1964 Tokyo Paralympic - A truly pioneering Games (Part II)

After celebrating the 55th Anniversary of the Tokyo 1964 Paralympic Games (Tokyo 1964) last week, we bring you the second installment of this truly historic event.

A vintage-stained yellow book titled “Tokyo 1964 Paralympic Official Report” holds the history that isn’t told or is rarely heard of, but its contents is significant to the Paralympic movement in Japan.

After the closing of the Games on 12 November - following a five-day event which saw 374 athletes from 21 countries compete - the organising committee didn’t want to stop there and proceeded to host an ambitious unofficial event the following day.

The Second Unofficial “Opening Ceremony”

Opening ceremony for the second part of the unofficial domestic sport event. © Japanese Para-Sports Association

It was just one day after Tokyo 1964 came to an emotional end with the chorus of “Auld Lang Syne” sung by all the participants, thousands of people once again packed Oda Field.

There was the second “unofficial” opening ceremony to celebrate a sports event for people with impairments. Despite the sky not being a bright blue like it was for the Tokyo 1964 Opening Ceremony, with clouds scattered about, hundreds of participants marched to the “Sukiyaki song” played by Japan’s defense force marching band.

Participants came from all over Japan, as far north as Hokkaido and south to Okinawa. Meanwhile, West Germany was the only non-Japanese team to participate in the unofficial event.

The event, known domestically as “the second part of the Paralympics”, a nickname of the unofficial event termed by the organising committee, saw about 480 athletes gather from all 47 prefectures of Japan to compete across 36 events.

This involved both hearing, visual and physical impairment events since Tokyo 1964 had only included athletes affected by spinal injuries.

Considering Japan was not able to send a single athlete to the 1960 Paralympic Games in Rome, it was a breakthrough moment as they hosted the multi-sport event.

Chairman of the Board of Directors for the organising committee, Yoshisuke Kasai said the motivation to host the unofficial event was to make the most of the unprecedent public attention.

“Wheelchair users are not the only people with impairments. There are many other people with impairments,” he said.

“As we are hosting the international sport event for people with impairments, we would like to give them who are not eligible for the event a chance to participate. That is why we decided to host the second part where they can join in.”

© Japanese Para-Sports Association

© Japanese Para-Sports Association

This event was held annually in Japan and eventually saw the nation host the first Far East and South Pacific Games for the Disabled (FESPIC) in 1975. It is considered to be a precursor to the Asian Para Games which has been held every four years since.

Tokyo 1964 not only left a legacy on Japan but across the region as well.

Behind the great achievement

© Japanese Para-Sports Association

© Japanese Para-Sports Association

While the event was a great success, for Japanese athletes it clearly showed the gap between them and their overseas counterparts.

“I must not be the only one who wondered how foreign participants can be so cheerful and energetic?” Japanese swimmer and fencer Shigeo Aono, who made the Oath at the Tokyo 1964 Opening Ceremony said.

“I have no doubt that they can’t be like that without the sufficient welfare system which their nations provide to them. I can’t deny there are huge gaps between us and them.

“Can our society be ready to accept us when we become physically good enough to adjust for maintaining the social life?”

Teammate Masami Hasegawa added.

“I realised why foreign participants can be so cheerful and energetic. There is a reason to be so. They are welcomed and supported by general public,” he said.

“They are recognised by their society as an individual and thus they are self-disciplined as an individual. That made a stark difference from us.

“I wonder when we, Japanese people with impairment, can feel the same way as them and live like them? I just wish such day will come as early as possible.”

Paralympic progress

In August this year, Tokyo 2020 celebrated one year to the opening of Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.

During the celebrations, eyes were on one blond haired man, Markus Rehm, who stood in front of the long jump pit at the Oda Field, which was the exact location for 1964 Paralympic Games.

In front of hundreds of members of the public at the One Year to Go Countdown event, Rehm wanted to demonstrate that para athletes are equal to their Olympic counterparts.

"It's great to see how interest in Para athletic sport is growing...it's such a pleasure to be one of the faces for the Games, and I do my best to be the right person for the role,” he said.

“I tried hard to jump a long distance and to show the world out there that we Paralympians are equal with Olympic athletes, we are professional athletes and if people want to see great competitions, amazing performances, they have to see the Paralympic Games because it's going to be amazing."

However, the 31-year-old German, who was able to break his own world record by jumping 8.50m, didn’t see his jump enter the history books as it was outside of an official competition.

Rehm’s case is exceptional but nobody can deny the drastic and revolutionary improvements in the Paralympic movement which has contributed to the growth and recognition of para athletes.

Related Links

1964 Tokyo Paralympic – A truly pioneering Games
Remembering Tokyo 1964
Paralympian archer on a golden mission for Tokyo 2020
Rehm raring to go for Tokyo 2020 with a year to go
Tokyo 2020 Celebrates One Year to Go to the Opening of the Paralympic Games