Video caption: Sixteen-year-old Ashima Shiraishi, a professional rock climber based in New York, speaks of her ambition. (Ryusuke Hirai)

For Ashima Shiraishi, a 16-year-old climbing prodigy living in New York, describing how she engages in her chosen sport is simple.

“I feel like I’m dancing on the rock,” she said.

Ashima aims to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to be held in Japan, her parents’ native country.

However, she explained that her priority is not just to win competitions, but to complete as many difficult outdoor climbing routes around the world as she can. The secret behind Ashima’s pride in her sport is starting to emerge.

One day in early May, Ashima and her 66-year-old father, Hisatoshi, a former avant-garde dancer, were in an indoor climbing gym in a residential area of New York. Ashima trains five days a week.

In April, she attempted the “5.15b” in Catalonia, Spain, one of the hardest climbing routes in the world, with lead. But because of a pain in her elbow, she failed.

“I would like to go back there to complete it,” she said. “This is my biggest challenge so far. It is very tough because the rock is very steep and the chinks in the rock which I can hold are teenier than this one,” she explained, pointing at a tiny joint in the gym wall.

Ashima was 6 when her parents took her to climb the rock in Manhattan’s Central Park for the first time. She enjoyed various sports in her earlier years, such as figure skating, gymnastics and swimming, but eventually it became clear that climbing was her true calling.

“Few people climb, and I like getting through difficulties. The body movements of climbing seem like dancing, dancing to the top of rock,” she said.

At 14, she became the youngest person and the first female climber to solve a “V15” boulder problem, considered the most difficult category of climbing challenges. She is also the back-to-back World Youth champion for both lead climbing and bouldering.

Her charming looks with her thick blunt bangs, as well as her climbing talent, have helped her gain more than 190,000 Instagram followers. Ashima was named one of Time’s “Most Influential Teens of 2015” alongside Malala Yousafzai, the Nobel Peace Prize recipient of Pakistan.

In her life outside of climbing, Ashima is a high school sophomore and honor roll student.

“I like English, history and writing,” she said.

She visits Japan a couple of times every year. During her stay, she enjoys window-shopping in Shibuya or Harajuku, and eating Japanese foods such as "okonomi-yaki," a Japanese style pancake that is rarely found in New York.

The Japan Mountaineering and Sports Climbing Association keeps its eye on this climbing phenomenon, who at present possesses Japanese-U.S. dual citizenship. So for which national team is she aiming to compete in the Tokyo Olympics?

“I don’t know yet because I like both Japan and the U.S.,” she said.

She hopes to take part in the Tokyo Olympics, but whichever country she may represent, Olympic medals are not the be-all and end-all from a climber’s perspective.

“Even if a climber wins in a lot of competitions, it will be neither regarded as a milestone in the history of climbing, nor respected. Competitions are usually the most important thing in other sports, while to climb outdoor routes is, in particular, the most essential thing in terms of climbing,” she said.

“That is why I want to climb difficult routes as much as possible,” Ashima added in Japanese but sounding like an American, as English is her first language.

Ashima Shiraishi was born in April 2001 in New York, the only daughter of Hisatoshi, 66, from Ehime Prefecture, and Tsuya, 67, from Fukushima Prefecture.

Ashima excels at lead climbing and bouldering. She was named Ashima after her father’s birthplace, Ashima, Niihama city.