TOKYO -- A three-day-only special event is now on in Tokyo offering visitors the "unfriendly" experience of navigating a room in a wheelchair at the same time as trying out different para-sports. The Mainichi tried out the interactive exhibit on its first day.
The "The Unfriendly Museum" is being held from Aug. 27 to 29 at the "Who I Am House Powered by Tokyo Gas," an information hub in the Toyosu area of Tokyo and part of a joint documentary project to spotlight the world's top Paralympic athletes.
Shinya Ota, the chief producer of the "Who I Am" documentary series project, told The Mainichi, "While moving around and viewing the displays, I'd like people to make their own tiny discoveries about what para-athletes and wheelchair users go through."
At the entrance, all visitors are invited to sit in wheelchairs and make their way through the exhibit space, encountering several obstacles along the way. One is a zigzag course -- a scaled-down version of what it is like for tennis players to maneuver their wheelchairs and make quick turns to get into position to hit the ball. The course also makes clear how difficult a wheelchair user could find narrow spaces with many corners.
Museum guests can get a taste of a total of seven para-sports: wheelchair tennis, wheelchair fencing, archery, wheelchair rugby, table tennis, wheelchair basketball, and athletics including the marathon.
Hiroshi Nojima is a former alpine skiing para-athlete who represented Japan during the Nagano and Torino winter games. He was enthusiastic about the exhibit, as participants can engage in mini para-sports experiences with their whole body, "a much easier and more exciting way to learn about them than just listening to an explanation."
I took on the challenge of a wheelchair fencing simulation where I used a sabre-like stick to poke and flip Q&A panels displayed along openings on the wall, to reveal the answers and descriptions on the backs. I needed a good many attempts to push back the number 5 panel -- said to be the hardest and emulating an attack. The panel felt much farther away than I had expected from my sitting position, and I needed to lean out of the wheelchair, while balancing my center of gravity over the wheel.
The number 5 finally budged, but I had to cheat a little to do it, practically standing up. It made me realize you need a very strong core to move toward and reach your opponent while using only the upper half of your body. At the same time, I realized that reaching for objects on shelves may also require this extra effort for those in wheelchairs, and that they go through these trials on a daily basis.
Another corner I found especially hard was one where I forced myself through a heavy door to experience a bit of what it is like when wheelchair rugby players slam their bodies against one another during gameplay, or simply when wheelchair users go into a building.
Initially, I tried moving the door with just my hands, which is what I would normally do when walking through an entrance, but realized this would make my wheelchair slide backwards. Even when I pressed my whole body plus the wheelchair into the door, it would not stay open long enough for me to get through on my own, and I had to get the staff to help me.
Looking back on the experience, I imagine that getting across to the other side would have required so much force that my wheelchair may have even toppled over. This made me feel that wheelchair rugby players are very brave, as not only do they collide with one another, but they do so in moving wheelchairs.
Other displays showed the distance for a three-point shot in basketball, with a hoop placed at a height of 305 centimeters -- the same as for regular basketball -- as well as a 7-meter line showing the approximate distance a top wheelchair racer in the men's 100 meters is estimated to cover in one second. The last segment allows visitors to give marathon racing a try in a specialized wheelchair.
Shinji Negi, captain of Japan's wheelchair basketball team at the Sydney Paralympics, said that the museum is great as visitors can engage with para-sports in a way different from watching competitions on a screen.
Chief producer Ota hopes that the museum will be one opportunity for people from many walks of life to reflect on what it is like to live with a disability, and that they will be able to apply that new knowledge in their daily lives.
I myself have taken away many tiny discoveries that would never have crossed my mind, had I not actually tried moving through the space on a wheelchair. Though it may be only a baby step or wheel push forward, I believe anyone who visits The Unfriendly Museum will learn something new that may even serve as a hint when encountering someone in need of one tiny act of kind support, or one moment of understanding.
(By Chinami Takeichi, The Mainichi Staff Writer)
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The Unfriendly Museum exhibit is being held at the "Who I Am House Powered by Tokyo Gas," a two-minute walk from Shintoyosu Station on the Yurikamome Line.
The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Aug. 28 and 29.
While online reservation spots are full, there is a limited number of same-day reservations available, with numbered tickets being distributed from 10 a.m. on Aug. 28 and 29.
Please check the official twitter account WHOIAM@WOWOWParalympic and https://www.unfriendly-museum-wiah.com/ for more information.
The "Who I Am House" is a documentary series project by satellite broadcaster Wowow Inc. and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC). For more information, please visit https://www.wowow.co.jp/sports/whoiam/ and https://corporate.wowow.co.jp/whoiam/
The "Who I Am House" facility is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. throughout the period of the Tokyo Paralympic Games until Sept. 5, and shows free screenings of the documentary series, while also displaying illustrations and photography, as well as para-sports gear.