HEROs FESTA 2019On your marks!

The Nippon Foundation’s HEROs project, which promotes activities by athletes that contribute to society, held an event in cooperation with the NGO Snowbank on November 9-10 at Yoyogi Park in Tokyo. “Tokyo Snow Festival x HEROs FESTA 2019” featured a number of top-level athletes who serve as “HEROs ambassadors,” who gave talks and demonstrations and interacted with children, using sports as a way to instill a desire to pursue challenges. Under sunny autumn skies, many young people and families with young children visited the event, which was held with a theme of “On your marks.”

Professional lifesaver Seiji Iinuma gives a demonstration of how to perform CPR

The first day featured a joint talk by Japan’s national judo team coach (and gold medalist at the Sydney 2000 Olympics) Kosei Inoue and former professional baseball player Norihiro Akahoshi (of the Hanshin Tigers). Mr. Inoue talked about his experience of having participated in the Olympics and how he is incorporating that in his coaching for the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics. Mr. Akahoshi reflected on his professional career, and how a spinal cord injury led to his starting a program of donating wheelchairs.

Rugby players (left to right) Shin Kawamura, Eishin Kuwano, Tokiro Harada, and Kentaro Kobayashi participate in a panel discussion

Gaining courage from volunteers

On the second day, HEROs ambassador and former national handball team captain Shunsuke Azuma, two-time badminton Olympian (Beijing 2008 and London 2012) Shintaro Ikeda, and Olympic (Sydney 2000) swimmer Tomoko Hagiwara gave a talk about their careers and what motivated them to pursue sports. They also emphasized the importance of volunteers and volunteerism.

Mr. Azuma talked about visiting a juvenile detention center in his hometown of Kanazawa as a HEROs ambassador, noting that the HEROs project has given him opportunities he did not previously have, and has encouraged him to learn more about various issues. Mr. Ikeda commented that when he was competing, volunteers gave him courage, and Ms. Hagiwara recalled that when she went to watch a match at the recent Rugby World Cup, a volunteer high-fived her 5-year-old son as they were leaving, and that energized her son during the walk back to the train station.

Roughly 40 persons who will volunteer on behalf of their companies at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and have attended or will be attending a training session using materials prepared by The Nippon Foundation Volunteer Support Center, assisted with the event’s operation. They were especially inspired by Mr. Ikeda’s and Ms. Hagiwara’s remarks. In fact, Ms. Hagiwara intends to volunteer at the Games, and plans to attend a training session in the near future. Since retiring from competition, she has also been involved in a volunteer project called “Mizucation,” which teaches children about the importance of water (mizu in Japanese) through education and communication.

Spurring interaction through sports

Alongside various booths, a sports facility called HEROs Stadium was set up for children to try their hand at sports including basketball, soccer, and ultimate frisbee. Other visitors watching the children cheered whenever one scored a goal, and gave extra applause when one of the children scored a goal against Mr. Azuma in his handball clinic.

Shunsuke Azuma demonstrating how to block a goal in handball

There were also events for adults to enjoy, including wheelchair races, bocce provided by the food and drink company Meiji, and a physical strength assessment provided by the Boat Race Promotion Association. Mr. Ikeda took the physical strength assessment and recorded back strength of 125 kilograms and a vertical jump height of 47 centimeters. In addition, the NGO Being ALIVE Japan, which supports children requiring long-term medical care and was named HEROs OF THE YEAR at the HEROs AWARD 2018 ceremony, operated a lemonade stand and donated the proceeds to support medical research in childhood cancer.

Swimmer Tomoko Hagiwara helping out at Being ALIVE Japan’s lemonade stand

Any venture starts with a first step, which for the HEROs project was in 2017. Since then, the project has been working with a number of top-tier athletes to widen the scope of sportsmanship to include ties with society. The project has three components – AWARD (recognition), ACTION (activities), and ACADEMY (education) – and it is hoped that this ACTION will spur others to launch new activities.

Tokyo Snow Festival

HEROs FESTA 2019 was held in collaboration with the Tokyo Yuki Matsuri (Tokyo Snow Festival), an event that has been held by Snowbank every year since 2011. Five blocks of ice weighing 155 kilograms each were brought to Yoyogi Park from Fukushima Prefecture, and were used to make a short snowboard course. Snowbank is involved in making young people aware of blood and bone marrow donation, and at the festival 236 people donated blood and 112 registered to become bone marrow donors. The organization is led by Yoshimasa Daze Arai, a professional snowboarder who himself was able to overcome a serious illness with the help of bone marrow and blood donations.

Mr. Arai joined HEROs ambassador Shinji Negi (Sydney 2000 Paralympics wheelchair basketball team captain), HEROs ambassador Junichi Kawai (22-time Paralympic swimming medalist, including five gold medals), and Takuro Yamada (Rio 2016 Paralympics swimming bronze medalist) for a panel discussion. They talked about the importance of having a barrier-free mindset, and noted that to achieve this, society needs to have a deeper understanding of people with disabilities and people without disabilities. They were also joined by Ken Hasebe, mayor of Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward, who introduced some of the ward’s diversity initiatives that aim to make Shibuya “a place that turns differences into strengths.” Shibuya Ward is working with The Nippon Foundation on a number of projects related to inclusiveness and diversity.

Panelists (second-left to right) Yoshimasa Daze Arai, Ken Hasebe, Shinji Negi, Junichi Kawai, and Takuro Yamada

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Public Relations Team
The Nippon Foundation

  • Email: cc@ps.nippon-foundation.or.jp