Reiwa characters
Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga unveils the new era name “Reiwa” at a press conference_Reuters

Tomorrow, May 1, 2019, begins the era of Reiwa in Japan.

Today, April 30, 2019, Emperor Akihito, the son of Emperor Hirohito, will abdicate the throne and be succeeded by his son, the Crown Prince Naruhito.

In Japan, every period of an Emperor’s rule is given a name, and the Japanese commonly used the era name to mark time. Hirohito’s was Showa, and I was born in the year of Showa 38 (or 1963). Akihito’s was Heisei, and I was married in the year of Heisei 2 (or 1990).

Akihito (age 85) is the first emperor in 200 years to step down from the throne, and he does so in order for he and his wife, Empress Michiko (age 84), to live out the remainder of their lives in a more leisurely fashion, without the daily duties of the royal house. After all, Akihito and Michiko, showed Japan throughout their courtship and marriage that they too had to grow and change with the times.

Akihito and Michiko playing tennis in their early years_Getty
Akihito and Michiko playing tennis after announcing their engagement in 1958.

They first met on a tennis court in Karuizawa one day in August 1957. According to The Daily News, Michiko was partnered with an American named Bobby Doyle, and the Japan-US duo defeated Akihito in his partner over a two-hour two setter. It is said Akihito took a picture of Michiko and quietly had a friend deliver it to her. He also invited Michiko to join another tennis match, with the Shah of Iran.

Thus began the famous tennis romance, that blossomed not only for the couple, but for the entire nation. Not only did the royal couple spark a tennis boom in Japan, there was a boom in interest in the royal family. For Michiko was not of royal blood – a commoner who won the heart of the future Emperor, and “Mit-chi” as Michiko was affectionately called, was highly popular. Their eventual marriage on April 10, 1959, complete with a 8.8 kilometer procession through Tokyo in horse-drawn carriage, was viewed by half-a-million people who lined the course, and tens or million more on newly purchased televisions.

In another break from tradition, Akihito and Michiko decided that they would raise their own children instead of the practice of leaving the rearing of the children to tutors.

Thanks to the newly-founded powers of television to bring images instantly and up close to the average person, the crown prince and princess became celebrities of sorts. People were happy to catch a glimpse of them on a tennis court in Karuizawa or at a pizza restaurant in Roppongi. The members of a preparatory committee who hoped to bring the Stoke Mandeville Games to Tokyo also hoped to leverage the star power of the royal couple.

As related in a previous post, Yoshiyuki Kasai, who led the preparatory committee to bring what would become the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics, arranged for Akihito and Michiko to meet the first Japanese to compete in the Stoke Mandeville Games in London, and tell the couple of their experience competing in a foreign land. Photos of the popular prince and princess with the disabled athletes ignited the preparatory committee’s ability to gain support more broadly within public and private circles.

031164 - Crown Prince Akihito meets teams Tokyo Games - 3b - Sca
The Crown Prince Akihito and Empress Michiko meet representatives of the Australian Paralympic Team and other teams at the Opening Ceremony of the 1964 Tokyo Paralympic Games.

As a result, not only did Akihito and Michiko help make the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics a reality, they were present during much of the 5-day Tokyo Paralympics, not just sitting in the audience, but interacting with the athletes on camera. They single-handedly brought significant national attention to the disabled, and raised the profile of this new international event despite the fact that Japan had just experienced it’s greatest international event, the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, only weeks before.

The reign of Heisei is ending. But the legacies of Akihito and Michiko, including those in the world of sports, will last forever.

Elderly Akihito and Michiko playing tennis

Advertisements
Kengo Kuma's Staidum
Kengo Kuma’s National Stadium design

One thousand and ninety six more days to the commencement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics!

That’s 365 X 3 + 1. Don’t forget, 2020 is a leap year!

Three years hence from today, July 24, Tokyo will be welcoming the world to the biggest sports fest there is – The Summer Olympics.

The first country to ever host both the Summer Olympics and the Paralympics twice, Japan will be the focal point for sports from July 24 to August 9, 2020.

In 1964, Tokyo hosted the Olympics from October 10 to 24, for a total of 16 days, which was standard in the 1960s and 1970s. However, since Barcelona, the opening ceremonies was pushed one day earlier from Saturday to Friday, likely allowing for two full weekends of sporting events, and an opportunity to maximize television viewership.

Another difference between 1964 and 2020 is the timing. In 1964, the “Summer” Olympics were held in the Fall to avoid September monsoons. But this time, the Olympics will be held in the hottest period in Japan – late July and early August. This has been the general timing for the past eleven Summer Olympics, excluding a September Sydney Games and Seoul Games.

My guess is that the various international federations want consistency in Olympic scheduling so that their own world championships and Olympic trials do not end up in conflict. That would be the same for many school systems that go on holiday break during the summer months. And television broadcasters may also prefer to have the Olympics to fill what are usually filled with summer repeats.

But I speculate.

One thing is certain. The Summer Olympics are coming to Tokyo on July 24, 2020.

Hope to see you here.

And just in case you need to know, click here for the countdown to Tokyo 2020.

See you in Tokyo Rio Olympics
Tokyo’s Presentation at the Rio Olympic Closing Ceremonies

 

Japanese Mascots
What it might look like at a Japanese mascot convention

 

In the land of kawaii (cute), where sports teams, companies, and cities have their own mascots, The Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games is offering you a chance to animate that essence of joy you experienced as a child.

Tokyo 2020 has requested the Japanese public to submit their designs for the mascots of the Tokyo 2020 Games – both the Olympics and Paralympics. Whether you’re a professional illustrator or a convenience store freeter, you can submit a design, although you need to be 18 years or older. Non-Japanese living in Japan are also eligible.

An entry can be submitted by a group as well. The group can have a max of 10 people in it. Above age and nationality conditions apply to all group members.

Start working on those lovable characters now, because the design submission period is August 1 – 14.

But be forewarned. Shortlisted designs will have a tough group of evaluators. The organizing committee requires that elementary school classes across Japan, the international schools, will vote and thus end up selecting the winner.

That’s a pretty cool idea actually

So here’s the brief from Tokyo 2020, and here’s the timeline:

  • August 1 to 14, 2017 – design submission period (submission via a special website)
  • December 2017 – mascot panel selects shortlist of design sets
  • December 2017 to January 2018 – elementary school children vote on the shortlist
  • March 2018 – design set with the largest number of votes is announced as the winner
  • July to August 2018 – mascot panel decides names for the winning mascots

Good luck!

 

PS: Read the fine print on intellectual property in the brief!

channel-4-promotional-ad-paralympics

As Japan gears up for the 2020 Olympics, they take great comfort from the success of their athletes at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Japan finished sixth in the medals table with 41 total – the country’s best showing ever. But as the country prepares for the 2020 Paralympics, they were stunned that Japan could not garner a single gold medal at the Rio Paralympics, finishing 64th out of 76 in the total medal count.

It made me wonder, what are the factors that contribute to success at the Paralympics, at least in terms of medal haul. A quick analysis indicates that a robust economy, established leadership, focused funding, and strong societal commitment to fair and reasonable accessibility for the disabled.

Robust Economy: China, Great Britain, the US, and Australia were in the top five in the Rio Paralympics, which suggests that a success factor in the Paralympics is a strong economy. However, Japan as a case in point indicates that a strong economy is not the only factor.

Established Leadership: The Ukraine is not an economy nearly as strong or stable as the others in the top five. Their success, according to this BBC report, is because Ukraine has strong leadership, in this case, a person who designed and powerfully drove a national program that focused on the development of young people with disabilities.

rio-paralympic-medal-table
2016 Rio Paralympic medal table
Ukraine were 31 places below Team USA in the Olympics medal table, but one place above them at the Rio Paralympics. They are reaping the rewards of foundations set by Valeriy Sushkevych, founder and president of the Paralympic Committee of Ukraine, who helped develop a physical education and sport programme for young people with disabilities.

Focused Funding: Strong leadership needs access to funding. When BBC compared the success of China and the US in paralympic competition, they noted that China’s paralympic development programs have access to significant funds, while the US paralympics train under constant financial constraints. The USOC runs its funding on a corporate sponsorship model, and does not receive government funds. The Chinese model is entirely government supported. The way the funds are divvied up between athletes for the Olympics and the Paralympics differs greatly as well.

With money raised through sponsorship deals with major brands such as Coca-Cola, McDonalds and Visa, USOC hands out about $50m (£39m) a year to US athletes across different sports, with the Rio Paralympics team receiving about $4m (£3m). Meanwhile, the Chinese government is aiming to develop a £647bn sports industry by 2025 and in recent years has increased its investment in sport, including football, Olympics and Paralympics. As of 2016, China has trained more than 42,100 fitness instructors for the disabled and has built 225 provincial and 34 national specialised sports training centres. The China Disability Sports Training Centre in Beijing, opened in 2007, also provides state-of-the-art facilities for disabled athletes.

Strong Societal Commitment: Also with strong leadership may come a strong, broad-based commitment, not just by governments or organizations devoted to the development of sports and athletes, but also by society. When laws are enacted to grow awareness of and increase access for the disabled, then society becomes more open and supportive.

One can conclude that hosting the Paralympics acts like an accelerant for commitment to the disabled. Before Brazil, the previous four nations to host the Paralympics were Great Britain, China, Greece and Australia. Except for Greece, Great Britain, China and Australia were in the top five of the Rio Paralympics medals table.

The investment in Paralympic success was abundant in 2012 for TeamGB. The same was true for China in 2008. The assumption is that Japanese authorities will aim not only for success for Team Nippon in the Olympics but also the Paralympics. Clearly, hosting the Olympics and Paralympics is tremendous incentive to make significant investments. And with the country’s pride on the line, the investment will flow, perceptions will shift, rules and laws may change, and Japan, by 2020, may become one of the most inclusive nations in the world. My guess is that Japan will do very well in the Tokyo Paralympics as well.

The 2016 Summer Paralympics will take place in Rio de Janeiro from September 7 to 18. And while these are the eighteenth Paralympic Games, and they get considerably less press and attention than the Olympic Games that precede them, there is no doubt that the participants in the Paralympics are athletes, amazing athletes, in ways difficult for the majority of us who have a body with fully functioning parts to comprehend.

To many of us, those who are, for example, blind or deaf, have a missing limb or two, are thought to be at a disadvantage. My current understanding is that the world and the rules we live with were built first for the average person in mind. But with the changes in laws and mindsets in many countries, and thriving disabled role models reflected back to us in film, television and sport as enabled athletes, the perceptions of many are changing.

Tony Dee sings Yes I Can

In Japan for example, the government has challenged the private sector with the task of ensuring that 2% of its workforce is made up of disabled or special needs employees. In the early years, companies struggled to find the talent who could be employed and do work that was meaningful for both the employee and the employer. Today, leaders and employees alike are far more experienced in the hiring of and adjusting to the disabled, and they in turn are become more experienced in the workplace, gaining greater skills and knowledge.

Role models, as I have written several times in the past, are so important. Channel Four, one of the major television stations in England, is the broadcaster of the Paralympic Games for England. And to promote the 2016 Paralympic Games, they produced an absolutely fantastic video that showcases “superhuman” abilities. You have likely seen it. The nearly 3-minute video is called “Yes I Can”, a Sammy Davis Jr classic.

Alvin Law
Alvin Law

 

What’s wonderful about this promotional video is Channel Four’s emphasis not just of amazing athletes, but also of “ordinary” people: musicians and dancers, office workers, moms and kids. The video opens with Canadian drummer, Alvin Law, who was born without arms and has played drums with his feet for 45 years. “It’s so weird that this song is called ‘Yes I Can’ because it was my mantra in our home growing up. My mum and dad said it till I was TIRED of it. There’s no such word as can’t. This is sort of that same thing but with an incredibly positive spin and makes perfect sense to me.”

Law went on to say that “this is not about disability, this is about crazy talent.”

I could not agree more. I can almost feel the soft abrasions of my perceptions shifting as I watch this amazing and uplifting video.

Oscar Pistorius led away

On July 6, double-amputee Olympian Oscar Pistorius, was sentenced to six years in prison for murder. The South African, who competed in the 400-meter sprint at the 2012 London Olympics, was convicted for firing four bullets into his bathroom door, killing his girlfriend Reena Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day three years ago.

In this high-profile long-running set of trials, Pistorius claimed someone had intruded his home and that he fired his gun fearful for his life. Many feel that Pistorius was let off easy, his six years not coming close to what many thought would be a 10- to 15-year sentence.

In the long history of the Olympics, Pistorius joins a small group of Olympians who served time for murder, according to one my favorite go-to books, The Book of Olympic Lists, by David Wallechinsky and Jaime Loucky. In their list of 20 Olympians Who Did Time in Prison, there are four other Olympians who went to the slammer for murder.

James Snook
Dr. James Snook

James Snook: Snook was a member of the gold medal winning US Free Pistol Shooting team at the Antwerp Games in 1920. At the age of 48, then a professor of veterinary medicine at Ohio State, Snook confessed to the murder of his mistress, Theora Hix. He was put to death in the electric chair after being found guilty of taking a hammer to Hix after violent sex at a rifle range.

Humberto Mariles
Humberto Mariles

Humberto Mariles: This two-time gold medalist and bronze medalist equestrian from Mexico competed at the 1948 Games in London and the 1952 Games in Helsinki. One August summer day, Mariles experienced an extreme fit of road rage when another motorist forced him off the road. According to Wallenchinsky and Loucky, “at the next traffi light Mariles pulled out a gun and shot the man.” Mariles was sent to prison but was pardoned by the President of Mexico.

Ludovit Platchetka
Ludovit Platchetka

Ludovit Plachetka: Plachetka was a middleweight boxer from the Czech Republic who won his first match at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics against a boxer from Swaziland before being eliminated by a boxer from Uzbekistan. According to Wallechinsky and Loucky, Plachetka went from Olympian to felon in less than a year. Apparently he was in an ongoing dispute with his girlfriend over visitation rights of their child that escalated to the point where Plachetka shot to death the mother of his girlfriend. He would have shot his girlfriend if not for gun jamming at that moment. The former boxer/bouncer was sentenced to 13 years.

As for Pistorius, six years may seem like a long time for him. But a top sports officials in South Africa has said the sentence includes time served, and that with good behavior could be out in time to train and participate in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games.

According to the Daily Mail, “Tubby Reddy, CEO of South Africa’s Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee, said he had ‘no problem’ with the idea of the ‘Blade Runner’ returning to the national team and representing his country at the highest level – despite widespread condemnation of Pistorius’ crime and six year sentence.”

Mockridge and Cox
Russell Mockridge and Lionel Cox win gold in the 2000-meter tandem event at the 1952 Games in Helsinki

The bicycle built for two, made famous in the 1892 song “Dasiy Bell”.

Daisy, Daisy, Give me your answer do!
I’m half crazy, All for the love of you!
It won’t be a stylish marriage,
I can’t afford a carriage
But you’ll look sweet upon the seat
Of a bicycle made for two.

Did you know that bicycles built for two were also vehicles for Olympic competition? Tandem racing over 2000 meters was an Olympic event from the first modern Games in 1896 in Athens, to the 1972 Games in Munich.

In 1952, at the Helsinki Olympic Games, two Australian cyclists, Lionel Cox and Russell Mockridge, decided to compete in the tandem cycling event despite never having ridden on a tandem bike together. In fact, not only had they not practiced together before arriving in Helsinki, they didn’t even have a tandem bike to compete on. They eventually took on a discarded bicycle from the British team. They had to actually assemble it on their own before practicing for the first time.

On a tandem bike, one cyclist can ease off the pedalling while the other pedals hard, but if both cyclists pedal hard, you can generate speeds significantly greater than a cyclist on a single-seat bike. In one of the heats prior to the finals of the 2000 meter competition, the Australians were leading when Mockridge, who was seated up front, eased up at the end. The result was a photo finish that took considerable time before the judges declared the winner of the elimination heat. Mockridge and Cox went on to win gold, in fact the second one for Mockridge that day. (He had won gold in the men’s 1000 meter time trial.)

Although the tandem cycling event was discontinued, it still exists in the Paralympics where a blind or visually impaired person is seated in the rear seat. In the front seat is a sighted person who is not a professional cyclist.

tandem cyclying_Scott and McGlynn
Great Britain’s Helen Scott and Aileen McGlynn during a training session at the velodrome in the Olympic Park Photo: PA
BCCJ Paralympics Event 1
British Chamber of Commerce Japan panel discussion: “What About the Paralympics”.

Rina Akiyama is totally blind in both eyes, but that didn’t stop her from learning how to swim and eventually becoming a champion swimmer.

Hisano Tezuka is deaf, but that didn’t stop her from becoming a skiier, determined to compete at the highest levels in the Deaflympics.

Daisuke Uehara does not have the use of his legs, and was turned off by people encouraging him to take up wheelchair basketball, and gladly took up the sport of ice sledge hockey, helping Japan to Paralympic silver at the Vancouver Games in 2010.

On March 25, I had the honor of listening to the stories and views of these retired athletes, who were asked by the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan to join a panel discussion entitled, “What About the Paralympics”, an event with the aim of raising awareness of Paralympic sports in Japan. In my research on the Olympics, I have spent little time on the Paralympics, an event that started with a competition for war veterans with spinal cord injuries at the same time as the 1948 London Games. The first official Paralympic Games were held in conjunction with the Rome Summer Games in 1960, and have continued ever since, growing consistently in popularity and significance.

Rina Akiyama
Rina Akiyama, gold medal winner of the 100-meter backstroke at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London_Getty Images

What I learned is that the Paralympic Games is not about disabled athletes, but about athletes with tremendous ability. If Japan (or any society) values diversity and strives to be more inclusive, then a mind shift needs to take place. The BCCJ, like elements in the public sector, the private sector and NPOs, believe people need to stop making the so-called disability of a person the number one characteristic of a person, and need to start understanding the abilities of that person that allow growth and avenues for that person to achieve his or her potential.

In the case of Paralympic participants, these people are athletes, some of them as intense and brilliant as their so-called able-bodied colleagues.

Akiyama began swimming at 3. At 10, she read a book about the Paralympics, and from