Rac­ing against time

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIVING - SARAH MORI star2@thes­tar.com.my MARY SCH­NEI­DER star2@thes­tar.com.my

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 star2@thes­tar.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.

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