Sponsor interview: LIXIL "Bringing changes to society through products encompassing the spirit of omotenashi"

When people hear the company name LIXIL, what do they think of? Many probably think of toilets, baths and other products related to the house.
LIXIL, a Tokyo 2020 Gold Partner in the category of “building components & bathroom and kitchen fixtures”, is a provider of superior products and services that contribute to improving people's comfort and lifestyles. We interviewed Mr. Kazuyuki Ishibashi, Senior Director, Tokyo 2020 Olympic Paralympic Promotion Division, and Osamu Nagashima, a LIXIL employee who is also a para-badminton athlete.
Osamu Nagashima is a designated badminton athlete under JOC's high performance programme who has won many medals in national and international competitions. Not only is he a world-class athlete, but he also contributes to the company's business as an engineer on LIXIL's research and development team. Badminton will debut as an official Paralympic event in the Tokyo 2020 Games. Training hard in preparation for the Tokyo 2020 Games, his performance as an athlete and as an engineer is receiving a lot of attention.
LIXIL places emphasis on producing products that are easy for everyone to use and also values the spirit of compassion and omotenashi. We asked Mr. Ishibashi and Mr. Nagashima about LIXIL's dedication to delivering this spirit as well as products that embrace universal design.

The Tokyo 2020 Games present an ideal opportunity to showcase how LIXIL has been helping to improve people's comfort and lifestyles by providing solutions to various challenges.

What is the significance of becoming a corporate sponsor of the Tokyo 2020 Games? What does it mean to LIXIL to become a Gold Partner?

Mr. Kazuyuki Ishibashi, Senior Director, Tokyo 2020 Olympic Paralympic Promotion Division

LIXIL has a long history of delivering solutions that address many different challenges affecting people's lifestyles and comfort. Housing fixtures and products may not seem to have any connection with sport, but I'm sure there are issues which we, as a provider of housing products, can solve and we wanted to contribute to the Tokyo 2020 Games in our own unique way. With the advice of Osamu Nagashima, we have been studying what the real needs of athletes are, from the installation of temporary toilet facilities to the comfort of the stadium seats. The Tokyo 2020 Games will be the perfect chance for us to present our solutions to the rest of the world.
LIXIL has a history of supporting sports in various ways such as sponsoring a J.League club and a professional tennis player. We have discussed how we can use our sponsorship experience to link the LIXIL story with the Olympic and Paralympic Games story. In other words, we want to present the world with a simple story that links the Games with our Gold Partner product category, “building components and kitchen and bathroom fixtures”.

Tell us a little about your work, Mr. Nagashima.

Mr. Osamu Nagashima, Material Science Laboratory Technology Research Division
From the day I joined the company, I have been involved in the research and development of new technologies. I was in charge of developing our Proguard technology, for example, which adds a coating to protect toilets against hard water stains and spots. Responding to the need for an anti-stain technology in order to maintain a clean toilet, we worked for about two and a half years to develop the technology and acquire a patent. I am currently in charge of analysing and improving the efficiency of the research processes.

My request to move from the Aichi office to Tokyo was granted in April 2017, and I am now fully dedicated to training for the Tokyo 2020 Games. Every day I finish work at 3 o'clock in the afternoon and spend the rest of the day training. My biggest challenge as an athlete aiming for the Tokyo 2020 Games is how to split my time between work and training. I just don't have enough time. I go to work, practice afterwards and also make sure I eat right and get the proper nutrition. It's not unusual that I finally go to bed at one in the morning, and it's not easy to get enough sleep. Mentally, though, splitting my time between work and sport helps me get my mind off things so it has a positive effect. My challenge is to find the right balance between work and sport as I prepare for 2020. I hope I can become a sort of model athlete in that way.

How did your attitude toward competing change when you heard that the Olympic and Paralympic Games will be hosted by Tokyo?

Mr. Nagashima:
I started playing badminton in junior high school, and I became wheelchair user in college as a result of an accident. Then I encountered para-badminton and started playing again. I was selected as a national team member, but back then badminton was more like a hobby to me and I placed more emphasis on my work. When badminton was chosen as an official sport of the Paralympic Games in 2014, I started to think that I want to balance my work and badminton so I can play well in the Tokyo 2020 Games.

In what way has LIXIL's support toward you changed?

Mr. Nagashima:
It totally changed. I feel that the entire company is behind me one hundred percent. For the first time, I feel happy and want to do well for all the people who support me.

Mr. Ishibashi:
Our employees often go together to see Osamu play. When we asked our employees to write a message for Osamu, who was going to compete in an international badminton tournament, we received many messages of support such as, “We're proud of you!” and “You're one of us and we support you!”

Committed to the company while competing at the world's top level – this is the style of the future athlete. Osamu Nagashima is a professional both at work and as an athlete, and his approach delivers an important message to society.

What is the attraction or value of supporting a company employee who is also a top athlete?

Mr. Ishibashi:
In 2019, our company will celebrate our 25th anniversary since we have supported a J. League club, including the years we were operating under the name Tostem. We not only provide financial support through our sponsorship, but our relationship with the club has steadily grown over the years. Similarly, Osamu is an athlete and a LIXIL employee, and I personally feel an emotional attachment as though he is my family. I treat him as though he is my hard-working son who is chasing his dream. LIXIL was formed in 2011 as a result of a merger between five companies. The entire firm supporting Osamu as he aims for the Tokyo 2020 Games will help bring our employees together as one. Osamu is committed to his job and, at the same time, he is a top-class athlete, and I believe that this is the style of future athletes. Osamu is a true professional in both worlds, and his approach sends an important message to society.

Mr. Nagashima:
My colleagues with whom I have been working have shown enormous support towards my goal of participating in the Tokyo 2020 Games. There is no direct link between my work and badminton, but there's no doubt I can apply the thinking process I've gained through work to badminton. That has become my own unique style.

Delivering kindness through products and services and hoping to inspire as many people as possible to have a warm heart and compassion.

Can you tell us about the activities that LIXIL is most enthusiastic about at the moment?

Mr. Ishibashi:
LIXIL is devoted to making products for all people – kids, the elderly, people with an impairment. Not only do we want to deliver kindness through our products and services, but we also want to inspire as many people as possible to have a warm heart and compassion. We especially want to give children a chance to meet people that are different, so we have implemented an on-going program called “Universal Run: a hands-on class to experience a prosthetic leg for sports”. The program is designed for fourth to sixth graders, and it is composed of two parts – experiencing a prosthetic leg for sports, and a lecture session. The children can put on a prosthetic leg used by athletes and experience the difficulties using one.
Then they acquire basic knowledge about prosthetic legs, listen to comments from actual users, and learn from case studies in the lecture session, which will give them a chance to change their attitude toward people with disabilities. They will also learn about what constitutes universal design, which is something that is easy for everyone to use. We started this program in January 2017, and we've had 7,269 children from 99 schools participate so far (as of 31 July 2018). For many of the children, it was their very first experience wearing a prosthetic leg. By having this hands-on experience and hearing the stories of real athletes who compete with a prosthetic leg enhances their awareness and understanding of diversity.

Also, as a gesture to welcome visitors from abroad as well as from other areas in Japan, we wanted them to feel clean and comfortable using the washrooms at renown tourist destinations throughout Japan, so every year since 2014, we shave cleaned public toilet facilities at tourist spots. This “LIXIL omotenashi cleaning of washrooms at tourist spots” activity started in 2014 on the island of Shikoku as a gesture of hospitality towards all visitors, both Japanese and from abroad. The activity is carried out in cooperation with the local government, and we try to contribute to the local community and promote the spirit of omotenashi through the washroom cleaning activity and by interacting with the local people.The number of employees that take part in both of these activities is increasing.

In 2017 we released a slogan, “LIXIL, moving towards universal” and declared our determination to promote a truly universal society. This year our slogan is: “change the future with compassion and omotenashi”. It is important for us to recognize the value of omotenashi born from compassion.

Dedicating ourselves to various “activities of compassion and omotenashi” for the two years leading up to the Tokyo 2020 Games and beyond.

There are less than two years left until the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. What is your target and what challenges do you face?

Mr. Nagashima:
My biggest goal is to win a medal at the Tokyo 2020 Games. What I need to work on the most is how to use my body to my advantage and reinforcing my muscular strength. Playing badminton as a full-time employee is becoming my identity, so I'm thinking of how to strike the best balance between work and badminton toward 2020.

As a company, what initiatives are you planning or want to continue toward 2020?

Mr. Ishibashi:
Many of our employees wish to volunteer during the Tokyo 2020 Games. I tell them that they are representing LIXIL and whether they are volunteering or they are going through another day in their ordinary lives, they should always act with a sense of compassion and omotenashi.
Based on our dedication to “compassion” and “omotenashi”, we at LIXIL are involved in CSR activities that contribute to the society and the local communities. The actions of each person can change the future. We carry out these activities with the belief that we can change society by changing ourselves.
Our CSR activities will continue after 2020 and will become part of our company's DNA. That is why I want our employees to dedicate themselves to various “activities of compassion and omotenashi” for the two years leading up to the Tokyo 2020 Games and beyond.
Some day, if we can say that LIXIL would not have come this far without the Tokyo 2020 Games and the efforts we put into supporting the Games, that will become our legacy.
The vision of the Tokyo 2020 Games says that sport has the power to change the world and our future. Well, for us, the Olympic and Paralympic Games have the power to change LIXIL. And if LIXIL changes, I believe we can progressively bring positive changes to society.

“Compassion” is at the core of LIXIL's dedication to their on-going efforts to deliver superior products and to form a healthy and compassionate spirit. Let's look forward to how LIXIL and the future will change through to 2020 and beyond. We also wish Osamu Nagashima the best of luck and look forward to his superb performance!

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