Mariko SHINODA’s Report
from the HULIC・DAIHATSU
The HULIC・DAIHATSU Japan Para-Badminton International 2018 was held from September 26 to 30 at the Machida City General Gymnasium in Tokyo. It featured over 100 players from 14 countries. After her support at the training camp, the actress and former AKB48 member Mariko SHINODA went to see the tournament, where she enthusiastically cheered for the players.
Playing and Watching Wheelchair Badminton Was A Different Experience
I first went to watch the wheelchair category doubles game. I actually got to experience this category a little bit during the training camp, so I knew some of the enjoyment and difficulty involved. I was really looking forward to seeing matches featuring top players. When seeing it live I was surprised by the speed of the players, it was way beyond my expectations. I found it really difficult to control the wheelchair while holding the racket, but the players seem to move around so easily. They showed me their hands at the training camp and they were covered with blisters. The result of all those training is displayed on the court.
The wheelchair limits the movement of the players, so a feature of the sport is that they have to arch backwards by a long way to fetch the shuttle. It is amazing to see how they curve their backs! I wonder how much they needed to train for this. There are players who cannot use their core because of their disability, but their movements are so smooth and strong that you can't notice it at all.
In the wheelchair category, shuttles that drop in the area near the net are judged to be out. Their technique to drop the shuttle right on the edge of the line is superb, and it is amazing how they can transition and hit a big clearance next to the end line straight afterwards.
The positioning of the two players is important in the doubles. The controlled shots that drop between the players are also impressive. If you look carefully you can notice the personality of the pairs, some of them communicate a lot with each other while others appear cool and calm. The pairs that are in sync don’t have any unnecessary movements.
Each Disability Class Has Unique Qualities!
The next category I watched was the singles in the standing class for arm impairment. There are many types of impairment such as players with a paralyzed arm, or players with short arms, but the speed of the shuttle is so fast and their jumping smash was so impressive that you forget about their disabilities.
Each of their personality was also shown through in their playing styles. Some players calmly aimed and hit towards a difficult course, while other players were so dynamic that they looked as if they were dancing and having fun. There were players who tried to hit a single decisive shot, while others kept the rallies going to try and find where they could attack.
As expected, the foreign players are physically strong and there are many players with long legs. The Japanese players, on the other hand, are mobile and tough.
Para-badminton tournament are held in a large space with multiple matches often taking place at the same time, so at first I didn’t know where to go and watch. Once I got used to it though, I enjoyed being able to compare the different playing styles across the disability categories that gives variety to what you can see. There is also the fun of discovering unique players.
At this venue there was a large screen that showed the score of each match, so it was easy to understand. It shows that there is a lot of thought put into the venue as well.
Once the Match Ends, Everyone is a Friend!
After seeing a number of matches, I realized that para-badminton is a very tactical sport where players vary their speed, swing back and forth and then find and attack the weak points of their opponents. There are times where they will fiercely attack the weaker side of their opponent due to their impairment, but the opponent can sometimes anticipate this and outsmart them with their return. I feel this is an appealing aspect of the sport.
I had the special chance to stand on the court floor and look at the audience seats from the point of view of the players. I also got to see a view from behind of all the players who are cheering for their peers. It was impressive to see the Japanese and overseas players lined up together watching the matches and interacting, even though they were playing against each other just a moment before.
During the matches they search for the other’s weaknesses and fight hard, but after the contest they are friends. I saw this kind of connection between the players before, when I went to watch wheelchair basketball. Whether you call it hospitality or solidarity, it is a great example of sportsmanship.
Although it is called “para” badminton, the rules are basically the same as badminton. Whether through playing it or watching it on television, I think it’s a sport that many people have experienced in one way or another. I was in the badminton team when I was a student, so among parasports, I feel it is one of the most accessible to watch.
If you see the impact of live play up close, without drawing a line around “parasports”, you will come to see it in a completely different way. This was definitely what I experienced when watching para-badminton. To anyone who hasn’t seen a match before, I hope you can join us to enjoy para-badminton together.
In between watching the matches, I also toured the other side of the venue. As a gesture for the overseas players, there were booths for experiencing the Japanese tea ceremony, Ikebana flower arranging and calligraphy. It was a great chance to communicate Japanese traditions to people from other countries.
There was also a display of Daihatsu vehicles inside the venue. I got to experience the TanTo WELCOME SEAT, which makes it easier to get in and out of the car for people using wheelchairs or who feel strain in their leg muscles. This is a spceial vehicle that is operated by remote control to slide, rotate and lower the passenger seat so that getting on and off can be done outside the car. In order to make it easier to get on and off, an innovation has been applied where the seat tilts forward while it is being lowered, so the seat surface is almost flat to the floor. The riding experience is also very comfortable. I could get on and off slowly, safely and easily.
There is another type of a spceial vehicle that allows you to get in while still sitting on the wheelchair. It shows that Daihatsu creates comfortable cars for the needs of a wide variety of people in mind.
Afterwards while I was walking around the venue, I ran into the Japanese national player Ikumi FUKE (also an employee of Daihatsu Motor), who I spoke with at the training camp. Her match on that day was in the afternoon, so she was cheering for the other players in the morning. She was there with her kind husband and cute 2 year old daughter, who she told me about when I interviewed her.
She played with her daughter in her lap while riding the wheelchair as her husband watched and smiled. It showed how true it was when she said that “family gives me strength”. Seeing the FUKE family made me think of my own family. I’m so grateful to them because they are always supporting me, which encourages me to do my best. I’ll always be cheering for Ikumi FUKE!
I was only there for half a day, but in this time I got to see a wide variety of para-badminton matches that are carefully divided into different classes. I got to experience the differences between each playing styles, which made it really enjoyable to watch.
As well as the matches there are many other things to enjoy at the venue. The next large tournament in Japan is the Daihatsu Japan Para-Badminton Championships in Kurume, Fukuoka Prefecture in December. I hope that many people will visit the venue. I will keep on supporting para-badminton.
Born in March 1986. From Fukuoka Prefecture. She was active as a central member of the popular idol group AKB48 from 2006 to 2013. She was also an exclusive model for women’s magazines. She is now a member of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s project TEAM BEYOND, which aims to increase awareness and enthusiasm for parasports.