On October 30, the day before Halloween, unconventional runners took to the roads of the city of Osaka. Nearly all of them ran with faces wreathed in smiles that belied the taxing distance of 42.195 kilometers they would run.
A woman in her 20s on the roadside observing the first Osaka Marathon, in which some 30,000 people from Japan and abroad participated, remarked, “All the runners seem to be having a good time. It made me feel like joining in.” An Osaka man in his 30s expressed his expectations by saying, “I definitely want it to be continued. I suppose it also helps boost the economy.”
Starting from centrally located Osaka Castle, the course transits such famous landmarks as Dotonbori canal, the Tsutenkaku Tower, Sumiyoshi Taisha shrine and others. A runner in his 30s who came from Saitama Prefecture to compete remarked with a smile, “The supporters lining the road were great, and I could run while enjoying the view of the town of Osaka.” According to the organizer, some 65% of the participants came from outside of Osaka.
About 10,000 volunteers were also on hand to assist with the registration, dispensing drinks and guiding runners and providing first aid, and the whole city seemed to welcome the runners, with dances and performances held at 31 sites along the route. Osaka’s prefectural governor Toru Hashimoto was quoted as saying, “This marks the beginning of a new ‘festival’ for Osaka that transcends a mere marathon event.”
When compared to many other nations Japanese are said to be favorably inclined toward marathons. The nation’s largest event, the Tokyo Marathon, is limited to 35,000 runners but typically receives 10 times that many applications. In the case of Osaka’s first marathon, 170,000 people applied for 30,000 slots, despite the steep 10,000 yen participation fee. A survey conducted in 2006 by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications found that jogging and running marathons was the most popular type of sport among all groups age 20 or above, second only to walking and light exercise. The reasons for marathons’ popularity are not well known but in the view of some, they would include “It can be done at any time without incurring costs,” and “Because Japanese tend to have a stoic disposition.” There is also a business aspect to major marathon events. Professor Katsuhiro Miyamoto of the graduate school of Kansai University estimated the economic impact of the Osaka Marathon to be as much as 12.4 billion yen ($155 million). “Doesn’t this take a leaf from the Tokyo Marathon (that began four years ago)?” asked a cool looking young couple who came to work in Osaka from Tokyo a year ago. It may be a form of imitation, but it is Osaka that’s said to be the town of merchants.