Mits Nagase made history for Paralympics Japan in Vancouver 2010. He takes us through his incredible journey from his diagnosis, through 4 Winter Paralympic Games, to his life as a Paralympic advisor and talks to us about how life as a Paralympian in Japan has changed.
Episode 3 St Mits of the Ice Hockey Goal
Tue, 3/2 11:56AM • 35:23
japan, hokkaido, japanese, sport, game, people, ice hockey, felt, basketball, sapporo, canada, difficult, big, vancouver, paralympics, medal, won, paralympic, olympic, athlete
Today on Japan sports stories we have a lot of firsts. We have our first Japanese guest, our first Paralympian, our first winter sportsman, a silver medalist at the 2010 Vancouver winter Paralympics the chair of the Japanese Paralympic Association, a sports advisor for the pirate Shimbun. It's a man known as the patron saint of the ice hockey goal in Japan. It's mitzner gassy mitts. Thank you very much for joining us
on it. You are
You are so quick that shows we got a real Japanese guest. First of all, what would you like to be called? meets NASA?
Just call me mates. Yeah. Call me Miss. Miss.
great meets. Thank you so much for being with us today. And you are aware at the moment.
I'm in Hokkaido. I'm in Sapporo, Hokkaido in Japan.
Okay, so for our listeners who are not familiar with Japan and Japanese geography. Can you tell us a little bit like where is Hokkaido supporter and what is it famous for?
Japan has four main islands. It's a Japan is very long country from north and south. The Hokkaido where I live now it's very north. In Japan. It's very, very cold in winter. And we have lots of nature.
And and what would you say Sapporo is most famous for Apollo.
I don't know what the most famous. Some people say that is. Apollo is the name of beer. Even like beer, and also the Apollo house, the Olympic Winter Olympic Games in 1990 2am. I
right in thinking that someone was also bidding to host the games again in 2013.
Yeah, it's a second of the pkmn. Wonderful. Well,
I've only been to Sapporo once I ran a marathon in the Hokkaido marathon in 1995. And went up way too fast and ended up crawling along the street to the finish. So it had mixed memories to me. I love the city, but the race was very painful.
I think it's the there's the Big Snow Festival up in Sapporo as well.
Yes, yeah. In February. So we had a big Snow Festival. You can see a big snow doctor and the big like, you have a slide. Big Snow slide.
Fantastic. That sounds like fun and definitely a popular destination for skiers as well, isn't it? I think in in the in the winter?
Yeah. Yeah, yeah. many tourists.
Fantastic. So today, obviously, we were really keen to talk about supporter but we are more keen to talk about you. So can you tell us a little bit about your early life? Where did you grow up? What do you what was your young sporting life like?
Okay, I was born near Tokyo. But at the age of five, I moved to Hokkaido and I grew up now Kaido forevers kid, I was just normal, not a special case, or he did have a disability. And I like to play sport. When I was 15 years old, was the first grade of high school, suddenly, disease. It's called a chronic inflammatory demyelinating, or radical neuropathy. It has onset my body, and my life has changed a lot.
So at that stage, you were 15 years old. Yeah. Were you in junior high school?
No, it was a high school, first grade of high school.
So the first first year of high school and we were you playing sport at school? I heard that you enjoyed basketball?
Yeah, I played basketball in junior high school, and also high school,
and how did the symptoms of it cipd? how did how did that start to show itself? When did you notice that? Things weren't right. First,
I felt something strange on my feet in the basketball club. Every day I do training and running a jumping. Gradually, I felt it's very difficult to run, report jumping. And I felt my feet very heavy. In a couple months, my foot could not move. Well,
goodness. And I mean, that's incredibly difficult for anybody at any time in their life. But as a young active male in school, that must have been incredibly difficult. Can you describe that time what was the process like getting to see
doctors and as bender in the hospital about four months to try to cure my disease? That didn't go well. I was thinking I could be cured and I could play basketball again. But I couldn't And I felt like something I had a big hole in my heart and oh, before that, I went to school, thinking to play basketball every day. But because cidp I was not able to play basketball. And I was very sad. And at the time, I was very, very quiet. But in high school, I was not happy to talk to other people, because I could not accept myself.
I mean, I always say to people, when they ask about my visual impairment, disability, because I was born with it, I never had to go through this process of loss. And I never had to, you know, deal with the mental side of that. So I'm, I'm truly sort of inspired by your strength and going through that process. How was it for your friends and family as well? Did you have a lot of people around you trying to encourage you and it must be incredibly difficult for them as well?
Yeah, I had a good family and friends around me, especially my mother came to the hospital every day bringing a man's food. Also the my friend in the basketball team, they visit a very often, and we just test out our basketball. It was very nice time. And they have not changed. You know, they do. They're nuts so serious about my cell, and they just they talk to me, it's Same as before.
Fantastic. So you had a really good team around you. And when did the idea of getting on the ice as a para ice hockey player? First, enter your head? How did you get introduced to sport? Was it part of rehabilitation because many people will be familiar with the you know, the origins of the Paralympic would be good to learn and start Mandeville and using sports as part of the rehabilitation process was sport introduced to you while you were still in hospital? Was it something you found locally through the community?
Oh, at the time, when I was in high school, I had no information but a big part. It was about 1992 or 93. It was like balsa narla Olympic and Paralympic at the time. In Japan. We cannot we can now watch the Olympics on TV, of course. And nobody knows. I think nobody knows about the politic. Very few people involved in politics. It took about four years to get a formation. But politics was very, very, very difficult time for me. I hoped I could play sports again. But I could not be able to play and I was very sad. I followed it for years. But in 1995 when you visit support for Martin, I first time, I watched the news on TV and the day show the body politic on TV and I get her picture but the point because the first time
they who was it that sent you into para ice hockey as opposed to a different Paralympic sport, for example, wheelchair basketball.
Since I get the perceived ration. I tried to get more information but other sports, but at the time, we didn't have internet yet. And it was very difficult to get information. But I had the one magazine about the sports for people with disability. And the word near the article was about price. Okay. When I read the article, I was interested in the sport and I tried to get a phone number probably the team and I called
his basketball and para ice hockey. I can see some similarities having watched you on YouTube yesterday. Hara ice hockey is incredible is the winter Paralympics equivalent of wheelchair basketball, isn't it? You know really fast, really aggressive. You have to make decisions incredibly quick, incredibly quickly. I said it's a really exciting sport. My eight year old son loved it when he watched it so I can see why you could be drawn to ice hockey from basketball. How difficult is as a goalkeeper detract something that's more travelling at that speed.
Let me improve your hockey. So player has only one stick so they can shoot from one side but on sledge so player has two sticks. So sometimes play has to pack on right hand but into left handed they have chips from the left. It has a very difficult
19 90 7am i right. You made your debut for Team Japan. Yeah. Where was that?
My first game in national team of Japan. And we played the game in Osaka the team we played against was Great Britain, you your team? Okay, it was my first did my first game CB
How did we do? What
was the score? It was very close game and score was 00 which is got to be
good for you as a goalkeeper. Yeah,
yeah, yeah. A no team could not have been but I shut out the team. Yeah, you couldn't have done any better
for you is, you know sort of your first time putting on that team Japan jersey. How did that feel for you? Oh, yeah, I was
very happy and proud of the member of the team Japan since I studied by. Alright, okay. I was trying to do my best to be playing the national team had come through.
Just one year later, in 1998, Nagano hosted their winter olympics or winter Paralympics. What was it like for you to get to compete in front of your home crowd?
Oh, it was incredible. Also, people came to watch intere our game you know the cheering style in Japan. Nippon Tata. The big cloud in the hockey Stadium, I think five 6000 people a charity need to be pointed to. I was very happy
with your with your mother. There were your family there.
Oh, yeah. Yeah, of course. My parent and my grandmother.
What about the guys from the high school basketball team? Did
they come and see you? No, no, they didn't come but because it's been far from Hokkaido. Oh, Gold
Coast. Okay, so
not gonna fly away, actually. But I remember is one of my friends. Call me after the game.
Amazing. And that's the start of if I'm right, seven teen years of international para ice hockey representing Japan. After that, if I if I get this right, you went to three further Paralympics. For in total? What can you tell us a little bit briefly about that, that journey?
The first project was that no, in 1998, we finished the fifth. So we could not reach a metal. Were you happy with fifth place? No, no, no, no, no, no. You're really trying to get the metal but an Isaac is not a popular sport in Japan. So he was difficult to get strong. So in diagonal, the gold medal was won by Norway, in Canada won the silver and bronze was when I was I was very happy to play in the Olympics. But I felt more disappointed because we lost. After that. I went to the Canada to play hockey to learn sledge hockey a couple years. The second my politic game was a salt lake city in 2002. I felt to Japan was getting better. But we could not make it. We finished. Fifth said Yeah. So and the third time was three now Italy into tenancy at the time I was 33 years old. And it was it was my third party. I expected data to win the medal. But we couldn't make it again. So we Oh, we finished a fifth second. So we try to three power picks up. But we always finish fifth. We cannot able to pass the same final. So after Toledo our thinking to give up our thinking to retire because I was very disappointed.
That's tough, isn't it? I mean, I think people sometimes forget how much of your life you're dedicating to to sport. So this is eight years of training every single day with the one objective of winning a medal. And when you travel to Canada to train you, you make huge sacrifices in your life. And when you come back and you don't achieve what you think you can do, it is incredibly tough. How did you come back from that? Well, first of all, tell us what happened in the fourth Paralympic Games.
Yeah, I spent a lot of time in a hockey fan our 20s and I went to quit the job and I moved to Canada. And they trained a lot and ice like sacrifice a lot. But we could not do in the middle three times when I felt the same pain point did out thinking about myself, just myself. I couldn't have look around. I felt I was really disappointed. I was just on the beat. But after a couple months after like six months or seven months, I talked with my teammate and staffed and I found that everybody was sad, and everybody, all my teammates, all my staff are very sad and disappointing. And I found not not only I felt not only me, so we couldn't share it. emotion and also the the gold. And the drink too in the metal is not a Michael it's a chemo after I found that that illustration, I could change my mind and I decided not to give up my dream. And I tried to debunk about again,
what happened in Vancouver,
pretty ruminating around, we could win two game and we lost one game but we could not have had the same kind of foresight. And we played a case of Canada in same final,
say Canada with the host nations the crowd favourites.
It's a different three opposite from diagonal. In Atlanta, we had a lot of the Japanese cheering, but in Vancouver they couldn't 90 90% or Canadian tyranny. At that time, Canada was ranked number one in the world. In dogs a big men want the goal and the women want the goal. Canadian people expected paradise hockey, but when the metal Caterham people had no doubt they could have been below the game the soul who tried to the best and looking back to Japanese in history, we could bid Canada only once in 15 years. We always lossy, like Canada was big came in close after cross game so we could bid Canada 3131. Yeah,
so you destroyed Canada, basically.
Yeah. But we, Canada had a like, more just like asleep time. So we had only six or seven shots against Canada. But the candidate has Joke's on me. 2122 shots on me. We're always just
defending. He managed to save 20 out of the 21 shots against you. Yeah.
So you'd be Canada in the semi final?
Yeah, semi final. Yeah.
What happened in the final minutes? Don't keep us hanging.
Yeah, the the final game was played against the United States. It was a very good game. Nice game and the close game. I remember in the first period, United State squared on me. And game Wayne went to 01. For a long time. We had a couple of chances to scrounge them, but we could not get it chances. Finally. I think the member last 30 seconds. United State square on me again, and we lost. But
it's I think this is if I may say so. typical Japanese modesty. You want a silver medal?
12 years of work. You and the team win. If I'm right, Japan's first ever ice hockey medal at Olympic Paralympic,
is that correct? Yeah, it is. Okay, right? So in Olympic, it's very difficult. And also the impounding pig was the first Super metal in team sport in Japan in history.
So you make history after 12 years, that must have been some party after that. What was it like for you? What was it like for the team, your family? And maybe Can you speak a little bit about what effect that had on the profile of parasport in Japan,
parasport in Japan at the time, the like 2010, the parliament, typical political, but not a famous in Japan, but because we advanced to the final, the TV programme had like live the game on TV. It was like second times of the life politic game in Japan. And many people watch the game and they say that they're very impressed and they're excited.
I was gonna say, Can you remember the first words that your coach said to you? He said, Good job.
He always said he always. He always said Good job. Good job.
And he remember the first words your mother said to you.
I don't remember but I just remember her face. She was really happy and Yokohama. Yokohama today. Yeah, yeah. My mother was in the stadium. I could show the medal to her.
That is so amazing. unsee we've only done three episodes of this podcast. This is definitely the most emotional one. But what an incredible journey so there's a there's a Japanese phrasing there. Nana katabi yoky pulled out seven times get up eight times. But how did it feel for you to have that silver medal?
I think? No, no. Carnaby Yaki is a good word. Yeah, he always fell down. Like we tried three Paralympic, and we lost always, we finished fifth, but we didn't give up. We always try to do the best. And we believed we could do it. I think we just be a very patient, people, you know, we waited, the time that we have chance, the chance had come in Vancouver, we could make it
As I said to you, I was almost give up, try to my dream to get a medal. And of course, some of my teammates retired after three. Because we have here at some point in Torino, and we lost Still, we knew we had a chance and we have a like, good teammate. We have good staff. And one year after three oh, we have the meeting the team, the head coach told us so we need to respect each other. And we need to believe each other.
And you did do it in incredible fashion. So moving moving forward, you he then had another five years of international competition and then retired from international competition, I believe in 2015. It's might be obvious you answer to this question. highlight of your para ice hockey career.
Yeah, of course, the the game against against Canada in Vancouver was my best highlight. And also the my highlight was a gaming night no 1998, our first winning game in our history of Japan. What I think 30 game in diagonal, and we lost first to game 30 game was against United States of America in the first period that we scored first. And in second period, United escape states scored and again was tied after a second period before the third period. Period studied, ie the Emperor and Emperor had a came to the hockey stadium. And we could serve a second goal in front of them and we grew when the game was we called the tendon GA. I don't know how today, I could we could be the equivalent of the Imperial. Absolutely amazing.
So your first ever victory was against Team USA, possibly the most famous ice hockey nation. That was an incredible, incredible first victory to have. Just as, as someone The only person currently here who hasn't won a Paralympic medal. Can I ask at what point do you feel sort of the most pride is it when you cross the finish line? And when the last when the final whistle of the game blows? Or is it when you're standing on the podium with a medal around your neck? You know, you can look at it finally as a physical object. But I had her
metal, my neck and the party. So I remembered the faces of many people who supported me who around me I was very heavy metal. But also I felt like I had I was very happy that many people supported me and I just remembered many people
moving forward. I don't know how we follow that story. I feel that we should ever pause so everybody can just take in that that moment. But moving forward and you're now working at the Hokkaido Shimbun. So the newspaper of Hokkaido as a Paris sports advisor. So clearly, things have changed for parasport in Japan, you know since you started and since I first visited Japan in 1992. What's the profile of parasport in Japan like at the moment obviously Tokyo sadly has been had to be postponed Do you get recognised in the street now? What's the profile for most Paralympic athletes like in Japan
like a time that I studied play per sport to Paris polls was not a popular in Japan and also not many people played a parent sport 20 or 25 years ago but this five years so many kids are studied to try to play passport in Japan. I think it was a because we are going to the host the Olympic and Paralympic in 2013 I was assembling years ago, Japan won the the hosting of Olympic peak after death. So, Japanese society have a big, big impact, especially on the parasport. After that we what parasport are our athletes on TV very often like a TV commercial, they use a power athlete very often, many people and many kids know about the parasport. In Japan, it is quite easy to reach parents both information than the time that I experienced.
I often say when I do talks that one of the things that impresses me most about Japan and the lead up to Tokyo 2020 was how strong the images of para athletes now in Japan, so when you watch TV commercials, they're incredibly powerful. and Japan has done an incredible job of promoting Paris for the media and you working with Joe Shimbun. I've done it. You know the fact you now have a role with Hokkaido Shimbun as a power sports advisor, that that very job is shows how much work Japan has done to promote sport for people with a disability.
I think it was a very successful like 10 years ago, and I won the silver medal in Vancouver. It's still non popular sport. Nowadays. Most of Japanese people know at basketball, or know at racing. Now butcher butcher is one of the most popular sports in Japan, kids in school. And then people in the company they experience the butcher very often. So through that experience that people can learn how the inclusion in the society is good. It was good said follow Japan
as a parasport advisor, what do you advise on so what is your role actually within the newspaper?
I write the article every two months. And I introduce the you know what kind of the sports are doing in Hokkaido. Also the I write about the history of a politic or address things about the power movement. And also I tried to going to get a new information about the passport and that it gives me a new network about the passport and I need to reduce those information to
the people say you are now part of Japan's push to increase the profile the parasport and to make it as popular as possible.
Yeah. And also, I went to the parent channel olimpik, two years ago, now two years ago as media, I think it was first media as a Paralympian in Japan, I wrote an article and I had some interview to Japanese the athlete, I tried to introduce the Olympic as a beauty of the parent athlete. I think it was different from the like appropriator writer, though I was what's a pretty nice time
for me. Fantastic. And you're still breaking, you're still doing new things to the first podcast, I believe. Is that right? This is your first time podcasting in English.
Yeah, of course. I think. Not. I'm not living in this. So please, I have not experienced of the podcast in Japan.
You might history for us. I think on so many fronts. It's been it's been an absolute pleasure to hear your story to share your inspirational journey. We have a few questions which we traditionally ask our guests. So I'm going to hand
over to Mike, this is your chance to promote to promote Japan for everyone out there. So the first question is, can you recommend somewhere for the listeners to visit in Japan? Oh,
summer. Yeah, we have many good places to visit like Kyoto, Osaka, Tokyo, of course, Hokkaido. But I recommend you to visit like Japanese cultural place, like a sumo Kabuki festival. I think they are very
unique. Fantastic. If you were to give us one one city or one town, the best place you could do that. Where would it be? Of course
I think Kyoto it's a very Japanese city. They have all shrine temple. Nice place. Okay, fantastic. I
mean, I see Kyoto several times and it's it is just a beautiful place.
Yeah, I don't you know, one time to visit killed off when
I was in high school. The second thing we'd like from you is, can you recommend something for us to eat or drink in Japan?
I recommend the food in Hokkaido. in Hokkaido, the ramen. And the jingis Khan is very famous.
What's good about Hokkaido ramen? And this is my favourite part of the entire interview by the way. What What is Genghis Khan?
genius guy is Ram BBQ.
Lamb barbecue? Yeah,
I don't know why the cradle is a famous place. But when I was a kid, we always had a run barbecue outside.
It is amazing, actually. Yeah,
it's a bit of a you know, like, some people don't like scan because of the smell of the lab. But it's a very healthy and I think
it's all the beer you drink with it. That's not healthy.
There's a lot of places that will be jingis Khan, Tabby holiday, which is all you can eat. And that that is a true cultural experience that cannot be missed in Japan.
I think the other place of Japan doesn't have like a gene discount restaurant. No, it's very. I think like Hokkaido original food
is also sukari in Hokkaido. Oh, yeah. Yes, it's
got a species of Pura has many good subquery restaurant.
The last question we normally ask is recommend something for people to do in Japan. So
have you dated champion your hotel before? Like all the traditional hotel? yoga? yoga? Yeah, right. Okay, and I recommend the queen. Do you wanna sleep on the futon on Tommy? tape on their floor? In this room?
Yeah. If and if anybody out there hasn't, you know, had the experience of sleeping on a stone tatami it is it's it's incredible. If you want to experience Japan, definitely. That's something to recommend. Yeah, I actually forgot one question. It's quite an important one. So part of the reason we started the podcast was also to increase people with a wet understanding of Japan and Japan Japanese culture. So do you have a word or phrase or cortazar saying that sums up your was your favourite,
huh? And okay, shushing wants to be Kara's shushing wants to be Kara's, do not forget that. The first feeling
Do not forget about your first feeling. One last question. And this is a difficult time for everybody around the world at the moment. It's a difficult time for all pair athletes and Olympic athletes with Tokyo being postponed Do you have one short message or piece of advice for everybody at the moment?
Just believe yourself? So we don't know. The next year we can have the Olympian politic that did this experience can grow your Indian life. Wow.
Nice. Thank you so much for your time today. I know it's coming up to seven o'clock in Sapporo all you have come into the office today, especially to do this podcast are as we are so grateful for your time you've shared so much of your life and your journey with us today. It's been an absolute pleasure. For me, I always wanted to interview Japanese Paralympian and tell the story globally and this has given us the made that possible. So personally, for me,
thank you so much. amazing to hear the stories that and the journey you've taken, you know, from developing the disability through all those Paralympic Games to finally getting that silver medal. And now the impact you're having on the Paralympic movement in Japan it's it was a an amazing experience just to hear all those stories and to get to talk to you about it. So massive. Thank you for me as well.
Thank you do so I enjoyed the podcast talking with you. And I hope sometime notice I will show up to our Japanese event someday.
I really look forward to it. It's been an absolute pleasure. Thank you so much.
Nobody I was I must stop.
Thank you for listening to this episode of Japan sports stories. We hope you had as much fun listening to mitzie story as we had recording it. Next week, we talked to Ireland's first ever sumo wrestler and find out how became the voice of Sumo in Japan today. To make sure you don't miss it. Subscribe to us on whatever podcast platform you use. And if you can want to leave us a happy little review as well. If you want to get in touch with this, we're on twitter at j s stories. Or you can email us at j s stories. [email protected] Finally, I'd like to thank miss one last time for sharing this amazing story.