01 April 2015, 7am
Sun 15 February 2015
The Kyoto Marathon is one of Japan’s major mass-participation marathons, attracting 16,000 runners and 500,000 spectators, and involving some 15,000 staff and volunteers. Kyoto has a unique culture and history stretching back more than 1,200 years. The products of many traditional industries nurtured by this cultural history are widely known and appreciated throughout the world. Kyoto was top-ranked in the 2014 “World’s Best Cities” rating of tourism destinations released by Travel + Leisure, one of the world’s most influential travel magazines.
The city is also a hub of advanced industry as well as being known as a student town where 150,000 students (about one in ten residents) attend 40 universities. Dr. Shinya Yamanaka, who heads Kyoto University’s Center for IPS Cell Research and Application and won the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine, took part in the last Kyoto Marathon.
Kyoto has a history of hosting long-distance running events. Staged about 100 years ago the first ekiden relay race was run over about 508km of the old Tokaido post road from Kyoto’s Sanjo Ohashi Bridge to central Tokyo. The legacy of that race lives on in the Inter-Prefectural Women’s Ekiden, the All-Japan High School Ekiden Championship and the National Wheelchair Ekiden. The Kyoto Marathon also includes a very popular Pair-Ekiden in which the course is divided into two stages, with the runner of the first stage handing-off a tasuki sash to his or her teammate.
The main running event in Kyoto used to be the half marathon, first held in 1994 when a variety of gala programs were staged in various parts of the city to celebrate the 1,200th anniversary of the founding of “Heian-kyo,” as the city was named during its time as the capital of ancient Japan. That half marathon was one of the biggest events in Japan and the first half marathon anywhere to draw more than 10,000 runners in its inaugural year. It could be argued that it started Japan’s boom in mass participation distance running.
After the launching of the mass-participation version of the Tokyo Marathon in 2007 it was only a matter of time before Kyoto would host a full marathon. This was to be staged in 2012, after two years of preparation, on 11 March — around the same time as the previous Kyoto City Half Marathon. But on that same date a year earlier Japan suffered a massive natural disaster that jolted the whole world: the Great East Japan Earthquake. It struck with a magnitude of 9.0, the highest on record of any earthquake in the vicinity of Japan.
In the immediate wake of the disaster all kinds of events were cancelled and the outlook a year later was uncertain. Opinion was divided as to whether or not the marathon should be held on the proposed date. Eventually it was decided to hold it as planned but to use “Assistance for Reconstruction from the Great East Japan Earthquake” as the event’s main theme. The reasoning was that an expression of gratitude for being able to run and energetic support for Japan on the road to recovery was just what was needed. Ever since then the event has continued to support those aims by, for example: waiving entry fees for participants from disaster-affected areas; producing bibs bearing messages of support for the recovery, such as ”Remember 3/11!” This helps to prevent concern for affected areas fading with the passage of time because entrants see these messages on the backs of those ahead of them. Every year donations exceeding 10 million yen are received from entrants and others.
In year three, for Kyoto Marathon 2014, the race was brought forward to February and “DO YOU KYOTO?” incorporated into the main concept.
Kyoto is widely known, both domestically and abroad, as an icon for environmentalism; it was here that the Kyoto Protocol to address global warming was concluded. The term “Kyoto” has become synonymous with doing something beneficial for the environment. “DO YOU KYOTO?” serves as a challenging slogan, meaning “what are you doing to save the environment?” Kyoto Marathon’s actions include: providing what is some of the world’s purest tap water in paper cups rather than in plastic bottles; paperless printing; and collecting discarded winter clothing in the start area for donation to people in Africa.
Kyoto embraces seven World Heritage sights (i.e., Tenryu-ji Temple, Ninna-ji Temple, Ryoan-ji Temple, Kinkaku-ji Temple, Kamigamo-jinja Shrine, Shimogamo-jinja Shrine, and Ginkaku-ji Temple). The 2015 course included a downtown section that allowed entrants to enjoy some magnificent urban scenery in the second half of the marathon. The popular “Buff” (tubular scarf/bandana) presented to all runners was emblazoned with the names of famous sites along the course, where participants were greeted with signs indicating scenic viewing points.
One of the iconic sights of the Kyoto Marathon is a group of monks standing in front of Ninna-ji Temple, around 11km into the course, holding a banner to cheer the runners on. Runners pass through the Kyoto Botanical Gardens and along the Kamo River, one of the symbols of Kyoto. The course scores highly for its clear air, its natural setting and its uniquely imposing finish line at the Torii Gate (24m high by 18m wide) in front of Heian-jingu Shrine.
Kyoto Marathon 2015 drew a record 1800 non-Japanese entrants from a total of 41 countries and territories. It brought staff, volunteers and supporters along the course together in spirit and enveloped the whole city in its spectacle and drama. Kyoto residents’ backing for the entrants is reputed to be the warmest in Japan, and many runners remarked how much they liked Kyoto and wanted to thank the city. So: will you Kyoto?