Hiroshima ekiden? What’s that? Until relatively recently I never really “got” what the attraction was of spending your day watching a load of runners running in a marathon or a long distance relay (ekiden). That sort of thing is very popular here in Nippon and I was set to ignore it again this year when I heard that Rakurakuen was holding a festival with taiko drummers and food and drink stalls to celebrate and support the Hiroshima ekiden, so I decided to pop along and have a look.
The full title of the event is the All-Japan Interprefectural Ekiden Championship. Each of Japan’s 47 prefectures sends a team of seven runners to compete in the 48 kilometer race which starts and finishes at Peace Park, with Miyajimaguchi as the half-way stage. Rakurakuen is situated about six kilometers from Miyajima, right on the route the runners were taking. The stages are 7 kilometers, 3k 8.5k 5k 8.5k 3k and 13k. Junior high runners run the two 3k stages and high school runners run the 7k, 5k and 8.5k stages. Open runners are placed in the remaining 8.5k stage and the 13k stage.
At first, I simply enjoyed the drumming. Three drumming groups were bashing away in quite close proximity to each other. First there was an elementary school group playing their drums in the Rakurakuen shopping street.
Then a couple of adult drumming groups were playing within earshot of each other on Route 2. I don’t know about the other group, but the group of college graduates performing outside Hiroshima Ginko put on a pretty good show…
One of the drummers played the clown with a pair of miniature cymbals, much to the amusement of the other drummers…
Then the anticipation began to build up and crowds lined Route 2 in anticipation, a helicopter whirred overhead and police motorbikes came roaring past, and the leading runner came running by at a cracking rate, a cool dude representing the team from Tokyo.
When the runners came through I was struck by their pace as they ran by – I mean, they were actually running! Rakurakuen was on the part of the course covered by high school runners, although at the time they looked more like college students to me. Looking at the video again on the Internet I can see that they were indeed high schoolers.
Once the runners had all gone by I went home and watched the rest of the race on TV, completely hooked on the event and its combination of team effort, individual endurance and competitive spirit. In the fifth stage there was a strong runner from Kumamoto who came right through the pack while the lead runner from Aichi put up a good fight to hold him off, and even attempted to retake the lead shortly after he was overtaken, but the Kumamoto guy was just too strong, even so the Aichi runner kept close to him right to the end of the stage.
Aichi retook the lead in the sixth stage, with Kumamoto second and Tokyo third, but the seventh stage saw all of them soundly beaten by an excellent performance on the part of a runner from Hyogo.
You can check out the stages and watch some of the action via this website: