Case Studies

The World Congress of the International Society for Prosthetics and Orthotics 2019 (ISPO 2019)

From October 5th to 8th, 2019, the International Society for Prosthetics and Orthotics (ISPO) held its 17th World Congress in Kobe. Created in the 1970s, ISPO brings together professionals from over 100 countries, with the aim of giving people with physical impairments greater function and independence. Japan is an industry leader in robotics and assistive technology, so it made for an ideal host.

At the World Conference, 5,000 attendees learned about the latest scientific and technological advances. One of the topics, "Sports & Physical Activity", was especially relevant, as Japan looks forward to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Many congress participants arrived early or left late, creating time to enjoy Kobe's restaurants and tourist sites. This modern port city receives 19 million visitors a year, who come to see the nearby World Heritage sites, taste Kobe beef, and enjoy the "$10 million view" of the city at night.


[Event Name]
World Congress of the International Society for Prosthetics and Orthotics 2019 (ISPO 2019)
October 5-8, 2019
Kobe Convention Center

"There was a lot of support from the government, the prefecture, and the city. That really makes [Japan] attractive."

Interview with Professor Friedbert Kohler
ISPO PresidentChair, ISPO 17th World Congress

• Why did you choose Japan and Kobe as the destination for ISPO 2019?

What they offered, where it was, and the whole package, was strong enough. One of the very strong parts in Japan is the strength of the rehabilitation, prosthetic, and orthotic sector. There was a lot of support from the government, the prefecture, and the city. That really makes it attractive.

• How did you find your Japanese partners’ teamwork during the preparations?

Well-organized. It was a little challenging because there was so much government support. So we had to accommodate and be flexible. But equally, the Cabinet was flexible in meeting some of our needs.

• Are the delegates enjoying their time in Japan? Did you get any positive feedback?

A significant number of people are doing sightseeing. My own family is amongst them. They've been to Nara and Himeji, and we're going to Kyoto. There is an interest in the area, and there's quite a lot to do. It has certainly drawn people, not just for the conference. Over the visit, I have enjoyed a variety of food. And I've learned a lot about the Japanese efforts for sustainability and the environment, which I don't think are necessarily internationally acknowledged, or well known.

• Do you think ISPO 2019 was a success?

So far I think it's been extremely successful. At the opening ceremony, we had people from all levels of government. We brought together the World Health Organization and the Japanese Science Council. Support at a political level is important, because that's how things move forward.

The participants get an excellent scientific program. They get an excellent exhibition; the biggest exhibition in prosthetics and orthotics and broader assistive technology around the globe. And they get the opportunity to interact with other people in the sector. Everybody can meet each other. The real key factor is to be together.

We thought a challenge was the layout. It's a fair bit of walking, although we pointed out that it's good for the health to do some walking in-between sitting all day. But last night at the welcome reception, it was like a street fair. People were getting food, getting drinks, and then going outside. It was a really nice atmosphere, and it was the perfect weather to do that. So what can be seen as a negative actually turned out to be a real positive. Every aspect has been very successful.

"In so many countries, everyone fights for himself. Here in Japan they support each other."

Interview with Heinrich Popow, Paralympic gold medalist

• Japan will host the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in 2020. What do you expect from Japan?

Even before the Rio Olympics, I had that feeling that Japan is already ready. I can feel the passion. Every Japanese has a passion for the Paralympics. The first time I was in Japan I was asked to go to an elementary school. You try to inspire the whole society. You're not focusing only on the athletes, you're thinking of society. This is what I really love about Japan.

I think in Tokyo 2020 you will feel the passion through every Japanese person. You will create a movement the whole world can learn from. I expect a really colorful Games. We know the Japanese really respect each other. In sports, we also talk about fair play. So Japanese culture and sports match really well. If this comes together with the passion you created in the past, it will bring us the best Games ever. The athletes will be so motivated because the spectators will give them the respect they trained for. We will see incredible results. I can't wait for Tokyo 2020.

• You have visited Japan several times before. Which cities have you visited before?

Tokyo, Kobe, and Ishinomaki (Miyagi). I will do a running academy in Kobe, and running clinics in Tokyo. In Ishinomaki I was visiting elementary schools. There was one girl who was really scared to talk with me and ask me questions. After I finished my presentation, and she saw how I can run, she hugged me. She switched from scared of the prosthetic, to love for a human being. That was unforgettable.

• What is your impression of Japan?

First of all, I really like the people, how polite they are. I like the way they respect each other. It's so unique in the world. In so many countries, everyone fights for himself. Here in Japan they support each other. The first time I came, it was open arms, "come see us and work with us."

• Have you experienced Japan’s uniqueness while in Japan?

Yes! If you have a rule, you follow the rule. It's not far away from German uniqueness. If you do something, you do something 100 percent. This is why German and Japanese match. I trust Japanese people more than Japanese people trust Japanese people.

In the evenings, when you go out, there are so many lights. And it's so noisy. This is unique in the world. I don't like the international big restaurants. I like the small, unique restaurants in train stations. It's better, because it tastes like grandmother is cooking.

・Do you think ISPO 2019 and the events were a success?

It’s more than that. You have the conference, and you have the exhibitions. All over the world, when the conference is going on, there are no people in the exhibitions. When the conference stops, they all come to the exhibitions. But in Japan, people have different interests. Some of them only see the exhibitions, some only the conference. You have lots of people all the time. This is unique. I will be back.

"If I had the chance to extend my stay, I definitely would."

Interview with an Iraqi conference attendee

• How has your experience been as a visitor?

It's very safe. I never felt scared, even for a second. It is very organized and systematic. It is interesting to see differences in culture and how people try to do their best in a most polite manner. I really like it. I would not consider this is the last visit, and I want to come back to explore Japan and its culture. For me it is always interesting to know what there is on the other side of the world, to learn from and to interact with people.

• Did our culture inspire you?

Definitely. Architectural designs, nature, and the trees. Things have improved through the decades, even though Japan has been through many catastrophes. It is a very inspiring journey to learn from.

"[People are] very supportive. I found that very refreshing."

Interview with an American conference attendee

• What was your first impression?

I've been renting an apartment in a village. It seems like people are very connected to their community, which is different than where I live in the United States. Japanese people have a strong self. They have an awareness, and they're proud of their country. If you talked people in United States, it's a bit divided. Japan is more unified. It's very supportive. I found that very refreshing. It's nice to see. I'm hoping to take several days to learn more about the country, so I don't leave without exploring.

• Did you get any inspiration?

I'm a professor, and I learned something new in an area of my research that I did not know others were doing as well. That was really exciting to me. So I'm hoping to connect with people I met here, so we can begin a communication.