His Majesty Shines a Light on Sports for the Disabled, Originating from the Para Games as Crown Prince
Half a century ago, there was the “Tokyo Paralympics.
By Keisuke Takahashi Editor in Chief of Olypara June 2018
When we talk about the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics, we must not forget the role played by the Imperial Family. The Emperor and Empress, who were also the Crown Prince and Crown Princess, took a keen interest in the event even before it was held, and as a result helped to encourage sports for the disabled in Japan, which was still in its infancy.
There is a list of the major members of the Imperial Family who visited the Tokyo Paralympics. The Games were held for seven days, including the domestic Games held immediately after. The Crown Prince and Crown Princess attended for six of those days, including the opening and closing ceremonies. Even though the Crown Prince was the honorary president of the Games, this is an unusually high frequency.
In his memoirs, Makoto Watanabe, former chief attendant to the Emperor and Empress, recounts the following episode.
At the time, the Emperor and Empress were both 30 years old. They were both 30 years old at the time, and their young enthusiasm for letting as many people as possible know about sports for the disabled was palpable. Empress Kojun’s attendance was not initially planned, and was received with surprise by those involved in the event.
Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress not only watched and listened to sports for the disabled, but also tried to learn about the disabled in the flesh. His Majesty, who was as good at table tennis as he was at tennis, challenged the Paralympic table tennis players to a match whenever they met.
Yoshikazu Kasai, chairman of the International Sports Festival for the Physically Challenged Steering Committee, which was in charge of organizing the Tokyo Paralympics, and later vice-minister of health and welfare, described his time as crown prince. He said, “The athletes were very strong, and the reason why the Crown Prince won was because he could take corners very skillfully and quickly. (Note: This is the hardest part of the race for a player in a wheelchair. But even so, I saw that he had a hard time.
His Majesty’s attitude of facing wheelchair athletes straightforwardly, regardless of their disabilities, is evident. This was also consistent in the education of his children. Seiichiro Ide, an employee of the Ministry of Health and Welfare, witnessed the following scene at the Crown Prince’s Palace.
A table tennis player who competed in the Stoke Mandeville (Paralympic Games) played table tennis with the son of His Imperial Highness the Crown Prince (now His Majesty the Emperor), and perhaps he thought it would be wrong if he took it easy on the wheelchair-bound player, but His Imperial Highness the Crown Prince told His Imperial Highness Prince Hironomiya to play well with him.
People with disabilities are pitiful and must be protected. At a time when people thought that way, their Majesties the Emperor and Empress may have felt firsthand that there were no limits to their trained abilities.
His Majesty’s thoughts were reflected in his address at the domestic games held following the Tokyo Paralympics. I believe that these Games will surely give you and your friends great confidence, courage, and hope. At the same time, I believe that this is a good opportunity for you to deepen your understanding of, and strengthen your interest in, people with disabilities, which is still inadequate in our country.
I would like to see this event held in Japan every year.
The fact that Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress are always interested in and concerned about sports for the physically challenged has encouraged those involved in the sport and has attracted widespread interest in Japan. Of course, Their Majesties do not have any special authority, and their involvement in national politics is forbidden by the Constitution. However, they have had some influence in important situations.
For example, in August 1962, before the Tokyo Paralympic Games had been officially decided, the Crown Prince and his wife, the Crown Princess of Japan, were invited to attend the Tokyo Paralympic Games. Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress, who were the Crown Prince and Crown Princess, invited the first Japanese athlete to compete in the London Paralympics (known as the Stoke Mandeville at the time) to the Togu Palace. After listening to his account of the games, he expressed his hope that the Tokyo Paralympic Games would be held in two years’ time (Tokyo Paralympic Games Report).
At the time, Hiroshi Nakamura, chief of orthopedic surgery at Beppu National Hospital, and others were busy lobbying the political and governmental circles to host the Tokyo Paralympics. Nakamura was present at the meeting with the athletes, and the Crown Prince’s words are thought to have been a great encouragement.
The National Sports Festival for the Disabled is now held at the same place as the National Athletic Meet, but it is said that His Majesty, as Crown Prince, started this trend.
After the conclusion of the Tokyo Paralympics, His Majesty praised the officials and employees of the Games and said, “I would like to see such a Games held in Japan. After the Tokyo Paralympics, His Majesty praised the officials and employees of the Games and said, “I would like to see such Games held every year in Japan, and I hope that you will make even greater efforts to improve the welfare of the physically disabled.
In response, Kasai, who is also the chairman of the Paralympic Steering Committee, said, “I would like to see the Paralympic Games held in Japan every year, following the National Athletic Meet. In response, Kasai, who is also chairman of the Paralympic Steering Committee, said, “We would like to follow the National Athletic Meet every year in the future, and we pledge to do our utmost for the welfare of the physically challenged in order to meet the objectives of His Imperial Highness the Crown Prince.
In November 1965, after the Gifu National Athletic Meet, the first National Sports Festival for the Physically Challenged was held in the same prefecture. In November 1965, the first National Sports Festival for the Physically Challenged was held in the same prefecture after the Gifu National Athletic Meet.
The impact of the Tokyo Paralympics has been passed on to the National Sports Festival for the Physically Challenged (renamed the National Sports Festival for the Disabled in 2001), which has been a driving force behind the development of sports for the disabled in Japan. When His Majesty the Crown Prince attended the 10th Games in Ibaraki Prefecture in November 1974, he expressed a certain sense of accomplishment in his address.
In retrospect, what has remained in my mind for the past ten years is the scene of the first convention held in Gifu Prefecture. The sight of the athletes making a powerful entrance in front of a crowd of spectators under the autumn sky was truly impressive. Ten years have passed since then, and although there is still a lack of understanding and interest in the physically disabled, I believe that a lot has changed in the time since then. When I think back to the Paralympics held in Japan 10 years ago, when most of the foreign athletes were working people, I can feel the progress that our country has made over the years. (20 Year History, Japan Sports Association for the Physically Challenged)
War Injuries Among the Athletes
Regarding the involvement of the Imperial Family in the Tokyo Paralympics, Kazuo Ogura, President of the Paralympic Support Center of the Nippon Foundation, points out, “There may be a connection with World War II. It has only been 19 years since the war was fought and lost in the name of the emperor. There were many people in Japan who were wounded in the battles in the war zone and in the interior, as well as in air raids.
There were many people in Japan who had been injured in the war, battles in the interior, and air raids. According to a survey of foreign athletes by Hiroshi Nakamura, chief of orthopedic surgery at Beppu National Hospital, 27 out of 193 athletes responded to the questionnaire (“Nakamura Yutaka Biography,” edited by Tsutomu Mizukami and Dai Ibuka). According to Ogura, there were at least two or three Japanese athletes. As a result, the Tokyo Paralympics may have healed the wounds of such war.
I would like to conclude this article with an episode that illustrates the commitment of Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress to sports for the disabled. There, he met with Dr. Ludwig Guttmann, the doctor who proposed the Paralympics, and thanked him again for his support of the Tokyo Games.
Makoto Watanabe, former head of the imperial household, recalled the event as follows. At that time, Stoke Mandeville had not received a visit from Her Majesty the Queen, but later, Mr. Kasai received a message of thanks from Dr. Gutman, who said that Their Majesties’ visit had paved the way for the Queen’s first visit to Stoke Mandeville. (“Their Majesties the Young and the Tokyo Paralympics”)