The truth about running in Japan

Dave McCaughan
McCann WorldGroup Asia Pacific

The country has always had a strong tradition in distance running. Long before I moved here I noticed when watching the Olympics coverage, the very disciplined Japanese runners among the leading packs in the distance races. Years ago I became fascinated with the uniquely Japanese ekiden (long-distance relay road race) culture, more of which is mentioned below. On my many visits before moving to Tokyo I would join what seemed like hordes of very serious people as they ran laps of the famed 5km run around the Imperial Palace. However in the near ten years I have actually lived here the running revolution seems to have stepped up another level.

Confession – "I Am a Runner." That is just fine in Japan

One serious runner told me that it really took off again after Naoko Takahashi won the Olympic Marathon gold medal at the 2000 Sydney Games. But many trace the current fad back to the launch of the Tokyo Marathon in 2007. I was fortunate to be a part of that event and being one of the 30,000 runners waiting in freezing, sleeting rain for the start. It was indeed a testament to the keenness of Japanese participants. Now over 300,000 officially apply for that race each year. Since the success of Tokyo Marathon, many other cities and communities around the country have upgraded or introduced local distance races in an attempt to get the interest of the booming running community and their penchant to spend on events, gear and revitalization of local economy. Not all marathons in the true sense as the term is often used in Japan to describe any long distance race rather than just the strictly correct 42.195km event, but high quality, well managed and very heavily participated nevertheless.