ParaFes 2017 – UNLOCK YOURSELFBuilding excitement for PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games
3 former SMAP members named Support Center special supporters

ParaFes 2017 – UNLOCK YOURSELF, a festival of sports and music to promote awareness of para sports, was held on November 15 at the Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo, with approximately 4,300 people attending. The theme was “Winter,” ahead of the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games to be held next March. The event was sponsored by the Nippon Foundation Paralympic Support Center, and with several athletes who will be representing Japan in PyeongChang participating, the Paralympic mood was in the air.

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Participants take the stage for the evening’s finale at the end of rock band WANIMA’s set

The event began at 7:00 pm with a flash of images and sound. Kabuki actor Kazutaro Nakamura took the stage, and gave a short history of the Paralympics in the style of the prologue to a Kabuki play. The opening also featured performances by Brazilian musician Johnatha Bastos, who was born with partially developed arms and no hands, playing the piano, and the ParaFes Kids.

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Yasushi Yamawaki (left), Yoshiro Mori (center), and Seiko Noda (right) welcome the attendees

Next, Yoshiro Mori, president of the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, Seiko Noda, a prominent LDP politician who heads a working group making preparations for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, and Paralympic Support Center Chairman Yasushi Yamawaki, were introduced. Mr. Mori and Mr. Yamawaki thanked the attendees for coming, noting the large size of the audience, and Ms. Noda added, “I hope everyone can enjoy this evening together.”

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Para ice hockey team members Satoru Sudo, Kazuhiro Takahashi, and Mikio Annaka (left to right)

This was followed by a discussion with Paralympians who will be competing in the PyeongChang Paralympics, moderated by actor Takumi Saito. First, three key members of Japan’s para ice hockey team – Satoru Sudo, Kazuhiro Takahashi, and Mikio Annaka – took the stage. All three were leaders of the Japanese team that won the silver medal at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Paralympics. The athletes gave a demonstration of their sport, and when asked about his aspiration for PyeongChang, Mr. Takahashi said that after Japan’s missing the Sochi 2014 Winter Paralympics, he is happy to return to the competition, proclaiming, “I will do my best for our team.”

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Para alpine skiers Taiki Morii, Akira Kano, and Takeshi Suzuki (left to right)

The next athletes to take the stage were Paralympic alpine ski medalists Taiki Morii, Akira Kano, and Takeshi Suzuki. The three discussed the sport with Mr. Saito while a video showing practice sessions played on a screen behind the stage. All three have won medals at previous Paralympics, and all expressed their ambition to “Win gold” at PyeongChang. Mr. Morii, who has yet to win a gold medal, added, “Our goal is for the three of use to have the winners’ podium to ourselves!” After the athletes had finished, Mr. Saito said that after learning about these individual sports, he wanted to follow them more closely and become a Paralympic fan.

The last portion of the evening was a concert, with Koshi Kishita, a singer-songwriter who is blind and has been called the “Japanese Stevie Wonder,” and Johnatha Bastos playing a piano duo, to thunderous applause. They were followed by the popular three-member rock band WANIMA, and their energetic performance delighted the crowd. For the last song of their set, the athletes and other speakers returned to the stage to say, “So long, until next year!”

Finally, a video from The Nippon Foundation Paralympic Support Center announced that Shingo Katori, Tsuyoshi Kusanagi, and Goro Inagaki, former members of the popular vocal group SMAP, had been named Support Center special supporters, to the audience’s delight. They will be involved in a variety of activities to promote para sports going forward, beginning with the Para-Ekiden in Tokyo 2018 relay race, scheduled to be held at Komazawa Olympic Park in Tokyo on March 4. Mr. Katori has also begun a project to create a large Lego figure reproducing the drawing of the “i enjoy!” slogan he made for the Paralympic Support Center, which he hopes to display at the Para-Ekiden in March.

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