Akira Nakajima is 21 years old and just arriving on the World Judo Tour having not had a junior career on the international scene. His flag is that of Uganda although he has mixed heritage, father Japanese and mother Ugandan. Both sides of his family are important to him, respect for both is innate.

“This is my first grand slam. I was nervous, I think this is normal. For me this level and size of competition is for the first time. I was thinking about how I can move in the same way I do when I practise but it was actually a lot more difficult. My nerves really played a part but I feel I learned so much here that for my next World Judo Tour event I will be more ready."

Nakajima's first walk on to his first contest on the World Judo Tour, Qasaqstan Barysy Grand Slam 2024.

"I do judo in Japan and so there is a certain way we train but the kumi-kata here was very different and so I will go home to work on this, to understand international styles better."

Nakajima (UGA) vs Balyevskyy (UKR).

"I started judo at the age of 7. I live in Japan as my father is Japanese, my mother Ugandan. I have a sister who is also doing judo. She is at high school and trains well. She has a good feeling for judo, I think perhaps better than mine. We live near to Tokyo and I go to university at Jobu. I am studying physical education, which ties in well with my judo career.

Last time I visited Uganda was in March, to spend some time with family and I also trained there ahead of the African Games which was held in Ghana. Ugandan judo is not well funded and so this makes it difficult for the athletes to travel and get the experience they need.

My goal is to work towards the Los Angeles Games. I want to get stronger in judo so that I can also provide some inspiration and perhaps improve the popularity of judo in Uganda. I would be happy to be a part of their development in the future. There is a lot of potential there and a really strong mentality for hard work. This is a good base for judo.

Even though Uganda doesn’t have very good facilities, everyone is trying to get stronger and they are planning and implementing very tough training. For me, I want to go to the Olympic Games and I am ready for the work ahead to achieve that. For Uganda it is really necessary to improve the facilities. At the moment training is done in very small dojo and with mats not designed for judo. With a national dojo and some modern tatami they can create a more positive environment for judo to flourish. I would love to see that happen."

Akira Nakajima (UGA) in Astana, Kazakhstan.

"I have been able to come this far thanks to the co-operation of my family, friends, Nasu Judo Club in Japan, judo officials at Kokogakuin Tochigi, judo officials at Jobu University and judo officials in Uganda who have all supported me. I want to thank them and continue working to make them proud.”

See also