02 January 2015, 8am
Sun 26 October 2014
Despite its relative newness — it will be held for only the fifth time in 2015 — the Osaka Marathon is already an extremely popular event throughout Japan. The 2014 edition also welcomed a large number of overseas participants, especially from other Asian countries. Overall, but excluding Japan, more than 5000 entries came from 51 countries and regions.
The marathon starts from right in front of Osaka’s most well-known landmark: its Castle. From an area that embodies the city’s history — including Naniwa-no-miya, the remains of an ancient capital city — the course enters Midosuji Boulevard, lined with Ginkgo trees. From there on to bustling Dotonbori Street, where reflections of large advertising billboards ripple on the surface of the canal. The course passes through other well-known places of interest such as Nakanoshima, with its dazzling modern architecture, and Tsutenkaku, with Osaka’s symbolic tower. The finish lies in front of the INTEX Osaka building in the southern part of the city. The course is flat and the time limit is seven hours (but 2:20 for wheelchair competitors), so it is no surprise that the Osaka Marathon has a very high finisher rate, with some 95% of runners completing the course.
On Marathon Day the city bubbles with a festive mood as a hundred cheerleading, dancing, and drumming teams perform along the roadside. What further boosts the mood is the impassioned humor-laced roadside encouragement of friendly, busy-body Osaka-ites. Brandishing signs, dressed up in creatively festive costumes, and calling out to runners as they pass by, the spectators enjoy the marathon even more than the runners.
The Osaka Marathon is renowned for spectators engaging with the runners, and drawing a reflexive smile from them even as they become increasingly weary.
Another Osaka Marathon institution is the Maido-AID food service at the 32.5km mark. Here a selection of Japanese foods, including takoyaki — a favorite local dish in a city famed for its delicious cuisine — sushi rolls, and pickles, that have been lovingly prepared by local residents is set out to the delight of runners. A warm exchange with the people of Osaka, who love to entertain others, is a compulsory component of running the Osaka Marathon, and contributes to the joy participants get from doing so.
The Osaka Marathon EXPO is the largest of its kind in Japan. In addition to the check-in for runners, there are booths where the latest sporting goods from various manufacturers can be tried out and/or bought, as well a variety of events, including informative pre-marathon lectures and an auction conducted by charity ambassadors. The Umaimon Ichiba food court offers a tasting of delicious foods from throughout Japan, making this an event that can be enjoyed not only by runners but also people with absolutely no interest in runners or running: no wonder the EXPO venue overflows with more than 100,000 visitors every year.
Working as one of the 10,000 volunteers supporting the marathon is another popular draw: places are filled almost immediately after applications open. Volunteers might register runners, or provide first aid, water, and food to runners, among various other roles. Many runners have expressed their appreciation for the encouragement provided by the volunteers’ exhortation to “Keep it up!” at the water station, or “Congratulations!” or “Good run!” as they hand over medals at the finish with a smile after runners cross the finish line.
“Running will always benefit someone”: the Osaka Marathon is also a charity marathon. A program has been created to enable not only runners but also spectators, volunteers, and any other people involved with the marathon to easily participate in charity fundraising with the aim of making the Osaka Marathon the world’s largest event in terms of people’s charity participation. There are seven charity themes: to support your hopes in life; to assist your dreams; to support families; to conserve the environment; to provide clean water; for the sake of a bright future for children; and to preserve our beautiful city. All runners participating in the Osaka Marathon select a charity theme when they enter, and on the day of the marathon, they wear number cards and goods in the charity’s theme colors as they run. Beginning with the 3rd Osaka Marathon (Osaka Marathon 2013), a special category has been established for participating runners who collect more than 70,000 yen in donations. Other fundraising efforts include the sale of charity T-shirts produced in collaboration with young artists.
For this latest Osaka Marathon “Number Cards with Nicknames” were offered, allowing spectators to cheer runners by their chosen name. The introduction of this new program led to energetic exchanges of “high fives”, assisted by the distribution of gloves printed with “Go!” on them.
Through these efforts, charity participation has increased year on year, with more than 100 million yen in donations collected during the 2014 Osaka Marathon.
Osaka is the second-largest city in Japan after Tokyo, and offers not only a very popular mass marathon (and an elite women’s marathon in January) but also delicious cuisine, shopping, amusements parks, and various other forms of entertainment for visitors to enjoy. A well-developed subway system makes it possible to travel anywhere in the city very conveniently.
Come to Osaka to experience both the marathon and the cheering.