The long-distance relay races called “ekiden” are growing on the back of the jogging boom, providing opportunities to run for recreation or bond with fellow employees.
Sportsone Co., a sporting event organizer in Tokyo, hosts 25-km ekiden races for teams of co-workers consisting of five people from the same company. Four races are held for men, women, men and women combined, and new employees fresh out of school.
Sportsone held the first ekiden in Tokyo in 2010 and started a race in Osaka in 2012. More than 700 teams turned out for the 2013 race in Tokyo.
Participants who usually wear business suits at work feel relaxed with each other and often exchange pleasantries or business cards after a race.
“We are considering holding races in other places” in addition to Tokyo and Osaka, a Sportsone official in charge said.
Firms also arrange ekiden to build their name recognition and corporate image.
Chiba Urban Monorail Co. hosted an ekiden along its rail line in early March to commemorate its 25th anniversary, attracting some 500 teams.
“I barely ran my distance and was happy because my family cheered me on,” said a man in his 30s who ran the 21-km race together with three colleagues from a food company.
In September 2013, a race was held on Ieshima Island in the Seto Inland Sea. It was the first ekiden on Ieshima, and local guesthouses and restaurants were bustling with the business brought in by the 300-odd participants, most of them outsiders.
“We would like to make the ekiden a tourist attraction for our island,” which has a dwindling and aging population, said an official at the local tourism association in Hyogo Prefecture.
Some 240 ekiden events were registered with the Runnet website, which offers information on marathon and other running races, in 2013, more than double the number three years earlier.
“An increasing number of people are beginning to run (in ekiden) as an event they can take part in with the same purpose as their friends,” said a person familiar with the jogging boom.
While sales of jogging shoes have climbed 5 percent over the past year, purchases by entry-level joggers have jumped 26 percent, according to Mizuno Corp., a leading maker of sporting goods.
Many people buy jogging shoes to participate in ekiden, a Mizuno official said.
Retailer Victoria sports said orders for T-shirts from ekiden teams have been increasing.