Ekiden: The Ultimate Relay Race

January 21st, 2013By Category: Arts & Entertainment, Culture, Events

Have you heard of Ekiden before? If not, it’s a race that’s very much a part of Japanese popular culture.


Ekiden is what I like to think of as a relay race with a twist. The twist is that each runner runs a half marathon. At the collegiate level (I think that’s the one that’s shown on TV) there are six members to a team. The entire team runs for a total of about people at 43 kilometrs or just under 27 miles.

Running the Ekiden would be like a bad dream for me. I would get all suited to run the 4 by 400 relay, and then the coach would walk over to me and say. “There’s been a small change of plans. Instead of doing the the the 4×4, you’ll be doing the…hmm…let’s see (as he flips through the pages of his clipboard)…ah yes! The Ekiden!” The dream conversation would degrade into series of bleeping sounds, like the ones that sensor heavy profanity usage.

Initially, I thought the Ekiden was a race where each person had to run 43 kilometers. I enjoy running, but I have yet to try a full marathon. It just doesn’t strike me as something I want to do. Sure it’s cool if other people do it. I don’t mind looking on and thinking “Wow, that’s a long race.”

Japan’s Ekiden is generally a televised event. I don’t know if the marathon relay is held more than once a year, but I always see it on TV in January. I won’t lie and say that I sit and watch the Ekiden on television, it’s more like I flip to it, watch a few minutes, and change the channel. I know the members of those teams are out there running their butts off, and I can respect that. Nevertheless, it doesn’t really strike me as the most exciting sporting event to watch on TV. There’s no music, just different camera angles of a lady, or a guy, running: the overhead view, the side view, and the face close-up. No offense to those who enjoy the ekiden (I suspect there are quite a few), but watching it doesn’t excite me a whole lot. I don’t have a big interest in NASCAR racing for the very same reason…it’s just feels so repetitive for me, sitting there watching a car go around the track time after time after time. I think the speed, and presence of the cars would get a little old after the first 20 or so laps.

But then again, to each is own. There are diehard NASCAR fans just as there are diehard ekiden fans. You might want to check it out for yourself. You very well may enjoy watching it.

For news about the 2013 Ekiden, you might want to check it here.

Author of this article

Donald Ash

Donald Ash is the creator of TheJapanGuy.com website.  He is from Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. and is currently living and working in Ibaraki, Japan as an English teacher.  The majority of his professional work has been in the educational field, having taught both karate and middle school in the United States.

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