Inspiring People, Invigorating Society, through Sports
What can sports do for contemporary society, which is becoming increasingly complex? What role should MIZUNO play?
To communicate the views of President Akito Mizuno from a broader perspective, in addition to the President himself, the interviewer had the pleasure of asking Mr. Koji Murofushi, who is a staff member of MIZUNO and a hammer thrower, to share his candid opinions.
Q.What roles are sports expected to play in contemporary society?
In society nowadays, it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain an optimal balance between body and mind. In this context, I believe that sports can fulfill a greater role than ever. Many researchers have proved that a proper amount of exercise enhances the power of memory and concentration. Moreover, sports are being recognized to effectively counter various diseases that used to be treated with medication. For instance, sports can help patients with depression and those with development disabilities, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)*. Despite such positive effects of sports on body and mind, I am concerned that many people, particularly children, do not get enough exercise.
Although an increasing number of people have begun to pay greater attention to health promotion, I also feel that the percentage of the Japanese people enjoying sports is still too low. Even among those who play sports, most people play just one type of sports. It seems to me that in Japan we have an invisible barrier that restricts a person from engaging in multiple sports. Regarding club activities at school, for instance, there are only a few cases in which students enjoy multiple sports experiences: for example, baseball in summer, indoor sports in winter, and athletics in spring. In addition to school-based sports activities, we should also promote community-based club sports like those in Europe. This is one way to broaden the range of sports activities.
European club sports have an advantage in that they involve people of all generations, from children to elderly people. Joining such a club, you can enjoy sports for life. Japanese sports fans, on the other hand, tend to narrow down their choice of sports while they are too young. This narrows their potential. They should be encouraged to try a wide variety of sports. It's also interesting to invent new sporting events by drawing ideas from existing sports. I believe that we should evolve sports in response to the needs of the times.
Q.Mr. Murofushi, you use MIZUNO's products as an athlete. You are also a staff member of MIZUNO. Please tell us your impression of the company as both an athlete and as a MIZUNO employee.
I sincerely wanted to join MIZUNO, since the company, which loves sports, was really magnetic for me. When I joined MIZUNO in 1997, Japan's economy was extremely challenging, following the collapse of the so-called bubble economy. Even in that severe economic environment, I felt that each employee of MIZUNO was eager to support athletes. To date, I have participated in 14 world competitions and have won several gold medals. In nine events out of the 14, however, I did not win any medals. Nevertheless, those events are even more memorable for me. I received various kinds of support and encouragement that boosted me to challenge the next event. Without such supports, I could not have continued participating in competitions for so many years.
MIZUNO's business has developed in tandem with athletes. Although the company is currently engaged in global business, there was a time when it was unknown. I believe that MIZUNO's growth has been supported by employees' enthusiasm to manufacture products that are still better than others available in the market. In the beginning, we had neither technologies nor expertise. We asked athletes to use our products, sought their opinions, and improved our products by reflecting their views. We provided athletes with the improved products to ask for their opinions again, and further improved our products by reflecting their views. We repeated this cycle again and again. Even when we produced what we believed to be the best, we continued to improve those products to make them still better.
That's exactly the process I have seen. As a staff member of MIZUNO, I have personally seen MIZUNO's engineers developing their products by reflecting feedback from individual athletes. For instance, engineers of MIZUNO prepared hundreds of shoes through trial and error until they completed a pair that I used at a competition. Sometimes, a staff member responsible for development manually sewed shoes for me.
Such meticulous responses are indispensable for a manufacturer of sporting goods, since they must be tailored for individual users. Sporting goods differ from consumer electronics, which all users can operate by simply switching them on. To produce sporting goods, we must take into consideration individual users' physiques, muscular strength, technical levels, and many other factors. We must prepare a product that meets the user's conditions in every term. In other words, we can complete our products only when they become integral to their users.
That's a very important point and I certainly agree. I also believe that it is a characteristic unique to MIZUNO that it thoroughly takes consideration of the needs of each respective athlete, even to the level that our President has just described.
Q.I understand that since its early period MIZUNO has been committed to promoting community sports. For instance, MIZUNO has organized sports classes with leading athletes, including MIZUNO's employees and contracted players, as instructors.
When most people believed that athletes should concentrate their efforts in training, MIZUNO alone believed that each athlete should also fulfill their role as a member of society. This concept of the company helped us, as athletes, to cultivate the view that we are playing sports in the larger framework of society. I myself learned many important things through my experience in MIZUNO Victory Clinics. By giving instructions to people in various regions, I received additional energy from those people. I was also able to broaden my capacity and develop my own character.
It is MIZUNO's mission to contribute to society through the promotion of sports. As part of efforts to promote sports, we support citizens' marathons. During the Osaka Marathon, together with many employees I myself participated in volunteer activities. In addition, we organize sports schools to support children desiring to improve their athletic performances. Among those programs, MIZUNO Victory Clinics particularly embody our spirit of social contribution through promotion of sports. In this program, I understand that Mr. Murofushi has repeatedly visited Ishinomaki, a city hit by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.
Yes, the first time I visited there after the disaster, I was truly shocked to see the city, which was completely destroyed by the tsunami, along with children whose hearts had been deeply affected. The children, however, regained cheerfulness after we had light exercise together, such as relay races. To inspire them, I committed myself to winning the gold medal at the 2011 IAAF World Championships. Considering my age--I was 36 then--I knew very well that this would be difficult. Nevertheless, the promise I made to the children empowered me, and I was able to win the gold medal at the IAAF World Championships in August 2011.
Since MIZUNO Victory Clinics inspire many people, as a global company, I believe that MIZUNO should introduce the program worldwide. Taking advantage of our partnerships with many athletes, we will organize MIZUNO Victory Clinics within and outside Japan. We have already begun a program to teach judo in France, which won high acclaim in the country.
Q.Finally, what do you think is necessary to pass on the wonderful power of sports to coming generations?
As an athlete and employee of MIZUNO, I believe that my life-long mission is to create an optimal environment for sports, an environment that encourages as many people as possible to play sports. There can be many motivations to play sports. It may be fine and fashionable sportswear, or athletes displaying extraordinary talent on TV. If I can help attract as many people as possible to sports, which indeed have wonderful efficacy, I believe this would be my contribution to society.
It is important to promote sports in daily lives of ordinary people. At the same time, it is also important to inspire them by showing world's top-level performance of leading athletes like Mr. Murofushi. We must continue to inspire people and invigorate society through sports by taking two approaches: promoting sports in daily lives, and promoting top-level sports that cultivate support for athletes. Moreover, we must work to create an environment where people can enjoy sports with complete satisfaction, as well as to preserve the global environment for future generations. These I believe are important missions for MIZUNO and the responsibility that it must fulfill.
- KOJI MUROFUSHI
- Born in 1974 in Shizuoka Prefecture.
Joined MIZUNO Corporation in 1997.
Completed the doctoral program at the Graduate School of Health and Sport Sciences of Chukyo University in 2008.
Winner of a total of five medals in the men's hammer throw at Olympic Games and IAAF World Championships
Best record: 84 m 86 cm
(Fifth in the world, first in Japan and Asia)
- AKITO MIZUNO
- Born in 1949 in Hyogo Prefecture.
Graduated from the School of Business Administration of Kwansei Gakuin University.
Joined MIZUNO Corporation in 1975.
Assumed the office of the President of MIZUNO Corporation in June 2006.