Mixed sports facilities in Japan, a work in progress

August 30, 2022

TOKYO – Thanks in part to the staging of the Paralympic Games in Tokyo last year, athletes with disabilities and the sports in which they participate have come to the fore.

However, efforts to ensure community environments conducive to practice for these athletes remain a work in progress.

In order to accommodate more people with disabilities in sports facilities, local governments have developed relevant manuals and encouraged instructors who can conduct stress-free training sessions.

On August 14, Toshihiro Shimoyama, a 54-year-old company employee in a wheelchair who lives in Tokyo’s Katsushika district, took part in a mixed-ability archery session at the Okudo Sogo sports center in the neighborhood. Shimoyama suffered a cervical vertebra injury in a traffic accident in 1998 and has been using a wheelchair ever since. For the past 15 years or so, he has practiced archery at the center once or twice a week as a member of a local archery club in the neighborhood.

The center is open to people of all abilities, but ramps have been installed to make the facility barrier-free. Two years ago, larger changing rooms and shower cubicles were installed to make life easier for people in wheelchairs. Many disabled athletes, including people who enjoy playing wheelchair basketball, use the center.

“I am grateful that such a wheelchair-friendly facility exists nearby,” Shimoyama said.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Toshihiro Shimoyama explains about a special shower room for disabled users at the Okudo Sogo sports center in Tokyo’s Katsushika district on August 14.

Shortage of facilities
Yet there are only a limited number of sports facilities that can adequately meet the needs of customers with disabilities.

According to a 2021 survey conducted by the Sasakawa Sports Foundation (SSF), Japan has only about 150 sports facilities used exclusively or preferentially by people with disabilities. This is a very small number when compared to the approximately 9.64 million people across the country who have a disability.

A 2021 survey by the Japan Sports Agency found that 31% of adults with disabilities play sports at least once a week. Although this is an increase of 6.1 percentage points on the previous financial year – and a record – it is far from the figure of 40% targeted by the government.

Kazunari Obuchi, Director of Policy at SSF, said: “It is unrealistic to dramatically increase the number of sports facilities reserved for people with disabilities. [Instead]we should make general gymnasiums more user-friendly for disabled users, similar to what the local government has done in Katsushika district. »

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the Saitama Prefectural Government have each produced manuals aimed at making facilities more handicap-friendly. For example, to easily eliminate height differences in a shower room without undertaking heavy remodeling work, textbooks suggest the use of gratings to create a flatter surface.

The Nagano Prefectural Government attaches great importance to the promotion of instructors who can help people with disabilities enjoy sports without stress. The prefectural welfare center takes the lead in this regard, and the prefectural government certifies people who have taken courses and practical training to deepen their knowledge and understanding to help support sports in their communities. So far, about 30 people have been certified for such leadership roles.

Efforts to improve facilities at private sports venues have been accelerated to enable them to more easily meet the needs of people with disabilities.

Central Sports Co., a Tokyo-based company that operates about 240 sports and fitness facilities across the country, has installed ramps at the entrances to several of its buildings.

A site in Chiba prefecture organizes mixed swimming training sessions. In other establishments, efforts are made to make regular courses accessible to people with disabilities.

“As the population continues to turn gray, there will be a growing need for facilities that everyone can use,” Obuchi said. “Public and private sports facilities should cooperate to create local networks that help improve relevant systems.”

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