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Yohei Sasakawa
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The Nippon Foundation Launches World’s First Online Sign Language Learning Game SignTown (2) [2021年10月25日(Mon)]
SignTown was developed as an easy and enjoyable way for both deaf and hearing people to learn and experience sign language. We hope people will be encouraged to work on their sign language and use it in their daily lives. In addition to being able to act as interpreters in social and work situations, this could encourage more people such as doctors, teachers and store employees to communicate with their patients, students and customers who are deaf using sign language.

I believe the launch of SignTown is a great step in the direction of a more inclusive society as it will lay a solid foundation for the further development of a sign language recognition model while, at the same time, raising public awareness about sign language and promoting the social inclusion of the deaf community.

Players are supposed to make signs in front of a camera to complete every task required in relation to daily activities, such as packing their bags for a trip, finding a hotel to stay in, or ordering food at a café.

In response, the AI-powered recognition model will give immediate feedback on their signing accuracy. Cute hand-shaped characters scattered throughout the game will also explain to users the concepts of sign language and deaf culture.  

In this way, both hearing and deaf people can learn sign culture and deaf culture, and sign languages in Japan and Hong Kong, in a fun and relaxing manner.

Previous models of sign language recognition have not yielded a satisfactory accuracy rate because linguistic analysis of sign language has not yet been fully utilized in analyzing the visual-gestural language data.

In sign language, apart from hand movements, other gestural information such as body movements, facial expressions, head positions and movements, and mouth shapes play an equally important role in grammar. Exclusion of any of these parameters in a sign, a phrase or a clause could result in ungrammatical or uninterpretable messages.

While sign languages vary from one country to another, phonetic features like handshapes, orientations and movements are universal, and the number of possible combinations is finite, hence recognition models are possible.  

Our project team has successfully constructed the first machine-learning-based model that can recognize 3D sign language movements, and track and analyze hand and body movements as well as facial expressions using a standard camera.

The next move in the project is to generate a sign dictionary that not only incorporates a search function but also provides a virtual platform to facilitate sign language learning and documentation based on AI technology.

The Nippon Foundation’s ultimate goal is to develop an automatic translation model that can recognize natural conversations in sign language and convert them into spoken language using the cameras of commonly used computers and smartphones.

I am hopeful that people will play with SignTown and someday be able to use sign language in their daily lives, lowering barriers to employment for persons who are deaf and hard of hearing.

Now that the Tokyo Paralympics Games this summer have given added momentum to global efforts toward a more inclusive society, it would be wonderful if more deaf and hearing people to learn and experience sign language with SignTown.

To try “SignTown”, please go to:

The Nippon Foundation Launches World’s First Online Sign Language Learning Game SignTown (1) [2021年10月22日(Fri)]
The entry page of the world’s first multi-language online sign language learning game SignTown launched by The Nippon Foundation on September 22, 2021.

The Nippon Foundation has officially launched the world’s first multi-language online sign language learning game SignTown developed in collaboration with The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), Google and Kwansei Gakuin University.

The launch was announced at a press conference on September 22 which came on the eve of the International Day of Sign Languages on September 23, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 2017, as a day to call for the recognition and importance of sign language.

With the support of artificial intelligence (AI)-based sign language recognition, SignTown is an online game in which players are placed in a fictional town where sign language is the official medium of communication.

Since the launch of the beta version in May this year, over 8,500 people in Japan and Hong Kong have used the site, leading to various improvements based upon their feedback, paving the way for the official launch.

In my opening remarks at the media event, I noted that Japan has ratified the 2006 U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which states that “governments are to recognize sign language as an official language in the Constitution and/or special legislation, ensure professional interpreter services, and guarantee education to deaf people in their sign language.”

But in reality, Japan has a long way to go to reach that stage.

“Making more people conversant in sign language would lower barriers to employment of persons who are deaf and hard of hearing,” I said.

I was followed by Ms. Ikumi Kawamata, a staff member of The Nippon Foundation, who is deaf. She played a central role in the foundation’s collaboration with CUHK, Google and Kwansei Gakuin University, which is based in Nishinomiya, western Japan, in initiating and developing the SignTown project.

In her presentation, she used sign language with spoken interpretation to provide background on sign language and an overview of the SignTown project. She explained that 5% of the world’s population has some degree of hearing loss and that 70 million people−close to 1% of the world’s population−use sign language.

Ms. Kawamata explained that, like a spoken language, sign language enables people to convey and understand emotions and nuances that are lost when communicating by written text alone. For these people, sign language is more than just a means of communication, it embraces culture and manners and is an integral part of their identity.

We were then joined by popular 19-year-old YouTuber Chloe of Yurima Girl, who is deaf and fluent in Japanese sign language, who demonstrated SignTown. After setting the camera to synchronize AI recognition, she chose the module for Hong Kong sign language and learned signs that would be useful for ordering in a café and checking into a hotel.

Ms. Chloe commented: “The site is enjoyable to use and the side-by-side replay function is particularly helpful. This is the first time I have seen sign language recognition and was impressed by the technology.” She is interested in traveling to other countries and hopes that SignTown will be expanded going forward to include more countries’ sign languages.

(To be continued)

Speaking at a press conference to release the world’s first multi-language online sign language learning game SignTown on September 22, 2021.

A screen shot of SignTown sign language recognition.

Ms. Ikumi Kawamata of The Nippon Foundation uses sign language with spoken interpretation to provide an overview of the SignTown project.

Popular YouTuber Chloe of Yurima Girl demonstrates SignTown.
Pleased to Join First Forum on “Disabilities and Business” for an Inclusive World [2021年09月14日(Tue)]
Speaking at the first forum on “Disabilities and Business” jointly sponsored by The Nippon Foundation and “The Valuable 500,” a business network representing CEOs of 500 global companies, in Tokyo on August 20, 2021.

I was pleased to participate in the first forum on “Disabilities and Business” jointly sponsored by The Nippon Foundation and “The Valuable 500,” a business network representing CEOs of 500 global companies committed to including persons with disabilities in business through access to jobs, products and services.

The Valuable 500 was launched by Ms. Caroline Casey, an Irish social entrepreneur who is visually impaired, at the annual gathering of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January 2019 to promote reforms that will enable persons with disabilities to demonstrate their potential social, business and economic value.

In a video message for the August 20 forum, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said he “strongly supports” the initiative to promote employment of persons with disabilities and development of products and services tailored to their needs. He then welcomed The Nippon Foundation’s decision to join the business network as a Global Impact Partner by providing support totaling $5 million over the next three years. He is hopeful that the “highly significant” network will expand further beyond the 500 companies, he added.

Speaking online from Dublin, Ms. Casey noted it took two and a half years to bring together 500 CEOs from global firms committed to disability business inclusion. She hopes that more than 50 companies from Japan, the second largest number after the United Kingdom, will lead the way toward major innovation.

In my remarks, I welcomed the prime minister’s comments on business disability inclusion at this first forum, expressing my resolve to work with the 500 global business leaders to create employment for the world’s 1.2 billion persons with disabilities and create products and services for them. The purchasing power of persons with disabilities in the world, their families and friends are said to total $13 trillion, a market bigger than China.

For more than 50 years, I noted, The Nippon Foundation has supported social participation by persons with disabilities across the globe. Our focus has been on creating an inclusive society in which people with disabilities can actively participate without discrimination.

In preparation for the Tokyo Paralympic Games, held from August 24 to September 5, 2021, The Nippon Foundation offered 29 Japanese Paralympic sports associations offices on the fourth floor of our building, providing them with organizational and logistical support, including translation into Japanese of documents regarding changes in competition rules.

Speaking just days before the start of the Paralympics, I told the forum I hoped the games would fill children the world over with hopes and dreams and serve as a catalyst for changing the world into a more inclusive society, thus providing a further impetus to the Valuable 500 initiative.

The network is chaired by former Unilever CEO Paul Polman and is being supported by noted global business leaders including Virgin Group founder Richard Branson and Accenture CEO Julie Sweet.

The Valuable 500 membership includes such well-known names as Apple, Google, Microsoft, Coca-Cola, BBC, BP, Daimler, Intel, Mastercard, and P&G as well as 53 Japanese companies such as ANA, Japan Airlines, Fast Retailing, NEC, Sega Sammy Holdings, Softbank, Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group, Sompo Group, Sony, Dentsu, Hitachi, the Asahi Shimbun, the Yomiuri Shimbun and Seiko.

Later in the forum, we listened to presentations by business leaders including Mr. Kazuo Hirai, senior adviser to Sony Group, and Mr. Toshiya Kakiuchi, CEO of Mirairo Inc., who has used a wheelchair since childhood, on the value expected to be added to companies in the eyes of investors by inclusion of persons with disabilities in business and development of products and services for them.

The three-hour forum finished off with a talk session on challenges and possibilities Japanese firms face in disability business inclusion.

Mr. Ichiro Kabasawa, The Nippon Foundation’s managing director, said in his closing remarks that years of efforts by governments, NGOs and others have failed to produce visible results, so the time is ripe for global CEOs to get directly involved in disability business inclusion. He said he was looking forward to seeing Japanese companies come up with unique ways of doing so and explaining them to the world.

Once the novel coronavirus pandemic becomes more manageable, I look forward to traveling around Japan and further afield to boost this initiative by private companies and individuals in business and get governments on board.
The Nippon Foundation Establishes Schools to Train Prosthetics & Orthotics Professionals in Six Southeast Asian Countries [2021年08月25日(Wed)]
It has been three decades since The Nippon Foundation launched a project to establish schools to train prosthetics and orthotics professionals in Southeast Asian countries. A prosthesis is a replacement for a lost limb, while an orthosis is an external device used to support, correct or assist a limb.

Before we acted in 1991, there was not a single education and training institution in Southeast Asia that met the standards of the International Society for Prosthetics and Orthotics (ISPO).

We started in Cambodia. The Pol Pot regime’s brutal genocidal reign of terror resulted in the killing of hundreds of thousands of Cambodians in the late 1970s and many people lost limbs years later after coming into contact with landmines used in the internal conflicts.

Mr. Carson Harte, the Founder Director of Cambodia Trust (now Chief Executive of Exceed Worldwide), was scrambling to provide artificial limbs to those disabled people and called on The Nippon Foundation for urgent assistance.

Prosthetics and orthotics professionals assess clients, prescribe, design, fabricate, fit and maintain and monitor prostheses and orthoses as well as provide education to clients. Having a proper, customized prosthetic fine-tuning is paramount in capturing the exact shape of a client’s residual limb so as to guarantee an intimate socket fit.

I was reminded of how significant it was to undertake this project when I saw a Cambodian woman with a disability dance with joy when she first wore her just-completed prosthesis and orthosis.  

Toward the end of the 26-year-long civil war in Sri Lanka, the foundation decided to establish a school to educate prosthetics and orthotics professionals locally. People in the capital of Colombo were touched to see young Sinhalese and Tamils−formerly warring ethnic groups−start to be trained together at the school and saw it as a symbol of national reconciliation. We appreciated receiving the full cooperation of the Sri Lankan government.

Initially, construction workers engaged in building the school used nothing more than a shabby container as a temporary office. But I still remember their broad smiles as they thanked me for our assistance, even though conditions were not the best, when I visited the site.

The institution has also opened similar prosthetics and orthotics schools in four other Southeast Asian countries−Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and Myanmar. When operations were fully under way, the foundation handed over management of each school to the ministry of health or, as we did recently in the Philippines, to a university. The six schools all met ISPO standards.

The following table shows assistance provided by The Nippon Foundation for the establishment and operation of schools to train prosthetics and orthotics professionals in the six Southeast Asian countries:


My video message for the ceremony to mark the handover of the Philippines School of Prosthetics and Orthotics held in Manila on July 31, 2021, is available at The Nippon Foundation YouTube.

A transcript can be seen here.
Book Recounts More Than 30 Years of The Nippon Foundation’s Support for People with Visual Impairment [2021年08月12日(Thu)]
A new book, PARTNERSHIPS FOR CHANGE: National Strategies -- Regional Collaboration, depicts more than 30 years of The Nippon Foundation’s support for people with visual impairment around the world.

For more than three decades, The Nippon Foundation has supported people with visual impairment around the world as part of its efforts to create a truly inclusive society.

Our campaign started in 1989 with the establishment of an international scholarship endowment at the Overbrook School for the Blind based in Philadelphia in the United States. In 1998, that initial endowment was supplemented by a second that created the “Overbrook-Nippon Network on Educational Technology” (ON-NET), a regionally based program working with blind youth in the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

This was followed in 2006 by a joint initiative with the International Council for Education of People with Visual Impairment (ICEVI) that has provided support resulting in greatly expanded access to inclusive higher education, largely in the ASEAN region.

This journey of over 30 years to support blind and partially sighted people not only in Southeast Asia but throughout the world is depicted in a recently launched book. PARTNERSHIPS FOR CHANGE: National Strategies --Regional Collaboration illustrates many “lessons learned” over the past three decades on how to identify impediments, develop sustainable solutions and create an environment for cross-border collaboration that will allow the changes being achieved to continue.

In addition, the book, available both on paper and online, has incorporated many personal stories of persons with visual impairment, including those who received higher education and continue to lead the way in creating more inclusive communities that leave no one behind.

The text is supplemented by 53 embedded videos that provide the reader with the opportunity to “meet” many of the young blind individuals who have led the way in creating the partnerships and the changes achieved. It is possible for the visually impaired to access the content of the book.

I hope that all who read this book will learn from it and share it with others that are pursuing similar efforts to improve the education and employment outcomes of persons with visual impairment in their respective countries.

During the World Blindness Summit 2021 held in Madrid, Spain, from June 28 to 30, a reception was held to mark the launch of the book in the presence of its authors−Dr. Larry Campbell, special advisor to ICEVI, Dr. M.N.G. Mani, CEO of ICEVI, and Ms. Wenru Niu, Program officer of ON-NET−and other distinguished guests.

My video message for the launch ceremony can be seen on The Nippon Foundation YouTube channel.

A transcript is available here.

If you are interested, the book is available here.

With a participant in the quadrennial World Blindness Summit held in Florida, the United States, in 2016.
The Nippon Foundation Presents Star-Studded Music Video Featuring 13 International Differently-Abled Artists [2021年06月17日(Thu)]
The latest True Colors Festival music video has been released worldwide, bringing together a cast of 13 artists from nine countries for a new take on the R&B classic You Gotta Be by Ms. Des’ree.

The Nippon Foundation has released a music video bringing together a star-studded cast of 13 differently-abled artists from nine countries for a new take on the R&B classic You Gotta Be by Ms. Des’ree.

This is the latest in a series of performing arts events presented by the foundation’s True Colors Festival (TCF) across geographies, in celebration of diversity and inclusion as “One World, One Family.”

Performing from their respective home countries, the artists include Ms. Mandy Harvey, an American deaf singer-songwriter whose performance on “America’s Got Talent” earned Simon Cowell’s Golden Buzzer; Grammy nominee Mr. Raul Midón also of the United States, who devoted his life to music after being told that blindness would make it impossible; Mr. Kenta Kambara, an accomplished aerial performer and dancer from Japan who performed in the Rio 2016 Paralympics closing ceremony and hopes to participate in the next Games opening ceremony in Tokyo this summer; Mr. Signmark, the world’s best known deaf rapper from Finland and a global champion for the promotion of sign language; and Ms. Alienette Coldfire of the Philippines, who placed third in “France’s Got Talent”.

Ms. Des’ree commented: “This is a truly powerful video−so invigorating and energizing, elevating the sentiment of the song and its message. The artists’ introductions at the end add even deeper resonance to their already inspiring performances.”

The music video was directed and produced in Singapore by creative and music director Dr. Sydney Tan and video director Jasper Tan. Dr. Tan noted: “All of us, regardless of who and where we are, wake up and start our days and have the opportunity to listen and look up, to participate in choices and be fully human. We have the ability, whatever our circumstances and our geography, to experience and celebrate the ordinary yet wonderful moments that life unfolds.”

The technical process of producing this music video involved countless WhatsApp, Messenger, and Zoom calls, monitoring the time across time zones, and using Google Translate in real time to communicate across different languages−all in addition to the process of piecing together the audio and video performances across the globe.

“The real challenge, though, was to develop a relationship with each artist, such that trust and freedom would allow them to perform and be themselves, with their spirit and energy coming through in a real and palpable way,” added Dr. Tan.

In full agreement, Ms. Mandy Harvey said: “Even though we haven’t met in person…you can feel that every person put their heart into the entire process. Being a part of this team is another reinforcement to me that what’s within you is so much stronger than the barriers we face. This is a reminder to reach farther and dream bigger. My hope is that people are encouraged to try!”

According to Mr.Ichiro Kabasawa, Executive Director of The Nippon Foundation, presenter of True Colors Festival: “People everywhere have been going through such a prolonged period of uncertainty, isolation and fear. We chose this classic, You Gotta Be for everyone, everywhere at this time, to realize the potential in ourselves; to choose to be bolder, stronger, wiser, whatever each day may bring. It’s a reminder that when it comes down to it, we’re all human, living together in our one world.”

I might add that this TCF music video comes with options that make it widely accessible, including closed captions, audio description, and an accompanying video transcript.

You Gotta Be is a gentle encouragement as we deal with circumstances, to start each day listening, and looking up. I am sure you will be inspired by this video which also shows what the lives of these artists are like amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Please watch You Gotta Be:

You can visit the special site of True Colors Festival here.
“The Valuable 500” Marks Milestone of Having 500 Global CEOs Committed to Disability Business Inclusion [2021年06月01日(Tue)]

The Valuable 500 logo

“The Valuable 500” business network, which is supported by The Nippon Foundation, has reached a milestone of having CEOs of 500 companies from 36 countries committed to including persons with disabilities in business through access to jobs, products and services.

The global initiative will now move on to the next phase of its campaign, in which the 500 firms will work together to promote product development backed by surveys on the needs of consumers with disabilities, the creation of metrics for measuring the degree of inclusion of persons with disabilities at companies, and the creation of an easily accessible portal site for hiring. It also aims to hold symposiums and other events to facilitate collaboration among international institutions and participating companies.

Ms. Caroline Casey, an Irish social entrepreneur and founder of The Valuable 500, said it was wonderful to have “hit our goal of having 500 global companies on board and committed to tackling disability inclusion on their board agendas.”

Commenting on this milestone, I said: “I hope that by bringing the new perspective of business to issues related to persons with disabilities, this initiative by a network of 500 global companies will move us closer to an inclusive society for everyone.”

In January this year, The Nippon Foundation announced its decision to join The Valuable 500 as a “Global Impact Partner” by providing support totaling $5 million over three years from 2021−the biggest-ever single investment into disability business inclusion.

Launched by Ms. Casey in January 2019 at the annual gathering of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the platform is a network of CEOs now representing 500 global companies created to promote reforms that will enable persons with disabilities to demonstrate their potential social, business and economic value. The initiative is chaired by former Unilever CEO Paul Polman and is being supported by noted global business leaders including Virgin Group founder Richard Branson and Accenture CEO Julie Sweet.

The Valuable 500 membership includes 44 Fortune 500 companies, and 44 included in the FTSE 100, the blue-chip index on the London Stock Exchange. Well-known names include Apple, Google, Coca-Cola, BBC, BP, Daimler, Intel, Mastercard, Microsoft and P&G.

Among 50 member companies from Japan are ANA, Japan Airlines, Fast Retailing, NEC, Sega Sammy Holdings, Softbank, Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group, Sompo Group, Sony, Dentsu, Hitachi and Seiko.

The number of persons with disabilities around the globe is estimated at 1 billion, accounting for about 15% of the world’s total population, according to the United Nations and the World Bank.

The purchasing power of these persons, their families and friends is said to total $13 trillion, a market bigger than China, said the 2020 Global Economics of Disability report by the Return on Disability Group. However, the report also said the percentage of companies offering products that take persons with disabilities into account is extremely low at only 3.6%.

According to a statement released by the Valuable 500, there are no executives or senior managers who have disclosed a disability in company reporting by the FTSE 100, while only 12% report on the total number of their employees who are disclosed as having a disability.

In Japan, companies are legally required to hire a certain percentage of employees with disabilities (2.3% for companies with a workforce of 43.5 or more, with each part-timer counted as 0.5) and progress is being made toward disclosing information on their employment.

Nevertheless, there are no frameworks under which companies can share this information and knowledge, and progress still needs to be made in creating an environment that allows employees with disabilities to demonstrate their full potential.

The statistics shown above indicate that only a small minority of business entities worldwide are actively tackling and addressing disability inclusion. No doubt there is plenty of room for improvement. I sincerely hope that the 500 global companies will work together to lead by example and transform the business system for disability inclusion to better serve the 1 billion persons with disabilities and lead us toward a truly inclusive world.

Ms. Caroline Casey, founder of The Valuable 500

In my message to mark the 500-company milestone, I said: “This initiative by a network of 500 global companies will move us closer to an inclusive society for everyone.”
Creating Favorable Workplace Environment for Women Is Key to Reversing Falling Birthrates: 8-Nation Survey [2021年03月30日(Tue)]
What are your views on the current declining birthrate in your country?

The world’s population stood at 7.8 billion in 2020 and is projected to reach 10 billion by 2056, according to the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD). Many developed countries, most notably Japan, have experienced declining birthrates, while developing nations, especially in Africa, continue to see their population grow, making inequality and migration major issues for the international community.

Against this background, The Nippon Foundation has conducted an awareness survey of women aged between 18 and 69 in Japan and seven other countries on the subject of “declining birthrates.”

The online poll was conducted between January 21 and February 3, 2021, covering 500 women each in eight countries: Sweden and Denmark, which have expansive social welfare systems; France, where common-law arrangements and other new forms of marital relationships are increasing; Japan, Italy and South Korea, where declines in birthrates are accelerating; the United States, where the population is expected to continue to grow as a result of immigration; and China, which had a “one-child” policy from 1979 to 2015.

When the survey asked respondents about the declining birthrate in their country, a large majority of women in Japan (79.6%), China (56.4%), South Korea (80.6%) and Italy (73.6%) said they see it as a problem. But it was considered to be a problem by only a small portion of those in the United States (21.8%), Sweden (27.2%), Denmark (37.0%) and France (37.4%).

Chosen as reasons for considering the falling birthrate to be a problem (multiple answers accepted), more than eight in 10 women in Japan (84.4%) said that “the burden on the younger generation, which supports the older generation, will become excessive,” as did 74.1% in China, 73.9% in South Korea and 65.2% in Italy.

Other causes cited by more than half of Japanese women were that “it will put a strain on the finances of public health services and the social security system” (57.5%) and that “it will lead to a smaller population and economic contraction” (56.0%).

Asked whether they think it is easy to have and raise children in their country, women in countries with declining birthrates responded negatively, with 83.0% in South Korea, 71.8% in Italy and 70.2% in Japan saying “no”. On the other hand, a large majority of women in nations where falling birthrates are not seen as a problem answered “yes,” with Denmark leading the way at 81.2%, followed by Sweden (78.4%), France (62.2%) and the United States (54.0%).

Queried how they would rate on a scale of 1-5 (the highest) their own country’s measures in response to the declining birthrate, Japan was rated lowest at an average of 2.2, with South Kore (2.3) and Italy (2.4) also ranked poorly.

Regarding what measures they would like to see their governments take in response to the falling birthrate (multiple answers accepted), the most cited measure by women in seven out of the eight countries (except for China) was “provision of an environment to make it easy to work,” with 75.6% of women in Japan, 71.2% in Italy and 61.6% in South Korea selecting that response.

On how many children they think it is desirable for a couple to have, a majority of women in all eight countries were unanimous in answering “two.”

But they were starkly divided when asked about their views of having babies out of wedlock. A majority of women in the Asian countries−China (68.2%), Japan (66.6%) and South Korea (56.2%)−said they consider marriage to be a prerequisite for having children, whereas almost eight in 10 of their counterparts in the European nations−Sweden (84.8%), France (82.4%), Denmark (82.0%) and Italy (76.8%)−believe it is not a prerequisite.

Prime Minster Yoshihide Suga has said that the declining birthrate has been “Japan's most pressing issue for many years.” To make the matter worse, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated a preexisting downward trend in the nation’s birthrate.

I hope that the government and business community will listen attentively to the voices of people who wish to marry and start a family, and take whatever steps necessary to reverse the declining birthrate. As the survey results indicate, this should include improving the environment for working women, such as by providing more childcare support. In addition, their spouses need to be there for their partners and take on their fair share of childrearing and other duties, and I hope this is something that their employers will facilitate through their policies.

On a scale of 1-5 (the highest), how would you rate your own country’s measures in response to the declining birthrate?

Details of the findings of the survey can be seen here.
The Nippon Foundation Para Arena to be Reopened to Paralympians in April [2021年03月18日(Thu)]
The Nippon Foundation Para Arena, seen on the left, was closed about a year ago to house 100 private rooms for COVID-19 patients, and will be reopened to para athletes on April 1 prior to the Paralympic games due to open on August 24. Seen on the right are14 prefabricated houses with 150 beds as well as a large air-conditioned tent for doctors and nurses.

The Nippon Foundation will reopen The Nippon Foundation Para Arena in Tokyo to para athletes on April 1 almost a year after the dedicated para sports gymnasium was converted into a makeshift facility for novel coronavirus patients with mild or no symptoms.

With about six months to go before the Tokyo Paralympic games slated to open on August 24, I also announced at a press conference on February 25 that the foundation will set up a facility in the same compound to conduct free polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for para athletes. If officials and staff of the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games wish to be tested for COVID-19, we are ready to offer them free PCR testing as well.

In June 2018, we opened the one-story, steel structure gymnasium in Odaiba on Tokyo Bay with 2,989 square meters of floor space designed specifically for boccia, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby, and goalball. This was one of the few training facilities tailormade for para sports in Japan.

But amid the deepening novel coronavirus pandemic in April 2020, the foundation closed the para arena and built 100 10-square-meter private rooms there to help ease the strain on hospitals overcrowded with COVID-19 patients.

This was part of The Nippon Foundation Disaster Emergency Support Center, which also includes 14 prefabricated buildings with a total of 140 20-square-meter private rooms for patients who are asymptomatic or display only mild symptoms as well as a large air-conditioned tent where doctors and nurses stand by. These were built in the parking lot of the Museum of Maritime Science, operated by our partner organization. Except for the para arena, these facilities will continue to be used by the Tokyo metropolitan government for the capital’s anti-COVID-19 campaign.

I was delighted that our decision to reopen the para arena was welcomed by Paralympians and others, among them Ms. Eri Yamamoto, a para-powerlifter, and Mr. Shinichi Shimakawa, a member of Japan’s wheelchair rugby team.

Ms. Yamamoto said: “I spent half my career training in the para arena since it was built. So I am truly grateful for its reopening. I am determined to train there in preparation for taking part in the Paralympic as the first Japanese female para-powerlifter.”

Mr. Shimakawa said: “Before the para arena was closed last year, we trained there almost every week as there was no other gymnasium available to wheelchair rugby teams. But since it was closed, I had no option but to practice at home. I am full of gratitude for its reopening.”

At the press conference, I also announced that the foundation will operate The Nippon Foundation Paralympic Support Center permanently, dropping our earlier plan to close it after the Beijing Winter Paralympic Games in March 2022.

We opened the support center in 2015 with the aim of promoting the Paralympic movement and helping Japanese para athletes prepare for and compete in the Tokyo Paralympic games.

The office of the Support Center occupies the entire 4th floor of The Nippon Foundation Building (approximately 1,300 square meters), including shared office space now used by 29 para sports leagues free of charge, many of which do not have offices or full-time staff. The support center provides these leagues with organizational and operational support in areas such as accounting and translation / interpretation.

We will make every effort to support the para athletes as an important part of our mission to achieve an inclusive society free from discrimination.

Speaking at a press conference on February 25, 2021, to announce the reopening of The Nippon Foundation Para Arena to para athletes on April 1 after it was closed about a year ago to build makeshift facilities for novel coronavirus patients.

The press conference was held in The Nippon Foundation Para Arena in Odaiba, Tokyo.
No Way Will Tokyo Olympics, Paralympics Be Cancelled This Summer [2021年02月25日(Thu)]
On February 18, then-Olympics minister Seiko Hashimoto, who has competed in seven Olympics, four in the winter and three in the summer, was named president of the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games after a meeting of its executive board.
She replaced Mr. Yoshiro Mori, a former prime minister who resigned following sexist comments, and was in turn succeeded as Olympics minister by Ms.Tamayo Marukawa.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach welcomed Ms. Hashimoto’s appointment as "the perfect choice" for the job.

Leaders of the Group of Seven countries, meeting at a virtual summit on February 19, said in a joint statement: “We support the commitment of Japan to hold the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 in a safe and secure manner this summer as a symbol of global unity in overcoming COVID-19.”
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told reporters after the meeting: “I was able to gain support from all the leaders. It was so encouraging.”
The Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics were originally slated for the summer of 2020 but were rescheduled to start on July 23 and August 24, 2021, respectively, due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

With the new Olympics chief in place and the G7 endorsement, all-out efforts are going to be made over the coming five months to prepare for the games this summer. Some self-proclaimed experts forecast the games would be cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Personally, I want them to refrain from making such half-baked predictions.

In the long history of the Olympics, there have been a few cases in which the games were scaled back due to political issues, while two were cancelled during World War II.

But this time around, we are in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic. No wonder everybody is confused, including the games’ organizers. We need to figure out what to do from various perspectives, including how we can invite athletes from all over the world and hold the games without spectators, if necessary.

Now that the IOC, the Tokyo Organizing Committee, and the Tokyo metropolitan and Japanese governments have committed to holding the games this summer, it is important more than anything just to get on with the preparations in a positive and resolute manner. Japan is a peaceful country; we still have enough time.

Those who supported holding the Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo and all those Olympians who have worked for years getting ready to compete are watching closely to see what will happen.
It is easy to raise objections. But it is crucial now for all Japanese to demonstrate to the world that we are pulling out all the stops to prepare for the games. That is the mission of the host nation, and it provides Japan with a golden opportunity to impress upon the world that it is a country that can be relied upon, one that values courtesy and the spirit of “omotenashi,” or selfless hospitality.
It is my sincere hope that in 50 to 100 years from now, the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics will be marked in history as events Japan managed to host under the most challenging of circumstances. Let’s stop making facile comments and unite in a final effort to realize the games this summer.
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