Cornell University Press

Dennis J. Frost on the History of Disability Sports in Postwar Japan

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We asked author Dennis J. Frost three questions about his new book, More than Medals: A History of the Paralympics and Disability Sports in Postwar Japanand his research on the histories of the individuals, institutions, and events that played important roles in the development of disability sports in Japan. 

1. What’s your favorite anecdote from your research for this book?

I was thrilled to have a chance to interview Suzaki Katsumi, one of the Japanese athletes who participated in the 1964 Tokyo Paralympic Games. Suzaki shared several stories about his experiences as someone who only began engaging with disability sports in the months just prior to the 1964 Paralympics. My favorite anecdote was his revelation that almost all of his “practice” for the swimming competition at the Games had taken place in therapeutic hot-springs baths at his rehabilitation facility in Ōita, Japan. Consequently he was shocked to find that the pool water at the Paralympics was so cold.  

2. What do you wish you had known when you started writing your book, that you know now?

Soon after beginning the project, I realized that significant portions of the source materials for the events I was studying were lost, scattered, or fragmentary. While tracking things down, I ended up being far more reliant on accidental or circumstantial encounters than anticipated. Often a visit to one archive would generate a contact for another site or individual in a completely different region of Japan. These extended chains of association led to some of my best discoveries, but they took significantly more time to develop, since it is not really possible to plan that sort of contingent research experience.    

3. How do you wish you could change the field of History?

The history of disability sports in Japan that my book explores has been largely overlooked in part because it falls between sub-fields that have not always overlapped: Japanese studies, disability studies, and sports studies. While language barriers have contributed to this gap, I would love to see improved dialogue across these areas of study and between more traditional disciplines, as well. If my work can play even a small role in facilitating that process, I will be pleased. 

*Featured photo by Ariel Pilotto.

Dennis J. Frost is Wen Chao Chen Associate Professor of East Asian Social Sciences in the Department of History at Kalamazoo College. He is the author of Seeing Stars.

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