Junior gymnast Aru Inukai will always value parts of her Japanese heritage, like the chicken katsu her mum makes for her before every competition for good luck, but is proud to now be a fully fledged Hongkonger.
The Japan-born gymnast has been on the Hong Kong junior team for six years. She loves the sport and the city so much that she willingly gave up her Japanese citizenship to get a Hong Kong passport so she could represent the city in international competitions.
Aru officially became a Hong Kong citizen last October, and she will make her international debut at the 1st Junior Artistic Gymnastics Asian Cup in Ulan Bator, Mongolia next week.
“I finally have my Hong Kong passport, and my local ranking score is high enough now. I’m really excited for my first competition abroad!” Aru exclaimed.
At the All Hong Kong Inter-Secondary Schools Gymnastics Competition last Sunday, the 15-year-old defended her all-round champion title in Girls’ Grade A for the second year in a row, by winning two golds in vault and floor exercise and two silvers in uneven bars and balance beam.
Compared to her sweep in 2018, Aru said her performance this year slipped because she is still finding a way to adjust her mindset to competing at interschool level. The Hong Kong International School student has been taking on some advanced tournaments, such as the International Invitation Championship held in Hong Kong in March.
“I expected my performance at the interschool comp to be worse. The level is different from what I’ve been doing and I haven’t done some of the skills for quite sometime,” said the teen gymnast.
Despite her minor slump, Aru still managed to come out on top, thanks to a unique pregame ritual. She said she always eats a plate of fried chicken prepared by her mother before a competition.
“The fried chicken dish is known as ‘katsu’ in Japanese. When pronounced a bit differently, ‘katsu’ means ‘to win’, that’s why my mom cooks this for me before every competition,” she said.
To Aru, this family tradition not only symbolises good luck, she also sees it as her mother’s way of supporting her gymnastics career. Her father, on the other hand, teaches her the importance of hard work and persistence.
The team practises almost every day, and Aru spends 21 hours a week in training. Now that she is in secondary school, the Grade Nine student said that along with her mounting schoolwork, her hectic training schedule is adding a lot of pressure on her. “It’s still working out for me, but I’m lazy, so it’s hard to tell myself not to procrastinate,” she said.
When it comes to her training, however, the reigning all-round champion does not dare to slack off at all. According to Aru, gymnastics is all about perfecting the jumps, leaps, rolls, turns and other moves, which is achieved by executing the same actions again and again. It can get slightly repetitive, but Aru said this will allow her to make progress and help her excel at competitions.
“It may be boring at times, but there is a whole goal behind it. I know in my heart that this is how I’m going to improve and win competitions,” she said. During her long hours of training, Aru finds comfort in practising her floor exercise routine, where she gets to pick the music and choreograph her own dance moves.
When she is grooving to upbeat music, Aru said it feels more like fun than training. That might explain why floor exercise is her best event. She added when she gets nervous in a competition, she sings a song in her head, because it helps her stay focused. “It’s usually a song that’s been stuck in my head. Right now, it is Lovely by Billie Eilish,” she said.
With her first overseas tournament taking place next week, Aru hopes she will get to join more international competitions and meet gymnasts from all around the world. One of her long-term goals used to be to compete in the Olympics, but the Japanese-Hong Konger now believes it is better to set a target within reach.
“The Olympics is a little too far away from where I’m at right now,” she said. “So I guess a nearer goal is going to the world championships instead.”