HAMA Naomi made her debut in April last year as a jockey at the Kochi Racecourse in Kochi Prefecture. Kochi is located in the island of Shikoku, which is Japan's fourth largest island.
At present there are only six women riders - including Hama - working as jockeys in Japan. Ms. Hama's debut marked the first time in five years for a woman rider to race, an event that and was made possible thanks to her many supporters.
That's all the more reason why she wants to become a torchbearer and tell people to, "Keep going and don't give up. No matter what happens you're not alone. And don't forget to be thankful".
Secondly, she's thankful to Kochi Prefecture.
Even though she was nervous about going to Kochi, the local people are very warm and friendly, always full of smiles.
Hama excited to run as a torchbearer so she could tell the world about the natural beauty of Kochi, it's country charm and it's hospitality.
Why did you want to become a rider?
I played basketball when I was in junior high school, and was planning to continue doing it also in high school.
I didn't really want to become a basketball player at all and was wondering what to do in the future, when quite out of the blue my grandfather said, 'Naochan, why not become a rider?' and somehow that stuck in my heart.
It was only when I heard that I had passed riding school that both my grandfather and mother had aimed to become riders, which is when I became determined to actually become one myself.
How did you come to have your debut at the Kochi Racecourse? How did you feel when you found out that you were going to Kochi Prefecture?
I'm actually from Hiroshima. The number one reason why I decided to be at Kochi is that there is a chance here for young riders. I was picked up by NAGASE Tetsuya, who is now my trainer, and I want to pay him back for his kindness, which is why I was determined to make my debut in Kochi.
When I first came to Kochi I was really apprehensive. Going to work full-time in a place that I had never been to before ... I wondered whether it would go ok. But I didn't really need to be worried because everyone in Kochi is so friendly and warm, so working there was actually very enjoyable.
When you actually went to Kochi, did you find it was different from what you had imagined? What did you like about it?
I had never been to Shikoku, let alone Kochi. So I was really rather apprehensive. But everyone welcomed me so warmly – they're so friendly. And there are many areas of natural beauty here; so many attractions. When I'm not working I often visit such places to recharge. I'm very thankful to Kochi Prefecture – I love it!
As a woman rider, have there been any occasions on which the people of Kochi have really helped you out of a difficult situation?
You face many difficulties as a woman rider. In terms of technical ability, in reality I'm not as physically strong as the guys, and even during day-to-day life, because I'm a woman, people tend to take notice. At the moment, I'm doing my best to improve the areas I'm not so good at; I think about it all the time when I'm working.
At times I really feel there is a difference in terms of strength when compared with men. There have been many occasions on which I have been helped personally. There should be a line between public and private life, but sometimes that line becomes blurred, because I am being watched all the time.
At times it got to the stage where I didn't want to go out alone, but in the midst of all that there were people who reached out to me and helped me by going out together. That's one of the reasons I've been able to be happy in what I'm doing.
As a torchbearer, as a woman rider, and as a representative of Kochi Prefecture, what do you want to convey to people?
Firstly, I want to thank Kochi Prefecture. At only 18 years old I am still a child, but they are helping me to grow into an adult. I can do what I like to do, and I love my work, so that really is something wonderful. Secondly, it's important to not give up no matter what, and it is wonderful to have a dream.
There are so many more men than women who work as riders. You face many challenges on the road to becoming a rider, and also after you've become one. I was tempted many times to give up, but I kept going on. And now, I'm glad I did.
I find every day fulfilling as a rider. There are still many things that I find difficult, but I'm going to keep my eyes on the challenges that lie ahead, and not look back.