The 12-year-old Nana Abe is a true sumo champion: she started practicing at the age of 8 and rarely loses matches. In Japan, club sports are an important part of adolescence, and how many students establish contact with their classmates. Sumo is a martial art with a long history in Japan and the most popular sport in the country for a long time. It is only open to professional men, but this does not prevent some girls from practicing it as a club sport.
Tokyo photographer Yulia Skogoreva has been photographing girls and young women practicing sumo for many years. “Japanese traditions are complicated,” Skogoreva said. “When people come to this country, that’s part of the reason they love it so much, because much of this tradition is still intact. But there is also the issue of gender equality. Can we think of a way to have both?”
Abe’s dream is to continue her career, but under the current system, there is no way for women to continue after graduating from college. Club-level female sumo wrestlers are passionate about this sport and use their sweat and tears to prove that they are worthy of the game. “I hope these girls have the opportunity to continue their careers,” Skogoreva said. “At present, even in Japan, few people know about the existence of female sumo wrestling. I hope my project will one day help these girls gain more attention and achieve their goals.”
Skogoreva, who has lived in Japan for more than 10 years, understands the dream of professional sports. Her goal is to capture movement and space in still images. She grew up in Moscow and often went to watch ballet. She eventually came to Tokyo, studied at the Japanese Academy of Photography and continued to shoot dance. “I like the natural state of people moving,” Skogoreva said. “Dancers forgot the camera, they just did what they were supposed to do. When I watched various sports, I started to see dance moves.”
She is particularly interested in sumo, which has many rituals before the fight, which usually looks like dance-professional wrestlers sometimes walk up to the ring in colorful clothes to show their ranks, while the contestants gather before the competition dohyō (raised ring). A competition of stamping and showing off in an elaborate ceremony called “dohyō iri”. Skogoreva was initially curious about the world of male sumo wrestlers because she had never heard of women participating in this sport. Later, a friend sent her an article about female sumo wrestlers, which aroused her interest. “It’s a very tight and closed world. It took more than a year to get permission to take pictures there. I contacted the Russian wrestler, and when I returned to Tokyo with a picture of the Russian wrestler, things changed. It’s much easier.”
She plans to continue working on this project, shooting sumo wrestlers in Japan and other places, and continuing to shoot Nana and her sister Sakura. “They are growing and changing every year. I want to keep taking pictures of her until she graduates from college, maybe even after graduation.”