Japan is one of the most well known, and best-loved travel destinations in the world. People travel here to sample the unique history, culture, food and everything that comes with it. But few travelers would think about running in Japan. It’s simply not on most peoples’ radar. Yet Japan has one of the oldest established and vibrant running scenes in the world. It is worth looking into as there is so much happening with regards to distance running and so much to be gained from running and/or entering a race here.
If you had to name 5 countries that come to mind when you think about distance running the list would probably include Kenya, USA, Finland, New Zealand and others depending on your sports history knowledge. For me, though, Japan would lead this list and not only because it’s where I live and run but because it’s where the elites come to race and because, I believe, running here is more a part of the popular culture than anywhere else in the world.
The elites come to Japan for the big races such as the Fukuoka Marathon, Lake Biwa, the Beppu Marathon, international Ekidens and others. There are dozens of famous and historical races that attract the best runners in Japan and around the world. Even the not so famous marathons here can be brutally competitive. Brett Larner for the online site “Japan Running News” talked of running a half marathon where his 1:13:00 time only netted him the 500th place! Fast runners come to Japan for the competition that helps them run faster. Jeff Hunt, an Australian elite runner, made his marathon debut in Japan for this reason and was successful becoming Australia’s fastest ever first-time marathoner. The excellent organization, course routes and enthusiastic support combine to make racing in Japan a unique running experience.
Still, why would anyone besides the elite be motivated to run here by those facts alone? I didn’t start running in Japan for these reasons. I was drawn to the sport by something else. Japan’s running scene is not solely reliant on elite runners. Running permeates all of its society. Its strength is built on a base of large-scale participation. Unlike anywhere else in the world, distance running in Japan is a popular sport.
Running is the second largest spectator sport in Japan behind baseball and in terms of participation, it is by far the biggest. Marathons and Ekidens get full (start to finish) television coverage on major stations, and the Hakone college Ekiden has one of the largest viewerships in the world of sport. Running is largely promoted and participated in at the school and university level. People of all walks of life and all ages regularly participate in any number of races. There isn’t a weekend that goes by here where you couldn’t find a race to run in. And not a park or open space in the country that you won’t find runners in.
Come Run in Japan
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Brett Larner http://japanrunningnews.blogspot.jp