Ekiden relay race strengthens bonds, breaks down barriers
CAMP ZAMA, Japan (Oct. 8, 2015) - An international crowd flooded the grounds of the Sagami General Depot installation Oct. 4 to take part in the 26th annual East Japan International Ekiden relay race.
The 16km running event included multiple races and categories attracting both serious and novice runners, to include military service members and Japanese citizens.
The weather for the day was a nice in contrast to the rain that had dampened the running grounds; but from the turnout of participants, not the spirits of the runners.
Paul Stearns, chief recreation officer for Camp Zama MWR, said that SGD, usually closed to the public, was the perfect venue for the 5,000 participants running in the Ekiden this year.
The annual Ekiden is hosted each year due to the long-standing, 18-year relationship Camp Zama and its components share with the Kanto Racing Association, a Japanese group that helps organize and promote relay racing in the Kanto Plains area, said Stearns.
"It's a great way for the community at Camp Zama to connect with our Japanese hosts," said Starnes said.
"This is all about friendship. When the gates open up and our neighbors come in, they can really see that Americans are just like them. Nothing brings people together better than working together," said Stearns.
Not all of the people passing through the gates were Japanese citizens. Seattle, Washington native Bill Burns was among those who traveled from Tokyo to take part in the festivities.
"I like running because it's a great way to relieve stress," said Burns. "It's also a great way to see new things that you wouldn't notice in a car or train, like the little shops in the area and things like that."
During the race, Burns ran the last leg of a four-man team race, comprised of office workers from the company he works with teaching English to businesses in Shinjuku, Japan.
"This was the first time any (of my co-workers) had been on a military base," said Burns.
He said that earlier in the day of their trip, it had seemed like such a novelty to his Japanese co-workers; but as they entered the base, everyone's eyes grew big and they had quieted down- "just rubbernecking at this new world they had entered."
"One of my friends pointed at the Soldiers they saw and went on and on about how American they looked," said Burns, "there's really nothing better at breaking down barriers."
After some traditional Japanese taiso, or group stretching, the race kicked off with the Men's Masters Race, comprised of runners between the ages of 18 and 39.
Shortly thereafter, more races began at regular intervals until the streets of SGD were full with runners adorned in colorful gear.
It's not uncommon for runners in Japan to show their fun side by coming dressed in whimsical outfits such as popular comic book and movie characters. This was demonstrated by the appearance of Darth Vader, the dark lord of the Sith form the movie franchise Star Wars.
Iron Man was another fan favorite at the event; but thankfully, no epic battle between good and evil broke out during the festivities- the day was all about fun.
The fastest run time of the day went to the Atomi Ladies A group, who passed the finish line at one hour, minute, and 34 seconds. The Atomi Forties A men's group followed up shortly behind, clocking in at one hour, six minutes, and 35 seconds.
After the trophies and medals were awarded, the participants, their friends and Families laid out on the grass to cool down, and to enjoy the nice weather and hospitality of their newfound American friends.