Running for the Prize in the 駅伝

I used to live in Southern California, where walking doesn’t exist. With all the cars and freeways, leg muscles aren’t a thing there either. Therefore, I knew that when I arrived in Japan, where everyone walks, I would need to step up my walking game, literally.

There’s also running, no thank you. But here in Japan, running is very exciting thanks to a series of long-distance relay races called ekiden 駅伝えきでん (or 駅伝えきでん競走きょうそう). The name is built from the kanji for “station” (駅) and “transmit” (伝), evoking an era when important documents and other communications were hand-carried from one station to another on major post-roads. Now that we have email, they use roads for running.

There are dozens of regional ekiden throughout the year, culminating in the big three races: the Izumo Ekiden (出雲いずも全日本ぜんにほん大学だいがく選抜せんばつ駅伝えきでん競走きょうそう) held in Shimane Prefecture in early October; the Tokyo-Hakone Ekiden (東京とうきょう箱根はこねかん往復おうふく大学だいがく駅伝えきでん競走きょうそう), a two-day jaunt on January 2-3; and the middle one I watched this year in early November, the All-Japan Collegiate Ekiden Championship (全日本ぜんにほん大学だいがく駅伝えきでん対校たいこう選手権せんしゅけん大会たいかい).

What it lacks in creative naming it more than makes up for in distance. The November race starts in Nagoya, traversing 106.8 kilometers (about 66.4 miles) in eight legs to the Ise Grand Shrine in Mie Prefecture.

That race takes just over five hours to watch from the comfort of my zabuton; I’m sure the time just flies by for the runners. But if you haven’t got patience for the full race; at least tune in for the last hour-long stage, which typically has the most talented runners.

[Image Credits: matisse/]

Tim Odagiri

Tim Odagiri is an author, software developer, and the host of Japan Everyday. He has published more than a dozen books and hundreds of articles covering technology, current events, and now life in Japan. Find his latest books at

1 comment

  • When I lived in Japan, someone would always turn on the Tokyo-Hakone Ekiden during New Year’s break. I would always feel guilty as I watched and ate Day 2 or 3 of Osechi. Usually, that day would coincide with my declaration to be in better shape in the coming year and jogging in 2 or 3 Celsius gloomy January weather.

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