12-year-old Nana Abe is a true sumo champion: She has been training since the age of 8 and rarely loses in a competition. In Japan, sports clubs make up a large part of teenagers and how many students stick with their classmates. Sumo – Japan’s historic martial arts and a long-loved sport in the country – is only for men on the professional level, but that doesn’t stop some girls from practicing it as a sports club.
Tokyo-based photographer Yulia Skogoreva has been photographing girls and young women practicing sumo for years. “Traditions in Japan are very complex,” Skogoreva said. “When people come and visit the country, this is part of the reason why they love it so much, because a lot of those traditions are still intact. But there is also the question of gender equality, and can we find a way to have both? “
Abe’s dream is to continue her professional career, but there is currently no way that women can continue after graduating from university in the current system. Club-level sumo female wrestlers are passionate about the sport and offer sweat and tears to show that they deserve to play. “I wish these girls could have the chance to continue their careers,” Skogoreva said. “Right now, even in Japan, very few people know that female sumo exists. I hope that my project will help these girls get more attention and achieve their goals someday. “
Skogoreva, who has lived in Japan for more than 10 years, understands professional sports dreams and her goal is to capture movement and space in a still image. She grew up in Moscow and regularly went to see ballet. Eventually, she went to Tokyo to study at Nippon Academy of Photography and went on to shoot dance photos. “I like the natural state of the person on the move,” Skogoreva said. “The dancers forget the camera, they just do what they do. I started to see dance moves when I watched all kinds of sports ”.
She is particularly interested in sumo, which has a variety of pre-match etiquette that can often look like dancing – professional wrestlers sometimes approach the ring in colorful costumes that show their class, and opponents gather on the dohyō (raised ring) before the match to stomp their feet and perform in a choreographed ritual called “dohyō iri.” Skogoreva was initially curious about the world of sumo male wrestlers, as she had never heard of women participating in the sport. Then a friend sent her an article about a sumo female wrestler, and her interest was aroused. “It is an extremely tight and closed world. It took more than a year to get the right to photograph there. I got in touch with Russian wrestlers, and then when I returned to Tokyo with pictures of Russian wrestlers, things got a lot easier. “
She plans to continue working on the project, photographing sumo wrestlers in Japan and elsewhere, as well as continuing to take pictures of Nana and her sister, Sakura. “They are evolving and changing every year. I would love to continue photographing her until she graduates from college, and maybe even after that.