Tuesday, November 9, 2010

From the Archives: 07.16.2007 ホリデーインタービュー:山田満知子

The current state of figure skating is depressing me--so much so that I've temporarily stopped following the Grand Prix altogether--so I thought I would go back to a more golden time in my fandom. Behold, the crude genius of Machiko Yamada:

Half a Century at a Downtown Rink: Figure Skating Coach Machiko Yamada

(Nagoya Sports Center, Nagoya Central District)
Male Narrator: Today we will be speaking with the Nagoya figure skating coach who raised Midori Ito and Mao Asada, Machiko Yamada.

Machiko Yamada: I look forward to working with you.

Male Interviewer: It's very humid (outside), but it's nice and cool inside this rink.

Machiko Yamada: Right? Every time an interviewer comes to me in the summer, they always say, "Coach, you have such a great job," but it's not really good for the body, is it. There's a huge temperature difference, you know?

Male Interviewer: But without almost any breaks you spend long periods of time here, in this place.

Machiko Yamada: Yes that's true. Well, I was about 7 years old when I started skating, and now I'm turning 64, so how many years is that? And out of the 365 days in a year, I've been here with almost no breaks, from when I was little--from when I was a competitor--as if this is my home, I've lived a long time in this cold and this smell.

Male Narrator: Yamada, who started skating at age 7, while in high school won the National Inter-High School Championships and the National Athletic Championships. However, while in college she retired from competitive skating at the age of 20. After that, she was asked by various parents to teach their children skating, and she began coaching at this rink. Since then, she has been coaching for 45 years. She has raised numerous skaters who make the world (international competitions) their stage. Seven of her students have won international competitions.

Male Interviewer (Takayuki Tsukamoto): Why did you follow the path of a coach rather than an athlete?

Machiko Yamada: Originally--I was skating from since I was young--when I was little, I supposedly said, "I like skating," but I have no memory of that. I guess my parents had made me skate, by the time I realized it... And it wasn't really that fun, my Meiji-era-born parents were strict, and it wasn't fun and I was skating. I retired and by chance began teaching a little part-time, so I said I would marry and stop teaching, then I said when I had kids I would stop teaching, but while I was thinking about it I met Midori, and little by little I was pulled into this world as a coach. So it wasn't my original dream from when I was young, to become a coach.

Male Narrator: The thing that changed Yamada's destiny was her meeting with the then-five Midori Ito. It was decided that she would coach Midori, who came to the rink almost every day and whose presence drew attention.

Machiko Yamada: That she was a smart child was my first impression. Usually, children don't, well, do or say much, but she would step in front of her mother and listen really well, like if I said, "Please do this or bring that starting tomorrow," she would be like, "Okay! Okay!" I guess you would say it was a very active, responsive listening style. And she was a child with good instincts. Once I started coaching her, I realized that she had jumping ability, and good athleticism... but I never thought that she would shock the world or anything like that.

(Machiko Yamada's home)
Midori Ito: So I put in the spinach?

Machiko Yamada: Not yet, not yet. This isn't boiled yet.

Male Narrator: In order to create a more focused environment, Yamada made Midori move into her home. From overseeing her diet to discussing her worries together, over approximately fifteen years Yamada served a mother role to Midori.

Machiko Yamada: Midori, you eat the spinach.

(Nagoya Sports Center)
Male Narrator: Midori, who became a top skater in a three-leggedly (a close and collaborative partnership with Yamada, as in a three-legged race), battled pressure leading up to the 1992 Albertville Olympics.

Machiko Yamada: Right now you're doing a change, and then twice, right? You should stop doing that, that weird thing. You know, instead of a normal Lutz, you do one more of this thing--

Midori Ito: Yeah. But I get more speed that way.

Machiko Yamada: The whole world thought that there was no question of Midori winning the gold medal, she was considered the top skater. But, before that (the Olympics), because of the pressure and everything, she really hadn't practiced--she hadn't skated for several months, because of everything--she didn't want to be out there.

Takayuki Tsukamoto: Really?

Machiko Yamada: And that's how we went--I can talk about this now--but it was that kind of competition, Albertville.

(1992 Albertville Olympics)
French fans/spectators: Everyone is counting on Midori! ... Midori is a great skater! ...

Male Commentator: Now, Japan's Midori Ito.

Male Narrator: Midori, who stood on this huge stage under heavy pressure. She would attempt the triple Axel, which no woman had ever done at an Olympic Games.

Male Commentator: Triple Axel... ah! A mistake!

(Nagoya Sports Center)
Machiko Yamada: She made a mistake on the first triple Axel, and then... the other part, it was made for any kind of jump--a lutz, a flip, an Axel--so there was this space, this part of the music in her program--

Takayuki Tsukamoto: Yes.

Machiko Yamada: --and I was wondering what she would do there, but she was skating the triple Axel lead-in pattern, and I thought, 'Oh, she's going to do it!' And usually in the second half (of a program), it's easy to make mistakes on the more difficult jumps.

(1992 Albertville Olympics)
Male Commentator: Triple Axel! She did it!

Male Narrator: By successfully completing the second triple Axel, Midori won the silver medal, the first for a Japanese figure skater. The successes of Midori, who possessed jumps and other high-difficulty skills, sent a breath a fresh air into the figure skating world tat up to this point had placed emphasis on artistry. Overnight, Yamada too became a focus of attention.

(Nagoya Sports Center)
Machiko Yamada: If I had never met Midori, I don't know if I would still be coaching now, and... I could have just gone the normal route of raising my daughter, and become a good grandmother... But, there was Midori, a child of that talent had come to me, and I felt a responsibility to coach, and I ended up becoming someone who was competing against all the world-class coaches that I saw on TV, the great coaches I admired who to me were figures above the clouds (out of reach)... But, the whole who gave me that was also Midori. So, I guess... there was Midori, and so there is me today. I don't want to go as far as to say thanks, but...

Male Narrator: The skating rink is right by one of Japan's three major sacred Buddhist grounds, Oosu Kannon. The history of this temple city, Oosu, begins in the Edo Period, and like Tokyo's Asakusa District is teeming with a downtown vibe. There are many shops centered around Oosu Kannon, and there are many people out and about.

Takayuki Tsukamoto: It's this way, right?

Machiko Yamada: Yes.

Male Narrator: In one corner of this city, there is a restaurant that Yamada has frequented for over 50 years, since her days as a competitive athlete.

Takayuki Tsukamoto: Hello, please excuse me.

Restaurant Woman: Welcome!

Machiko Yamada: Where should we sit?

Restaurant Man: Anyway, I've known her (Yamada) since her days in her sailor clothing (Japanese schoolgirl uniform).

Takayuki Tsukamoto: Really?

Machiko Yamada: Yes, right?

Male Narrator: She's a little younger than me, but--

Machiko Yamada: That's not true! We're like the same age.

Takayuki Tsukamoto: Oh, thank you.

Machiko Yamada: Since there's practice again tonight...

Takayuki Tsukamoto: Yes, so you're going to prepare by eating beforehand...

Machiko Yamada: Right.

Takayuki Tsukamoto: Yes.

Male Narrator: Yamada's favored dish is ramen.

Machiko Yamada: First, please try drinking the broth.

Takayuki Tsukamoto: Okay.

Machiko Yamada: It's a very normal broth. Even though as a skating coach I shouldn't be advertising ramen... Mmm, delicious.

Takayuki Tsukamoto: The traditional Japanese flavor is very, I guess you would say, downtown...

Machiko Yamada: Right. Ramen a very, very long time ago was like this.

Takayuki Tsukamoto: So, in Nagoya--

Machiko Yamada: Okay, let's eat ramen.

Takayuki Tsukamoto: Okay, we'll eat, we'll eat. Because the noodles will get limp.

Machiko Yamada: That's right. You, have a bite, then ask a question.

Takayuki Tsukamoto: Okay. The good part of Oosu, well, I think there are also the foods like this, but I think it's the downtown, working-class feeling--what do you think?

Machiko Yamada: Figure skating and Oosu are pretty far removed from each other, as I always say.

Takayuki Tsukamoto: That's true, image-wise...

Machiko Yamada: I mean figure skating is a city sport, it's not a sport of cold-weather regions. Sometimes people misunderstand and say things like, "Oh of course, Tohoku (Northernmost six prefectures of Honshu) or Hokkaido must be powerhouses of figure skating, but that's ice hockey or speed skating. Figure skating is of course in places like New York--place that are cold but still urban.

Takayuki Tsukamoto: I see.

Machiko Yamada: So in Japan, places like Tokyo... a long time ago, there were three skating rinks in Shinagawa (district of Tokyo): a figure skating rink, an ice hockey rink, and a public rink. They were very impressive, and next to it was Shinagawa's hotel. Whenever the athletes would go to the rink, all of the mothers would get into their foreign cars and race to the rink, and their children would be in lessons--and of course parents couldn't go in--so in the hotel they would have coffee or tea as they waited. It's quite elegant, isn't it?

Takayuki Tsukamoto: Yes, it is.

Machiko Yamada: Right? But us, everyone would come in on their bicycles with their children riding on the back, and they'd be like, "Coach! I just bought hot takoyaki, would you like some?"--that's where we come from.

Takayuki Tsukamoto: Oh it was that kind of atmosphere?

Machiko Yamada: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Takayuki Tsukamoto: Wow, I see...

Machiko Yamada: So it's a bit far removed from figure skating. But, it's because of that that there was Midori Ito, if you look at it the other way--a different kind of skater.

Takayuki Tsukamoto: Is that so?

Machiko Yamada: Yeah, if it were Shin-Yokohama or Tokyo, I might have taught her more elegantly, but haha... If we didn't go about it in a slightly different way, things just wouldn't have fit, probably.

Takayuki Tsukamoto: I see. So you started coaching in Nagoya, and an athlete named Midori Ito emerged, and you became famous--

Machiko Yamada: Yes, yes, yes.

Takayuki Tsukamoto: After that, you continued on here--what was the reason for that?

Machiko Yamada: Almost all Japanese figure skaters, such as Emi Watanabe--do you know her?--and a little while before that, Igarashi, and all of them--almost none of them skated in Japan, they were training over there, and they would only enter competitions as Japanese people. And so I found that frustrating, and of course a "Made in Japan"--and for me a "Made in Nagoya," I guess you would say--seemed nice. It's not such a spectacular environment, but even from there--it's not quite a "if you do it you can do it," but... just being here, and (developing while) taking advantage of its best parts... Teaching this way is right for me, and I want to try to the end of my limits.

(2002 Salt Lake City Olympics)
Male Commentator: The arena has come alive with the announcing of Yoshie Onda's name. ...Double Axel, good height. And once more! Yes.

(Nagoya Sports Center)
Takayuki Tsukamoto: Many athletes who compete on the world stage have emerged (from here). Where do you think lies the reason that you have been able to raise so many top athletes?

Machiko Yamada: I wonder why it is... First, I guess if I were to name our top unique characteristic, it would be "family-style"? To the extent that people in the skating world often call us "Yamada Family," not a club but a family. So, everyone, parents and children, take each other's hands--parents and children and teachers, they take each other's hands--and they're trying together? It's family-like, so there's longevity--like there are a lot of children who continue skating for a long time. So as we go along like this, children who may or may not be talented, whether it's Yoshie or Yukari or whoever--the Maos are a little bit different, but--they emerge and become athletes who go out into the world, I think... I get this type of question a lot, like 'Why do so many skaters who can do the triple Axel come from you?,' and you can ask why but it's like, "Nothing in particular. I don't do anything special."

Male Narrator: The characteristic of Yamada's club, dubbed the "Yamada Family," can be found rinkside. Amidst the many clubs that do not allow parents rinkside, Yamada has the parents proactively participate in the practices.

Machiko Yamada: You see, normally--and this isn't just about skating, it applies to any type of lesson--it's difficult for the coaches if they're always being observed by the parents. But in our case, I... well, it costs money, and it takes time, so I want the parents to take an interest. If not, the skating (lessons) can't really continue. So my philosophy is, "Let's go down to the rink together, and let's try this together." So the parents end up coming every day, and their eyes become trained. Right? They understand more than some of the bad judges. And as a result, they start teaching from rinkside, the parents. And if a student learns a new skill, and for example lands it on one foot, even if they're excited about it, if no one is looking it's a little disappointing, right? You know, because it's their own free practice time. But parents are really watching only their children, so they'll be like, 'Yes! You landed it!' and even for the little things, they'll say, 'You did well today,' and 'Coach was saying this-and-that, so why don't you pay more attention to this,' so even in the household these conversations will take place, right?

Takayuki Tsukamoto: Yes.

Machiko Yamada: That's my aim.

Skating Mother: I end up wanting to say, "That's no good," or, "You're not doing it correctly," and bit by bit I get very into it, more into it than my children...

Skater1: I am taught by my mother, but if I'm scolded I get very aargh.

Skater2 (Kanako Murakami): I know, I know!

Skater1: Right? It's really like that.

Kanako Murakami: I get mad easily too.

Interviewer: What does Yamada say in situations like this?

Skaters: Keep at it!

Kanako Murakami: She's a kind and funny teacher. She's always laughing, yes.

Male Narrator: Four years ago, many of Yamada's students and their parents celebrated her 60th birthday. The pendant she received for the occasion is Yamada's treasured possession. Skating family--engraved is "From your skating family."

(Nagoya Sports Center)
Takayuki Tsukamoto: Is there something like a motto that you hold important when it comes to coaching?

Machiko Yamada: Um... like I said at the very beginning, I didn't really like skating that much--learning from my strict parents and members of the federation, I didn't really like it--so maybe if I had been taught in a more fun way, I think that maybe I would have been slightly better when I was a competitive skater. So I want there to be an enjoyable rink for the children, and also when the children are three or five or however old they are when they start skating, and then until they graduate college at 22--they spend their most formative youth years with me and with skating. So instead of being "skate-stupid" (the only thing they know about and how to do is skating-related)--I might be scolded for saying that--you know, if they live until they're 80, life after skating is long, isn't it?

Takayuki Tsukamoto: Yes.

Machiko Yamada: So, of course, when these children who skate are being molded, I want us (adults) to give them what we can--I want to give them all I can give them. I do think that way.

Takayuki Tsukamoto: So is that nurturing or cultivating persons...?

Machiko Yamada: I can't say anything that self-important, but... the things I've learned in my life, such as 'I wanted to be like that,' 'I wanted to live like that,' 'That's not good,' or 'That's not really good for children'--the things I've learned? How do I say this?--instructions from the experiences that a 64-year-old old woman has had?

Takayuki Tsukamoto: Yes.

Machiko Yamada: Things like that, I guess I'm always dropping? So more than the skating jumps, there might be some of that. And I think that in fact these things show themselves in performances. It just works out that quiet children tend to skate elegantly, while outgoing and noisy children skate with power and speed. Their personalities come out.

Takayuki Tsukamoto: Yes.

Machiko Yamada: So no matter how quiet or outgoing, I feel that in their body movements or in lots of places, their goodness of character comes out. So what I often say is that as a coach, of course I prefer first place, but if you're going to be a first-place whom everyone dislikes, then I would prefer a third-place or a fourth-place finisher whom everyone says is a good and beautiful person--I do say that all the time.

Takayuki Tsukamoto: You mean character is important, right?

Machiko Yamada: Yes. So, I'm like that too. In order to be a person who's thought of as "I really like Coach" or "I love her," then instead of being all fake and, "Oh hello, what a lovely daughter, how talented--NO! That's wrong!," I want to be free from the bottom of my heart. Then everyone will know the real Yamada, and I want to be the kind of person whom they will love including my faults. I want the children to become such people too.

Takayuki Tsukamoto: I see. So as a coach, things that make you glad that you are...?

Machiko Yamada: Let's see... Well, if I hadn't been a coach, I probably wouldn't have been able to learn so much, and I wouldn't have met all of these different people, so I would have been a little more normal middle-aged woman--an even more normal middle-aged woman. Of course, I'm glad that there is skating in my life, and I feel blessed--I've happened to meet so many good people--Midori and the many mothers that I happened to meet--and the children have married and have been blessed with grandchildren. And all of the mothers of our "family" say, 'You are such a fortunate person," and I really--I don't want to go back in my life, I talk about this a lot: 'If you could go back, what age would you want to go back to?', like there's 'I want to go back to the basic English lessons of middle school,' or 'I want to go back to the spring of my twenties,' right?

Takayuki Tsukamoto: Yes.

Machiko Yamada: But I don't think a happiness such as this will come, so I don't want to do anything over.

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