Interview – Miho Nonaka
Miho Nonaka: Off the Wall
This interview was originally published in her. magazine in May 2017
Japan is renowned for producing world-class climbers, but it’s 20-year-old Miho Nonaka that currently leads the pack. Since making her debut on the international climbing scene at just 15 years old, Nonaka is now ranked in the top three in her chosen discipline of bouldering. Last year she took second place in the IFSC Climbing World Championships – something she aims to build on ahead of the 2020 Olympics in her native Tokyo.
How did you first get into climbing?
My father has always been interested in mountain climbing, so when I was a kid I would sometimes go to climbing gyms with him. I guess that was my introduction to it all. I remember the first time I ever tried climbing, I was about nine years old and I was mortified that my older sister was better than me. All I wanted to do was beat her, so I just kept on practicing. That‘s probably what got me hooked.
I think climbing really became the centre of my life during high school. I transferred to a private school in order to focus more on training, and I went on to compete in my first world cup at the age of 17. My father and sister don’t really climb anymore, but they do enjoy watching me compete – my mother, too. My grandfather also comes to cheer me on whenever he can.
How has the sport progressed since you started?
When I first started, no one even knew the word climbing. These days it’s quite well known though, and one change I have definitely noticed is that climbing gyms are much busier – which is a good thing, of course. I really want climbing to progress further and become a national sport, like soccer or baseball. I want kids to experience climbing at school.
Please tell us about your training routine.
Aside from actually climbing, I put a lot of focus on stretching as it helps to protect against injury and assists my recovery. I always start by stretching the larger muscles, such as my back and thighs.
Is there any specific diet you stick to?
Not really, but I try to eat a lot of meat – especially after competitions. Also, I love my mother’s homemade food, it really helps me relax and forget about any stress I’m feeling.
How do you prepare for a climb? Is there anything specific you do in the build up?
I watch videos of other climbers, especially men. This helps me to visualise or set the scene of a climb. I also watch videos of my own climbs – both the good ones and the bad ones – as I think I can learn from myself. I learn a lot by studying my movement in previous competitions.
Music also helps me get in the mood, and recently I’ve been listening to ‘Fight Song’ by Rachel Platten, especially right before I climb. The lyrics and tempo get me really hyped up.
What goes through your mind during the toughest moments of a climb?
I just try to breathe, stay calm and tell myself, ‘You can do it.’ If I lose my cool then that’s the end of it, I wouldn’t be able to proceed. I’m constantly thinking about my next move, trying to work out the best path to take, but without staying calm I wouldn’t be able to make the right decisions.
How has your lifestyle changed since progressing in the sport?
The biggest thing is that I now have more time to think about and fully focus on climbing. I get a lot more offers and opportunities, too.
You get to travel a lot with your sport. Do you have any favourite places around the world?
I love Europe, especially France, Italy, Germany and Austria, mainly because the cheese and salami is so cheap and delicious. I always come back to Japan with so much cheese!
Last year’s World Championships were held in Paris, and even though there are so many climbing gyms and beautiful mountains nearby, I realised that Japan is actually the best place for me. I do wish I could do more travelling outside of climbing, though.
How do you spend your time off?
I sleep a lot and relax at home. It’s sometimes nice to do nothing – just laze around, watch TV, eat whatever I want whenever I want. However, I do go to the gym on my days off!
How do you like to treat yourself after a big competition?
As a lot of my competitions are overseas, it’s nice to just come back to Japan and hang out with my friends. Also, as I mentioned earlier, I love meat, so we often go to yakiniku [Korean barbecue] restaurants. A lot of my friends are climbers too, so we sometimes just spend time at the gym, chatting and training together.
Are you interested in fashion?
I love fashion. I really like [Japanese comedian and fashion designer] Naomi Watanabe. I love how she dresses and the use of colour in her designs. I wear a lot of adidas, too. Usually though, I just buy whatever clothes take my fancy – I don’t stick to one specific brand. It’s actually hard for me to find clothes that fit as I have bigger shoulders than most women my age. However, oversized or loose-fitting clothes are getting more popular in Japan, so that’s good for me.
What are your thoughts on the addition of climbing to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics?
For me, the Olympics is something that I watch on TV, so it still feels quite strange that climbing is going to be a part of it. Of course, my aim is to train hard, qualify and win a gold medal in my home country.
What are your targets for the future, both professional and personal?
I want to be known as the greatest climber in the world, and I want my name to become synonymous with the sport. On a personal level, one day I hope to build a climbing gym.