Japan, Sport and Knowledge

Many academics, media outlets and politicians tie the appeal of hosting a Paralympic and Olympic Games to projecting a particular global image, aiming for tourism spikes and garnering the feel-good factor of a city, region or nation. Alas, in 2020(1), these traditional notions are somewhat redundant in the face of a global pandemic. Ordinarily, Tokyo and Japan should focus on putting on the best event they can. Yet, many voices of discontent and suspicion are noting the attention is now on disaster management, public-health peril and economic salvage. The pandemic circumstance and disaster/recovery narrative of Tokyo 2020(1) will play out in the coming weeks, and I hope the event can safeguard everyone involved.

In this blog, alongside colleagues, I consider how people gain knowledge about Japan and sport, particularly para-sport. I have been engaged with Japan in a research capacity since 2017 when my academic work began to interconnect with activities around the Tokyo 2020(1) Paralympic Games. From previous blog posts and using the hashtag #jaspam across social media to more recent podcasts and presentations, I have documented the many ways to gain knowledge (and experience) of Japanese sporting contexts and traditions; and I am always happy to discuss the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science research opportunities!

A significant source of knowledge and opportunity have been through the higher-education sector. Universities are an important player in the knowledge exchange and research into sport mega-events. Tokyo has been no different. At two universities I worked with, there has been different activities between the UK and Japan. At the University of Worcester, efforts are ongoing to forge partnerships and host delegations around the agenda of inclusive sport, for example, in 2016 “Japanese Paralympic Committee Consults University of Worcester to Help Create Legacy for Tokyo 2020 Games”.

At SOAS University of London’s Japan Research Centre, they have organised a Sport Symposia Series (2017-ongoing) in conjunction with the Toshiba International Foundation, the Japan Foundation London and the Japan Sport Council. Dr Helen Macnaughtan described:

“The Japan Research Centre Sport Symposia Series was set up in 2017 with idea of running it for three years in the build up to the Tokyo 2020 Games.  Our first event in May 2017 reflected on the importance and legacy of hosting the Tokyo 1964 Games and anticipated the future role of sport in Japan as an opportunity for diplomacy and new legacy in 2020 and beyond.  Our second event in November 2017 focused on the significance of the Paralympics of Tokyo 1964 and how representations of disabled athletes and disability had shifted since that time as Tokyo prepared to host its second Paralympics.  Our third event in September 2018 was held one year out from the kick off of the Rugby World Cup 2019 hosted in Japan focusing on the long history of rugby in Japan. For me personally the establishment of the Japan Research Centre Sport Symposia Series has been a personal highlight of my tenure as Japan Research Centre Chair (as I step down after six years tenure) and research into Japan and sport has captured my imagination and passion.”

More information available here: The Japan Research Centre (JRC) at SOAS | University of London

Further to universities, funders and sponsors of research also play a significant role. I’ve had the privilege of receiving money, time and access to help further varying activities to help build and grow knowledge and communities around sport and disability, such as my blogged about time in Asia in 2019. Working alongside colleagues across a variety of countries and institutions, there is a priority to help bring people together to share experiences and research about Japan and sport, especially around the Paralympics and disability.

It goes without saying the past 18 months or so have created new challenges and opportunities around meeting and sharing! Helen reflected on the challenges of the pandemic in trying to maintain networks and events:

“Our next event on Women & Sport in Japan scheduled for March 2020 sadly had to be cancelled due to the pandemic outbreak, but the postponement of the Tokyo Games to 2021 as well as our recent partnership with the Japan Sport Stories podcast series has enabled us to extend our Sport Symposia series longer than intended with the idea to continue events and research on Japan and Sport well into 2022 and beyond.  This will provide us with an opportunity to reflect back on the hosting of the Tokyo 2020(1) Games amidst a global pandemic and we hope to hold our next event on this topic in the Spring of 2022 on campus (and streamed online) at SOAS. This Japan Research Centre Sport Symposia has benefited from the support of the Japan Foundation London and the Japan Sport Council as well as generous funding from the Toshiba International Foundation.”

There is a rich history and tremendous effort to use the Paralympic Games in Japan to achieve varying aims and agendas connected to sport and non-sport disability matters. The two people behind the Japan Sport Stories podcast and website are Michael Salter and Noel Thatcher MBE. When I asked Noel why they started the podcast, he said:

“Japan Sport Stories came about through Mike and my shared desire to tell stories of Japanese sport from the perspective of the athletes, sports historians, academics and professionals who have contributed to it’s growth at both a community level and internationally. We also wanted to give a platform for Paralympians and women whose stories may have been underrepresented both in Japan and globally.

Each episode represents a unique perspective of an individual facet of Japan’s sporting culture, but collectively the series documents Japan’s rich sporting heritage from the volunteer-led community based parkrun Japan and Japan Cricket association of In Sano to the rise of “new” youth-centric Olympic sports like BMX. Japan Sport Stories also highlights sport’s role in tackling issues like hikikomori, marginalisation and inclusivity.”

More information available here: https://www.japansportstories.com/

The thoughts from Noel echo the sentiments of what I have researched the past five years or so, the quest to find, voice and showcase the different stories and histories connected to Japan and sport. The initiatives described by Helen and Noel demonstrate efforts to utilise the hosting of a Paralympic Games, Olympic Games and other international sporting events to foster knowledge and community building. As a collective, we are continuing these efforts, and as Helen discusses:

“We are so appreciative of this support, particularly as the Toshiba support not only is enabling us to continue the Japan Research Centre Sport Symposia Series and partner up with the Japan Sport Story podcast series, but also is helping to fund a research publication “Handbook of Sport and Japan” due to be published in late 2022 (with MHM Publishing).  Despite the difficulties of the Tokyo 2020(1) Games the importance of sport in Japan continues to gain momentum both at grassroots and global level this is an exciting field of opportunity for academic research and ways to connect with anyone interested in Japan and sport.”

If you have a further interest in Japan and the Paralympics, then I’ve gathered a number resources, video-, podcast- and text-based, for anyone to enjoy:


From Patients to Pros: The Paralympics and the Evolving Image of Disabled Athletes in Japan, 1964-2020 – https://www.soas.ac.uk/wg-beasley/29nov2017-from-patients-to-pros-the-paralympics-and-the-evolving-image-of-disabled-athletes-in-japan.html


Japan Sport Stories – https://www.japansportstories.com/


TOCOG – The Paralympic Games transform the region (volume 1, 2 and 3)

As the Olympic and Paralympic Games kick-off, all focus will be on Japan. Hopefully, this blog has reminded or showcased to you the many resources about the history and future of (para-)sport in Japan. So do contact Noel, Mike, Helen or me to keep up to date with any of the activities mentioned here or share your story!  

We often discuss matters via Twitter, just last week Dr Lindsay Sarah Krasnoff tweeted us about the Paralympics and Japan:

Join the conversation!


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