Nana Abe, 12, is a true sumo champion: she has been practicing since she was 8 and has rarely lost a competition. In Japan, club sports are a big part of adolescence and how many students bond with their classmates. Sumo – a historic Japanese martial art and a longtime favorite sport in the country – is open exclusively to men on a professional level, but that doesn’t stop some girls from practicing it as a club sport.
Tokyo photographer Yulia Skogoreva has been photographing sumo girls and young women for years. “Traditions in Japan are complicated,” says Skogoreva. “When people come to visit the country, that’s part of the reason they love it so much, because so much of that tradition is 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 for women to continue after graduation from university in the current system. Club level sumo wrestlers are passionate about the sport and give their sweat and tears to prove they deserve to compete. “I wish these girls could have the opportunity to continue their careers,” says Skogoreva. “At the moment, even in Japan, very few people know that female sumo exists. I hope my project can help these girls get more attention and achieve their goal someday. “
Skogoreva, who has lived in Japan for over 10 years, understands the dream of professional athletics and her goal is to capture movement and space in a still image. She grew up in Moscow and often went to see ballet. She ended up in Tokyo to study at the Nippon Photography Institute and went on to photograph dance. “I like the natural state of moving people,” says Skogoreva. “The dancers forget the camera, they just do what they do. I started seeing dance moves by watching all kinds of sports. “
She was particularly interested in sumo, which has many pre-fight rituals that can often feel like a dance: professional wrestlers sometimes approach the ring in colorful clothing showing their rank, and contestants gather on the dohyō (the raised ring). before the game to trample and show off in a choreographed ritual ceremony called “dohyō iri”. Skogoreva was initially curious about the world of sumo wrestlers, as she had never heard of women taking up the sport. Then a friend sent her an article about a female sumo wrestler and her interest was piqued. “It is an incredibly united and closed world. It took more than a year to get permission to photograph there. I contacted the Russian wrestlers, and then when I went back to Tokyo with the photographs of the Russian wrestlers, it got a lot 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 are growing and changing every year. I’d like to continue photographing her until she graduates from university, and maybe even after. “