Not many people in westerner countries know what ekiden means, in fact it is a Japanese only tradition. An ekiden is a relay running race, typically on roads, where a long distance is covered.
Ekidens in Japan are a mainstream phenomenon and the sport literally brings on the roads millions of spectators. Some events also get full tv coverage. Many races and championships are organized, the most appreciated are University events and Corporate events.
The most famous race is probably the Hakone Ekiden, a university race where any team has to cover the 219km route in 10 stages. It is usually run on the 2nd and 3rd of January. This is considered a classic and a very important race. Many people like this competition because its results are unpredictable in comparison to Corporate events, where runners are professionals.
In fact, in corporate championships, big corporations hire the best runners from Japan and from abroad: often Kenyan athletes are pursued by corporations and also well paid. Ekidens are a very serious business for corporations in Japan, you’d be mistaken considering them as a recreational activity.
For sure in westerner countries relay races aren’t that successful (even though there is a niche of endurance races in the US). As Adharanand Finn explains in his book “The way of the runner”, ekiden’s success in Japan derives from a very peculiar cultural attitude, not limited to running.
An ekiden has the capability of giving a team member the chance of (1) sacrificing for an outstanding performance (2) for the common success of the team and (3) under the direction of a coach. That implies a strong sense of duty, a deep belief in the team or organization and a great respect for hierarchy. Finn’s book give deep insights of what ekiden means to Japanese people. Another very interesting resource about Japanese running is the blog Japan Running News (http://japanrunningnews.blogspot.it/)
We personally love the idea: what do you think? Would you be interested in organizing an ekiden in Europe?
Yes? Whistle blow to francesco -at- movimentore.com !