Japanese sports stars on the Olympic Torch Relay route: Aichi, Mie, Wakayama and Nara

Saori Yoshida of Japan celebrates winning the gold medal over Tonya Lynn Verbeek of Canada in the Women's Freestyle 55 kg Wrestling at the London 2012 Olympic Games (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
Saori Yoshida of Japan celebrates winning the gold medal over Tonya Lynn Verbeek of Canada in the Women's Freestyle 55 kg Wrestling at the London 2012 Olympic Games (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

NISHIDA Yuji, YOSHIDA Saori, TAKAHASHI Ayaka and MAEHATA Hideko are among the most famous Japanese sports stars from Aichi, Mie, Wakayama and Nara – the four prefectures set to host the Olympic Torch Relay this week.

The Olympic Torch Relay is now underway following the Grand Start ceremony in Fukushima. But how much do you know about the Japanese sports stars who are from the prefectures that will be visited this week?

Every Monday, Tokyo 2020 will highlight some of those who have graced the sporting world over the years as well as those who’s sporting careers have just begun, as the world counts down the days until the start of the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

2019 Getty Images

HANEDA Takuya

Hometown: Aichi

Sport: Canoe slalom

Claim to fame: HANEDA Takuya had competed in two Olympic Games previously but it wasn’t until Rio 2016 that he made his name. Haneda weaved in and out of the course to clinch bronze and a place in history – it was Japan’s first Olympic medal in the sport.

Takuya's achievement at the Deodoro Whitewater Stadium made him an instant star back home and attracted a whole new generation into the sport. In an interview with Tokyo 2020 last year, he said: "So many people have become interested in canoe slalom since I won that medal. They also recognise me, so my desire to meet their expectations has become so much stronger."

Mizuki Noguchi of Japan rounds the last turn before finishing and winning the gold medal in the women's marathon during the Athens 2004 Summer Olympic Games (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Mizuki Noguchi of Japan rounds the last turn before finishing and winning the gold medal in the women's marathon during the Athens 2004 Summer Olympic Games (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
2004 Getty Images

NOGUCHI Mizuki

Hometown: Mie

Sport: Marathon

Claim to fame: After winning the international women’s marathons at Nagoya (2002) and Osaka (2003), NOGUCHI Mizuki went on to clinch silver at the 2003 World Athletics Championships in Paris before her career defining moment – gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics – cemented her name in the record books.

Noguchi’s form continued the following year as she broke several records on the way to winning the Berlin Marathon in 2005, but a string of injuries followed and she retired ahead of Rio 2016.

Saori Yoshida of Japan celebrates winning the gold medal in the Women's Freestyle 55 kg Wrestling at the London 2012 Olympic Games (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
Saori Yoshida of Japan celebrates winning the gold medal in the Women's Freestyle 55 kg Wrestling at the London 2012 Olympic Games (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
2012 Getty Images

YOSHIDA Saori

Hometown: Mie

Sport: Wrestling

Claim to fame: What is there left to say about YOSHIDA Saori? Wrestling’s most decorated champion of all time – either male or female – with 13 consecutive world titles and three Olympic golds (Athens 2004, Beijing 2008 and London 2012) as well as silver at Rio 2016.

Saori, the daughter of former national champion YOSHIDA Eikatsu, retired ahead of Tokyo 2020 and was selected to be an ambassador for the Olympic Torch Relay which is currently weaving its way around the country.

Natalia Vorobeva of Russia (red) competes against Sara Dosho of Japan during the Women's Freestyle 69kg Gold Medal bout on at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
Natalia Vorobeva of Russia (red) competes against Sara Dosho of Japan during the Women's Freestyle 69kg Gold Medal bout on at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
2016 Getty Images

DOSHO Sara

Hometown: Mie

Sport: Wrestling

Claim to fame: DOSHO Sara was in her fourth year of university when she clinched gold at Rio 2016 and maintained her remarkable form by winning the World Championships in Paris the following year.

The four-time Asian gold medallist will be among the athletes to watch at Tokyo 2020 after recovering from shoulder and knee injuries.

Yuji Nishida of Japan competes against Stephen Maar and Arthur Szwarc of Canada during the Men's Volleyball international game between Japan and Canada at Aoyama Gakuin University Gymnasium on August 03, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images)
Yuji Nishida of Japan competes against Stephen Maar and Arthur Szwarc of Canada during the Men's Volleyball international game between Japan and Canada at Aoyama Gakuin University Gymnasium on August 03, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images)
2019 Getty Images

NISHIDA Yuji

Hometown: Mie

Sport: Volleyball

Claim to fame: Among a new generation of Japanese talent, NISHIDA Yuji is certainly among those to follow at Tokyo 2020.

Nishida was 18 when he made his international debut in 2018 and has since proved a pivotal figure for the country, helping Japan secure their first victory over Italy in 11 years before becoming the youngest ever player to score 30 points in a World Championship match (v Argentina).

Volleyball at Tokyo 1964

MIYAMOTO Emiko

Hometown: Wakayama

Sport: Volleyball

Claim to fame: MIYAMOTO’s name will forever be etched in the history books for being part of Japan’s national women’s volleyball team of the 1960s.

Miyamoto had already helped the team achieve silver and a first World Championship gold in 1962, but it was her gold medal winning performance at Tokyo 1964 – in front of a worldwide audience – that propelled her into becoming a national treasure.

You can read more about the weight of Japan on the women’s 1964 volleyball team here.

Tadahiro Nomura of Japan celebrates after winning the gold medal in the men's judo -60 kg class gold medal contest at the Athens 2004 Summer Olympic Games (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Tadahiro Nomura of Japan celebrates after winning the gold medal in the men's judo -60 kg class gold medal contest at the Athens 2004 Summer Olympic Games (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
2004 Getty Images

NOMURA Tadahiro

Hometown: Nara

Sport: Judo

Claim to fame: NOMURA Tadahiro became the first male judoka to win three Olympic titles in a row. His scintillating victories at Atlanta 1996 (where he became champion at his first attempt aged just 21, winning four of five bouts with an ippon) Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 would make him one of the most famous stars of Japan.

Tadahiro comes from a family of champions – his father coached the 1984 gold medallist SHINJI Hosokaw and his uncle, NOMURA Toyokazu, won Olympic gold at Munich 1972 – but he would not go on to break his own record as he retired ahead of Beijing 2008.

Nomura Tadahiro is currently an ambassador for the Olympic Torch Relay ahead of Tokyo 2020 this summer.

Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi of Japan celebrate winning match point against Christinna Pedersen and Kamilla Rytter Juhl of Denmark during the Women's Doubles Badminton Gold Medal Match at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi of Japan celebrate winning match point against Christinna Pedersen and Kamilla Rytter Juhl of Denmark during the Women's Doubles Badminton Gold Medal Match at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
2016 Getty Images

TAKAHASHI Ayaka

Hometown: Nara

Sport: Badminton

Claim to fame: TAKAHASHI Ayaka shot to stardom by winning Japan’s first ever Olympic badminton gold at Rio 2016 alongside her doubles partner MATSUTOMO Misaki to end the dominance of the People’s Republic of China.

The pair, affectionately known as ‘Takamatsu’, had known each other since high school in Miyagi Prefecture and claimed their first national title in 2011 before winning the Japan Open in 2014.

However Takahashi will not defend their Olympic title after tearfully announcing her retirement from the sport last year.