Racing against time
IOFTEN wonder why Hakone Ekiden is a must-see New Year pastime for many people. My relatives would sometimes cheer and moan while watching its live coverage on Nippon Television.
“Kuyashii!” my niece groaned with a mixed feeling of regret, disappointment and frustration when a runner lost speed to another.
Hakone Ekiden (short for TokyoHakone Round Trip University Ekiden Race) is a two-day roundtrip race held annually between Tokyo and Hakone, from morning to afternoon on Jan 2 and 3.
Combining the kanji eki (station) and den (transmit), the term ekiden was coined for a long-distance relay race. The first ekiden took place in 1917 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the transfer of Japan’s capital from Kyoto to Tokyo. The three-day event, which covered 507km, was sponsored by the newspaper company, Yomiuri Shimbun.
The first Hakone Ekiden in 1920 had only four universities participating. Its popularity grew, and it now has the participation of 20 universities from the Kanto region’s Inter-university Athletic Union. However, the race is for male runners only.
Each university fields 10 runners, with five participants competing in five sections on Jan 2, and the other five in another five sections on Jan 3. The teams don their university sashes, bib numbers and uniform colours. Only the top 10 teams get seeded for the next Hakone Ekiden. Hakone Ekiden, Japan’s oldest and most important road race relay, never fails to draw the crowds. The couple that argues together stays together, say some.
The race starts at Otemachi in Tokyo, passes through Tsurumi and Totsuka in Yokohama, and ends on the mountains near Ashinoko Lake in Kanagawa prefecture. Competitors race back to the starting point the next day.
The full course is 217.9km: 108km on Jan 2, and 109.9 km on Jan 3. Depending on the route, each participant runs from 18.5 to 23.4km. To pass his sash to his teammate, the runner must get to the station within 20 minutes after the top runner reaches it. If he fails and his teammate runs with a substitute sash, their team’s goal time will include the time difference. Tough, isn’t it?
What’s more, they face the challenge and agony of running up and down steep slopes and against strong winds. The excitement esca- I USED to know a couple who argued about everything, and I mean everything. One evening, when they were driving over to my house for dinner, the woman complained to her husband that he applied the brakes too slowly as they were approaching a set of traffic lights. His response? He told her that if she didn’t like his style of driving, she could get out of the car and start walking.
As the car idled at the traffic lights, she opened the passenger door, got out of the car, and ran across the road into a nearby shopping complex.
He was so angry that he drove off as soon as the light turned green. He was two miles down the road before he was calm enough to turn the car around to look for her.
That evening, they showed up at my house an hour late. Over dinner, they related the story of their latest argument and laughed at the silliness of it all.
“I think we’re still together after 10 years of marriage because we don’t keep our frustrations to ourselves,” the wife announced. “If something is bothering us, we immediately lates on the inclines when one athlete overtakes another.
In case a runner retires en route to a station, his team is disqualified, even if his teammates run in the consecutive stages.
Since the debut of Joseph Otwori (a Kenyan student of Yamanashi Gakuin University) in 1989’s Hakone Ekiden, the race has seen non-japanese students (albeit in limited numbers) taking part.
Last year, when my husband was driving to Totsuka, the road ahead of us was closed to traffic. Crowds lined one side of the road. Thinking that they were witnessing a cyclothon as a cyclist zipped past, I quickly took some snapshots from the car.
Little did I know that since 2008, a group of cyclists has preceded Hakone Ekiden. Not all cyclists can maintain the fast pace and distance. get it off our chest. Then once we’ve calmed down, we put everything behind us.”
“Yes,” said her husband, “we had our first argument on our honeymoon. We couldn’t agree about who was going to sleep on the right side of the bed. I think the hotel staff were alarmed by the noise coming out of the honeymoon suite. Still, I feel that our arguments over the years have helped us to really get to know each other better.”
That evening, the newly made-up couple aired the view that couples who seldom argue often have unhealthy relationships. Something to do with their pent-up frustrations festering away like a cankerous sore. According to them, the longer a couple goes without airing their grievances, the higher the risk that they will blow up one day, causing every little cause for disgruntlement, every negative thought, and every unaired dispute to come gushing out. It would be like bludgeoning each other with a sledgehammer, they declared, and almost impossible to recover from.
Of course, they were only defending their own position. I’ve known couples who argued a lot, to the extent that they split up. I also know a few couples who seldom argue; not because they are holding anything back, it’s just that there isn’t much for them to disagree about – lucky sods. Or at least that’s the impression they give. It’s entirely possible that they do argue but they want to project a Many give up and join the spectators to cheer the runners.
This year is the 88th Hakone Ekiden under the sponsorship of Yomiuri Shimbun. Spectators braved the cold to cheer the athletes along the course.
“Gambare, gambare (Keep it up)!” my Kenyan friend hollered and waved his flag at the runners. Godfrey, who is doing a post-graduate course in Japan, was invited by his host family to watch the race at the third section in Totsuka.
Godfrey had a surprise when a stranger greeted him in Swahili. That man had formerly run in Hakone Ekiden, and is currently a coach at a university while working for a media company. Together with Godfrey’s host family members, they posed for some pictures.
Godfrey related his interesting different public image.
According to a new survey, though, it seems that “arguing once a week could be the secret to a long and healthy relationship – as long as they are mild spats and not abusive rows.”
I’m just wondering how couples manage to adhere to the recommended “once a week” dosage. Do they designate a certain night as Argument Night? And what happens when Argument Night rolls around and they have nothing to argue about?
Wife: Sweetheart, it’s Argument Night tonight. What are we going to argue about?
Husband: I don’t think anything has come up since our last argument.
Wife: Nothing? You have nothing to argue about? You know what this means?
Husband: Yes, our relationship is not as healthy as it should be.
Wife: Well, I can only blame you for this. If only you weren’t so bloody agreeable all the time, we’d have a better marriage. Husband: That’s right, blame it all on me! Wife: Of course, who else is there to blame? The dog?
Husband: Don’t bring the dog into this. I know you’ve always hated him. Wife: But he’s my dog. Husband: And what’s that got to do with anything? Wife: Look, Sweetheart! We’re arguing! Husband: Oh, yes, so we are. How won- n Check out Mary on Facebook at www. facebook.com/mary.schneider.writer. Reader response can be directed to email@example.com. my. experience to me. He watched the return-trip race on TV the next day. The nail-biting moment was when a runner collapsed twice about 200m from the next station at Tsurumi, but he got up to hand over his sash to his teammate waiting at the line.
Toyo University’s ekiden superstar, Ruji Kawashiwabara, came out first in the final leg of the first day’s race. So his team started the second day’s race with a lead of more than five minutes ahead of Waseda University’s team.
Toyo University emerged the top winner, clocking in 10 hours 51 minutes and 36 seconds – 8 minutes and 15 seconds faster than the record Waseda University set last year. Kawashibara, who hails from Fukushima, has helped his university win three titles in four years. He even broke his previous record.
Besides receiving trophies, medals and certificates, the winners and their universities gained recognition. As for me, I received a cheering flag from Godfrey. n Sarah Mori, a Malaysian married to a Japanese, has been living in Japan since 1992. derful.
Wife: Now that we’ve got that out of the way, shall we eat?
Conversely, what happens if a couple has the need to argue more than once a week?
Husband: What was the next-door neighbour doing with his hand on your thigh at the party earlier tonight?
Wife: He didn’t have his hand on my thigh. You’re being paranoid again. Husband: Me paranoid? Let me tell you …. Wife, putting her index finger to her lips: Shhhh ... We’ve already argued once this week. You’ll have to wait until next week to discuss this.
Husband: You’re right, darling. So sorry. I completely forgot.
Wife: I’ll put it in the diary. Just in case we forget. Husband: Good idea. Personally, I think this is a half-baked idea. Who in their right mind would adhere to an argument quota? If your partner irritates you, it’s reasonable to want to talk about it. Sometimes, such conversations might result in an argument, in which case, it’s reasonable to assume that the man is always in the wrong … isn’t it? Sometimes, they don’t result in arguments, simply because your partner realised that he was in the wrong all along. Not so?
All contrary views will be dealt with next Thursday.