Osamu Nagashima of Para Badminton: The Work Perspective of a Researcher-Athlete
“It’s not like I’m getting promoted at my company if I win a medal for badminton.” So says Osamu Nagashima (WH1), pioneer of the Japanese badminton world. He says this with a laugh.
Nagashima is a top athlete, having won a number of international tournaments, and a 14-time champion of the Singles event and 12-time champion of the Doubles event at the Japan Para-Badminton Championship Tournament. The fact that he cares more about his promotion than any medal is a show of his attitude towards his work—more specifically, his work as a researcher.
Job-Hunting as a Wheelchair User in an Employment “Ice Age”
Nagashima began playing badminton in middle school, and belonged to the badminton clubs at his high school and university.
In university, he decided to major in chemistry, with plans to go into work that would allow him to make use of his specialized skills.
At 20 years old, however, he was involved in an accident that left him with an injured spinal cord, and he began to use a wheelchair in his everyday life.
He returned to school, went on to graduate school, and began job-hunting. This was right in the middle of what was known as the employment “ice age” in Japan, however, and the reality he faced was tough.
Making it even worse was the fact that he was a wheelchair user.
Forget interviews—there were many times where he’d tell a potential employer that he was in a wheelchair, even before the testing process, and be chased away on the spot. “It’s impossible for wheelchair users to do research,” they’d say.
Before he knew it, he’d taken hiring exams for more than 50 companies.
Still, he pressed on, even with the growing sense of anxiety inside of him. And soon, he received exam notices from several companies, one of which would end up being his future employer, INAX Corporation (currently LIXIL Corporation), a household equipment manufacturer.
After passing the initial screening, the hiring representative told him, “We have a wheelchair-accessible dorm, so you don’t have to worry if you make it farther into the process.”
Apparently, the company already had an employee who was a wheelchair user, and had created a wheelchair-accessible room for this employee to live in in their dorm.
To hear these words, and the implication that he would make it further into the process, was an amazing thing for Nagashima.
He coasted through the secondary screening and the final interview, and received a formal offer of employment in the general track.
April 2005 marked the beginning of his life as a researcher—his long-time dream—in Tokoname City, Aichi Prefecture.
Every day, he put on his work wear, and did research on materials for toilets.
The director at the research center would often say that work should be done “optimistically, happily, and energetically.”
Nagashima loved that, and the corporate atmosphere in general.
Meanwhile, he was only able to train for badminton twice a week, weight training maybe once a week.
Full-time work, five days a week, often with overtime.
His day-to-day life at the time was not centered around his sport.
Osamu Nagashima’s Achievements as a Researcher
His highlight as a researcher happened a little less than 10 years after he first entered the company. He had worked to acquire a patent for a technology called “Proguard.”
Proguard won the Gold Award for the 2015 Invent Awards, in which awards are given to celebrate inventor research successes, and Nagashima, who had taken a central role in the research, was lauded for his work.
It may not be good to compare such things, but when we asked Nagashima which made him happier—winning awards at his company or winning medals at international badminton tournaments—he said, laughing.
“It’s not like I’m getting promoted at my company if I win a medal for badminton [laughs]. When I get results at my company, that’s something that might be of benefit to me through my whole career as a salaryman. In that sense, of course receiving awards at my company makes me happier, or of course I’d have to say that.”
The “Top Athlete Employee Support” Memorandum
In 2014, it was announced that badminton would be an official sport for the Tokyo Paralympics.
The Paralympic movement was gaining traction in Japan, and interest towards badminton was rising. Nagashima, however, liked his job as a researcher, and remained unbothered, sticking to the same work-centric life he’d always had.
In 2015, however, LIXIL Corporation became a Gold Partner (Building Components & Bathroom and Kitchen Fixtures) of both the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
And in April of the following year, they released the “Top Athlete Employee Support” memorandum in-house.
The document stated that the company would provide support to athletes that had the potential to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, as part of their sports-based social responsibility/CSR efforts.
More specifically, the company would help athletes shoulder sports-related costs and adjust their employment/work conditions in order to support their performance as athletes.
For instance, the company could pay for participation costs for domestic and international tournaments that would affect athletes’ chances of qualifying for the Japan national team, send athletes to association-hosted training events, tournaments, etc. on weekdays by arranging for them to be “work days,” and more.
With this memorandum, the stage was set for athletes in the company to live a more sports-centered lifestyle.
And in April 2017, he began the next chapter of his life, this time in Tokyo.
Badminton, a Paralympic Sport for the First Time, and the Pride of a Researcher-Athlete
His job as a researcher stayed the same, but his work hours were greatly reduced. Every day, he would leave the office at 3:00 P.M. and head to training.
He would train for badminton four days a week at the gymnasium, then head to the Japan Sport Council (JISS) twice a week for weight training. He was training twice as much as he used to.
And as the Tokyo Paralympics grew closer and closer, it ramped up first one gear, then another.
This year, 2019, is a critical time for all sports, what with the Tokyo Paralympics coming up next year.
Badminton, for all intents and purposes, does not offer host country qualification spots. In order to qualify for the Tokyo Paralympics, athletes must be in a certain top percentage of the world rankings. And to increase their rankings, athletes must compete in the relevant international tournaments, and gain a certain amount of points.
The battle for points has already started, with the opportunity to compete in the Paralympics dangling in front of every athlete’s eyes.
Even then, Nagashima’s style is to balance his athletic and his work life.
His work hours now have been reduced even further, out of consideration for his physical health. He maintains, however, that he “wouldn’t elect to focus on badminton 0:10,” even if the company ended up offering a policy that would let him focus 100% on his athletic career.
“There are changes in the company too, and I have to keep up-to-date on all this new information. It’s my responsibility as a company employee. Of course, it might be difficult for me to achieve the kind of things research-wise that I did in the past. But I think it’d be great if my athletic career brings some inspiration into the research center, or if it comes to be an advantage for the company in some way, like in the form of assets for new research.
For now, I want to work as hard as I can to qualify for the Paralympics, not just for myself but for the people who’ve supported me as well. And of course, after that my goal will be to win a medal at the Tokyo Paralympics!”
text & photo by Rihe Chang