In Japan, gyms for people with disabilities gain traction
TOKYO — A little more than a year remains before the start of the Tokyo Paralympics, and sports facilities for persons with disabilities are being built across Japan and competitions being held for para athletes.
The Paralympics are expected to enhance the visibility of sports for persons with disabilities and help improve their business viability.
In March, “i-Self Workout,” a training gym for wheelchair users, opened in Koto Ward, Tokyo. J-Workout, the company that operates the gym, imported five kinds of equipment from South Korea designed to help users train their upper body and trunk while seated in a wheelchair.
The enrollment fee is ¥5,000 with membership costing ¥6,800 per month for weekday use — roughly the same as a gym membership for able-bodied people.
The gym has a wheelchair lift and slopes, and spaces between pieces of equipment have been widened so wheelchair users can easily move around. Though it only has about 15 users, the gym has fielded inquiries from disabled sports organizations such as wheelchair dance clubs.
J-Workout also operates studios in Tokyo and Osaka that help improve the mobility of people who suffered spinal injuries and collectively have more than 400 members. As training requires assistance from caregivers and trainers, members must pay a yearly fee of ¥240,000 — although it is free for junior high school students and younger — in addition to a ¥25,000 fee for two hours’ training.
“In addition to the physically impaired, many elderly people use wheelchairs. We provide an environment where they can readily train to stay fit and get slim,” said company President Takunori Isa, who also uses a wheelchair, in explaining the gym’s purpose.
The company imports special equipment worth ¥850,000 to ¥950,000 per unit, and aims to sell such equipment to private gyms.
The nonprofit organization Blade Library likewise opened in Koto Ward, Tokyo, in 2017. The organization holds training sessions hosted by specialist prosthetists and para athletes, sometimes attracting more than 20 people. It also lends blade-shaped prosthetic limbs — which are usually quite expensive — to para athletes, enabling them to enjoy running.
The number of athletes participating in para track events is steadily increasing, and events have been held recently in an effort to boost the nationwide popularity of para sports.
According to a 2018 survey conducted by the Sasakawa Sports Foundation, there are 141 public facilities nationwide with swimming pools and gymnasiums that can be used exclusively or preferentially by impaired people. There are about 9.4 million people with disabilities in Japan, including those with intellectual disabilities. “We can’t say that we have a sufficient system to do what we need to do,” an official at the foundation said.
“Momentum for the Tokyo Paralympic Games is growing. We’d like to develop an environment where not only top-level competitors but also beginners can enjoy sports,” said Tomohiro Ida, head of the development section at the Japanese Para-Sports Association, with a sense of expectation.