Japan's "Blade Library" offers joy of blade running to amputees

TOKYO (Reuters) - Haruta Saito, a young Japanese amputee who dreams of becoming a Paralympian, remembers strapping on a prosthetic “running blade” for the first time.

Slideshow ( 10 images )

The 10-year-old boy, who had his right leg amputated at age two, never had the chance to use a blade because it was too expensive.

That changed in April when he was given early access to Japan’s new Blade Library in Tokyo, which lets people try on prosthetic limbs for running for a small fee.

“It’s difficult to leap forward with the prosthetic limb I usually use. It’s different from this one (the blade),” Saito told Reuters during a weekend ceremony when the library officially opened to the public.

“But this blade jumps and lets me run faster,” he said after running and shooting basketballs on the library’s sports track.

The curved prosthetic blades are often made of carbon fiber and bend and spring as a person runs.

The blades, which can cost thousands of dollars each, generally do not qualify for government subsidies in Japan because they are not deemed “essential to daily life,” an official at the health and welfare ministry told Reuters.

The Blade Library allows people to try any of its 24 prosthetic blades for a daily fee of around 1000 yen ($9).

The library was opened by Xiborg, a Japanese company that researches and develops prosthetic limbs for runners. The company collected over 17.5 million yen ($156,300) in crowdfunding to open the facility.

“It’s sad that having your leg amputated becomes the reason why you can’t run,” said Ken Endo, Chief Executive Officer of Xiborg.

“I want to create an environment where everyone can run and have fun,” he said.

Chie Yamashita, a 20-year-old university student whose left leg was amputated a decade ago after a car accident, played tennis with a regular prosthetic limb because blades were too expensive.

“If there is a place like this library, then I can borrow them without hesitation and that’s wonderful,” she said.

Editing by Darren Schuettler and Michael Perry