Meiji Cup

Cadet Champ Kagami Strikes Blow Against Veteran Minagawa in Move Up to 76kg

By Ken Marantz

TOKYO (June 13)---World cadet champion Yuka KAGAMI launched the first salvo in her bid to dethrone two-time world bronze medalist Hiroe MINAGAWA at 76kg, while Atsushi MATSUMOTO was dealt a setback in his attempt to move up to an Olympic weight class.

Kagami, coming off a gold-medal run at 72kg at the Asian Championships in April, defeated Minagawa 3-1 in their preliminary group match on the opening day of the All-Japan Invitational Championships, the second of the national qualifying tournaments for Japan’s team to the World Championships known.

Kagami and Minagawa both advanced to the semifinals out of their three-woman group and could clash again in the final on Friday at the tournament known as the Meiji Cup at Tokyo’s Komazawa Gym. 

“I knew that she wouldn’t be an opponent who is easy to beat, so I trained really hard,” Kagami said. “We just happened to meet in the first match. But I was prepared mentally and I think that was a factor in my win.”

At 17, Kagami is 14 years Minagawa’s junior, but showed no fear in scoring the winning takedown with 50 seconds left in their match. Both later defeated Rino Abe, the third wrestler in their group, to advance to the semifinals. 

In order to better prepare the wrestlers for the World Championships format, the Japan federation is running all weight classes over two days, even those with limited entries. 

Minagawa will face the winner of the other group, Yasuha MATSUYUKI, whom she beat 3-0 in the deciding round-robin bout for the title at the All-Japan Championships, known as the Emperor’s Cup, in December.

Winners of the Emperor’s Cup who take the gold at the Meiji Cup clinch a place on Japan’s team to this year’s World Championships in Kazakhstan. If the winners are different, they will meet in a playoff set for July 6.

There is added incentive for making the team to Nur-Sultan---the Japan Wrestling Federation has decreed that winning a medal there brings with it an automatic spot at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, the ultimate goal for any Japanese wrestler. 

That has caused a scramble into the six Olympic weight classes for each style, bolstering those divisions while depleting the remainder. Kagami had won a watered-down 72kg class at the Emperor’s Cup, but decided to move up to 76kg with the aim of appearing at Tokyo 2020.

MatsumotoWorld bronze medalist Atsushi MATSUMOTO fell to Takeshi YAMAGUCHI, 4-2. (Photo: Sachiko Hotaka) 

Matsumoto, a world bronze medalist at freestyle 92kg, had the same idea when he decided to take a shot at the Olympic weight of 97kg. But that quest ended, for now, with a 4-2 loss to Takeshi YAMAGUCHI in the semifinals.

Matsumoto, who also won a bronze medal the Asian Championships in Xi’an, China, had a 2-0 lead, with both points coming on the activity clock. But Yamaguchi scored two takedowns in the final minute, the last coming as he fought off Matsumoto’s counter-lift attempt.

“I scored on the activity clock, but didn’t get any technical points, and that’s how I lost,” Matsumoto said. “There wasn’t much I could do when I gave up the first takedown. But the fact that I couldn’t come back, even with a pushout, showed more inferiority in strength.”

Although he cut it close, Yamaguchi said the outcome was no surprise to him.

“The match went just as I imagined and I did what I had planned,” Yamaguchi said. “From the start, Matsumoto is an opponent who goes on the attack. I didn’t want to get stuck in his type of match, where we just lock up arms.

“In the second period, I was confident I could score. That’s what I’ve been working on over the past six months. I knew I would get a chance for a single-leg tackle. I timed it well and when things got tense, I got in on it as I had planned.”

To hone his technique, Yamaguchi, an Asian bronze medalist in 2015 and 2018, paid his own way to compete at the Mongolian Open in April, where he won the silver medal.

In the final, Yamaguchi will renew his rivalry with defending champion Naoya AKAGUMA, who beat him 2-1 for the title at the Emperor’s Cup. A year ago, the two went to a playoff for the ticket to Budapest 2018, which Yamaguchi won 14-8 after trailing 6-2.

Despite the setback, Matsumoto is still eligible as Emperor’s Cup champion to enter the playoff at 92kg for Nur-Sultan 2019. And the door to Tokyo 2020 is not sealed either, although a few more locks have been added that he would have to get through---a process predicated on either Akaguma or Yamaguchi failing to medal at Nur-Sultan.

Sosuke TAKATANI is one win from earning a ticket to Nur-Sultan for the World Championships. (Photo: Sachiko Hotaka) 

Another top wrestler who is finding success after moving into an Olympic weight class is Sosuke TAKATANI, a former world 74kg silver medalist who is now at 86kg after spending a transition year at 79kg.

Takatani, who won the Emperor’s Cup in his debut at 86kg, moved one win from earning a ticket to Nur-Sultan when he advanced to the final, where he will face 2017 champion Masao MATSUSAKA. 

After a technical fall victory in his opening match, Takatani scored a 10-2 win the semifinal over Hayato ISHIGURO, the 2018 world junior champion at 79kg. 

“This is my second tournament since moving up to 86kg,” said Takatani, who also competed at the World Cup in March, where he beat the world silver medalist. “I won the last time, but I still go into the matches thinking of myself as the challenger. In tomorrow’s final, I’ll also go in as the challenger.”

Matsusaka’s semifinal victory over defending champion Shoto SHIRAI ended on a sad note. With Matsusaka leading 1-0 early in the second period, Shirai appeared to suffer a neck injury in a clash at the edge that caused him to default the match. As a precautionary measure, Shirai was taken off the mat on a stretcher and taken to a local hospital. 

Takatani did not yet know his final opponent when he was asked about his prospects.

“Both of them have been to the world championships and are strong wrestlers, and even as someone who has moved up a weight class, I was an Olympian and can hold my own,” Takatani said. 

“I want to show that Sosuke Takatani can be a winner at any weight class and I’ll do everything I can to win a medal at the world championships.”

Competition got underway in three Olympic weights in Greco-Roman, and all three Emperor’s Cup champions stayed on track to complete the national double. 

Naotsugu SHOJI will take on Shohei YABIKU in the 77kg finals. (Photo: Sachiko Hotaka) 

Naotsugu SHOJI squeezed into the 77kg final with a 4-4 semifinal win over Takeshi IZUMI, and will face two-time defending champion Shohei YABIKU, who avenged a loss at the Emperor’s Cup to Kodai SAKURABA with a 5-2 win in the quarterfinals. 

Masato SUMI posted a pair of 7-0 victories in his group matches at 87kg to make the semifinals, while Yuta NARA, aiming for a fourth straight Meiji Cup title, cruised into the 97kg final with back-to-back technical fall victories. 

Day 1 Results


79kg (4 entries)
Round-robin (through 2 rounds)
1. Yudai TAKANASHI (2-0); 2. Yuto IZUTSU (1-1); 3. Komei KAWABATA (1-1); 4. Toshiki AKACHI (0-2).

86kg (12 entries)
Sosuke TAKATANI df. Hayato ISHIGURO, 10-2
Masao MATSUSAKA df. Shota SHIRAI, by Injury Def., 2:04 (1-0)

97kg (12 entries)
Naoya AKAGUMA df. Keiwan YOSHIDA, 5-2
Takeshi YAMAGUCHI df. Atsushi MATSUMOTO, 4-2

125kg (12 entries)
Taiki YAMAMOTO df. Nobuyoshi ARAKIDA, 3-2
Katsutoshi NAKAZAWA df. Tetsuya TANAKA, 2-1


63kg (9 entries)
Yoshiki YAMADA df. Naoki GODA by TF, 8-0, :44
Ichito TOKUHIGA df. Masaki ISHIKAWA by TF, 10-0, 1:43

77kg (11 entries)
Naotsugu SHOJI df. Takeshi IZUMI, 4-4
Shohei YABIKU df. Shoma YAMASAKI by TF, 9-0, 1:43

87kg (7 entries)
Semifinal Pairings
Takahiro TSURUDA vs Ryota NASUKAWA
Masato SUMI vs Kanta SHIOKAWA

97kg (9 entries)Semifinals
Yuta NARA df. Naoki MATSUMOTO by TF, 10-0, 2:41
Masaaki SHIKIYA df. Taichi OKA by TF, 9-0, 3:32

Women’s Wrestling 

55kg (6 entries)
Semifinal Pairings

59kg (6 entries)
Semifinal Pairings

65kg (5 entries)
Round-Robin (through 3 rounds)
1. Mei SUZUKI (2-0); 2. Miki KAWAUCHI (2-0); 3. Yuki KIMURA (1-2); 4. Saki KAWAUCHI (1-1) and Misuzu ENAMOTO (1-2)

76kg (6 entries)
Semifinal Pairings

Meiji Cup

Ozaki gets best of Kawai in 62kg showdown; Susaki, Shidochi prevail

By Ken Marantz

TOKYO, Japan (June 19) -- Five of Japan's seven Olympic medalists took the mat on Sunday for the first time since the Tokyo Games, with the goal of securing a place on the team to this year's World Championships. One will not be going to Belgrade.

World bronze medalist Nonoka OZAKI knocked off Tokyo Olympic champion Yukako KAWAI in the women's 62kg final at the Meiji Cup All-Japan Invitational Championships, scraping out a tense 3-1 victory in the first-ever meeting between the two.

While Kawai went down to defeat, fellow Olympic gold medalists Yui SUSAKI and Mayu SHIDOCHI (formerly MUKAIDA) earned chances to add to their world gold collections by capturing the tournament titles and then winning subsequent playoffs for the world team spots at 50kg and 55kg, respectively.

Susaki's victories came at the expense of reigning world champion Remina YOSHIMOTO, whom she beat 4-2 in the final and then 8-0 in the playoff.

The four-day tournament at Tokyo's Komazawa Gym was the second of Japan's two qualifiers for this year's World Championships in September in Belgrade, in conjunction with last December's Emperor's Cup All-Japan Championships. Winners of both tournaments receive automatic tickets to Serbia; when the winners were different, a playoff was held for the spot.

As none of the Olympic medalists competed at the Emperor's Cup, their path to the World Championships had to pass through a playoff, except in cases in which the Emperor's Cup winner did not enter the Meiji Cup due to injury.

Nonoka OZAKINonoka OZAKI (blue) battles Yukako KAWAI in the women's 62kg final. (Photo: Takeo Yabuki / Japan Wrestling Federation)

The 19-year-old Ozaki had won the Emperor's Cup, and avoided a playoff by beating Kawai in a match that featured a lot of tension but few attacks, and came down to a challenged call in the final seconds.

Kawai received an activity point in the first period, but Ozaki went ahead when she received two in the second. Kawai, trying to budge Ozaki with a front arm-and-head lock combo, launched a sudden forward surge in the last five seconds that forced Ozaki backwards in a way that may have exposed her back. But the referee awarded no points, and a challenge by the Kawai side was lost to make the final score 3-1.

"I wanted to score technical points," Ozaki said. "I thought before the match, 'What do I have to do to win?' Even if I didn't score with a tackle, I had to show I was making the effort to attack. When it became one caution each, I thought I would definitely win in the end."

Ozaki was coming off a confidence-building gold-medal run at the Asian Championships in April in Mongolia, where she defeated world champion and longtime Kawai nemesis Aisuluu TYNYBEKOVA (KGZ) in the final. That avenged a first-round loss to Tynybekova at last year's World Championships in Oslo.

But for Ozaki and the rest of the Japanese contingent, this year's World Championships is just a way station en route to the next Emperor's Cup in December. That will serve as the starting point for qualifying for the 2023 World Championships, which in turn is the start of qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics -- the next ultimate goal.

"Looking ahead, the Emperor's Cup and Meiji Cup will be linked to Olympic qualifying, so I can't be content with this," said Ozaki, a rarity in Japan in that she is pursuing the sport while attending academically-oriented Keio University. "Other wrestlers will be coming up with strategies against me, and there will be some who change to the Olympic weight.

"I believe that I own the 62kg weight class. Aisuluu and other strong competitors will be at the World Championships, so I want to win the title. Then I want to defend my Emperor's Cup and Meiji Cup titles at 62kg and get to the Olympics."

Kawai, whose older sister Risako won the 57kg Olympic gold but will not be returning to action until December after giving birth in May, took her loss in stride as she looks at the big picture.

"The qualifying for the next Olympics in Paris starts in December," she said. "I hadn't been in a national tournament since June 2019, so regardless of whether I won or lost, I wanted to experience a domestic tournament. I entered for the purpose of preparing myself and was not obsessed with winning."

Kawai said she suffered from an emotional letdown following the hoopla that comes with winning an Olympic gold in an Olympic-obsessed country.

"I'd be lying if I said it wasn't hard to take," Kawai said. "But I achieved my dream at the Tokyo Olympics and after that, I started training again, but I really couldn't get into it."

She said she was encouraged by previous Olympic champions who are part of the Shigakkan University family of current students and alumni.

"Along with my sister, [Eri] TOSAKA, [Saori] YOSHIDA and others told me, 'You will get a lot of attention as an Olympic champion, and there are people who would want that and never get it.' That changed my mood and about February or March, I started coming around again."

Yui SUSAKIYui SUSUKI scores a takedown against Remina YOSHIMOTO in the world team playoff at women's 50kg. (Photo: Takeo Yabuki / Japan Wrestling Federation)

Susaki went through a life change when, upon graduating from Waseda University, a company in her native Chiba Prefecture put her on the payroll in April to allow her to train full time. But her wrestling looked hardly different despite a 10-month break since the Olympics.

"It's really been a long time to get on the mat since the Tokyo Olympics and at this tournament, I was able to find many points that I need to work on, which to me is a good start in making progress as I head toward the Paris Olympics," Susaki said. "I want to make use of that and definitely become the world champion and get the ball rolling for qualifying for Paris that starts in December."

After looking like her old self and opening the tournament with a pair of technical falls, Susaki scored a pair of first-period takedowns against Yoshimoto in the final and, despite giving up a takedown herself in the second period, looked solid in winning a fifth career Meiji Cup title and first since 2019.

"I need to make sure not to allow such openings, and become a wrestler who doesn't show such space," she said of giving up the takedown. "I can't just stay with the status quo, I need to always work to improve looking ahead to the Paris Olympics."

She made the right adjustments in the playoff, as she kept Yoshimoto off the scoreboard while scoring one takedown in the first period and three in the second for her fourth win in four career meetings between the two.

Mayu SHIDOCHIMayu SHIDOCHI scores a stepout against Umi IMAI in the world team playoff at women's 55kg. (Photo: Takeo Yabuki / Japan Wrestling Federation)

Shidochi, who married her coach after her Olympic triumph at 53kg and now uses her married name, cruised to the 55kg title with three straight 10-0 technical falls, the last over teenager Moe KIYOOKA at 3:36 of the final.

That put her into the playoff with Emperor's Cup champion Umi IMAI, who was coming off a victory at the Asian Championships but lost to Kiyooka in the quarterfinals. Shidochi proved too much to handle and, despite settling twice for stepouts when she had Imai's leg in the air, she rolled to a 4-0 victory.

"It was my first tournament since the Tokyo Olympics, and while I was nervous, I was moving my legs from the first match like I wanted to and was able to make the final," Shidochi said. "In the playoff, I tightened up a bit, but I was able to pull off the victory."

The big question was why Shidochi moved up to 55kg, with speculation that she was ducking teenaged world champion Akari FUJINAMI, who has emerged as the dominant force in the weight class over the past year. But the reason was more simple.

"Before the Tokyo Olympics, I also competed at a non-Olympic weight," said Shidochi, who won the 2018 world title at 55kg. "Then I changed to 53kg for the main event. Heading to the Paris Olympics, I'm following the same process and wrestling now at 55kg. Next time in December, my plan is to enter at 53kg."

Asked about Fujinami, Shidochi replied, "She has long limbs and is a very strong wrestler. Looking at the Paris Olympics, I will have many rivals, but Fujinami is really good and one I will have to beat. First, my goal is to win the world championship, then prepare for the Paris Olympic qualifying that starts in December."

FumitaKenichiro FUMITA celebrates his win over Ayata SUZUKI in the world team playoff at Greco 60kg. (Photo: Takeo Yabuki / Japan Wrestling Federation)

Fumita, Yabiku make the cut

Not to be outdone, Japan's two Olympic medalists in Greco-Roman, Kenichi FUMITA and Shohei YABIKU, both made the cut for the team to Belgrade.

Fumita, the Olympic silver medalist at 60kg, will get a shot at a third world title after twice defeating Asian bronze medalist Ayata SUZUKI, who has emerged as his latest rival from the stable of current and past Nippon Sport Science University wrestlers that they both belong to.

The 26-year-old fired the first salvo by beating Emperor's Cup champion Suzuki 6-3 in the Meiji Cup final, then scored a decisive second-period takedown to take the playoff 4-2.

"Honestly speaking, I moved a lot better than I thought I would," Fumita said. "After the Olympics, I took a full three months off and had nothing to do with wrestling.

"At first my weight was up and my strength was down. I went back into training in November, and I wasn't sure I would be ready by June, but I did what I'm capable of and came out with the victory."

After both advanced with a pair of technical falls, Fumita fell behind in the final when he got a little complacent in executing a throw from par terre. As he bridged backward, Suzuki, sitting on Fumita's chest, reached forward and clamped down on his stomach, causing Fumita to fall onto his back.

Now down 2-1, Fumita quickly scrambled off his back and hit a reverse throw for 4 and a 5-2 lead. He added a stepout in the second period, after which he was put in the bottom of par terre but wouldn't budge as Suzuki desperately tried to lift him.

In the playoff, Suzuki scored a takedown when he fought off a headlock throw attempt to go ahead 2-1. A stepout by Fumita still left him trailing on criteria, but with about a minute to go, he got a body lock and twisted Suzuki down for the winning takedown.

"I was losing in the last minute, but I was confident I could turn it around," Fumita said.

Up until recently, Fumita had to battle fellow NSSU alum and Rio Olympic silver medalist Shinobu OTA for national team places. Ota has since retired, with Suzuki stepping up to keep Fumita on his toes. Fumita said the two practice at the same time, but "we don't wrestle together so much anymore, now that we're rivals."

Fumita said that he spent his post-Olympic hiatus taking a road trip with a friend to western Japan. He also said his weight rose to unmentionable heights.

"When it got to 74.5 kilos, I was too afraid to look at the scale anymore," he said with a smile.

YABIKUShohei YABIKU attempts to throw Minta MAEDA in the Greco 77kg final. (Photo: Takeo Yabuki / Japan Wrestling Federation)

Yabiku, whose bronze-medal performance at 77kg in Tokyo made him Japan's heaviest-ever Olympic medalist in Greco, only needed to win the Meiji Cup title, as Emperor's Cup champion Kodai SAKURABA skipped the tournament due to injury.

He got what he came for, but it didn't come easy.

"In the first match I got head-butted in the face, then I gave up four points in the second round, and in the final, I couldn't dictate the pace," Yabiku said.

In the final, Yabiku forged out a 6-3 victory over Minto MAEDA that had a bizarre exchange that took the referees an extraordinary amount of time to sort out.

In the second period with Maeda leading 1-1 on criteria, Yabiku secured a front arm-headlock, but as he bridged back, Maeda secured a body lock and Yabiku was sent momentarily to his back before bridging out and getting on top. He then back-suplessed Maeda out of the ring.

The judges gave Maeda 2 for the initial block, Yabiku 1 for a reversal and then 4 for the throw.

Yabiku had undergone surgery in December on a herniated disc, finally fixing a problem that had been bothering him from even before the Olympics. But it set back his preparations, and he's still trying to regain his sharpness.

"Coming back from surgery, I'm at about 80%," he said. "I still don't have the feeling for actual competition. There's a big difference between practice and being at 100% in matches, so I still have a way to go to work it out."

Somewhat overshadowed on the last day of the competition was the final freestyle weight class, in which world 61kg bronze medalist Toshihiro HASEGAWA earned a trip back to the World Championships, this time at 57kg by defeating Toshiya ABE 2-0 in the final.

Hasegawa, who moved down to 57kg after taking the bronze in Oslo and won the title at the Emperor's Cup, scored with a single-leg takedown in the first period and made that hold up to add to the Meiji Cup title he won last year at 61kg while denying Abe a second straight one at 57kg.

"This time, I didn't wrestle aggressively, but I will be able to attack more against foreign opponents," Hasegawa said. "I will work on raising my level so I can win both at home and abroad."

Day 4 Results


57kg (12 entries)
Final - Toshihiro HASEGAWA df. Toshiya ABE, 2-0
3rd Place - Yudai FUJITA df. Rikuto ARAI, 4-0


60kg (11 entries)
Final - Kenichiro FUMITA df Ayata SUZUKI, 6-3
3rd Place - Kaito INABA df. Maito KAWANA by Fall, 4:33 (6-2)

World team playoff - Kenichiro FUMITA df. Ayata SUZUKI, 4-2

77kg (10 entries)
Final - Shohei YABIKU df. Minto MAEDA, 6-3
3rd Place - Nao KUSAKA df. Shinsuke MIZUGUCHI, 11-8

Women's Wrestling

50kg (10 entries)
Final - Yui SUSAKI df. Remina YOSHIMOTO, 4-2
3rd Place - Miyu NAKAMURA df. Hanano SAKURAI, 11-10

World team playoff - Yui SUSAKI df. Remina YOSHIMOTO, 8-0

55kg (11 entries)
Final - Mayu SHIDOCHI df. Moe KIYOOKA by TF, 10-0, 3:36
3rd Place - Mako ONO df. Ibuki TAMURA, 8-0

World team playoff - Mayu SHIDOCHI df. Umi IMAI, 4-0

62kg (6 entries)
Final - Nonoka OZAKI df. Yukako KAWAI, 3-1
3rd Place - Yuzuka INAGAKI df. Yui SAKANO, 4-2