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Japan: Tokyo Marathon 2009

Tokyo Marathon 2009, the largest marathon event in Japan, was held on March 22nd. It felt like everyone in Tokyo knew someone who was competing or had wanted to, and with 226,378 applicants for 30,000 spots, that might not have been too far from the truth. Tokyo Marathon's official website reported that this was a 68% increase in applicants from last year.

Tokyo Marathon 2009

Tokyo Marathon 2009 by Another side of yukita

Personal trainer Masatoshi Sunakawa said:

そりゃ出たいですよね?都庁前→皇居→東京タワー→銀座→浅草雷門→歌舞伎座→東京ビックサイト と、東京観光しながらのマラソンですもん。

Sure, don't we all want to participate? Start from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, around the Imperial Palace, Ginza, Asakusa, Kabukiza, and to Tokyo Big Site. It's running a marathon while sightseeing Tokyo at the same time.

Tokyo Marathon has played a big part in what's said to be a major running boom in Japan. There are no hard statistics on this but the number of people jogging around the Imperial Palace and the present running shoes lineup from sportswear manufacturers does seem to indicate a major increase of interest in running.

It's definitely inspiring many people to take up running… or rather, inspiring many people to consider taking up running. Blogger
AFC says:

去年、東京マラソンを見て家の近所を走り始めた。「1年後には僕も東京マラソンなんて出ちゃったりして。。。」そんな思いを持っていた。そして今年の東京マラソンをやっている今。家でお菓子食べながら東京マラソンをテレビで見てますよ。一応、走りは続けてますが、距離は相変わらずの5キロ。成長はないけど、継続が大事だと信じてマス。

I started jogging around the neighborhood after watching Tokyo Marathon last year, thinking “Next year, I might even run the Tokyo Marathon”. This year? I'm parked in front of the TV, eating snacks while watching the marathon. I actually still do jog, but haven't got past the 5 km mark. I haven't become any better at running, but I believe that it's important to continue.

Many bloggers commented on the large number of celebrities, comedians, and ex-athletes who participated in the marathon for various TV stations. A lot of the entertainers turned in surprisingly respectable times, but some, most notably ex-sumo wrestler Akebono, dropped out a few days prior to the marathon while comic Kunihiro Matsumura regrettably suffered a heart attack.

General opinion is that while celebrity participation is a good way to generate public interest, going too far will have a negative impact on the credibility of the Tokyo Marathon as a serious sports event. Fuji Television, which aired the marathon live has come under attack for turning the marathon into some sort of a variety show.

Jijineta.hamazo.tv commented on their approach:

視聴者は馬鹿ではないですね。一生懸命に走っている方を応援したいのに芸能人ばかりがいたら市民マラソンではなくなってしまします。

どうしてその視聴者や参加する側の気持ちがフジテレビは理解できないのだろうか?それとも一般人の感覚では計れない位距離が出来てしまったかですね。

Viewers aren't stupid. We want to cheer on the runners that are giving it their best. If there are too many celebrities participating, it's no longer a citizens’ marathon.

Why doesn't Fuji understand the feelings of the viewers and runners? Or is there such a large gap between us and them now that they have lost touch with what the public wants?

Elsewhere on the web: Watch a slow motion video of Nobuaki Takata, the wig-wearing runner who caused a sensation as he crossed the finish line at the same time as Mizuho Nasukawa, winner of the women's race. The official website provides a Google Earth map file of the course, while sponsor Otsuka Pharmaceutical offers Virtual Tokyo Marathon, a social network/game for supporters (in Japanese only). Cutie-kunipon has a flickr set full of interesting characters who ran the marathon. Joseph Tame provides a live-stream of his run with an iPhone strapped to his head. And last but not least, follow Brett Larner on Japan Running News for comprehensive information on the marathon.

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