[From March Issue 2013]
For the past several years there’s been a “marathon boom” in Japan. The Tokyo Marathon was first held in 2007 and every year there are so many people applying to enter, that only one in nine are able to participate. Similar events are held all over the country, but the kind of marathon that’s really been attracting attention are “unique marathons.” Unique marathons include a “sweets marathon,” where runners are given cakes and other desserts along the route, instead of water, and a “konkatsu marathon” where runners search for a spouse.
In Minami-uonuma, Niigata Prefecture, there is the “Minami-uonuma Gourmet Marathon.” Popular since it began in 2010, this year’s event will be held on June 9. One interesting feature of this event is that every participant is rewarded with an all-you-can-eat meal of Koshihikari-brand rice produced in Minami-uonuma. Producing a brand of rice that’s well-known throughout Japan, this idea could only have come from Minami-uonuma.
At the main meeting area, a “gourmet village” is set up, where dishes that go well with rice are served up. After crossing the finish line, each participant is given a bowl of cooked rice and with that in hand, are able to sample local dishes. “We started with the intention of promoting our wonderful local food. Food such as edible wild plants and pork,” says IGUCHI Noriko, secretary of the Minami-uonuma Gourmet Marathon.
Using the marathon as a promotional tool has been a big success, and participants have commented, “I run as fast as I can in anticipation of the delicious meal.” Just a 13 minute’ walk from Urasa Station on the Joetsu shinkansen, access to the site is easy and the number of applicants is increasing every year.
Another popular marathon is the “Fuji Marathon Race,” which involves running up Mt. Fuji. At an altitude of 3,776 meters, Mt. Fuji is the highest mountain in Japan. Since it is difficult to even walk up the mountain, this race to the top is really punishing. There are two routes: the 21-kilometer “Summit Competition” and the 15-kilometer “5th Station Competition.” Beginners can only participate in the “5th Station Competition.”
This event has a long history, with the first competition being held in 1948. This year’s event will be held on July 26 and marks the 66th time the event has been held. Since 2013 is the year that Mt. Fuji is due to be listed as a World Heritage Site, people in Fujiyoshida City, Yamanashi Prefecture, where the event takes place, are getting really fired up about it. A festival on the day before the event will be held at 10 a.m. in Fujihokuroku Park. There, lectures will be given by famous runners and running seminars will be held. Many stalls selling delicious B-class (inexpensive but satisfying) food will also be set up.
Runners of all different ages, from those in their teens to those in their 70s, take part and you can see both parents and children cheering each other on to reach the finish line. “It is an extremely tough and tiring race, but when you finally reach the top and take in the view below, you will be deeply moved,” says TAKAYAMA Kurato, secretary of the executive committee of the Fuji Mountain Race.
YANAGIOKA Hideo, a resident of Tokyo, who has been running marathons for 30 years says, “The Fuji Mountain Race gives me a greater sense of accomplishment than races over flat terrain. ‘Unique marathons’ give you something extra to enjoy in addition to the pleasure of running.”
Text: MUKAI Natsuko