Sports wheelchairs developed by a former Paralympian are drawing attention ahead of the Tokyo Games.
“I want to disseminate Japanese technology throughout the world,” says Yasuhiro Jinbo, a 49-year-old former member of the men’s wheelchair basketball team. “I hope that wheelchair sports will become more popular through the Tokyo Paralympics.”
The wheelchairs developed by Jinbo are sold in more than 10 countries. They were adopted by Britain’s national wheelchair basketball team in 2018.
He works for wheelchair-maker Matsunaga Manufactory Co., headquartered in the town of Yoro, Gifu Prefecture. He took part in four Paralympic Games between 1992 and 2004.
When he was 16, Jinbo’s spinal cord was injured in a motorbike accident that took away his ability to walk. He shut himself away from society for about two years until a friend advised him to try playing wheelchair basketball.
The sport had a dramatic impact on his life. He joined the Chiba Hawks, a competitive wheelchair basketball team based in Chiba Prefecture, when he was 19, and helped the club win the national championship six times.
He later played in the United States, leading his team to the semifinals in a U.S. championship.
Hoping to give back to society out of gratitude to those who supported him, Jinbo went to Malaysia as a volunteer with the Japan International Cooperation Agency in 2006 and stayed there for six months to promote the sport.
During the stay, he met many people who did not have jobs and were unable to enjoy sports. “I wanted to give them employment opportunities through a business,” he recalls.
After returning to Japan, Jinbo started working for Matsunaga Manufactory, designing and developing sports wheelchairs. Although the company launched an outlet to sell the wheelchairs in Malaysia, the business chalked up a major loss.
Aiming to make up for the loss, he focused on marketing activities in Japan.
The company’s sports wheelchairs are offered in three types according to playing style. Sales were poor at the start, but began to grow later as the company’s efforts to improve quality paid off.
Thanks to Jinbo’s marketing efforts, Matsunaga Manufactory won a contract as an official wheelchair supplier to Britain’s national wheelchair basketball team.
The company now aims to expand its overseas operations further.
“I hope to see wheelchair sports become more popular” Jinbo says, vowing to help make people with disabilities financially independent through its business.