Tokyo Marathon – Dash across the city as fast as you can

By Ben Davis

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In the past I’ve mused about the charm of two-wheel exploring and wandering the backstreets with detours in mind, yet the sheer simplicity of running – a pair of shoes and the will to go as far, or fast, as you like – opens up a completely different view of the city. From the central train stations to the tree-laden outskirts, you’ll find runners gathering for weekly circuits of Tokyo’s palace, parks and pavement, yet as far as occasions go, the Tokyo Marathon is the one day that you can roam (and race) the city without inhibition, from the shadows of Shinjuku’s skyscrapers to the verge of Tokyo Bay.

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Joining Berlin, Boston, Chicago, New York and London as one of the World Marathon Majors, Tokyo holds its annual race in late February, just as winter’s chill starts to give way to warmer, run-friendly weather. Just after 9am at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, 35,500 runners – just a fraction of those who enter the August ballot – dash out, around and under the Yamanote train line before heading eastward through the tower-lined corridor of central Shinjuku. And for those who witness the early stages of the race it’s a mesmerising sight. A pack of broadcast vehicles laden with cameras lead out wheelchair racers and a small bunch of fleet-footed professionals, who are trailed by an ominous mass of runners who surge through still-sleepy Shinjuku in a motley mix of urban running wear, national attire and self-styled costumes.

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From Shinjuku the route heads across the city and around the Imperial Palace – one of the city’s popular running circuits – before looping down around Shinagawa and heading up through Ginza to Asakusa’s famous Kaminarimon Gate. Along this mid-way stretch some of the most enthusiastic crowds gather bearing homemade signs and cheers of encouragement,  with the occasional dance troupe, pompous brass band and high-fiving costumed character adding to the festivities.

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The latter portion of the race takes runners back to Ginza and across the water to Tokyo Big Sight, where the rumble of taiko drums brews alongside the golden arch of the finish line. It’s there in the final stretch that runners, regardless of whether they’re sub-three hours or closer to seven, shed their weariness for a mix of elation and relief. And for those who turn out to watch, the curiously addictive nature of this once-a-year spectacle is like to lead not only to further admiration for those competing, but a touch of inspiration to sign up for next year’s race.

-Tokyo Marathon
-Where: Throughout the city
-When: Late February




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About Columnist

Ben Davis
Editor of Thousands Tokyo

Ben is an editor, consultant and photographer who has been based in Tokyo since 2010. Following a stint with local farmers in the Japanese countryside, he now works as Editor of Thousands Tokyo, which sees him happily spend most days (and nights) exploring the world’s biggest city from the ground up.