The Annual Tokyo Marathon last Sunday (Feb. 28) ran smoothly. Perhaps not every one of the 35,000 participants ran smoothly, but the event was organized and managed exceedingly well. The relatively low-tech, inclusive and international nature of the marathon makes it a much better showcase for Tokyo than the Olympics would have been.
The winners deserve special mention, of course, and this year Mr. Masakazu Fujiwara became the first Japanese man to win the race. Last year, Ms. Mizuho Nasukawa was the first Japanese woman to win. Competition, though, is only a small part of the event. Most of the 35,000 runners are happy just to participate. They are not alone.
This year, 311,441 people applied for one of the limited number of running spots, almost enough runners for one marathon a month!
Though the event can accommodate just over 10 percent of applicants, the event is inclusive in other ways. People in wheelchairs, the visually impaired and many others cover the same number of kilometers as everyone else. The event is international, too, with invited runners from Morocco, Kenya, Ethiopia, Russia, Uganda, Romania and China. Participants, of course, come from even more countries. The 50 “running doctors” who run alongside everyone else in case of emergencies should not be forgotten, either.
With 10,000 volunteers, expenses are kept low. Unlike the Olympics, there is no need to spend a lot of money on expensive stadiums, housing or Olympic Village-like facilities. You can hardly get cheaper than running in the street. Still, like everything in Tokyo, the marathon has its commercial side. Big companies sponsored runners, facilities and booths. This year, a green movement helped to lower the amount of trash and energy use.
Marathon Day shows one of Tokyo’s best sides. The course runs through some of the most famous spots in the city, from Shinjuku, past the Imperial Palace, through Ginza, up to Asakusa and finally over to Ariake.
Tokyoites may not take as much pride in where they live as residents of other major world cities, but the marathon is a good place to start doing so. The marathon is a festival that suspends business as usual. With people lining the streets, the excitement is palpable all over town. On typical days, Tokyoites hardly recognize people around them, much less cheer on total strangers. For one day a year, Tokyo is given over to a pure and healthy challenge that the city can truly be proud of.
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