Over the last 10 years, Japanese mass participation marathons have exploded in across the country drawing crowds both locally and from overseas.

Tokyo, which hosted its 8th mass participation city marathon last weekend, is now the 6th marathon major worldwide (alongside New York, Chicago, Boston, London and Berlin). What makes running in the Tokyo Marathon so unique, attracting entries in to the hundreds of thousands each year?

Photo by taro.

1. Top Class Organization

Like its transport system, Japanese marathons are slick and efficient. Over 10,000 volunteers ranging from 15 to 91 years old, and travelling from as far away as Hokkaido in the north and Kyushu in the south, ensure with cheery enthusiasm that the marathon runs without a hitch.

Each helper is clearly identified by their matching colour coded jackets (yellow = course marshall, blue = water, orange = energy drink, grey = course marshal).

And when you cross the line, there’s no fighting or queuing for your drop bag. Expect to find your belongings meticulously laid out in number order, handed over with a bow, energetic clap and cheer. You’ll walk away feeling like a real champion.

Bags of the Tokyo Marathon finishers, all laid out orderly by volunteers. Photo by Tokyo Marathon

2. Greeted By A Whole City

One thing that stands out about running a marathon in Tokyo, is the unique local atmosphere, drawing thousands each year not only to participate and but a whole city, rain, hail or shine, to support along the way.

Incredibly, almost 2 million spectators (about 15% of the population of Tokyo) lined the streets last Sunday for the 8th Tokyo marathon meaning that whether you are a beginner or a seasoned pro, you won’t be short of a cheer or two. Get ready to feel like a marathon rock star!

3. Let Japan Entertain You

Alongside the crowds and volunteers, there is plenty of sightseeing from the past, present and future.
Whether its traditional shrines, modern day skyscrapers and fancy shops in the commercial hubs or stages of performers and bands dotted along the course playing local music and folk dancing, you are sure not to get bored on the 42.2km marathon course. Be sure not to forget your camera.

Brass players from a local school band cheer on runners. Photo by Tokyo Marathon

4. Time To Dress Up

Think the Japanese are reserved? Think again. When it comes to their marathons, you will see another side to the Japanese character and it’s all about having fun from the wacky to downright weird.

Take a look around the Tokyo Marathon 2014 and you would be greeted with (to name a few), a bride and groom, a few egg plants, a team of ‘Where’s Wally’, a Gundam runner, a bumble bee, Kermit and Gonzo and a whole array of super-heroes. One of the best this year was a man in a full business suit carrying a brief case – very Japanese!

One of the many inventive costumed runners at the Tokyo Marathon. Photo by Hideya Hamano

5. Yummy Feast At The Finish Line

Japan may be famous for sushi and sashimi, but Japanese marathons are interesting for serving another range of delicacies.

Beside the standard water and sports drinks, you will find on offer trays of peeled bananas, cherry tomatoes, assorted lollies, refreshment mints and bread rolls that look like normal dinner rolls but turn out to have a creamy, chocolate filling. Mouth-watering to say the least!

The Land Of The Rising Runs

Photo by Tokyo Marathon

Having been selected to host the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, Japan will attract even more attention in the lead up to 2020.

Osaka and Kyoto also have their own 42.2km race and new 26.2-milers are springing all over Japan, including the Saga Sakura Marathon in April, a Kitakyushu race in 2014 and one in Okayama in 2015.

With top class courses on offer and a national passion for running, there is no doubt that Japanese marathons are world-standard. It’s definitely worth checking out for your next marathon adventure.

Had any unforgettable overseas marathon trips? Get in touch and share your memories with us!

Carol Cunningham

Carol Cunningham is the Fitness Manager at Virgin Active in Raffles Place. An Australian Level 2 Running Coach with experience in over 50 half marathons and 25 marathons around the world, she is passionate about helping others enjoy running as much as she does. Carol regularly trains clients for local Singaporean events and believes that having a balanced training programme that includes resistance training alongside running is one of the most effective ways to develop good movement patterns, an essential tool for runners at all levels.

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