Japan has produced a fair number of marathon stars. It’s an achievement that probably has less to do with genetically bound physical attributes than with culturally bound psychological ones. The “gambaru” mentality that governs so many endeavors in Japan, especially in the world of sports, is central to being a good marathon runner.

It’s also why Japanese feature so prominently in international eating competitions. Though pacing is important, there’s no real skill involved in consuming more food than your competitors. Success for the most part depends on will power, which Japanese contestants possess in lieu of gastric volume. A few months ago, the skinny Japanese kid who had held the crown at the annual Coney Island hot dog eating contest for three years running was finally upset by a New Yorker. “Gambaru” just can’t stand up to a big ol’ American gut.

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