translated by Brett Larner
This is a very unique story about one of Japan's countless small country towns struggling with population and economic decline, one, faced with the question of how to survive, that somehow came up with the idea of sponsoring a pro ultramarathoner in hopes of promoting itself. The story has caught on nationally and the town, its people, and sponsored runner Takayoshi Shigemi have been featured on TV on more than one occasion.
Welcoming in the summer, the town of Urugimura's marathon training camps are underway in earnest. On weekends large numbers of amateur runners, clubs, university and high school teams come to the village from across Nagano and outside the prefecture, refreshing themselves with runs in the cool mornings and evenings and enjoying the beautiful local scenery as they train.
On the July 26-27 weekend more than 50 people from around the Aichi prefecture area were in Urugimura for marathon training. Mayor Hideki Shimizu was busy visiting the various accommodations hosting the group to greet them and welcome them to the village. Paying his respects to one amateur running club of 20 from Obu, Aichi, Mayor Shimizu said, "I am very glad to deepen the friendship we began at last year's Obu City Marathon and I hope that you will come back to our village again." Club leader Koichi Fukaya commented, "If our being here helps your village then we are very glad. I would like to introduce our friends in other clubs to you as well."
According to Takayoshi Shigemi of the Urugi village area economic development volunteer committee working to attract athletes to the area for training camps, between April and September roughly 1400 people come to the village to train and to get a taste of the local natural environment. Reservations have more than doubled this year, including one women-only club with more than 50 members. The town is also planning a friendship walk on Aug. 5 to help enliven the camps.
One of the most popular features of the Urugimura training camps is the chance to take a lesson with Shigemi. "Other places are also promoting their marathon training facilities, so our challenge for the future will be to bring back repeaters," says Shigemi. "Thanks to the many people who have come, our village has blossomed," added Mayor Shimizu. "I hope that we can continue to widen our circle of friends."