translated by Brett Larner
update: I've received some inquiries about how to help Munyi and Kamau since posting this article yesterday. Please contact Takahide Watanabe of the Owari Asahi Running Club. The club's message board discussion about the situation here, and a copy of the documents Watanabe has filed with the Immigration Bureau protesting the Kenyans' pending imprisonment and outlining their legitimacy as runners is here.
Fired by their sponsoring jitsugyodan teams after sustaining injuries and given shelter by a sympathetic small independent local car parts manufacturer, two elite Kenyan runners living in Nagoya were arrested early this month and imprisoned in the Nagoya Immigration Violation Detention Center. The two are facing deportation, but a group of local supporters is attempting to fight the Immigration Bureau's action, saying, "These two men are truly talented athletes and deserve to stay in Japan."
The two runners, Simon Maina Munyi (30) and Joseph Mwaura Kamau (20), live in Japan on amateur athlete visas. Simon came to Japan in 1997 when he was hired by a jitsugyodan team based in Aichi Prefecture,* going on to win the Nagoya Half Marathon twice. Joseph came to Japan in 2003 as an exchange student at a high school in Okayama Prefecture before joining a jitsugyodan team,* finishing in the prizes at both the Yokohama and Kyoto Half Marathons.
However, both runners became injured and were fired by their sponsoring jitsugyodan teams. Friends came to their aid and introduced them to a small, independent car parts manufacturing firm in Nagoya in September last year. Sympathetic to their situation, the company created a track and field team to support the Kenyans' training and gave them minor jobs in its factory to help them survive. Both men recovered from their injuries and were planning to run comeback races in half marathons this October and November.
Asked for details concerning the two men's arrests and detention, an Immigration Bureau official responded, "We have no comment." Takahide Watanabe (50), head of the Owari Asahi Running Club, an amateur group with which Simon and Joseph train on weekends, said that because the car parts company sponsoring the two Kenyans is not one of the major manufacturers, Immigration Bureau officials most likely did not take the company's track team seriously and chose to treat the two men as ordinary workers, a status not permitted under the terms of their visas. "I want the Immigration Bureau to make the right decision here," he told reporters.
Joseph also talked about his situation. "The training environment in Japan is superb, and I would like to stay here," he said. "I believe I'm capable of breaking 2:07 in the marathon, and I only want to get back to my training."
Translator's note: The article declines to name the jitsugyodan teams which fired the two injured Kenyans. Simon Maina Munyi ran for Toyota, while Joseph Mwaura Kamau competed for Omokawa.