(The following interview appears courtesy of the 2015 World YoYo Contest.)
Q1. When did you start playing yo-yo?
In 1997 (if I remember correctly, in the fall).
Q2. Why did you start playing yo-yo?
At the time yo-yo was going through a popularity boom [in Japan].
My friend brought a Hyper Brain to our Elementary School’s festival and he showed me some basic tricks like Rock the Baby and Walk the Dog. It was partially because of the boom, but I thought, “I want to try it!” and made up my mind. That same day I went with several friends to a toy store in my neighborhood and we bought red Imperials. I remember that it took about a week to be able to do a Long Sleeper for five seconds.
Q3. Who are some of the yo-yo players you respect/admire/look up to?
At the World Contest from 2001-2014, for at least 10 years he has advanced to the Final round, and has won the hotly contested 1A Division four times. More than just “winning,” he has “continued to win;” more than “chasing [after other players],” he has “been chased.” Due to those things it can be assumed that he has been faced with enormous pressure, furthermore in 1A, and even then he is still battling it out at the top.
[I respect how] he has seriously explored the depths of off string and how he carefully cultivates his competition freestyles. Not only in competition, but his show performances are also extremely polished, and he does it all without attempting to get away with using his show as an excuse to go easy. He has both strong technical and performance skills, and does a performance that is suitable of the title “World Champion” in various places [around the world].
In the Division of 2A, which particularly takes a long time to acquire technical skills, he has an outlook of always trying to do new things, and focuses on entertainment to use his performance to delight his audience. He loses neither of those qualities in competition and continues to display them at a very high level.
Q4. What made you choose 4A as your main style?
I started tackling 4A as a competitor for the first time just after I started university, but at the same time I was also juggling and playing diabolo. Both of those have many shared skills with 4A, so when I think about it now I think [4A] was very approachable [for me]. One more reason was that I often practiced with Eiji Okuyama, who was already active at the forefront of the [4A competition] scene. He taught me tricks, we created tricks together, and so I think my time practicing 4A naturally increased.
Q5. How do you usually practice (where, who with, etc.)?
As a working adult, there are limits to the time and location [I can practice], so I try to keep in mind the most efficient way to practice in order to raise my level even just a little bit. On weekdays when I’m very limited as to where and when I can practice, I mostly practice tricks by repetition. On the other hand, on the weekend I spend most of my time practicing my freestyle performance and attempting new tricks.
Also, to a certain point I try to decide that day’s practice schedule, whether it is for an hour, two, or more.
I find that if I decide a goal or theme for each practice session (ex. trick repetition -or- freestyle run-through -or- developing new tricks -or- working on my weaker elements, etc.) it’s easier to tackle and more efficient overall.
As for the people I practice with, Shinya Kido and Kazuki Okada live nearby, and Hiroyasu Ishihara and Yusuke Otsuka. We often get together and practice.
Q6. How does that change when you are preparing for different types of contests?
I primarily focus most of my practice on doing freestyle run-throughs. In addition, when I’m practicing with other people, in order to get used to doing my performance with other people watching, I try my best to get through the whole routine without stopping.
The other things I’m careful about are:
– Practice in the same outfit I plan to wear in competition.
– No matter how many mistakes I make, I follow the structure of the routine until the end.
With 4A, the string is often close to my body. I have a lot of tricks where the string touches and moves around my body so I need to make sure I get used to doing those tricks in costume, otherwise the string may catch my clothing in an unexpected way and could lead to an extremely unfortunate and wasteful mistake.
Also, even if I have a lot of mistakes when I practice [my freestyle], I don’t stop the music. I think it is very important that I run through the entire routine until the end. Of course, at the contest it’s possible that I may not have a no-miss routine, so if I don’t practice like that, I may not be able to recover from a mistake and from there my freestyle might start to fall apart. Therefore, I think it’s necessary to make a habit of recovering from mistakes. A yo-yo freestyle is a very limited time of only 3 minutes. You need to be able to decide in a split-second whether or not to change your yo-yo, so I try to focus my practice on recovering from mistakes and enhancing my own ability to make quick decisions to cope with my situation.
Q7. Do you have any good stories from before you became a world champion that you want to share with us?
At the 2013 World Yo-Yo Contest, my freestyle had more mistakes than any other freestyle in my competitive history, and that was a huge shock for me. My theme after that was “comeback” and I practiced [thinking about that] for a full year. After 2013 WYYC ended, two days after I returned to Japan, I went straight to the local gymnasium/community center and started practicing for the next year’s contest.
[I thought about] how to tackle yo-yo as a competitive sport, and what kind of practice would be necessary for that. I had to reconsider my own weak points. I put all of that thought into starting practicing again. I also got a lot of motivation from watching different communities other than yo-yo. When I looked at the top contenders of worlds such as Diabolo, Juggling and Dance, I saw that they are thoroughly exploring their crafts, and thought that this was no time for me to let myself fall into a slump.
Q8. How did you feel when you became a world champion?
For the one entire year I spent [practicing and preparing], the happiness of reaching my absolute best possible result was huge. As far as my freestyle, it was quite possibly my first ever perfect, no-miss, 3-minute routine in my entire life. It was a very emotional moment for me. I felt that the hundreds of hours I spent practicing and trying to get better were not in vain.
Q9. Is there anything that changed for you after becoming a world champion?
Actually there weren’t any sudden changes for me in particular.
If anything, at the World Contest I set my next goals, and in practicing I increased my repertoire of new tricks. Looking back at last year’s World Contest, I felt that the level of competition was the highest in recent years and the level of perfection in each player’s routine suddenly jumped.
This time I was able to attain the title of “4A Division World Champion” for the third time. However, there are still tricks I cannot do. I still make mistakes at competitions. There are still tricks that I need to improve my execution rate with. And above all, there are so many players that are better than I am.
I am far from being “The best player in the world,” or “The perfect player.” Of course I want to get better and improve my way of practicing, and continue my enthusiasm that I have built up since the 2013 World Contest.
Q10. How do you feel going into this year’s World Yo-Yo Contest?
Of course, since the World Contest is taking place in my own country, and up until now no one in the history of the 4A Division has successfully defended their championship, if I am able to win that would be amazing.
However, in order to do that there is so much I need to do to prepare, and I have new tricks I want to perform so I need to improve their level of perfection. Of course, I can’t forget my original intent to work toward my goal of doing my 100% best on the contest stage. Since this is also the very first time the World Contest will be held in Asia, many veteran players from other Asian countries who previously found it difficult to attend due to location reasons will compete, so I am very much looking forward to the competition itself.
Q11. What is yo-yo to you?
(More than I ever imagined) The Spice of Life
Many thanks to Rei Iwakura! We wish him the best of luck at the 2015 World YoYo Contest.