One of the running community's favourites, the Tokyo Marathon is attracting entries numbering hundreds of thousands each year since it kicked off in 2007.
A classic example of how beloved this run has become was the fact when registrations closed for the 2013 event, more than 303,000 people has applied for the full marathon, giving it an oversubscription rate of 10 applicants per spot for participants.
Unfortunately, two ill-timed running injuries - a torn meniscus and a hamstring rupture - meant I had to sit out this year's edition. But Asics was kind enough to offer to take me along for the ride to check out the festivities. It was even open to letting me in on its top secret Asics Institute of Sports Science (ISS), which offered an interactive experience of how the running brand has developed gear for athletes and serious runners over the past six decades. Read on and find out why Japan is such a running mecca.
Checking Out the Route
There's a reason why the Tokyo Marathon is one of six races that make up the World Marathon Major Series (with London, Berlin, Boston, Chicago and New York making up the other five): The city is a sprawling metropolis, and one of the globe's largest.
What's unique about it is also how picturesque it is, as it begins at the Metropolitan Government Building and ends at the Tokyo Big Sight in Odaiba, passing through the capital's main tourist spots, including the Imperial Palace, Tokyo Tower, Asakusa and Ginza.
While I wasn't able to join the Asics team in taking a leisurely run along the route ahead of the marathon, strolling along it was enough to make my heart envious of the 35,000 runners that would get to run it. The view along the Imperial Palace, in particular, stood out for me.
In fact, according to reports by The Japan Times, the route is so scenic, there's even matchmaking runs organised weekly called "jogging-kons" there! That's how much the Japanese love their running - these runs are replacing "omiai meetings", which are formal traditional customs where unattached individuals are introduced to each other to consider the possibility of marriage.
The Science of Shoes
With some spare time ahead of the run, I also checked out Asic's ISS and Sports Museum in Kobe. Established since 1985, the institute conducts a wide variety of research, analysing human form and movement in order for the shoemaker to produce better footwear with each iteration.
I was brought through various tests the brand makes in order to build a better shoe, as well as an in-depth showcase of how deep the science goes into design and material selection.
It became clear that the Japanese custom of attention to even the smallest of details ran throughout the Asics ethos.
The brand even won kudos for conducting detailed studies on the reinforcing mechanism of composite rubber containing cross-linked resin powder. For laymen like myself, it was explained that this enabled better soles for Asic shoes, such as its Nimbus and Kayano models. Certainly interesting stuff for running shoe geeks.
One of the most impressive things about the marathon was how in the midst of all the chaos, everything felt so organised. Security was heightened, though. The recent ISIS hostage crisis had involved two Japanese after all.
But that didn't detract from the grandeur of the Tokyo Marathon - not with almost two million spectators (which is an astounding 15 per cent of the city's population) lining the street to cheer runners on. On top of that, there's plenty of sightseeing, with traditional shrines and jaw-dropping skyscrapers en route. There were also stages with folk dancing performances and bands playing local music. In fact, one key thing some runners shared with me was how important an extra power pack is. In between the selfies and snaps, you're bound to run your phone battery dry before the finish line.
There were also the runners for entertainment. You'd see whacky and weird costumed folks. I counted several Spider-men, a Michael Jackson, and even women wearing skimpy bikinis despite the cold weather (it was about 10 deg C on race day).
At the final 200m, I could hear the spectators shouting "Omedeto!" (which means congratulations) as runners crossed the finish line.
And even at that late stage, Japanese organisation was simply superb, with no fighting or queueing for drop bags. Runners' gear was simply laid out in number order, and handed over with a bow, clap and loud cheer.
Running bliss, really. I will definitely be back as a participant next year.
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