Nana Abe, 12, is a true sumo champion: she has been practicing since she was 8 years old and has rarely lost a competition. In Japan, club sports are an important part of adolescence and how many students relate to their classmates. Sumo, a historical Japanese martial art and a long-time favorite sport in the country, is open only to men on a professional level, but that doesn’t stop some girls from practicing it as a club sport.
Tokyo-based photographer Yulia Skogoreva has been photographing sumo girls and women for years. “Traditions in Japan are complicated,” Skogoreva says. “When people come and visit the country, that’s part of the reason they love it so much, because much of that tradition is still intact. But there’s also the issue of gender equality and we can figure out a way to have them both? “
Abe’s dream is to continue her career as a professional, but right now there is no way for women to continue after graduating from college in the current system. Club-level female sumo wrestlers are passionate about the sport and offer sweat and tears to prove they deserve to compete. “I wish these girls had a chance to continue their careers,” Skogoreva says. “At the moment, even in Japan, few people know that women’s sumo exists. I hope my project helps these girls get more attention and achieve their goal someday. “
Skogoreva, who has lived in Japan for more than ten years, understands the dream of professional athletics and his goal is to capture movement and space in a still image. She grew up in Moscow and often went to see ballet. He ended up in Tokyo to study at the Nippon Photography Institute and continued to photograph dance. “I like the natural state of people moving,” Skogoreva says. “The dancers forget about the camera, they just do what they do. I started to see dance moves when I saw all kinds of sports.
I was especially interested in sumo, which has many rituals ahead of fights that can often seem like dancing; professional wrestlers sometimes approach the ring in a colorful dress showing off their rank and competitors gather in the dohyō (high ring) in front of the match to step on and show off in a choreographed ritual ceremony. called “dohyō iri.” Skogoreva was originally curious about the world of male sumo wrestlers, because he had never heard of women practicing this sport. Then a friend sent her an article about a sumo wrestler and her interest was aroused. “It’s an incredibly closed world. It took more than a year to get permission to photograph it. I contacted the Russian fighters and when I returned to Tokyo with photographs of Russian fighters, it was much easier. ”
He plans to continue working on the project, photographing sumo wrestlers in Japan and elsewhere, as well as continuing to photograph Nana and her older sister, Sakura. “They grow and change every year. I would love to keep photographing her until she graduates from university, and maybe even later ”.