HANYU, SAITAMA PREF. - The rattle of tiny plastic wheels echoed through the normally sleepy streets of Hanyu, Saitama Prefecture, on Sunday morning as the small city about 60 kilometers (37 miles) north of Tokyo played host to the Japan office chair “Isu-1” Grand Prix.
Founded 10 years ago and inspired by Formula One and Le Mans endurance racing, the race sees teams of three battle it out on ordinary office furniture across two grueling hours to see who can complete the most laps of the 200 meter course.
Propelling the chair backward was the universal tactic employed by the racers, who were at least spared the added constriction of business dress with competitors choosing their own outfits.
The three team members rotated during the race — Le Mans-style — to try and stay fresh, but in the summer humidity it proved a tough battle for even the most experienced racers.
The series, which started with a race in Kyoto in 2009, was the brainchild of Tsuyoshi Tahara, and will feature at 10 different grand prix events across Japan this year.
“The origin of this race came into my head when I saw a tricycle endurance race,” Tahara explained.
“Eventually I created the race, which we can hold on a street, three persons per team for two hours of endurance.
“I wanted to create something no one has made before.”
Tahara’s idea has proved surprisingly popular, with 55 teams entering the Hanyu Grand Prix alone and hailing from as far away as Wakayama Prefecture, 600 km (about 400 miles) to the southwest.
Sunday’s winning team, Kitsugawa Unyu, came from Kyoto and had also traveled several hours with their chairs for the race.
Their reward was retaining the title they won last year and a prize of 90 kilograms (198 pounds) of local rice, which the “drivers” struggled to pick up such was their fatigue.
The endurance test had taken its toll on the participants but spirits remained high as tired bodies staggered away from the event.
“I was tricked (into doing it),” joked 45-year-old Satoru Taguchi, who had formed a team with other fathers from his children’s school.
“My body is really sore.”
Mayu Negishi, who had just enough energy left to dance at the closing ceremony, said the support of the crowd had helped greatly.
“So many people cheered for us every time we passed and came around the corners,” said the 18-year-old. “We were very touched. They are our fans and supporters.”
The next “Isu-1” Grand Prix takes place in Iwate Prefecture next month.