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Visit to the Sun Museum: Reflecting on the Significance of Holding the Paralympic Games

Tokyo 2020, scheduled to be held in 2021, will mark the first time in history that the Paralympic Games will be hosted by the same city for a second time.

The first time was in 1964.
International tournaments for people with impairments had been held before, but the term “Paralympic Games” was adopted for the first time 57 years ago at Tokyo 1964. After the Olympic Games, 378 para-athletes from 21 countries gathered to compete in nine sports, including archery and table tennis, over five days. Among them were also 53 Japanese athletes.

The newly established Sun Museum in Beppu City, Oita Prefecture offers exhibitions featuring the history of the second Paralympic Games held in Tokyo in 1964 and areas where visitors can experience parasports

Dr. Yutaka Nakamura Dedicated Himself to the Development of Parasports

Viewed as the founder of Japanese parasports, the late Yutaka Nakamura was a central figure in organizing the Tokyo 1964 Paralympic Games. He was known as a man of strong convictions and organized Japan’s first Oita Games for the Physically Disabled in 1961. A year later, he brought together a delegation of Japanese athletes to participate in the Stoke Mandeville Games, which was the predecessor of the Paralympic Games. This raised awareness for parasports among the Japanese public and laid the foundation for holding the Tokyo 1964 Paralympic Games. After dedicating himself to preparing the Paralympic Games, Nakamura was appointed as the leader of the Japanese delegation.

About Dr. Yutaka Nakamura (1927 – 1984)

Yutaka Nakamura was an orthopedic surgeon from Beppu, Oita. While studying overseas, he visited the National Spinal Injuries Center at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in England. There, he met Dr. Ludwig Guttmann, who is known as the founder of the Paralympic Games. Under Guttmann, Nakamura studied initiatives to actively incorporate sports into rehabilitation, along with the initiatives undertaken by physicians to help patients return to life in society. When Nakamura returned to Japan, he dedicated himself to sports and helping people with impairments achieve independence through work. In 1965, he founded Japan Sun Industries. By creating joint capital ventures with leading Japanese companies, he provided many people with impairments with job opportunities. Furthermore, he was also deeply involved in organizing the FESPIC Games (present-day Asian Para Games), which began in 1975, and the Oita International Wheelchair Marathon, which began in 1981.

In light of the debates currently taking place on whether or not to go ahead with Tokyo 2020, we believe this is an appropriate time to reflect on the significance of holding the Paralympic Games. As such, we visited the Sun Museum, the resource center of the Japan Sun Industries, which was established by the founder of Japanese parasports.

The social welfare facility was established in an area with supermarkets and sports centers; Japan Sun Industries’ symbol mark, which can be seen on the signboard, features barley; it symbolizes resilience, since barley can be trodden on over and over again, yet still continue to grow strong toward the sun

Approximately 20 minutes on the train from Oita Station takes you to Kamegawa Station. Within a five-minute walk, you’ll find yourself surrounded by Japan Sun Industries. The area has offices, sports facilities, hot springs and supermarkets where people with impairments are employed. In July 2020, the Sun Museum was added to the area (new visits have temporarily been suspended since December 2020 due to the spread of COVID-19). The museum allows visits to learn about the history of parasports through valuable documents and various hands-on activities. Not only that, they can experience first-hand the motto “No Charity, but a Chance!” that was advocated by Nakamura.

Near the entrance of Sun Museum is a statue of founder Yutaka Nakamura

The Exhibition Highlights a History of Overcoming Challenges

While Nakamura led the Japanese delegation to the Tokyo 1964 Paralympic Games, he noticed a worrying difference between the Japanese and international athletes. In contrast to how Japanese people at the time saw people with impairments, the international athletes were cheerful and active. But most of the Japanese athletes held no jobs and had nowhere to go after the Games except back to their care facilities. Seeing this, and through various other experiences later on, Nakamura grew convinced that the most important thing for people with impairments is to have a job and become independent. That led him to establish Japan Sun Industries in 1965, a year after the Tokyo 1964 Paralympic Games, to provide job opportunities to people with impairments.

The exhibition features Nakamura’s thoughts and some items he actually used, such as his white coat

The history of Japan Sun Industries, which has followed its beliefs and engaged in various initiatives over the years that have slowly changed society

Museum visitors can try using the tools used by people with impairments that help them in their daily lives and at work. They can also try out the equipment used by para-athletes. This allows them to experience the unique ideas and efforts that go into making the impossible possible.

Devising tools that can support people with impairments and improve their work efficiency; visitors can join in the experience too

In the past, it was difficult for people with impairments to hold regular jobs, much less compete in sports. The Tokyo 1964 Paralympic Games changed that belief. Learning about Nakamura and the history of Japan Sun Industries, we can understand how big an impact the Tokyo 1964 Paralympic Games left on Japanese society.

The summer of 2021 is coming up. What sort of impact will the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games make this time on those who watch the successes of para-athletes competing on the grand stage?

[Sun Museum: No Charity, but a Chance!]
Address: 1393-2 Uchikamado, Beppu city, Oita prefecture
Phone: 0977-66-0277
Hours: 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Closed*: Sundays (also closed over New Year, for summer break and certain other days)
Entry fees: Free of charge for elementary school children and younger; 100 yen for junior high school and high school students; 300 yen for university and vocational school students and up

*Please see our website before visiting to check our current status on accepting visitors. (As of February 17, 2021, new visits are temporarily suspended due to the spread of COVID-19)

text by Asuka Senaga
photo by X-1

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