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From Kenya, 15-Year-Old Nozomi Musembi Takamatsu Passes Six On Way to Setting National Women's Ekiden Stage Record

http://hochi.yomiuri.co.jp/osaka/sports/article/news/20130114-OHO1T00058.htm

translated by Brett Larner

The new star of the proud Osaka track world, with a Kenyan father Nozomi Musembi Takamatsu (3rd yr., Kunei Joshi Gakuin J.H.S.) passed six people on the 3.0 km Third Stage of Sunday's National Women's Ekiden to break the 9 year-old course record with a new record of 9:10. The Kanagawa team ran 2:14:55 for the nine-stage, 42.195 race to set a new overall course record while taking its first win in 26 years, with the Hyogo team 2nd. With seven members including Takamatsu returning from last year's winning team, Osaka took 3rd.

All eyes along Kyoto's historic streets were focused on the 15 year-old Takamatsu.  Taking up the tasuki in 8th place, her slender 157 cm, 39 kg body moved with spring and energetic grace as she advanced through the field.  "There were a lot of runners ahead of me, but I went after them with all my energy," she says.  Among the voices cheering from the roadside, that of her father, 2001 Nagano Marathon winner Maxwell Musembi, 39, rang out.  "Hearing him gave me courage," she says, the courage to brilliantly catch six of the people ahead of her before handing off in 2nd.

Her time of 9:10 broke the old stage record by 1 second.  "It's nice that I got the record, but I was shooting for 9:00, so....." she says with disappointment.  "I should have pushed the first half a little harder."  As she reviews her performance, despite still having the innocent appearance of a child it's clear that someone of great potential is already stirring within her.  Last year she ran 9:22 on the same stage.  Her father Maxwell says, "This wasn't the time that she wanted, but she was much faster than last year and that is a good thing," showing pride and appreciation of her growth.

Maxwell has been coaching Takamatsu since she was in 4th grade.  Since entering junior high school she has run in the Junior Olympics each year, increasing the distance and winning each time.  "Nozomi was just running as hard as she could no matter what the distance," says her mother Kaoru Takamatsu, 46, "but now she's at the stage where she can pick the pace up a little bit each km."  The younger Takamatsu has not only inherited her father's talents but is also learning the tactics and thinking behind track racing from him.

In April Takamatsu will enter Osaka Kunei Joshi Gakuin High School, the sister school of her junior high.  The powerful team placed 5th at December's National High School Girls Ekiden.  "Once you get to high school a lot of people become strong athletes," she says.  "I want to run among them and help lead the team to the win in the ekiden."

At the National Women's Ekiden Takamatsu received the junior high school division's 'Most Likely to Succeed' award.  At last year's London Olympics, javelin thrower Genki Dean (3rd yr., Waseda Univ.), whose father is British, and sprinter Anna Doi (2nd yr., Saitama Sakae H.S.), the youngest post-war athlete to be named to the Japanese Olympic Team, were big topics of conversation.  With the Rio Olympics just 3 years away, Takamatsu's future is growing brighter and brighter as she herself continues to grow.

Nozomi Musembi Takamatsu
Born Aug. 31, 1997.  15 years old.  157 cm, 39 kg.
At age 3 she came with her parents from her father's native Kenya to her mother's hometown of Ikeda in Osaka.  While at Kunei Joshi Gakuin J.H.S., in 7th grade she won the Junior Olympics 800 m, in 8th grade the 1500 m, and in 9th grade the 3000 m.  In both 8th and 9th grade she won the National Junior High School Track and Field Championships 1500 m.  She lives with her parents, older sister and younger brother.

Female Japanese high school Olympians in track and field
Running the London Olympics 4x100 m relay aged 16 years, 351 days, Anna Doi (Saitama Sakae H.S.) was the youngest post-war track Olympian.  The next youngest was 10000 m race walker Miki Itakura (Kanazawa H.S.), aged 17 years, 3 days at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.  Pre-war, Sumiko Watanabe (Nagoya Joshi Prep H.S.) ran the 100 m at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics aged 15 years, 8 months.

Translator's note: Besides giving a little background info on her, I'm putting this story up partly as a record of what Takamatsu faces in coming years should she go on to become one of Japan's best. Even in an overwhelmingly positive article like this one, the first relatively detailed article I've seen on her, the very first words in the headline are "From Kenya..." with no explanation until the footnoted profile at the end of the article. Similarly, the opening sentence mentions that she has a Kenyan father before even saying what Takamatsu had done to be newsworthy, with no mention that she is the daughter of a Japanese mother until the fourth paragraph.

There is probably no explicitly malevolent intent at work here, but right from go the article unambiguously sets Takamatsu down on the opposite side of the insider/outsider divide that permeates Japanese thought, by saying "from Kenya" clearly meaning "other," i.e. "not really Japanese."  She is not the first; Olympic hammer throw gold medalist Koji Murofushi, baseball player Yu Darvish and javelin thrower Genki Dean are likewise the offspring of Japanese-foreign marriages and in the entertainment industry people like singers Crystal Kay and, in a slightly different sense, Jero, have broken ground.  But Takamatsu could become a major figurehead in confronting unquestioned Japanese attitudes toward issues of cultural identity and race, the kind of inherent attitudes that would lead a major publication to immediately marginalize a teenaged Japanese girl as "other."  

Takamatsu's best years will come exactly when Japan is projected to be facing serious social problems as a consequence of its falling population and birth rate and steadfast refusal to even mention immigration as a possible way out.  She is in for a very, very interesting career and life if she matures into the athlete she may. Murofushi "looks Japanese" enough that his background is rarely mentioned, but there is no avoiding the issue and pretending otherwise with Takamatsu.  Look at the picture of her in the linked source article and then imagine this scenario: Tokyo wins the 2020 Olympics, and a 22-year-old Takamatsu medals.  How will the Japanese media and general public view her and treat her?  Will the headlines read, "From Kenya, Nozomi Musembi Takamatsu wins Japan's first women's Olympic track and field medal in 16 years" or "Nozomi Musembi Takamatsu wins Japan's first women's Olympic track and field medal in 16 years on home soil?"  Along with her career, Japanese media presentation of Takamatsu will be a recurring theme on JRN in the years to come.

Comments

Brett - As with the previous article, i greatly enjoyed the clarity of thought you bring in highlighting the dichotomy of attitudes towards japanese athletes and pseudo-japanese. Sport is and should always be evaluated on merit alone in the spirit of improvement, not on one's origins. And the point that none of this attitude is overtly malevolent is well understood - the japanese at the end of the day are too polite and courteous (atleast those i know) even to gaijins.
Dan said…
It's pretty difficult to guess what the Japanese reaction will be. In your scenario of Tokyo 2020, I think she might find quick acceptance if she takes gold close to OR pace in the marathon. I would struggle to see her gaining in if she medals any other distance.
But stranger things have happened. Speaking as a half growing up in Okinawa, it felt like overnight the Japanese pop culture went from ostracizing the island to loving us once Amuro had her first hit.
Eido INOUE said…
Thanks for the article. One quick nitpick: don't you think you're overreading the "from Kenya" (I'm guessing the original article said ケニア出身) part of the article?

I mean, the article didn't deny she was Japanese, no?

In sports articles, even in English, it's very common to list things you would never list in a traditional newspaper article, such as height, weight... and yes, countries that person has a relationship with.

Especially because amongst the sports world, Kenya is known for producing some of the best distance runners in the world. Even though she hasn't been there since she was three, you can't help but wonder if her father and what he learned in Kenya had an influence on her training and ability.

And it's obvious she looks different from what most people (both Japanese and non-Japanese) consider to be a "Japanese national"... so it's human interest. As long as her origin is not used to exclude her from society and its something that is considered a positive part of her "background", I'm okay with it.

Anyway, besides that... great article. Thanks!

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