Wheelchairs developed by former Japanese Paralympian gaining attention ahead of Tokyo Games

Sports wheelchairs developed by a former Japanese 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 Paralympic 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, including Japan. 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 suffered a spinal cord injury in a motorbike accident and became unable to walk. He shut himself away from society for some two years, but a friend then advised him to play wheelchair basketball.

The sport had a dramatic impact on his life. He joined the Chiba Hawks, a competitive wheelchair basketball team, 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 contribute to society out of gratitude to those who supported him, Jinbo went to Malaysia under a volunteer program by the Japan International Cooperation Agency in 2006 and stayed there for six months to promote wheelchair basketball.

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 such wheelchairs in Malaysia, the business resulted in a huge loss.

Aiming to make up for the loss, he later focused on marketing activities in Japan.

The company’s sports wheelchairs are offered in three types according to users’ playing styles.

Sales were poor at the start, but began to grow later as the company’s efforts to improve their quality paid off.

Thanks to Jinbo’s marketing efforts, Matsunaga Manufactory won a contract as an official wheelchair supplier for 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 the company’s business.

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