The past month my white, female, able-bodied and English perspective on life has been well and truly ruptured. I have spent time in Canada, Australia and Japan talking to many different people about how their communities engage with sport. As a result, this blog should write easily. Yet, I am little overwhelmed with thoughts and feelings. Instead of writing some Frantz Fanon esq. account of my current brain activity, I will write about two experiences I’ve had in Japan this past week or so.
The first experience comes from when I was invited to watch a wheelchair basketball tournament with colleagues and friends from Toin University of Yokohama. The tournament took place at the Yokohama Rapport Sports and Cultural Centre for the Disabled, the facility is part of Yokohama city adjacent to the Nissan Sports Stadium. The venue (the first of its kind in Japan) was built in 1992 as an initiative to increase access to and participation in physical activities for people with disabilities. I was struck by the established nature of the centre and the ethos behind it. Rather than being for elite athletes or medical purposes it was a centre for the community, for example, it had a bowling alley, fitness gym, young people’s area and swimming pool, all open to anyone. It is not something I have come across before in England. It has sparked my interest in why these facilities came about in Japan, and since the 1990’s how the facilities have evolved. (Also, the wheelchair basketball was brilliant to watch live!)
The second experience was a lecture I attended at Toin University of Yokohama. The lecture was led by Prof. Nobuko and she had invited Shinya Ohta to speak. Shinya works for a commercial Japanese TV station (WOWOW) and is currently a chief producer for the documentary series ‘Who I Am’ (the series has clips on YouTube). It is a 5 year project based on hosting the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics and capitalising/galvanising interest on the International Paralympic Movement through the athletes themselves. Instead of focusing on Japanese athletes and their pursuit for medals, the series (currently 16 episodes) documents Paralympic athletes from around the world and allows them to describe and discuss their identity, community and connection to sport. In contrast to the inclusive facility in Yokohama this lecture showed me a glimpse of a more recently established and progressive use of media to forge relationships between:
- a commercial television channel;
- national agendas around Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics;
- international federations interest, for example, from the International Paralympic committee;
- elite athletes’ voices (Beatrice Vio’s episode has been recently shortlisted for an International Emmy Award).
Shinya spoke of the aim of the series to be a catalyst for greater inclusion in Japanese society, achieved in this project through more television coverage and growing the awareness of the Paralympic Movement in Japan.
The Yokohama facility and the ‘Who I Am’ series represent (different) opportunities for Japan to use the thrust of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics to further conversations around inclusivity and disability. From my short stay, I could see a number of individuals and networks putting a lot of effort into contributing to such conversations. And. Importantly, considering the question of: what about after Tokyo 2020?
I am pleased to confirm that I have the opportunity to return to Japan next year for four months to pursue this research further. It is a fellowship funded through the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science Pre/Postdoctoral scheme. I will receive support from Dr Gyozo Molnar at the University of Worcester in the UK, and then from my host Japanese partner Professor Nobuko Tanaka at Toin University of Yokohama. My fellowship is part of a broader official partnership between Toin and Worcester (since 2016) and this situation made it possible for me to come to Japan. Toin is like Worcester in that it is driving an agenda for inclusive practice. In Japan, such situation has not been seen a lot yet and that is why Worcester colleagues were invited to Japan.
The trip this past two weeks has been to scope out, manage the culture shock and get thinking about what we can achieve through the fellowship. Many thanks to Prof. Nobuko for all her time and introducing me to an amazing group of people.
If anyone reading this has insight/recommendations for research/living in Japan, please, message me. Equally, anyone with insight/recommendations for research on the Paralympics and/or disability, please, message me or prepare to be messaged by me in the coming months.