When it comes to culture and entertainment, Japan has a rich history spanning from ancient legends and sports to modern manga and video games.
Now a new generation of inventors is drawing on this culture to create sports with a 21st-century twist — helping players feel “superhuman” through technology or other special equipment.
The Superhuman Sports Society, a Tokyo-based group of researchers and game designers, has certified 12 new sports since its launch in 2015, including Hado, or Wave Motion in English.
In Hado, players in head-mounted augmented-reality displays and armband sensors dodge waves of light as they fire energy balls at each other in a virtual arena. The game is similar to the action seen in the “Dragon Ball Z” manga-anime franchise and “Street Fighter” video games.
“When I play Hado, I always simulate in my head the best way to fire an energy ball,” said Piyohina, an internet idol and singer of anime songs.
“Sometimes I can feel the sensation of the energy ball leaving my hand when I play Hado. It makes playing the sport really exciting,” said singer Junpei Sasaki.
Some games are low-tech, such as Rock Hand Battle, in which each player wears an oversized arm and tries to knock small rocks off their opponent’s arm.
Noriya Kazami, 25, a cartoonist and one of the inventors of Rock Hand Battle, said she took inspiration from the legend of the Three Rocks and the Demon’s Handprint.
She also created a manga series based on the legend, in which a demon was tied to rocks and made to stop harassing people. The demon left a handprint on one of the rocks, making a “rock hand.”
We asked other players for their thoughts on playing other Superhuman Sports:
Ryoichi Ando, 27, a virtual-reality researcher and inventor of Bubble Jumper, said he felt as if he were wearing the kind of augmented body suit found in science fiction movies that boosts the wearer’s strength.
In Bubble Jumper, players walking on stilts and wearing inflatable bubble protectors crash into each other like sumo wrestlers.
“Technology can improve and supplement human ability,” said Isao Uebayashi, 38, a sports science researcher and an inventor of Slide Lift. “Anyone can do ‘drift racing’ with this wheelchair,” he said.
Equipped with special wheels, the motor-assisted wheelchair can be moved by Slide Lift racers in any direction, including in drifts.
In Hado Kart, players in head-mounted augmented-reality displays and armband sensors dodge waves of light as they fire energy balls at each other while moving around in small vehicles in a virtual arena.
Tomohiro Hamamura, 25, who works in IT sales, said that “when I play this sport, I don’t need to think seriously. I just feel the existence of another world which is different from my real world.”
Carry Otto is a motorized wheel device with reins that pulls a rider seated on a dolly. Riders race each other.
Kosuke Sato, 25, a Ph.D. student in human informatics and an inventor of Carry Otto, said he wanted to create a sport anyone can enjoy regardless of age, gender or disability.
Players controlling small drones try to score points by flying them into the goal while opponents controlling a big drone acquire points by capturing the smaller drones.
Hirohiko Hayakawa, 26, a Ph.D. candidate in media design and an inventor of ToriTori, said that “the drone in the air is a part of the player’s body and this sport integrating human and machine makes me experience the feeling of flying.”
Hayakawa said he was inspired by the bird catchers (tori tori in Japanese) in Kenji Miyazawa’s classic 1934 fantasy novel “Night on the Galactic Railroad.”