Ekiden: Japan’s Famous Long Distance Relay Race

  • The Ekiden is the famous long-distance relay race in Japan and people are crazy about this winter sports event. Normally in a relay race, a baton is passed from one runner to another, but in the Ekiden, a sash replaces it instead.

    History of Ekiden

    Ekiden was born about 100 years ago in 1917, sponsored by the Yomiuri Shinbun. The word Ekiden is composed of two Kanji’s 駅 and 伝 meaning station and transmit. The original concept of the Ekiden was that each runner will run the distance of one station to another, then pass on their sash or ‘tasuki.’

    There are a variety of Ekidens in Japan from high school and university Ekidens, Local and Regional Ekidens, the All-Japan Interprefectural Ekiden and even corporate or community Ekidens. The tasuki used in an Ekiden is very important because it represents the school or the community the runner is a part of.

    Hakone Ekiden

    The most famous Ekiden in Japan started in 1920. The Hakone Ekiden takes over 2 days and covers 217.9 kilometers from Otomachi in Tokyo to Lake Ashinoko in Hakone every 2nd and 3rd of January. Having fast runners is not enough because of the steep up and down slopes in Hakone which require specialist runners for these routes.

    Popularity of Ekiden in Japan

    The Japanese love Ekiden because of the teamwork each team possesses as well as the unity that the sport represents. In an Ekiden, even if one runner of the team fails to complete his section of the race, the entire team will be disqualified. It is the runner’s responsibility to pass on the tasuki from one to the other.

    Being the most popular Ekiden in Japan, the whole race of the Hakone Ekiden is broadcast on television and millions of Japanese people watch it every year over the new year holiday. Spectators, young and old, also watch the Ekiden live cheering for the runners along their run from the sidewalks.

    A long-distance race may seem to be just a sport for some other countries, but in Japan this sport conveys unity. The Ekiden will continue to bring joy and excitement to its spectators for years to come!

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