Ryuta Arakawa, Men's Single Sculls, Japan, Silver, 2023 World Rowing Cup II, Varese, Italy / World Rowing/Benedict Tufnell

When he crossed the line in Varese, right behind Olli Zeidler and Sverri Nielsen, Ryuta Arakawa probably didn’t realise that he just made history. He became the first-ever single sculler from Japan to stand on the podium at a World Rowing Cup. A fantastic performance from the former lightweight rower, who started his journey ten years ago on the banks of the 1964 Tokyo Olympic regatta course. Ten years later, Arakawa-san is our July 2023 Rower of the Month.

You just won the first-ever medal for Japan in the men’s single sculls, what did it mean to you?

Ryuta Arakawa, Men’s Single Sculls, Japan, 2023 World Rowing Cup II, Varese, Italy / Detlev Seyb/MyRowingPhoto.com

I still can’t believe it. I’m very proud of winning the first-ever medal for Japan in the men’s single sculls. And Varese is where I made my debut World Cup in the lightweight men’s four seven years ago. So winning the medal in Varese reminds me what I have done for the last seven years.

How was your 2022 season, and winning the B-Final at the 2022 World Rowing Championships?

At the 2022 World Rowing Cup II, I came in fourth in the pair and that was my first A-Final in World Cup. It was an exciting race and I have learned a lot from that race, and that combination with Yoshihiro Otsuka. Winning the B-Final at the 2022 World Rowing Championships gave me a lot of confidence, because I was eleventh at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. It was big progress for me to finish seventh in Racice.

How special was it to compete at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics on home waters, although it was without spectators?

Tokyo 2020 Olympics was very special to me. That was my first Olympics. The attribution of the Olympic Games to Tokyo was in 2013, and that year I started rowing. So, to compete at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics was literally a dream coming true. Now, my next dream is to compete again at the Olympics… with spectators.

We have seen you in the single, in the pair, in the four a couple years ago, which one is your favorite boat?

The single scull is my favorite boat. Being in the single, is a dialogue with myself and it suits my nature.

How would you describe the evolution of rowing in Japan?

For a long time, every Japanese rower thought it was impossible to be competitive in the heavyweight categories. But in the last few years, gradually, Japanese rowers started to believe it could be accomplished, and the level of Japanese rowers is improving every year. Furthermore, there are a lot of talented young rowers in Japan. So I believe that one day Japan will be one of the strongest rowing nations in the world.

Ryuta Arakawa, Men’s Single Sculls, Japan, 2021 Olympic Games Regatta, Tokyo, Japan / World Rowing/Igor Meijer

 How did you first get into rowing?

I started rowing in 2013. After I entered Hitotsubashi University, I was recruited and joined the rowing club after being told: “We are aiming to be number one in Japan. Let’s aim together”. I was 18 years old and had never really taken exercise seriously, only studying, so those words sounded very appealing.

When you aren’t rowing, what does your life look like?

When I’m not rowing, I’m working for a company in Japan. I usually work half a day, and train in the afternoon.

What are your upcoming goals in rowing?

Olympic qualification is one of my biggest goals this year. Another one is getting a gold medal in Asian Games.

Where is your favorite rowing location?

In Japan, I like Arakawa River. Arakawa River is beside of Toda course where the 1964 Tokyo Olympic regatta was held. The Toda course and Arakawa River are my home waters. Overseas, I like Aiguebelette. There is beautiful water and nature. And Aiguebelette is the home of my coach, Xavier Dorfman.

If you could give one piece of advice to a rower starting out what would it be?

Find some fun in rowing. Rowing is a very hard sport. But once you find some fun in rowing, you won’t feel work will be as hard as you thought.

What is the most memorable piece of advice that has been said to you?

My university’s coach always said “The opposite of impossible isn’t possible. It’s challenge.” That word drive me to challenge what looks impossible.

Do you have a mentor or athlete that you admire?

My coach, Xavier Dorfman. He is Olympic champion from France and have a lot of experience. So, he always understands my thoughts and tell me what to do.