Review: Young and Beautiful

Because Russian Nationals wasn’t enough insanity for one weekend, I simply had to watch Japanese Nationals to render myself completely dead, just in time for Christmas. I’ll admit, I didn’t cover this event as thoroughly as I did Russian Nationals, but I still have some opinions on the top five to share.

Kaori Sakamoto:

Over the past year, I’ve become a huge fan of Kaori Sakamoto. Her jumps are huge, her skating is big and powerful, yet she’s soft and she feels the music. I think she’s improved a lot since last season, and to me she’s the most well-rounded skater on the team.

What makes me so happy is that she’s looking very consistent. After the short program at the Grand Prix of Helsinki I was honestly terrified that she was going to fall apart this season, but her last two competitions have looked amazing. If everything falls right, she has a good shot at a World medal.

There’s nothing wrong with her short program to “From My First Moment”, but her free skate to “The Piano” is the real moneymaker of the season. As a Jason Brown stan, the music just makes me so emotional. Not many skaters could interpret it correctly on the ice, but Kaori really makes it shine.

Assignments: Four Continents, Worlds

Rika Kihira:

It was a rough go for Rika in the short program – she fell on the triple axel attempt, then doubled the second jump of the combination. But miraculously, even with the mistakes, she only fell to fifth place, and sprang back in the free skate for the silver. She just goes for everything and sets herself so far ahead of the rest of the pack that she can afford mistakes. Her PCS are just a little higher than I would give her, but she’s a lovely skater and still one of the main contenders for that World title.

Assignments: Four Continents, Worlds

Satoko Miyahara:

I have very mixed feelings about Satoko. On one hand, she’s a beautiful, graceful skater and there’s an exquisite, Yuna Kim-like quality to her movements that you don’t see anymore in this sport. But at the same time…when a girl makes mistakes, you’ve got to take that into account, even if her name is Satoko Miyahara. I strongly believe she should’ve been 4th here, but Japan’s fed would never let that happen. She’s still too reliable and rakes in the PCS internationally, whereas Mai Mihara (who finished behind her) doesn’t have that repertoire. However, with Kihira and now Sakamoto on the loose, the fed is having to rethink things. Leaving Satoko off the team for Four Continents is surprising to me, but I think it’s the right thing to do in this situation.

Still, I’m happy to see her jumps are looking a little higher and cleaner. I feel so bad criticizing Satoko, because her programs themselves are stunning! The attention to detail in that short program is beyond belief. The free skate is a very classy tango – sleek, smooth, and beautiful. And I could watch her spins for days on end. But I do wish she would be more expressive in the free, maybe even a little flirtatious.

Assignments: Worlds

Mai Mihara:

I feel so bad for Mai! She skated as perfectly as a human could skate, but ended up just off the podium and not on the World team. She has this silky quality to her jumps and an angelic softness on the ice.

Can’t say I’m a fan of her short program – it’s too much of a lullaby for me. But the free is beautiful! The music perfectly fits her soft style. And even though she’s been skating it for two seasons now, I’m not tired of it!

If it’s any consolation, she gets the third spot to Four Continents, and she’s also assigned to the Winter Universiade (that little-known competition for college students). And she’s first alternate to Worlds, so God forbid anything happens to one of the three qualifiers, she’s in.

Assignments: Four Continents, Winter Universiade, first alternate to Worlds

Wakaba Higuchi:

Coming off an injury, I didn’t expect Wakaba to make the team this year. She is still my favorite Japanese lady and I will cherish her 2018 Worlds Skyfall forever, but I try to keep it realistic. Her short program was actually amazing; unfortunately there were some jumping errors in the free. Now the goal is just to heal and come back strong next season.

I don’t think we’re going to see her again this year, unless there’s a withdrawal. But I want to thank her for that sassy “Energia” short program. So many of the Japanese ladies opt for traditional, elegant programs – which is fine! – but I love how Wakaba breaks the mold. The beat of the music just makes me want to dance! The free skate to The Four Seasons is beautiful too and I love the new dress, but if you’re looking for me, you’ll find me #clubbingwithwaka

It’s still insane for me to imagine that the field of Japanese ladies is so deep that you have to leave your reigning World silver medalist off the team. I really wish there was some way we could see all of them at Worlds. Can’t the ISU change the rules to allow skaters in based on their season’s best or something? This system needs help.

Assignments: First alternate to Four Continents, second alternate to Worlds

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RAPID-FIRE HOT TAKES:

Favorite moment of the event: my angel Kaori in this kiss and cry! She’s adorable!

Skater crush: Wakaba Higuchi’s entire SP is not fair to my weak heart. Also, Marin Honda is inhumanly pretty.

Best dressed:

1. Sakamoto’s FS dress

2. Honda’s FS dress

3. Miyahara’s SP dress

4. Higuchi’s FS dress

5. Mihara’s FS dress

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WRAP-UP:

Okay, it’s finally time for me to take a break. I’ll probably be back to discuss US and Canadian Nationals next month, but for now, it’s freakin’ Christmas and I want to open gifts. In the meantime, you can follow me on Twitter at @mad4skating, where I scream over my faves, retweet adorable pictures of skaters being precious, and am overall much less professional 😂

Happy Holidays to all my followers and readers who make this blog possible, and to all my friends I’ve made through this sport. Let’s do this, 2019!

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