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Health & Sports Day

There are many occasions one can think off to take a day off for. Japan, with its numerous festivals and celebrations, are probably one of the countries that can boast a high amount of public holidays and parties each and every year. And of course, given the importance of sport in Japanese culture, it was only a matter of time before both sport and holidays would be combined, resulting in what is known today as the Health and Sports Day.

The day is a national holiday in Japan and occurs every year on the second Monday of October. This particular celebration originated back during the time when Japan played host to the Summer Olympic Games of 1964. On that day in 1964 the Olympic Games were opened for competition and the Japanese were quick to take the date as a reminder of living a healthy and active lifestyle as the Health and Sports Day’s primary purpose is to promote just that. The first Health and Sports day was held just two short years following the 1964 Olympic Games and has been held annually since then. It is interesting to note that during that time, the Olympic Games also began at the beginning of October in an effort to avoid the rain-dominated season Japan is home to in the months prior.

The event is widely celebrated in Japan, especially among the physically active youth. Many schools and colleges use this occasion to host their yearly Sports or Field day, a sports festival hosting all types of different sporting events, ranging from classic track and field to baseball and other ball sports. Some schools even incorporate large-scale school-wide games, such as tug of war wherein hundreds of students pull on the rope per side. Some childhood classics also make appearances here in the forms of three-legged races, jump sack races and even cartwheel races.

Music is provided in some places in Japan via marching or stationary bands. The events also change depending on area of Japan one finds oneself in – in some places Health and Sports Day events will take place within a school, within a neighborhood, sometimes even within an entire town. It is common for local officials to make opening speeches to officially kick the day off in celebration of living a healthy and active lifestyle. Following this, the competitors start stretching and preparing themselves, normally performing a stretching routine which had been developed by the Japanese Government, and is broadcast on the radio and TV,  to enhance flexibility.

First image by tx.english-ch.com

Second image by sportsfeatures.com

 

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Round-Kyushu – The World’s Longest Relay Race

Japan has had its hand in creating some of the most innovative and intriguing forms of sport to date. Past its creation of some of the most prolific martial arts in existence, the Land of the Rising Sun has also taken a liking to modifying existing sports for a variety of reasons. Regardless of the motivation behind creating a new form of sport, a few things are always guaranteed – it’s going to be highly interesting to spectate and normally takes something that’s already been done but to a more extreme level. Ekiden is one of those sports, where Japan took the classic running relay race and pushed it to new extremes, especially in terms of individual running distance and overall course length.

The Price Takamatsu Cup Nishinippon Round-Kyushu Ekiden is one of the most exciting annual competitions held in the Ekiden community. The cup, normally referred to only as the Round-Kyushu Ekiden, shares its name with the late Prince Takamatsu. Prince Takamatsu was the younger brother to Emperor Showa and son to Emperor Taisho and Empress Teimei. Takamatsu lived until 1987 and had the Round-Kyushu Ekiden named to honor him, prior to even becoming emperor.

The race has been held annually since 1951 and draws in competitors from all prefectures located in Japan, including those not on the main island such as the Okinawa and Yamaguchi Prefectures,  to the island of Kyushu in order to compete. Round-Kyushu Ekiden is the longest relay race in the world just in sheer distance. The race-course consists of 72 segments, wherein each runner has one segment to himself, coming together for a total distance of 1064 kilometers (660 miles).

The 72 segments and excessive distance to be covered crosses through 10 towns from start to finish, starting in the city of Nagasaki, followed by Sasebo, Saga, Kumamoto, Minamata, Kagoshima, Miyazaki, Nobeoka, Oita, Kitakyushu with the final destination being Fukuoka where the final segment and race to the finish line beings.

Round-Kyushu Ekiden is held every November and results in the winners receiving the prestigious Prince Takamatsu trophy. A significant factor that goes into the planning for the event and strategizing for the teams is the time of year – November is a cold month in Japan, especially at night and early morning. Since the race is continuous, some of the competitors must compete in the harshest weather conditions the nation has to offer. It is to note however, that the race has not taken place since 2012 due to the harsh conditions of the race on the athletes as well as potential for traffic accidents involving the competitors. It is, however, likely for the race to resume its annual tradition once different routes and competition times have been established.

An exhausted runner is led away by his teammates at the Hakone ekiden

Images by Adharanand Finn on theguardian.com

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Overview & History of Ekiden

Japan has the tendency to liven up different types of sport by putting their own spin on the rules, format or venue. Sometimes, this is done for comedic purposes with the simple goal of entertaining live or television audiences, but in other cases, this often results in legitimately new forms of sport which then go on to grow into serious levels of competition.

One can argue that the most basic of all sports is to simply run. Of course, Running is seen as the foundation for almost all other modern sports, or at least a significant majority of all sports played. The act of running in itself is also a high-class sport, practised by all ages. Power walking, sprinting, circuit races and marathon are just some of the popular ways to compete in running, even in Japan.

However, Ekiden is taking distance relay running a step further from what is generally seen in the west. The race is a type of relay race, meaning it’s a team competition. While the concept of relay races is not uncommon globally, such races are normally conducted in a circuit manner, however Ekiden races generally cover long distances with teams starting at point A racing to point B instead of going around in a closed circuit.

Ekiden races are normally held on roads and streets and the very first one was held in 1917 and lasted over 3 days. The race track was the way from Japan’s current capital, Tokyo, to its former capital, Kyoto, a distance of just over 508 kilometers, which is over 10 times that of a standard marathon.

The races cover varying distances as well as varying team sizes. At a junior high school level, teams normally consist of 6 boys and 5 girls, covering a length of 12 and 18 kilometers respectively. At a high school level the number of girls stays unchanged, however 21 kilometers are ran instead. For the male competition, the number of runners increases to 7 and the distance is that of a full marathon at 42 kilometers. There are different configurations for this, as seen in state and national levels where distance and amount of runners normally increases as the importance and prestige of the competition increases.

The term “Ekiden” is made of the Japanese kanji for “transmit” and “station” which is a reference to how long distance communication used to be handled in the ancient times as messengers relayed from station to station, passing on the message until it reached its destination.

First image by japanwindow.com

Second image by tkss.jp