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In “The Way of the Runner,” Adharanand Finn has written an entertaining account of Japan’s obsession with long-distance running (and training). However, the problem is when he veers off the running track into the land of cliche. Consider this: Finn writes that bread only comes in packets of three slices, the moon rises like a paper lantern and Japanese men have an inferiority complex about their manhood.

I do have some sympathy for him. Japan, as Finn writes, can be “discombobulating,” especially when you are only here for six months and your ability to communicate in Japanese is (very) limited. Finn arrived in 2013, overland from England, with his wife and three children, and they settled in Kyotanabe outside Kyoto. For the next half a year he traversed Japan following ekiden (relays), meeting with trainers, coaches, corporate runners, monks, university teams, local running groups and teenagers getting up at ungodly hours to train before school — all in order to understand why long-distance running is so popular here. In his first book, “Running with the Kenyans,” Finn adopted a similar approach: to embed and understand — and to become a better, faster runner.

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