By Eri Konno / Yomiuri Shimbun PhotographerOn a day in late October, a woman stood supporting herself on a pair of crutches before a gathering of students in the gymnasium of Yoyogi Sanya Elementary School in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo.
“Now, what are the children wearing?” she asked. Beside her, a frame from a kamishibai picture-story depicted two children — one wearing a prosthetic leg and the other a prosthetic arm.
“Even without legs or arms, professional athletes can move even faster than you with the help of mobility aids,” the 29-year-old said, prompting the students to turn their gaze to the picture.
Haruka Kamimae is a professional kamishibai picture-theater performer who also happens to have a hip joint impairment. Performing under the stage name Kamiharu, she has given more than 1,000 kamishibai performances at elementary schools and other venues since summer 2016 as part of a campaign to promote the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics. With her mobility aids in hand, she uses kamishibai theater to introduce sports for people with disabilities, including wheelchair basketball and table tennis.
“My legs are impaired, but I can still walk this fast using my crutches,” Kamiharu said as she moved about the gymnasium.
Her about 40-minute performance passed quickly.
“I’ve learned how people with arm or leg disabilities use creative ways to play sports,” said Iroha Machida, a second-grader at the school.
Kamiharu met her current kamishibai co-performer, Yamu-chan, 39, at a vocational school she enrolled in with the aim of becoming a voice actor. She began her career as a professional kamishibai performer in 2012, the year she graduated from the school.
Kamiharu initially hid her crutches during kamishibai performances, but she changed her mind after watching para-sports at Yamu-chan’s suggestion. She was moved by seeing players using mobility aids or without legs passionately competing in basketball, soccer and other sports.
After launching the “Paralympic Kamishibai” series, Kamiharu has seen more children come up to talk to her on the street.
“The Tokyo Paralympics is not the goal. I want to tell as many people as possible that those with physical disabilities can also see their dreams come true,” she said.