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  • Ganbade! Japanese Runners in the Honolulu Marathon

    Posted on May 8th, 2009 Michele Sun No comments

    I ran the 26.2 miles Honolulu Marathon on Dec. 10, 2006, and it was such a remarkable event for me. Couple reasons contribute to that, for one, I was a Team in Training mentor for a group of very special and wonderful girls; for 20 weeks we trained to complete this marathon together, and it’s their first full marathon. I was fundraising for two events that season, the Nike Women’s Half Marathon and the Honolulu Marathon; I have exceeded the fundraising minimum for both events, thanks to all the sponsors and supporters. The course was beautiful and weather was nice, firework at 5:00am was just spectacular. The first glimpse of Hawaiian sunrise when I made it to the top of Diamond Head was also unforgettable.

    However, the most unique experience is to run with so many Japanese runners.

    Most of Japanese runners (about 99.99 %) did not carry a Fuel Belt, no GU Gel , no iPod, and they ran in pack. A few girls ran in costume, and Mini Mouse seemed to be their most favorite. There was a group of runners, about 20 of them, ran in geta – the traditional wooden slippers, and the leader of that group was calling “ichi, ni, san, shi” throughout the race. Also in this race, I saw more elderly runners (in their 60s) than any other events that I have been to.

    The year that I ran the Honolulu Marathon, 2006, there was total of 28,637 runners and 17,905 were Japanese, accounts for 62.5%. Last year, 2008, the total runners were 23,232 and 14,407 of them were Japanese, at 62.0%. The event also attracted Japanese celebrity athletes, sports anchorman, entertainers… etc. to participate.

    So why did these Japanese runners fly 8 hours to Hawaii and run in this marathon? According to the Japanese TV show RANKING パラダイス (RANKING Paradise) survey ,

    The top 5 reasons are:
    1.    sense of accomplishment (12:10)
    2.    challenge him/herself (9:40)
    3.    celebrate their 60th birthday (5:35), btw, the eldest runner was 90 year old (7:58)
    4.    to lose weight (2:50)
    5.    celebrate their wedding anniversary (0:44), or honeymoon (1:25)

    I also have come up couple reasons – (1) this race has no time limit, (2) it’s not too far to fly from Japan to HI -8 hours, (3) Hawaii has always been the number one travel destination for many people.

    Tourism accounts for a quarter of Hawaii’s gross revenue and one-third of its jobs. Last year, the visitation was down 10.8%, which meant $113 million less in the state’s general fund. Traditionally, Japanese visitors have dominated tourism in Hawaii, and they are the most sought- after travelers because Japanese visitors are the highest-spending tourists on Oahu. But over the last couple years their numbers have declined considerably as well, and Hawaii is searching for innovative ways to help revive this economically significant tourism market. One solution is to strategically market sports tourism in Hawaii.

    I remember reading it from the event newspaper – from the Honolulu Marathon event, Japanese runners were expected to bring over $ 48 million dollars revenue from direct expenditures, and another additional $ 77 million revenue would be generated from indirect spending. The average spending per Japanese during the race week was $ 256 a day, compare to $ 150 per day for Americans. To simply put, Honolulu marathon is now the biggest sporting event in Hawaii generating $100m of direct money into the island – 95% of which is from the pockets of Japanese runners. So not surprisingly one will find the event organizer, airline, hotels and local merchants really have gone out of their way to accomdate Japanese runners.

    Hat off to their economic stimulus actions, and now I think the massage therapists and curry rice at the finisher’s tents are pretty good ideas!

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