Women Sumo Wrestlers Dream Of Going Pro
12-year-old Nana Abe is a true sumo champion: She has been practicing since she was 8 years old and rarely lost a competition. In Japan, sports clubs are a big part of adolescence and how many students connect with their classmates. Sumo – a historical Japanese martial art and a long-standing favorite sport in the country – is open exclusively to men on a professional level, but that does not 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 complex,” says Skogoreva. “When people come and visit the country, that’s part of why they love it so much, because so much of this tradition is still intact. But is there also the issue of gender equality and can we find a way to have both? “
Abe’s dream is to continue her career as a professional, but at the moment there is no way for women to continue after graduating from university in the current system. Club-level female sumo wrestlers are passionate about the sport and give their sweat and tears to prove they deserve to compete. “I hope these girls have the opportunity to continue their careers,” says Skogoreva. “Right now, even in Japan, very few people know that there is a female sumo. I hope my program will help these girls get more attention and achieve their goal one day. “
Skogoreva, who has lived in Japan for over 10 years, understands the dream of professional sports and her goal is to capture movement and space in a still image. He grew up in Moscow and often went to see ballet. He graduated in Tokyo to study at the Nippon Institute of Photography and went on to photograph dance. “I like the physical condition of people who move,” says Skogoreva. “Dancers forget the camera, they do exactly what they do. I started to see dance moves when I watched all kinds of sports.
He was particularly interested in sumo, which has many ceremonies in front of often dancing-like competitions – professional wrestlers sometimes approach the ring in a colorful dress showing their rankings and competitors gather in the dohyō (the raised ring) in front of the struggle to unfold and emerge in a ritual choreography called “dohyō iri”. Skogoreva was initially curious about the world of male sumo wrestlers because she had never heard of women taking over the sport. Then a friend sent her an article about a female sumo wrestler and her interest increased. “It’s an incredibly tight and closed world. It took more than a year to get the permits for photography there. I arrived at Russian wrestlers, and when I returned to Tokyo with photos of Russian wrestlers, it became much easier. “
He plans to continue working on the project, photographing sumo wrestlers in Japan and elsewhere, while continuing to photograph Nana and her older sister, Sakura. “They grow and change every year. “I would love to continue photographing her until she graduates from university and maybe even after.”