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Running into history

02 January 2015, 8am

Everyone knows that the Japanese nation has a love affair with the marathon. But that emotional connection, perhaps unique to Japan, still needs to be nurtured. Read on below for an insight into how this happens.

Big in Japan

Everyone knows that the Japanese nation has a love affair with the marathon. But that emotional connection, perhaps unique to Japan, still needs to be nurtured. Read on below for an insight into how this happens.

In Japan running was as an industry long before it was elsewhere. Including the USA where the ‘running boom’ launched. Fred Lebow freely admitted that he was stumbling in the dark when he took the New York City Marathon out of Central Park and onto the streets of the five boroughs, but he somehow emerged on the bright side of those roads.

Yet in Japan, literally the “Land of the Rising Sun”, marathon running was such a neat psychological fit that any agency which could bring it all together would be taking a great step forward for the sport worldwide. R-bies Inc. is an operation that encompasses publishing, entry and timing services, race organization and more. They have stood at the forefront of an industry with a one-of-a-kind reach — from the amateur fun runner all the way to the Olympic medalist — and celebrated their 40th anniversary with a party at the Cerulean Tower Tokyu Hotel in Tokyo’s fashionable Shibuya district on 1 December.

At the elite level Japan’s men, and particularly the women, have won a string of Olympic and World Championships medals stretching back for decades. Apart from Kenya and Ethiopia Japan is the only other country to have had ten men running sub-2:10 for the marathon in one year.

Domestically elite racing is a massively popular spectator sport, with live TV broadcasts of races televised nationwide almost every weekend from fall to spring and the Hakone Ekiden, a two-day university men’s road relay race starting and finishing in downtown Tokyo every 2 and 3 January, drawing TV audiences in the tens of millions.

Japan’s small elite marathons likewise pull in large TV audiences as well as serving as aspirational lifetime goals for driven and talented amateur runners.
At the amateur level running has always been big in Japan, but the launch of the Tokyo Marathon in 2007 set off a revolution that has seen an explosion in participation, particularly among women. With a field of over 30,000 Tokyo’s entry lottery easily pulls in more than ten times that number of hopeful applicants, a success that has inspired new large-scale marathons across the country in Osaka, Kobe, Kyoto, Nagoya, Fukuoka, and Yokohama. And there will be many more to come. No other country has a running culture as vibrant and expansive at all levels of the sport.

For the last 40 years R-bies Inc. has played an active role in the growth and development of the Japanese running industry. Its flagship monthly RUNNERS magazine, now Japan’s market leader by a distance, began publication in 1976. It targeted the amateur market but uniquely catered to both the six-hour plus fun runners who flocked to the Honolulu Marathon every year and to the upper echelons of the amateur ranks.

Founder and editor-in-chief Yukiko Shimojo ran the first Tokyo International Women’s Marathon in 1979, and the magazine has long featured a “My Training” series of interviews with amateur men who succeeded in breaking 2:30 for the marathon. Every year it also publishes rankings of the top 100 men’s and women’s marathon times by single-year age categories in a popular supplement to the magazine. It is a point of pride for amateur runners all over the country who strive year upon year to make those lists.

Along with the success of Runners, R-bies Inc.’s RUNNET online race guide and entry and results service has grown to become Japan’s market leader with 1.7 million registered users and 25 million page views monthly. In addition to calendars and regional guides to help users find races RUNNET’s innovative features include a Race Report section that allows users to rate their experiences at races on details from aid stations to scenery to crowd support. Scores are compiled and the highest-ranked events are given special distinction as the top 100 most popular races in the country, helping them to attract more entrants in future years.

In tandem with RUNNET the R-bies subsidiary RECS race timing service has grown to become one of the world’s biggest, handling more than 2 million finishers a year. The massive growth of the amateur running market in Japan since 2007 and extensive experience of providing services for client races has made it possible for R-bies Inc. to get involved in organizing races of its own such as a popular 30km event geared towards people training to run the Tokyo Marathon.

At its anniversary party R-bies Inc. celebrated its first 40 years and kicked off its plan for the next 10. Twice the size of its annual award ceremony and year-end party, this year’s event hosted 600 guests including 300 everyday runners invited from among RUNNERS subscribers and RUNNET users. More than 30 journalists attended a press conference on the 40 years of history shared by
R-bies Inc. and the Japanese running world. Special guest Carlo Capalbo of the Czech Republic’s Prague International Marathon spoke on current trends in the global running scene as well as the keynote presentation in the Sports Event Session. Tokyo Marathon race director Tad Hayano, Takao Takamura of the Lake Yamanaka Road Race and Nikkei Newspaper sports writer Seiichi Yoshida took part in a panel discussion on the impact and contribution of running events to local communities and internationalisation.

Along with the launch of R-bies’ new RUN FOR THE FUTURE logo and corporate identity, the party featured an R-bies Expo that showed off the latest services for client races. Twenty celebrities and Olympians posed for pictures to introduce the new RUNPHOTO 2.0 service that automatically uploads runners’ race photos to their Facebook pages. Other innovations on show included the Ouen Navi service that allows users to track runners in real time, the Dore Hashiru app that helps users to find races, and the Yuzureru cancellation service to facilitate transferring entries to other runners.
The AIMS booth at the R-bies Expo was another popular attraction. Already claiming 20 member races within Japan, AIMS’ Japanese-language pamphlets detailed the benefits of membership and drew great interest from officials from races across the country.

Former AIMS President Hiroaki Chosa congratulated R-bies on their contribution to the expansion and development of the Japanese running market and expressed his hopes for continued success. Within the next 10 years Tokyo will host the 2020 Olympics and more and more Japanese marathons will provide exciting new destinations for international marathon tourists. The Japanese running industry is set for further growth, and R-bies Inc. has assumed a commanding position to enable and support that growth.


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