Japan a fond spot in solitary Kiwi’s running quest

by Gianni Simone

Special To The Japan Times

In this age of reality TV, cheap exhibitionism and superhuman feats, is there still space for the common man? Justyn “Jup” Brown’s reply is a resounding yes.

When talking about himself, the 39-year-old New Zealander says, “I’m just a plumber,” even though his eclectic talent as an interpreter and ski/snowboard designer has taken him places.

More recently Brown has added long-distance running to his resume, and it is in order to put his athletic prowess to good use that he is currently in Japan.

He started his Japan run on April 1 from the southern tip of Okinawa and has been working his way north, pushing in the process a buggy full of clothes and other essential items. His goal is to run about 50 km each day, and reach the northern tip of Hokkaido on July 8.

This is not the first time Brown has embarked in such a project. Last year he did the same in New Zealand, where he ran 2,937 km over 67 days and raised 20,295 New Zealand dollars ($16,250) for a charity. Yet Brown is always ready to downplay his herculean feats. “Actually, I just wanted to go back home to New Zealand after being away for five years,” he says matter-of-factly. “I thought about how to do it, and didn’t have a car, so I thought maybe I could run it.”

As he ran up the country, Brown asked other people to join him. One of them, Nick Chisholm, took up his challenge. “Nick was recovering from a stroke, so we joined forces and decided to do a run for the New Zealand Stroke Foundation.”

Brown took up long-distance running in 2007. When talking about it, he likes to point out this is something that anybody can do. “Like so many Kiwis, I run for fun,” he says. “For me, running marathons is not about winning, but getting to the end and doing my best.”

Though Brown loves his country, he seems to spend a lot of time traveling abroad. He began his nomadic life at 20, and has since alternated winters in New Zealand with travels in Europe and Japan. His connection with the latter is especially strong.

“I first came here on a school exchange to Nara,” he says. “I was there for three months, and I liked it so much that I thought I wanted to come again some day. I went back to New Zealand and did my plumbing apprenticeship, but just after finishing it I got offered a job in Sakata, Yamagata Prefecture, when I had just turned 20. I worked on a golf course as a caddie and greens keeper for three years. But in the winters it snowed and you couldn’t play golf, so my company sent me to a ski field in Yuzawa, Niigata Prefecture. I worked there in the hotel as a bell boy, basically just standing out the front and saying hi to everyone.”

After this first stint in Japan, Brown spent time in Sapporo and Niseko, where he also worked as an interpreter for the tourists who came to ski in Hokkaido.

Back in his own country, Brown was introduced to the Japanese moguls team, which was holding its summer camp in his home town. “I got to know them very well,” he says, “and when I asked if they knew of any work in Japan, their coach introduced me to the Mogul World Cup Association, who offered me a job there to translate.” He has since been coming to Inawashiro, Fukushima Prefecture, for the past seven years to work with the mogul association. “I even helped them build the course. It is great fun!”

While planning his New Zealand run, Brown thought about doing the same in Japan. “I love Japan and its people, and I always feel at home here. So I decided to run for the tsunami-affected areas and help them somehow.” Among other things, he plans to spend about a week there and do some volunteering along the way.

As if to stress the human can-do spirit of his project, Brown has organized the Japan run almost by himself, without the support of a real team.

“Basically I’m a one-man band. With the sponsors I just talked to friends and got ideas of what I would need and who could help me, and then I wrote hundreds of emails, went to meet them and talked to them about my plans, hoping they would believe in me and my idea,” he says.

“Here in Japan I have a car but no driver, that’s why I’m pushing this buggy. My friends have helped with many little things like getting the word out, but right now it is just me and my buggy running up the road.

“I hope I can find a driver for my van. It is waiting for me in Hiroshima. Maybe your readers might want to come along for a few days and help out. It would help make it more fun for me and everyone watching, too. Fun and smiles everyday is very important to me. I don’t want to do it if it’s not fun.”

Brown certainly needs all the support he can get to make it all the way. A couple of weeks ago he had some back problems that temporarily slowed him down. “I went to the hospital and got an MRI scan to find out I had a compression fracture in my T8 spinal bone. So I could only walk for about 10 days and let it get better. But I’m not thinking about quitting, of course.

“While doing the New Zealand run, my left ankle and leg got really sore and swollen one day, and I had to walk 50 out of 58 km that day. I really didn’t know how I could get to the end of the stage, but I believed in myself so much that my body and mind just kept going. I believe in our mental strength. I get a lot of power from people and what they feel. I love people who push themselves and get the most out of every day.”

Brown’s hope for the Japan run is to meet as many people as possible. “I will stop to say hi to anyone and would love for people to walk, ride a bike or run with me at any time. In New Zealand so many people from different ways of life came to help me. It was so amazing feeling to have them believe in me and want to help the Stroke Foundation. I learned a lot about myself and others. Just talking to others about things and listening to them helped me.”

While Brown still has many kilometers ahead in order to reach Hokkaido, he is already thinking about the future. “I will go to India in mid-July right after finishing in Japan, and I will be running in “La Ultra — The High” (www.thehigh.in/The_High/Home_page.html) This race starts on Aug. 2 but we have to be there two weeks before to get acclimatized.”

Brown is familiar with running in the Himalayas, since he took part last year in the Tensing Hillary Everest marathon, but this 222-km race is a more formidable challenge. “We have to finish it in 60 hours, which means we basically have to run nonstop. It is hard enough doing that distance but the hardest thing is that it starts at 3,800 meters above the sea and goes up and over two passes that are 5,600 meters high. Only 20 people can do it every year, and only seven or eight people have ever finished it.

“I didn’t think I would get in because it is mostly reserved for professionals or people who have done a lot of these long crazy marathons. I guess I only got in because I had just finished running the length of New Zealand. It’s crazy but I can’t wait.”

To follow Brown’s progress in Japan: jupbrown.wordpress.com