Japanese sports stars on the Olympic Torch Relay route: Ishikawa, Toyama, Niigata and Yamagata

Eri Tosaka of Japan celebrates winning gold against Mariya Stadnik (not pictured) of Azerbaijan in the Women's Freestyle 48kg event at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
Eri Tosaka of Japan celebrates winning gold against Mariya Stadnik (not pictured) of Azerbaijan in the Women's Freestyle 48kg event at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)

KAWAI Risako, TOSAKA Eri and KATO Sawao are among the most famous Japanese sports stars from Ishikawa, Toyama, Niigata and Yamagata – the four prefectures set to host the Olympic Torch Relay this week.

The Olympic Torch Relay is underway following the Grand Start ceremony in Fukushima and you can follow every step of its journey towards the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games in 2021 right here on Tokyo 2020 with our livestream.

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

Rio de Janeiro, BRAZIL - AUGUST 18, 2016 : Risako Kawai of Japan competes the Women's Freestyle 63kg at Carioca Arena 2 during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio de Janeiro, BRAZIL - AUGUST 18, 2016 : Risako Kawai of Japan competes the Women's Freestyle 63kg at Carioca Arena 2 during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Tokyo 2020 / Shugo TAKEMI

KAWAI Risako

Hometown: Ishikawa

Sport: Wrestling

Claim to fame: The 26-year-old was one of four women from Japan's wrestling team to win gold (63kg) at the 2016 Rio Games. After starting in the sport at elementary school, she honed her skills alongside three-time Olympic champion YOSHIDA Saori -  the most decorated athlete in freestyle wrestling history. At Tokyo 2020 this summer, Risako, who is aiming for gold in the 57kg class, will be joined on the Olympic stage by younger sister Yukako (62kg).

YAMANAKA Tsuyoshi

Hometown: Ishikawa

Sport: Swimming

Claim to fame: An International Swimming Hall of inductee in 1983, Yamanaka graced three Olympic Games - Melbourne 1956, Rome 1960 and Tokyo 1964 - winning four silver medals across 400m, 1,500m and 4x200m freestyle events. He broke the 200m world record - which wasn't an Olympic event at the time - three times in two months during 1961. It wasn't his only world record, he also set one in the 400m in 1959 and three more in the 4x200 between 1959 and 1963. Sadly, in February 2017 he passed away at the age of 78.

MITSUKURI Takashi

Hometown: Toyama

Sport: Artistic gymnastics

Claim to fame: As part of Japan's successful men's gymnastics team at Rome 1960 and Tokyo 1964, Mitsukuri won two Olympic gold medals in the Team All-Around. His wife, is also none other than NAKAMURA Taniko, who clinched bronze at Tokyo 1964. After retiring, Mitsukuri went on to become a professor at International Budo University.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 10: Gold medalist Haruka Tachimoto of Japan stands on the podium during the medal ceremeny for the Women's -70kg Judo on Day 5 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 2 on August 10, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 10: Gold medalist Haruka Tachimoto of Japan stands on the podium during the medal ceremeny for the Women's -70kg Judo on Day 5 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 2 on August 10, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

TACHIMOTO Haruka

Hometown: Toyama

Sport: Judo

Claim to fame: Despite being the only unseeded member of Japan's judo at Rio 2016, Tachimoto defeated the world no.1 and no.2 in the women's -70kg division on her way to clinching gold. She also represented Japan at London 2012 but finished seventh.

Eri Tosaka of Japan celebrates winning gold against Mariya Stadnik of Azerbaijan in the Women's Freestyle 48kg event at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games
Eri Tosaka of Japan celebrates winning gold against Mariya Stadnik of Azerbaijan in the Women's Freestyle 48kg event at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games
Lars Baron/Getty Images

TOSAKA Eri

Hometown: Toyama

Sport: Wrestling

Claim to fame: With three consecutive World Wrestling Championships under her belt since 2013, it was her defeat at the Asian Championships just six months prior to Rio 2016, that put a stop to Tosaka's 59 consecutive winning streak. Nonetheless, she made it to the gold medal match at Rio 2016 with just seconds left on the clock and trailed her opponent Mariya Stadnik - with a right leg to crash down to the mat to clinch the gold.

Sawao Kato of Japan during the Men's Individual All-Around event on 30th August 1972 during the XX Olympic Summer Games at the Sports Hall, Olympic Park, Munich, Germany. (Photo by Don MorleyGetty Images)
Sawao Kato of Japan during the Men's Individual All-Around event on 30th August 1972 during the XX Olympic Summer Games at the Sports Hall, Olympic Park, Munich, Germany. (Photo by Don MorleyGetty Images)
2012 Getty Images

KATO Sawao

Hometown: Niigata

Sport: Artistic gymnastics

Claim to fame: Kato dominated the Olympic Gymnastics competitions in the 1960s and 1970s, winning eight gold medals - more than any other male gymnast in history. During his Olympic debut at Mexico City 1968 - where he won two golds and a silver despite an Achilles tendon injury - he became part of the Japan-Soviet rivalry in artistic gymnastics, which Japan would dominate until the Moscow 1980 Games.

2019 Getty Images

KOSEKI Yasuhiro

Hometown: Yamagata

Sport: Swimming

Claim to fame: The Rio 2016 Olympian holds the Asian record in the 100m breaststroke, which he set in February 2014. Koseki, who originally specialised in freestyle, switched to his new pet event after being motivated by KOSUKE Kitajima. However, it is unlikely fans will see the 29-year-old's face at a home Olympic Games this summer after finishing seventh at the Japan Swimming Championships in April 2021.

OKAZAWA Seon

Hometown: Yamagata

Sport: Boxing

Claim to fame: In his first international competition, which came at the 2019 Asian Amateur Boxing Championships, he won silver in the welterweight (69kg) becoming the first Japanese boxer in 36 years to to advance to the final. Okazawa now has an eye on Tokyo 2020 after securing a quota spot at the 2020 Asia & Oceania Boxing Olympic Qualification Tournament in March last year.