Yuko Kavaguti: “I simply find it interesting to study Russians”
Nov 24, 2010
The name of Yuko Kavaguti, who along with partner Alexander Smirnov is the reigning European Champion in pair figure skating, has recently appeared on billboards throughout St. Petersburg. The billboards are part of a series honoring foreigners who have made significant contributions to Russia throughout its history, starting with Rastrelli and Monferand and concluding with contemporary foreigners in Russia. On each billboard there is an inscription which reads: “Thank you for coming.”
– What do you feel when you see yourself alongside great architects and state figures?
– I haven’t quite come to grips with it, but Russians have one good characteristic – restraint. I guess that’s how I feel. Not exactly comfortable, pressure… But you know what our trainer Tamara Moskvina says in such situations? “We’ll work on that.”
– Is it true that some Petersburg agricultural researchers named a new sort of rice after you?
– The hybrid of Japanese rice was created by Sergei Rodichev, an agricultural enthusiast. He told me that suggested such a name so that the rice would simultaneously be tied to both St. Petersburg and Japan.
– You speak Russian almost without an accent. Did you study the language for a long time?
– Yes, and even when I applied to enter the International Relations Department of St. Petersburg State University, I had trouble with spoken Russian. I had particular trouble with the “l” sound, as it doesn’t exist in the Japanese language. Not long ago in St. Petersburg you couldn’t find Japanese cuisine. And no there is almost no problem with finding products. I hope I have also almost learned to speak Russian. After all, I study Russian every day, just like figure skating practice. I recently learned the Russian national anthem.
– Oh! Is this why did you decide to take up Russian citizenship?
– Probably not. I made this decision based on rational considerations, in order to compete in the 2010 Olympics and, hopefully, again in the Sochi Olympics. According to the rules of International Skating Union, I had to do it this way, although according to the laws of Japan I had to give up my Japanese citizenship. But the national anthem I learned for emotional reasons. I simply find it interesting to study Russians. At the beginning I guess probably like everyone else I wanted to learn Russian through cuisine. Igor Moskvin (husband of trainer Tamara Moskvina – ed.) treated me to some borscht, and then I asked him to teach me how to make it. It is a culinary masterpiece. To this day I do not understand why you would want to put sour cream in this masterpiece. It kills the taste. Perhaps I think so, because there is much that I do not understand in Russian culture. Maybe the national anthem will help me somehow with this?
– I don’t know about that… It has changed several times and many perceive the new version as something of a caricature. Your acceptance of Russian citizenship means that you cannot restore your Japanese citizenship even through your parents?
– Yes, but I could get married and in ten years’ time restore my citizenship. But perhaps I will want to remain in Russia. I don’t know. Perhaps it shouldn’t be taken so seriously/
– In various interviews you have said that for the Japanese you are practically considered Russian while for the Russians you are Japanese. How did you come to this conclusion?
– I’m not sure if I should raise this subject… The theme of my diploma report was Russian-Japanese relations in regard to the four islands. In Japan we call them the Northern Territories and in Russia the Kuril Islands. I wrote in my diploma work that these islands are Japanese islands, but! But I can understand, for example, why the Russians don’t like that fact that there is an American military base on Okinawa. But the Russians could give up these four islands. After all, Russia is so large. Why not give up the islands on the condition that armed forces will never be stationed there? Do think the Russians would find these thoughts in my diploma work offensive?
– I cannot speak for everyone, but I would say to you that experience has shown that when we give something or return something, even more is demanded of us. And I think, and I hope this won’t offend you, that we cannot give them up.
– In the university library I read that the return of the islands could give others the idea to demand something, like: “You’re so big, you should share.” But not all the Japanese are demanding all four islands. Perhaps somewhere in the middle or joint us of the islands?
– Is this the diplomat in you speaking? Following your career in sports do you plan to enter diplomatic service?
– Perhaps. I’m not sure. But I would like to do something useful for relations between our countries. Perhaps simply the fact that I am competing for Russia will somehow bring us closer?
– What do the Japanese think about the fact that you have joined the Russian team?
– The same thing they thought when I competed for the US. Some are supportive, other are indifferent. If something great is achieved perhaps they will take note. But if I was competing for Japan, they would be happy, but if I failed to win it all they would be upset. That’s the kind of people we are. Now I am faced with another form of pressure: the Russian viewer sees that a Japanese person is competing for Russia. After all, there are a lot of talented Russian girls.
– At the Figure Skating Academy in St. Petersburg there are legends about your modesty. You dress simply, avoid social engagements and are so unpretentious that you don’t take taxis…
– The metro transit system in St. Petersburg, as in Tokyo, is faster than taxis. But when I have a big suitcase and am going to the airport, then I take a taxi.
– Do people recognize you on the streets?
– No. Only sometimes. They say, “Good luck.” Now that I have changed my hairstyle for our new program fewer people recognize me, and I like it that way. When I attract the attention of people, particularly strangers, I don’t really know how to act.
– Do you have time for life off the skating rink?
– When I graduated from the university I thought, “Now I am surely going to have some free time.” But my schedule has in fact become more difficult. I tried to find free tie simply to walk around St. Petersburg. I really like walking around my neighborhood near Finland Station and the Aurora. I’m not sure why, but I just feel comfortable in these places.
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