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ParaFes 2019: An Exuberant Collaboration of Parasports x Music! 6,400 People Come Together as One

“ParaFes 2019 ~UNLOCK YOURSELF~,” an innovative entertainment event featuring live collaborative performances by para-athletes, artists, and performers, was held on November 16 at the main arena of the Musashino Forest Sport Plaza. The theme for this fourth iteration of the event was “OEN (Athletes To Cheer For!).” A record 6,400 spectators attended this event—the largest-scale event hosted by The Nippon Foundation Paralympic Support Center (Parasapo). It was clear from the event atmosphere that anticipation for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, now less than a year away, is rising by the day.

At 4:00 P.M., the lights dimmed in the packed venue, and the event began. Kicking off the opening performance was DJ Yamato.

His dynamic performance was a fusion of Japanese sounds and beats

The performance that followed featured a powerful, contemporary yet avant-garde show by a total of 21 performers, both able-bodied and with impairment.

Koichi Omae, a dancer with a prosthetic leg, also performed in the Closing Ceremony for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games

The thrilling performance drew to a close, and Goro Inagaki, Tsuyoshi Kusanagi, and Shingo Katori—Special Supporters of The Nippon Foundation Paralympic Support Center and navigators of this event—emerged on-stage, to the roar of the crowd. “Welcome, everyone!” They announced, telling the audience about this year’s theme, “OEN.” Then emerged Chairman Yasushi Yamawaki. “Thank you so much to all of you who have come here today. We have 283 days until the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. Let’s everyone build up the excitement, and work together to create an inclusive society where each and every individual can perform to the best of their ability,” he said, greeting the crowd. He went on, speaking as to his anticipation for the event. Then, with a video message by Andrew Parsons, President of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), the event officially began.

Chairman Yamawaki of Parasapo discussed his anticipation for a society based in diversity & inclusion (D&I), where each person’s differences are recognized, and where everyone can perform to the best of their ability

President Andrew Parsons of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) said in a video message, “I’m looking forward to seeing you all next year”

Para-Athlete Demonstrations Bolstered by the OEN Spirit

First on stage for the introduction of parasports and athletes were Tomohiro Ueyama and Aiko Okazaki of archery.

Tomohiro Ueyama, ranked No. 2 in the world in the Men’s Recurve event in the 2019 season, released his arrows with exquisite form

Aiko Okazaki of the Compound event, aiming for the target with a serious expression on her face

In the demonstration for football 5-a-side (blind soccer), Ryo Kawamura and Hajime Teranishi wowed the crowd with passes, dribbles, and shots that made it hard to believe they couldn’t actually see.

The dribbling and passes are astonishingly fast when seen in real life

The para powerlifting demonstration, which featured Hideki Odo and Eri Yamamoto, was filled with tension and passion. Each was given only two minutes to get onto the stage and lift the barbell, cheered on by the clapping from the crowd. When they both managed to lift a weight close to their personal bests, the crowd erupted in cheers. The demonstration seemed to embody for the whole venue the power of “OEN”—the power of the crowd to inspire athletes to perform to the best of their ability.

Eri Yamamoto lifted an incredible 60kg, drawing on the “OEN” energy from the crowd

Hideki Odo attempted a 180kg lift

“ParaFes UNLOCK LIVE” Captivates the Crowd

When the para-athlete demonstrations were over, it was time for “ParaFes UNLOCK LIVE,” another of the event’s innovations. Blind singer and pianist Chihiro Watanabe, Johnatha Bastos, a guitarist with no arms, and blind middle-school drummer Hibiki Sakai took the stage, captivating the crowd with their passionate performances.

Chihiro Watanabe’s solo performance was held as a “blind concert,” with eye masks distributed to the crowd so that they could listen to the famous song, “Imagine,” while unable to see

Johnatha Bastos connected his guitar to an amp, using the guitar foot pedal and his toes to give the crowd an incredibly original guitar performance

Middle schooler Hibiki Sakai’s exuberant performance was characterized by powerful rhythms

Little Glee Monster performing the NHK rugby theme song “ECHO,” used for the Rugby World Cup 2019

The ParaFes dancers showed up at the end, bringing the performance to a passionate and dramatic close

The ParaFes dancers showed up at the end, bringing the performance to a passionate and dramatic close

The Ulfuls Show Up for the “SPECIAL LIVE”!

In the SPECIAL LIVE that followed, the Ulfuls performed five of their popular songs, in their characteristic soulful rock style.

Sign language performers (Icchiro & KANA) were on hand during the performance to interpret the lyrics in real-time; vocalist Tortoise Matsumoto seemed deeply moved by their performance, telling us, “It was fun to see the lyrics we wrote turned into sign language. Like, oh, that’s how they do it. It’s so interesting. I guess it’s good to just try new things.”

“The Paralympics are just next year. Count on our support for livening up the parasports scene! Let’s all do this together! Yay! Thank you everyone,” they called out to the crowd

Atarashii Chizu Performs “Ame Agari no Step” in the Grand Finale!

It was time for the grand finale. All of the event’s performers showed up on stage, and sang the parasport support song “Ame Agari no Step,” all together. The moment was one of shared happiness amongst the performers and the crowd—an incredible atmosphere, with smiles all around.Said Katori, “It may seem like the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics are just a moment away, but there’s still 283 days left. If you all take what you experienced today home with you, and tell as many people as you can about how brilliant parasports are, I’m sure we can liven up next year’s Paralympics, and turn it into the best one yet. I believe that the success of the Paralympics will inspire Japan to change for the better after 2020. Let’s all work together to make it the best it can be!” about his expectations for the future. And thus the almost three and a half hour event came to a close.

text by Jun Nakazaw(Parasapo Lab)
photo by Parasapo

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