Kristallnacht
The Day after Kristallnacht

Dr. Ludwig Guttmann is the undisputed father of the Paralympic Games.

But in the fascinating fantasy world of “What If” speculation, the Paralaympic Movement may have had a different, perhaps more delayed progression through time had Guttmann met a different fate in the increasingly scary build up to World War II in Germany.

In 1938, Guttmann was the medical director of a Jewish Hospital in Breslau, which at the time was part of Germany. On November 9, German paramilitary and citizens walked unimpeded through cities across Germany smashing the glass windows of Jewish-owned stores, buildings and synagogues. Called Kristallnacht, this pogrom led to the death of dozens of Jews, and the arrest of tens of thousands of Jewish men.

On that Night of Broken Glass, 64 Jewish men were admitted into Guttman’s hospital. While many were injured, some were not and were simply looking for refuge from the violent rampage. According to this interview of Guttmann’s daughter, Eva Loeffler, Guttmann admitted all to the hospital regardless of whether they were injured or not, at great personal risk.

My father said they must all be allowed in, whether they were ill or not and they were all admitted to beds on the wards. The next day the Gestapo came round to see my father, wanting to know why such a large number of admissions had happened overnight. My father was adamant that all the men were sick and said many of them were suffering from stress. He took the Gestapo from bed to bed, justifying each man’s medical condition. Apparently he also pulled faces and grimaced at the patients from behind the Gestapo’s back, signaling to them to pull the same expressions and then saying, “Look at this man; he’s having a fit.”

Poppa Guttman Celebration, Stoke Mandeville.
Eva Loeffler the daughter of Paralympic Games founder Sir Ludwig Guttmann appointed as the Mayor of the Paralympic Village by London 2012

Of the 64, only four were carted away by the Gestapo, the remaining 60 allowed to escape incarceration or death for another day.

Guttmann was Jewish, and thus could easily have been arrested, which would likely have led to death in a concentration camp. But he not only saved the lives of dozens, he saved himself. Despite the fact that he was Jewish, Guttmann was one of the foremost authorities in neuro medicine, and was thus still highly valued by the German government. In fact, in order to exercise influence with a potential ally in the Portuguese, the Nazi regime dispatched Guttmann to Portugal so that he could treat a close friend of the Portuguese prime minister, António de Oliveira Salazar. The German authorities then re-issued Guttmann’s passport (as all Jews had their passports confiscated), and then send him to Portugal.

After finishing his work in Portugal, Guttmann made a significant trip to London, where he met members of the Society for the Protection of Science and Learning. This particular group at the time was devoted to obtaining visas for Jewish academics in Germany to come to England. In fact, according to Guttman’s daughter, Loeffler, the society had already sent a visa to the relevant Berlin authorities informing them that Guttmann has already been offered a research post at the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford. When Guttmann returned to Germany, he was presented with an opportunity that could secure his family’s long-term safety, or accelerate his family’s demise.

It was 1939 and I was six years old. I remember I was abnormally frightened at the time; I used to cry a lot. Even as a small child I picked up the fear and sadness felt by my parents. Although Jews were allowed to take out some furniture, clothes and linen they were not allowed to take any money, gold silver or jewelry. But the official who was supervising us came round the day before and told my mother ‘I shall be an hour late tomorrow’. It was obviously a hint that we might pack what we wanted; but my mother was too frightened to take anything forbidden as she thought it could be a trap.

Dr Ludwig Guttmann 2nd from left
Dr. Ludwig Guttmann (2nd from left) with Prof Otfrid Foerster and hospital staff at the Wenzel-Hancke Hospital, Breslau, Germany, 1920s Wellcome Library, London

Fortunately, it was not a trap.

Five years later, Guttmann was asked to run the National Spinal Injuries Center at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire, England, which led to his revolutionary work on treatment of the disabled, and the eventual birth of the Paralympic Movement.

But what if Guttmans’s pleas and gesticulations before the Gestapo in the aftermath of the Night of Broken Glass had ended in his incarceration?

What if those 60 Jewish men were not allowed to live another day, to have a chance to survive the war and have families, grandchildren, and great grandchildren?

What if Guttmann was not alive to emigrate to England, and join Stoke Mandeville Hospital?

Would there be a Paralympic Games as we know it today?

Ludwig Guttmann in office
Dr. Ludwig Guttmann

In 1917, at the age of 18, Ludwig Guttmann volunteered at a hospital and watched a young coal miner, who suffered a serious spinal injury and paralysis, wither away over a five-week period in isolation. Doctors could do nothing for him except encase him in plaster and watch him die. Six years later, Guttmann graduated from the University of Breslau in Poland in medicine, after which he took a position in Neurology and Neurosurgery, only because he could not find a placement in pediatrics, his first choice.

That decision was to have impact ripples that resonate powerfully today.

As the head of the National Spinal Injuries Center at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire, England, Dr Guttmann pursued a line of treatment novel at the time – rehabilitation of injured war veterans via sporting activities to build up not only their physical capacity, but also their mental strength. Likely recalling the demise of the young coal miner when he was 18, Guttmann believed that patients with such disabilities required a new form of treatment, a forward-thinking treatment, that would eventually prepare them for re-entry into society. As explained in this article:

Guttmann fundamentally disagreed with the commonly held medical view on a paraplegic patient’s future and felt it essential to restore hope and self-belief in his  patients as well as practical re-training so when they were well enough to leave they could once more contribute to society. He achieved this firstly by changing the way they were treated – he had them moved regularly to avoid the build up of pressure sores and the possibility of urinary tract infections developing – and secondly by engaging them in physical and skill-based activities. Sports like Archery improved their mental wellbeing while learning new skills, such as woodwork, clock and watch repair and typing, would ensure they would be employable. If staff, or patients, on Ward X thought they were going to have an easy time, they were in for a shock.

Guttmann was less innovator and more revolutionary, a man who’s powerful belief in the ability of disabled patients to recover from tremendous physical disabilities to re-enter society led to an incredible transformation at the spinal injuries center. According to this article, Stoke Mandeville had 24 beds and 1 patient when Guttmann arrived, but within 6 months the center housed close to 50 patients, all receiving his obsessive care. Said one Dr. John Silver,

Essentially if they went anywhere else for care, the spinal injuries patients died. He exerted a total, obsessive control over all aspects of care at the hospital, whether it was him coming round in the middle of the night to make sure that the nurses had turned patients, or checking on the quality of the cleaners’ work or that of the food served on the wards. Everything was his responsibility. This was such an enormous contrast with consultants in other hospitals.

Inspired by the 1948 Olympic Games which were held in London, Guttmann held an archery contest on July 28, 1948, the day of the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics. A total of 16 disabled wheelchair-bound men and women came together representing two institutions: The Star and Garter Home in Richmond Surrey and Stoke Mandeville. (According to the Star and Garter site, their team won, not only in 1948, but also 1949.)

Javelin throw with Ludwig Guttmann watching
Javelin throw with Ludwig Guttmann watching

The archery contest was well publicized, for it was in the spirit of the Olympics, whose ideals of participation resonated with the disabled who yearned to participate and be included. Guttmann is quoted here as saying, “Small as it was, it was a demonstration to the public that competitive sport is not the prerogative of the able-bodied.”

And thus was born the Paralympic Movement.

If ever I did one good thing in my medical career it was to introduce sport into the treatment and rehabilitation programme of spinal cord sufferers and other severely disabled.

Dr. Ludwig Guttmann, in Scruton, ‘Stoke Mandeville, Road to Paralympics’. The Peterhouse Press, 1998
Torch Runner in front of Mt Fuji_Ichikawa film
Torch Runner passing the front of Mt Fuji, from the Kon Ichikawa film, Tokyo Olympiad. Click on the image to see this scene at the 9 minute 30 second mark to see.

In 1964, the cycling road race in Hachioji, a suburban area in Western Tokyo, was considered too easy, which allowed too much bunching of elite and mediocre racers during the bulk of the race. In 2020, the road race route “will be tough, with a lot of difference in elevation,” according to this Japan Times article.

More importantly, for the viewer, the backdrop will be wonderful. The 2020 route will take Olympian cyclists by the foot of Mount Fuji in Shizuoka Prefecture. According to the article, the 270-km course will start near Musashino Forest Sport Center (not far from ASIJ, the school to which my son cycled to every day), and continue through National Route 413 all the way to scenic Lake Yamanaka and Mt Fuji.

According to Cycling Weekly, the organizers said that the race might even include a climb up Mt Fuji.

The final major obstacle of the men’s road race should be another long climb of around 15km, going half way up the side of the iconic Mount Fuji. This is likely to be crested with around 36km to go, half of which will be a descent before a flat or rolling run-in to the finish line back on the Fuji Speedway circuit. If this mountainous course is confirmed by the organising committee, the men’s race will feature more than 5,000m of climbing and be the longest race since professional riders were allowed to compete in 1996.

Reports are that the women’s 143-km road race will also have a similar route but will have less climbing.

In 1964, Mt Fuji was certainly one of the top five things a visiting Olympian would know about Japan. Some may have seen it on the plane ride into Tokyo. But most could not see it even if they wanted as the Tokyo skies were filled with the soot and dust of industry and construction. Additionally, it rained a good part of the Tokyo Olympics.

In July and August, 2020, the competitors in Tokyo will still unlikely be able to see Mt Fuji – the skies usually don’t become clear enough until the Autumn and Winter months. But the cyclists will have a front row view from their bikes.

As a side note, I did as well in the Autumn of 2005. I stupidly joined a bunch of young but experienced mountain bikers who convinced me that biking up and down Mt Fuji is a blast. As you can see in the picture below, I did not fare well, wondering how I did not break any bones hurtling down steep slopes of lava rock.

Ah, Mt Fuji….

Fujiyama2_November2005

031164 - Crown Prince and Empress meet teams Tokyo Games - 3b -
The Crown Prince and Princess greet athletes at the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics.

Today, Emperor Akihito is 83 years old, a revered father figure in Japan, looked upon kindly by old and young alike. The Emperor took the unusual step to ask the Japanese government for permission to abdicate in 2019 so he could hand over the countless royal duties to his son, the Crown Prince Naruhito.

In 1959, then Crown Prince Akihito married a wealthy commoner named Michiko, in a highly publicized and popular wedding ceremony, a television extravaganza in a time when Japan was just getting its footing back after years of post-war American occupation.

When the nascent Preparatory Committee began to seriously consider the hosting of a Stoke Mandeville Games in Tokyo after the Tokyo Olympics, the head of the committee, Yoshisuke Kasai, knew he needed powerful allies and influencers to build the awareness of disabled sports and a possible Tokyo Paralympics, as well as raise the organizational infrastructure and funds required to pull off an international sporting event successfully…in only two years.

As explained in this post, part of the plan to grow awareness was to send athletes from Japan for the first time to the annual Stoke Mandeville Games in London, in 1962. According to D. J. Frost and his article, Tokyo’s Other Games: The Origins and Impact of the 1964 Paralympics, Kasai appears to have leveraged the opportunity to celebrate Japan’s participation in the Stoke Mandeville Games to introduce the importance of sporting events for the disabled to the Imperial Family. He arranged for the Crown Prince Akihito to meet the returning athletes and members of the Preparatory Committee, which was heavily covered by the Press.

In addition to the Crown Prince’s expressed hopes for the Paralympics to come to Tokyo in 1964, the newspapers were filled with pictures of the Crown Prince, the Crown Princess, and the disabled athletes showing off their skills. Members of the government, including then Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda, pledged their support for the Tokyo Paralympics. As Frost wrote, thus began a long-lasting relationship between the Imperial Family and the Paralympic movement.

Although it remains unclear how the meetings with imperial family members came about, it seems likely that committee members, and perhaps Kasai specifically, mobilised their social connections to establish what proved to be a long-lasting and critically important link between the Paralympics and the imperial household. Associations with the Crown Prince, in particular, practically guaranteed the Games increased media attention. At a moment when the ruling conservative party in Japan, led by Prime Minister Ikeda, was looking to revive the influence and prestige of the imperial family, the potential power of the Crown Prince’s expressions of support should not be underestimated.

A cording to this paper called The “Legacy” of the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics, from the Journal of the Nippon Foundation Paralympic Research Group, Kazuo Ogoura explains that the involvement of the Imperial Family in the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics was significant, as “at least one of the members of the Imperial family went to see some events every day,” and that their commitment to disabled athletes was heartfelt:

Even after the Games ended, they extended full-scale cooperation and support to those involved. This experience helped them establish in-depth knowledge and interest in the Paralympics in general. It must be noted that the Imperial involvement came from their heart, rather than physical and systemic arrangement. A member of the Paralympics’ International Secretariat said, “When the Crown Prince and Princess unofficially invited the members of the Secretariat to the Imperial Palace, the Crown Princess Michiko told us that their young prince made a Teru Teru Bozu doll to pray for sunny weather during the Paralympics.”

The Japanese government was conscious now of the possibility of the Tokyo Paralympics, and the impact that such a successful international event right after a successful Tokyo Olympics would help boost Japan’s standing in the global community. They also understood that to succeed, the institution of the Imperial Family and the increasing star power of the Crown Prince and Princess were needed. That in turn would continue to enhance the Imperial Family as a fundamental pillar of Japanese society. As Frost wrote,

The Tokyo Paralympics, emerging from this same historical and cultural milieu, proved no less important as a tool for reviving national symbols and bolstering Japan’s international prestige. Indeed, viewed in this light, the Crown Prince’s oft-mentioned involvement with the Paralympics reflected more than a personal commitment on his part; it was a carefully cultivated and highly politicised link designed to benefit both the Games and the international reputation of Japan’s future monarch.

The Crown Prince and Princess, as you can see in the video below, were present during a good part of the 5-day Paralympics. Unlike Emperor Hirohito, whose appearance at the opening ceremonies of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics was most official and formal, the Crown Prince and Princess walked among the athletes, stopping to greet and talk with them. Their exit during the closing ceremonies of the Tokyo Paralympics was a stroll across the gymnasium flow, waving and smiling at the wheelchair athletes – a modern royal family for changing times.

Dr Yutaka Nakamura at the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics 2

It’s easy to lead people where they want to go.

It’s difficult to lead people where they don’t want to go, but ought to.

As I had written in this post, Dr. Yutaka Nakamura played a key role in making the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics a reality. But he did so in the face of considerable challenge.

A graduate of Kyushu University in 1951, Nakamura was a medical doctor in orthopedics, with a growing expertise in rehabilitation. At the age of 31, Nakamura headed orthopedics at the national hospital of Beppu. At the time, like many others, he did not consider sports as a way to rehabilitate people with disabilities.

But a Health and Welfare Ministry grant in 1960 to support a six-month trip to the United States and Europe to study rehabilitation facilities and practices overseas opened his eyes. Like the elite Japanese students sent to foreign countries in the Meiji Era of the late 19th century, returning to Japan as institution builders, Nakamura became aware of better ways to improve the conditions of the disabled in Japan.

This thinking crystalized in his time spent with Dr. Ludwig Guttmann, who ran the National Center for Spinal Cord Injuries at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital. During his time with Guttmann, according to D. J. Frost in his paper, Tokyo’s Other Games: The Origins and Impact of the 1964 Paralympics, “Nakamura repeatedly expressed amazement at Stoke Mandeville’s success: after six months of treatment, 85% of patients with spinal injuries experienced at least some level of rehabilitation, with many leaving the hospital and returning to society.”

Apparently, Guttmann viewed Nakamura skeptically, one of many Japanese visiting his facilities who came and went. According to Frost, Nakamura quoted Guttmann from his biography as saying, “So you’re Japanese? Several Japanese have come here already. All of them have said that they want to imitate what we are doing here, and then they go back to Japan. So far, not one of them has followed through and done it.” As Frost explained, Nakamura agreed with that assessment, but was also determined to apply these new ideas in Japan.

Yutaka Nakamura
Dr. Yutaka Nakamura

 

However, Nakamura faced resistance at home. Beppu is world-famous for its hot springs, and was a center for bath and massage treatments. When Nakamura explained to colleagues that he wanted to treat people by having them participate in sporting activities, he was, according to Frost, “openly ridiculed” by other doctors. At the heart of this resistance was a fear that Nakamura was trying to “simply undo all the rehabilitative work they had achieved, and putting the disabled on public display at a sporting event was the moral equivalent of showing off freaks at a circus.”

And yet, Nakamura persevered, connecting with local government officials, local disability organizations, instructors and other medical specialists to organize Japan’s first ever disabled person’s sports competition – The Oita Prefecture Sports Meet for the Disabled – which was held on October 22, 1961. Frost explained that very few noticed this pioneering event, but fortunately a few who did notice were the proponents of holding the Paralympics in Tokyo. Perhaps to his surprise, Nakamura was invited to join a newly formed Preparatory Committee in 1962. It was one of the most important decisions the committee would make.

To the committee members, Nakamura provided a practical case study that Japan could organize a sports competition for disabled people. To Nakamura, the committee needed to move faster. As a newly minted committee member, he recommended that they send a Japanese team to the Stoke Mandeville Games in London in July, 1962. Since that competition was only 2 months away, the committee members were reluctant to rush because Japan really had no athletes and there was little funding available. But committee leader, Yoshisuke Kasai, understood the impact media coverage could have if they sent Japan’s first-ever athletes to the Stoke Mandeville Games in London, so he approved the trip.

Nakamura identified two athletes from Oita, likely participants of Oita’s 1961 competition. Nakamura also had to personally apply for a loan to fund the trip. There was a donation by British Overseas Airway Corporation to pay for one round-trip airfare, but since a total of five people were heading to London, Nakamura sold his car so that he could fund the remaining travel expense for the entire team.

According to Frost, Kasai was grateful, considering Nakamura’s effort essential to securing consensus and final approval in 1963 for Japan to host the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics.

Recounting his experiences at the Stoke Mandeville Games in 1963 when Japan’s bid to host the Paralympics was formally approved, Kasai later commented, ‘If it hadn’t been for Nakamura, we would have had nothing but problems’. According to Kasai, Nakamura’s familiarity with the staff and facilities, his knowledge of the Games themselves, and especially his relationship with Guttmann proved invaluable. “Without Nakamura,” Kasai observed, “the Paralympics might not have happened.”

Girl skiier_love over bias

P&G’s long-running series of “Thank You Mom” commercials have been a powerful testament to the importance of the love and support of parents, particularly mothers. The global consumer goods company has worked hard to make the connection to caring mothers and their brand, and have leveraged sports stories during Olympic cycles to send particularly emotional messages.

Their most recent commercial, “Love Over Bias,” has – at least to me – a more intense resonance.

These are divisive times, with tensions emerging out of the economic dislocations that have slammed the middle classes in developed economies all over the world. The tensions have at times, in my view, manifested themselves in balder declarations of intolerance, in angrier expressions of victimization, and more frequent impulses to violence.

Ooh child, things are going to get easier

Ooh child things will get brighter

Love Over Bias

The message is that children at times suffer unnecessarily from bias, whether they are black with hopes of making it in a sport dominated by whites, or boys in a sport where boys’ sexuality are questioned, or children who have not compete with those who have, or girls of Islamic faith whose hibabs become emotional lightning rods, or disabled children who simply want a chance.

“Imagine if the world could see what a mom sees,” Is the tagline.

The message is universal. And yet…..

1964 Paralympics_US vs Japan basketball
1964 Paralympics_US vs Japan basketball. from the book 1964 Tokyo Olympiad, Kyodo News Agency

The 1964 Tokyo Paralympics, which ran from November 8 to 12, had an immediate impact on Japanese society.

Only a few weeks after the exhilarating Tokyo Olympiad, the Paralympics created an entirely new set of images and impressions on the Japanese psyche regarding notions of what disabled people can and can’t do, as well as the individual Japanese attitude towards disabled people.

Hundreds of foreign Paralympians were in Japan, serving as models in terms of performance and attitude, which was a jolt to Japanese society. Seeichiro Ide of the Ministry of Health and Welfare said, “Japan had the culture of shunning people with disabilities,” and that “making the disabled more visible in society” was a new goal for the new Japan.

A paper entitled The “Legacy” of the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics, from the Journal of the Nippon Foundation Paralympic Research Group, examined the areas of impact of the Paralympics on Japanese society. My labels for those impacts are: Confidence in Ability, Not Shame in Disability; An Emerging Independent Mindset; Paralympians as Athletes; Medical Shift from Curing the Disease to Rehabilitation; and Instant Advances in Equipment Technology.

Confidence in Ability, Not Shame in Disability

The Japanese athletes who were asked to participate in the 1964 Paralympics likely had very little time to prepare as the institutionalization of sports for disabled people had really only just begun in Japan in the early 1960s. But when placed in a situation that tested their skills on a n international platform, Japanese participants felt a rush of elation at being asked to stretch and compete. The paper, written by Kazuo Ogoura, quotes a Japanese fencer, Shigeo Aono, a Japanese discus thrower, Masayoshi Koike, on the Paralympics:

Some said we were out of our minds for trying to compete in fencing, a traditional western sport, after just eight months of practice. Yet, we rejected the naysayers, followed through with our intentions and managed to win the silver medal…, which gave us a powerful realization that we could do anything if we tried. That sense of confidence gave me strong insight and courage, which has been a guiding force of my life ever since. – Aono

I had so much fun, with my spirit lifted high into the sky. – Koike

An Emerging Independent Mindset

With confidence came the realization for Japanese athletes that they were not disabled, but enabled. They took heart in seeing the foreign athletes in Tokyo, and how they carried themselves, particularly in terms of being independent. The paper cites the example of the Paralympians from Argentina, who “upon arrival in Japan, refused to use a lift vehicle provided by Japanese officials, and used crutches or had their arm around the shoulder of assisting Self-Defense Force personnel to walk down the gangway stairs by themselves to the wheelchairs on the ground.” Ogoura concluded that

Most of the athletes from overseas had worked… and lived a life the same way as able-bodied persons did. This difference forced Japanese Paralympians to face the importance of developing an independent frame of mind.

This understanding extended to the need for disabled people in Japan to take care of their health, and strengthen their bodies.

Another demonstration of overseas athletes’ independent mindset was their day-today efforts to boost their physical strength and athletic abilities. Japanese athletes were reminded of the importance of maintaining and increasing physical strength in daily life, when they witnessed a large number of injuries sustained by their teammates during the Paralympics. Two Japanese athletes suffered Achilles’ tendon injuries and 14 others sustained a range of other injuries during their respective events.

More importantly, people saw in the example of visiting foreigners that it was normal in other countries for people with disabilities to be happy and full of life, quoting an administrator of the Paralympic village, Eiichi Machida:

We were stunned to see overseas athletes in wheelchairs, hanging onto the back of a slow-operating Athlete Village loop bus to hitch a ride. It was sheer astonishment to witness their energy, enjoying themselves at a dance party at the International Club, or catching a taxi at night and loading their wheelchairs as well to go to Shibuya’s entertainment precinct.

 

1964 Paralympics_youtube video of wheelchair holding onto bus
Wheelchair Paralympians hitching a ride at the back of a bus; a screenshot from a video about the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics; click on the image to watch.

 

Paralympians as Athletes

The common attitude was to treat anyone with disability with kid’s gloves, people who needed constant care and careful handling. But at the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics, spectators and television viewers saw that the participants were athletes, not victims. Ogoura highlights this example of a Japanese swimmer.

One female athlete from overseas had to be carried by her husband to get into the swimming pool. When the race started, she was left behind the rest straight away. By the time the first swimmer finished the race, she had only just swum about 5 meters. She would start sinking, but get back afloat. Rescue staff was swimming about 2 meters behind her just in case. When she began sinking after so many times, the rescue staff proceeded to help, but her husband on the poolside used a hand gesture to tell them to stop. Two more meters to go…, one more meter… The progress was slow. Applause broke out in the spectators’ stand. After more than three minutes, she finally completed the 25-meter feat.” Episodes like this prompted eminent persons and sporting officials to express the opinion that “Disabled sports must be fostered as regular athletic events.”

Medical Shift from Curing the Disease to Rehabilitation

Another significant effect of the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics was the shift in the medical world, where more doctors and institutions realized the need to focus more on rehabilitation, not just on cure or prevention of the disease, that to ignore the state of the disabled, who may have the potential of athletes seen at the 1964 Paralympics, is to ignore the opportunity to bring confidence and joy to a significant part of the population. Ogoura quotes a healthcare worker:

Modern medicine focused too much on diseases and ignored people who suffer from them. It was the case of hunters being too busy looking for deer to look at the mountain itself, as they say in Japanese. Take spinal cord injuries for example. If medicine had focused more on achieving patients’ recovery than merely treating the condition, I have no doubt that those with spinal cord injuries today would have enjoyed a higher level of physical recovery, even joining in on the funfair of the Paralympics.

1964 Paralympics_wheelchair fencing
Wheelchair fencing at the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics

Instant Advances in Equipment Technology

The exposure to foreign equipment used by the disabled was hugely impactful. When the hundreds of foreign Paralympians, coaches and administrators came to Japan for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, they brought things that Japanese people had never seen, and immediately set the standard for Japan. Ogoura cited wheelchairs:

The greatest technological impact the Paralympics had was on the development and proliferation of equipment and tools for the care of those with disabilities, which were still underdeveloped in Japan at the time. There was a clear performance gap between foreign-made and Japanese wheelchairs and urine collectors, etc.   Commenting on this matter, Yutaka Nakamura said, “The difference of wheelchairs was as clear as day. British sport-use wheelchairs weighed 13 kilograms, whereas Japanese wheelchairs were as heavy as 23 kilograms.   Overseas players had wheelchairs made to suit their physique, while Japanese sport wheelchairs were the case of one-size-fits-all.

The Japanese could see the difference in performance based on the foreign athletes’ use of the wheelchairs compared to themselves: “Overseas players are bigger but very skilled at handling wheelchairs. We looked more like the wheelchairs were handling us. Then again, the experience gave us confidence that practice would improve our skills.”

The 1964 Tokyo Paralympics caused a monumental mindshift in Japanese culture. Dr. Yutaka Nakamura, one of the key players in making the Tokyo Paralympics happen, wrote in 1964 something that is the essential message of inclusion today:

Our society in general tends to underestimate the capability of people with disabilities. An event like this is significant in that it is a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate their capability to the rest of the society.