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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Support for the Para-curling team

According to Kannane Net, word came from the Asahikawa Cute para-curling team. The Asahigawa team said they sent a support flag (with messages from a bunch of fans) to the national Wheelchair Curling Team in Vancouver.

They also sent another message. Four years from now, Asahigawa Cute women plan to represent Japan at the next Paralympics!

Photo from

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Elementary school with Mami

Paralympic long jumper Mami Sato often speaks at elementary schools. I will join her tomorrow (March 1) at an elementary school in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward to see exactly what she does.

These are photos from her blog, Mami's Diary. She said I could borrow them for this blog, whenever. This young woman is a bundle of energy and I've never seen her without a smile on her face. If she has a gloomy side, she doesn't show it in public. In fact, the para-athletes I'm personally met have all been bright, optimistic people who have a firm grip on their lives. They're inspirational.

Busy day on Friday

Yama-chan of Manatees Diving and I met with the CEO of Nozomi Securities for lunch. CEO Itsuki Toyama is also a para-diver. His company does a great deal to boost the community and to help preserve Japanese culture. Specifically, Nozomi provides a venue for young rakugo traditional comics so they will be able to perform before live audiences and hone their skills.

Nozomi Securities has a history of very nearly a century, and is one of Japan's conservative yet profitable securities companies. CEO Toyama began as a trader and recently celebrated his 60th birthday. It was a pleasure to meet him. Thanks Yama-chan.

Five in the evening saw Yama-chan and I at the Roppongi Midtown complex. Underwater photographer Ikuo Nakamura's photos are on display for a month there and are well worth a trip to Roppongi to view. Photos were forbidden, but what do we have cellphone cameras for anyway. Although I did not count, I imagine upwards to 100 people were at the kickoff, including many from the media and a number of well-known personalities.

Author Makoto Shina toasts photographer Ikuo Nakamura.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Mami Sato contributes to new sports book

Iwanami Junior just launched a new book (in Japanese) called Introduction to Sports Development. Several high-ranking athletes contributed to the book, which was edited by Shu Takamine. Mami wrote the chapter on Paralympics and the process of becoming a top-level para-athlete. She says she was somewhat reticent about doing the chapter, especially in a book for kids, but with encouragement from the publisher, feels she did a decent job. The book shows young athlete wanabes what kind of dedication and effort is needed to become a top-level player, whatever sport they choose to compete in.

This is Mami's second "book." Her first one details her life from her cheerleading days at Waseda University through losing her leg below the knee to bone cancer to discovering para-athletics to long jumping to a Japan record and competing in two paralympics so far. This inspiring tale should really be put into English, but at the moment, it's only at the idea stage.

Strong athletes like Mami Sato are an inspiration to us all.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Masahiro Honma readies for the New Zealand Wheelchair Tennis Open

I went to the Tennis Training Center in Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture, about 32km from my home. Masahiro Honma, one of the athletes on Japan’s national wheelchair tennis team, had scheduled four hours of workouts with the team’s coaches and physical trainers.

Leaving at 6:30 a.m., I thought I’d have plenty of time to reach the center before Masa started his workout at 8. About eight kilos out, the morning rush hit, and it took me nearly as long to drive those eight kilos as it did the first 24. At any rate, I arrived at the Tennis Training Center about 10 minutes late. Story of my life.

Masa was already on the center indoor court with his instructor. The two hour workout concentrated on one aspect of Masa’s game at a time. Serving. Volleys. Pinpoint returns. Backhands. Forehands. The works.

At 10, he switched from his tennis chair to his “life” chair and we went into the lounge to wait for the physical trainer.

Masa told me that the Tennis Training Center teaches about a dozen and a half wheelchair tennis players, including the top four on Japan’s national team. Shingo Kunieda, the No.1 wheelchair tennis player in the world, trains at TTC.

The New Zealand Wheelchair Tennis Open will be held in Hamilton, NZ, March 5-7, and Masa is the fourth seed. “I need to make the semifinals,” he said. “Especially as I’m seeded fourth.”

He put in a hard day on the courts. When the physical trainer arrived, the two of them headed outside for “wheelchair training.” No use of tennis racket involved. It’s all starting and stopping, turning and whirling, speeding through a multiple slalom of pylons, working to whittle down the time.

Tomorrow, Masa’s daughter finds out if she passed the entrance exam to the high school of her choice; one where she can be in a high-caliber hip-hop dance organization. Masa spoils his only child, but she loves her Dad.

Today, Masa put in a thorough workout. He bundles his tennis chair into the back of his Daihatsu Move van and stashes his racket case alongside the chair. You can tell he’s totally in control. No doubt he’ll do well in New Zealand.

Masahiro Honma with Paralympic long jumper Mami Sato and a wheelchair tennis teammate.

Masahiro and teammate with NPO STAND officer Kazuko Ito and sportswriter Seijun Ninomiya

Yama-chan is back

SCUBA Diving Club Manatees was named for the mammals that inhabit the warm waters around Florida and the Caribbean. The club went to Crystal River in Florida to swim with the endangered manatees.

This year the weather has been very cold in the American south. Manatees die if the water gets too cold. Crystal River is fed by a hot spring so the waters are always much warmer than the ocean, so manatees came from all around. One count put the mammals in Crystal River at 3,000, which is one-third of the entire manatee population of Florida.

No trouble sighting manatees on this trip, says Yama-chan.

Friday, February 19, 2010

News from Asahikawa, Hokkaido

I got an email from a Mr. Konno, who has a site that supports "adapted sports." Here's one of his posts, which is really great.

Without thinking about it, we became friends through adapted sports . . .

Then we find ourselves cheering our friends on as they compete . . .

That's how we want it to be, we here at KANNANEKONNE.

Especially with winter adapted sports -- ski, skate, and sports like these are only possible when nature cooperates. And when the community gets involved. But the community can only be involved if people are involved, people who care for other people, people who love their community.

We want to promote adapted sports. We want to thank our community, right? And we want our children to watch what's happening in Vancouver. We adults should be aware of what our children think and feel.


Mami's report

I said I would put Mami's report of the Japan Paralympic ceremonies and send-off on this blog, so here it is. The photos are below in the first posting.

Tuesday, February 16, the day a Japanese athlete won a our first bronze medal at Vancouver, ceremonies for the athletes going to the Winter Paralympic Games were held at the JAL Hotel in Daiba, Tokyo.

Japan’s 42 para-athletes will compete in alpine ski, Nordic ski distance, biathalon, ice sledge hockey, and wheelchair curling; 53 administrators and support staff will accompany them.

Orientation came before the ceremonies. But first, Deputy Chairman Negi of the Paralympian Association of Japan (PAJ), who is also on the steering committee of the Japan Paralympic Committee, spoke to the athletes, giving them information about what to expect and cheering them on. At the venue, the JPC members sat facing the athletes and there was an atmosphere of tension in the hall, but Mr. Negi said, “I’ll change this atmosphere.” Still, it seemed he was quite tense, and when he returned, he commented, “As I thought, the Paralympics are a big deal.”

Then, as soon as the orientation portion was finished, time came to talk about PAJ, and that was up to me because Chairman Junichi Kawai was unable to attend and I had to stand in for him. At first they gave me five minutes, but the day before the ceremonies the time was cut to two minutes. Thankfully, after I finished, lots of people told me my presentation was short but very easy to understand. (whew) I haven’t been so tense for ages.

Once all the greetings were over, I got a chance to have a good look at the athletes and administrators, and found that I knew many of them. I couldn’t help smiling. There’s nothing more terrible that making a presentation before a lot of people you know (lol).

Actually, more that half the athletes at the ceremonies joined PAJ right then and there. We thank them for their cooperation.

In 2010, PAJ makes a new start as a foundation and I think we need to listen to all para-athletes, regardless of their sport, gender, or age.

About the ceremonies. VIPs included the Canadian Ambassador to Japan, Minister Agetsuma from the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare, and Dietman Tana, the chairman of the Diet Paralympic Promotion Federation. The national flag was raised, and the captain of the Paralympic Team, Yoshihiro Nitta, made the Athlete’s Pledge. This will be the fourth Paralympic appearance for Nitta, and he said, “There’s no assurance that any of us can win medals. The level of Para-athletics has gotten that high.” Although he was careful, he also said that “we should never forget to be thankful for the opportunities we have.” The national flag bearer will be Ice Sledge Hockey team member Takayuki Endo.

There were more than 100 members of the media at the ceremonies.

Prime Minister Hatoyama came in after the ceremonies. From the podium he asked, “Where is Captain Nitta?” and he spoke to veteran athletes such Mr. Obinata and Mr. Hidai. After the PM spoke for a few minutes, he made the rounds of all the tables to speak to the athletes and give them photo ops.

Perhaps because there are not as many events in the Winter Paralympics, but the athlete entourage seemed to be familiar with each other and anxious to do their best at the Games.

I saw athletes my own age, Daisuke Uehara and Kozo Kubo, as well as Alpine and Curling athletes I’d met at the November event. It was good to see them and get a chance to speak to them again. The athletes were a bit tired (they’d been in meetings from 13:00 and it was almost 20:00 then), but they still looked good.

After the Winter Olympics, get ready for the Paralympic Opening Ceremonies on March 12!!

-- from Mami Sato, paralympic long jumper

Thursday, February 18, 2010

OSAKA CUP Women's Wheelchair Basketball TOMORROW

The International Women's Wheelchair Basketball OSAKA CUP is going on in Osaka right now. Tomorrow, four teams will vie in third-place playoff and championship games. Those games will be webcast live by MOBACHOO. Here is the address.

Third place game will be webcast from 10 am. Championship game begins at 13:30.

Opening Ceremonies in Vancouver

Kazuko Ito, one of the secretariat of the Paralympian Association of Japan and the person who is the power behing NPO STAND, which does live webcasts of disability sports from Japan, went to see the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. We've seen it on TV; she went in person. She reports the experience was highly emotional and promises to compare it to the opening ceremonies of the Paralympics in March.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Victory in Vancouver

Mami Sato, Japan Paralympic long jump athlete, gave me her permission to copy her Japanese language blog as she writes about the Winter Paralympic athetes got together with supporters for a pep rally/send off.

Mami wrote:

Last night I went to the ceremonies to send off the Vancouver Para-athletes. I'll report as soon as I can, but couldn't find time to write details today. I'll do it as quickly as I can.

First off, I'll post some photos to let you feel the atmosphere. Many para-athletes and representatives of the media were there. I was able to give my speech without any glaring errors (whew). Come back for more tomorrow, I hope.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Miyagi Max puts 5 players on the National Wheelchair Basketball team

The road to national prominence is rocky. Even after achieving the top level and getting five members placed on the Japan National Wheelchair Basketball team, finances are a problem. When international travel is involved, costs mount. And there's only so much individuals can take upon themselves.

Looking back.

Miyagi Max was organized in 1988, and took the name Miyagi Max in 1996. The goal, win a national championship. The steps toward that goal were first the Sendai city championships, then the Miyagi Prefecture tournament. After that, the nationals.

In 1999, Miyagi Max won the Japan Tournament (not the nationals) and player Masatetsu Sato garnered the MVP award.

In 2001, the team took 3rd place in the nationals.

Finally, in 2008 and 2009, Miyagi Max won the Japan Nationals!!

And now, in 2010, five Miyagi Max players have been selected for the Japan National Wheelchair Basketball team.


Look for details at the Miyagi Max site, although the English part has not been updated lately.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Kunieda wins 2010 Australia Open

Shingo Kunieda, Japan's only professional wheelchair tennis player recently won the 2010 Australian Open, repeating his win of 2009. Kunieda is considered the top wheelchair tennis player in the world.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Women's Wheelchair Basketball

I've already talked about the upcoming International OSAKA CUP, but perhaps a little about wheelchair basketball would be in order.

Wheelchair Basketball was originally developed by World War II veterans in the USA in 1945/1946. Since then, the sport has developed worldwide and was introduced to the Paralympic Program in Rome in 1960. It is one of the most popular sports in the Paralympic Games. It is designed for athletes who have a physical disability that prevents running, jumping and pivoting. Women's wheelchair basketball is especially popular, with leagues in the United States, Australia, Great Britain, Canada, and many other countries. Here are a few links that may be of interest.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Introducing Yama-chan

Yukiko Yamazaki runs SCUBA Diving Club Manatees in Tokyo. She and I met in 1991 when I first certified as an open-water scuba diver. While she was not my instructor (I was certified in Mexico) I went on more than a few dives with Manatees. In fact, I got both my advanced diver's certificate and my rescue diver's certification at Manatees. Imagine how pleased I was to meet with Yama-chan after several years (two and a half in New Zealand building a yacht) to find out that her organization offers trial dives and diving certification for the physically challenged. If you're interested in scuba diving, Manatees is worth a call.

Yukiko Yamazaki
SCUBA Diving Club Manatees
15-17 Sakamachi, Shinjuku-ku
Tokyo 160-0002 Japan
Tel: 03-5367-1277

Tokyo Diving Club teaches physically challenged

Itsuki Toyama wears a wheelchair, but that doesn't keep him from doing what he wishes. Itsuki wanted to learn scuba diving. Where could he be freer than in the weightlessness of Mother Ocean?

Enter SCUBA Diving Club Manatees. The Tokyo-based club, run by Yukiko Yamazaki and Hideki Goto, not only certifies PADI divers, it also provides instruction and assistance to physically challenged would-be divers. Scuba diving stresses the buddy system. Never go diving alone. With the physically challenged, the buddy must be a qualified scuba diver and preferably a divemaster or instructor.

Yamazaki, Goto, and Itsuki Toyama traveled to the diving pool in Funabashi, about 25km from Manatees' Tokyo digs. After learning the basics of breathing with a regulator, clearing the diving mask, adjusting the floatation vest to reach neutral buoyancy, Itsuki went into the pool.

Itsuki cannot use his legs. So he had web-fingered gloves, and can move through the water with the greatest of ease. See how he seems to hang in the water? His buoyancy is neutral, so he goes up and down slightly as he breathes air in and out.

At the bottom of the pool, five meters under water, Yukiko and Itsuki gaze out the windows. What a feeling of freedom. Itsuki can do almost everything any other diver can do, unlike when he's on land.

SCUBA Diving Club Manatees
15-17 Sakamachi, Shinjuku-ku
Tokyo 160-0002 Japan
Tel: 03-5367-1277

Monday, February 8, 2010

Ice Sledge Hockey

The news may be a bit stale, but an international ice sledge hockey tournament was recently held in Nagano, with teams from Japan, the United States, Czech, and Norway . STAND was there to put the live action on the Web via Mobichoo. The games are still up, so you can take a look at the action. Unfortunately, the color is all in Japanese. Ito san had a talk and a photo op with Nagase, goalie and member of the Japan National Team, which is headed for the Paralympics in Vancouver.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Winter Olympics

Kazuko Ito, one of the secretariat of the Paralympic Association of Japan, told me she got tickets to the Winter Olympics. "The Para Olympic people always complain about coming after the Olympics, but none of us has actually seen any Olympic games. That's why I'm going. To get some first hand experience," she says. Good luck, and we'll expect a report when you get back, Kazuko.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Wheelchair womens basketball

The International Womens Basketball OSAKA CUP tournament opens in Osaka on February 19. Live action webcast set for Saturday Feb. 20, 10:00 and 13:30, the third place and championship games. Check it out.