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The Top Ten Japanese Men of 2014

by Brett Larner
click here for Japanese women's 2014 rankings

There was a lot to like in Japanese men's distance running this year, from national records for 3000 m and 50 km and a sensational Hakone Ekiden win to six men sub-28 to a dozen sub-14 high schoolers to university men breaking 61 minutes in the half marathon to ten men running sub-2:10 marathons a total of eleven times.  Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) continued to define his own category, setting a Japanese record with his seventh and eighth career sub-2:10 marathons on the way to totalling thirteen marathons for the year, going sub-2:20 in all of them to break Doug Kurtis' record of twelve.  All of it happening with record-setting depth at all levels, a reflection of how much motivation the 2020 Tokyo Olympics bring to the country's runners.

In preparation for Tokyo the Japanese Federation began a move to close ranks by establishing a National Team training program for its top Olympic marathon contenders, a program that in its first year did not produce the results new Federation marathon boss Takeshi Soh and others hoped for.  One of Japan's best prospects for coming years, Suguru Osako, moved to Oregon after graduating in March to train full-time with Olympic medalists Mo Farah (U.K.) and Galen Rupp (U.S.A.), but most of the corporate league runners showed a strange ineffectuality overseas.  In one string of four major international half marathons in September eleven out of thirteen corporate Japanese men, almost all with 1:01 or 1:02 bests, ran from 1:05 to 1:09, with one running 1:04 and the best just 1:03.  Results at marathons like Berlin and Chicago were not much better and there was not a single gold medal at the Asian Games, showing that for all the developing strength at the younger levels and in domestic races there are still serious problems at the top end in translating that into international competitiveness and professionalism.

Not least of which is awareness of the problem.  Change doesn't come easy in Japan and it may take another generation getting into power in the corporate leagues and Federation for that kind of problem to be resolved, but if any athletes are going to effect that kind of change it may be some of those below who made the Japanese headlines of 2014.  For the second year in a row the list is topped by a university athlete.



1. Kenta Murayama (21, Komazawa Univ.) - 399.9 pts.

5000 m: 13:34.53 - 1st, Golden Games in Nobeoka Heat 1, 5/10/14 - #3 Japanese, 2014
10000 m: 27:49.94 - 4th, Hyogo Relay Carnival Heat 1, 4/20/14 - #3 Japanese, 2014
half-marathon: 1:00:50 - 2nd, Kagawa Marugame Int'l Half Marathon, 2/2/14 - #1 Japanese, 2014, #3 Japanese all-time

Major performances:
2nd, Hakone Ekiden Second Stage (23.2 km), 1/2/14 - 1:08:27
2nd, Kagawa Marugame International Half Marathon, 2/2/14 - 1:00:50 - #3 Japanese all-time 
56th, World Half Marathon, 3/29/14 - 1:03:52
4th, Hyogo Relay Carnival Grand Prix 10000 m, 4/20/14 - 27:49.94 
1st, Golden Games in Nobeoka 5000 m, 5/10/14 - 13:34.53
1st, Kanto Regional University Championships D2 10000 m, 5/16/14 - 29:03.22
4th, National Championships 10000 m, 6/7/14 - 28:39.03
2nd, Hokuren Distance Challenge Abashiri Meet 5000 m, 7/6/14 - 13:39.27
1st, National University Ekiden First Stage (14.6 km), 11/2/14 - 42:58
8th, International Chiba Ekiden First Stage (5.0 km), 11/24/14 - 13:45

Murayama has been one of the most promising young Japanese athletes in recent years even since running sub-29 for 10000 m while in still in high school.  While 2013 was a breakthrough year where he stepped up to the top ranks of Japanese distance running 2014 saw him become its best.  In February just before his 21st birthday he ran 1:00:50 at the Marugame International Half Marathon, #3 on the all-time Japanese lists and the best-ever by a Japanese-born collegiate.  In April he ran 27:49.94, the best of the year by a Japanese collegiate, duplicated that distinction over 5000 m three weeks later with a 13:34.53.  A week later he won the D2 10000 m title at the Kanto Regionals meet, his identical twin brother Kota Murayama (Josai Univ., see below for more) winning the D1 title.  An illness over the summer knocked him off-course for a few months but in November he was part of one of the most exciting ekiden stages in recent years, a head-to-head battle with Kota and Takashi Ichida (Daito Bunka Univ.) on the First Stage of the National University Men's Ekiden that saw Kenta get the win in a photo-finish with Kota and Ichida just a second behind.

On Jan. 2 Murayama will run the Second Stage at the Hakone Ekiden, hoping to get the course record or at least run the fastest time ever by a Japanese athlete.  One month later he will go for the Japanese national record in Marugame, a mark he missed by just 25 seconds last year.  After graduating in March he, Kota, Ichida and Ichida's identical twin Hiroshi Ichida (Daito Bunka Univ.) will all join the Asahi Kasei corporate team led by another great twin in Japanese athletics history, Takeshi Soh.  Murayama has indicated that he plans to stick to the track for Rio and will then think about the marathon.  Whatever else happens, let's hope that the conservative and nationalistic environment at Asahi Kasei doesn't put out the sparks of individuality and fearlessness that set both Murayamas apart from the rest of today's Japanese runners.


2. Tetsuya Yoroizaka (24, Team Asahi Kasei) - 247.5 pts.

5000 m: 13:29.03 - 11th, KBC Nacht, 7/19/14, #2 Japanese, 2014
10000 m: 27:38.99 - 4th, Hachioji Long Distance A-Heat, 11/29/14 - #1 Japanese, 2014, #5 Japanese all-time

Major performances:
1st, New Year Ekiden Third Stage (13.6 km), 1/1/14 - 38:42
5th, Kanaguri Memorial Meet 5000 m, 4/5/14 - 13:54.71
13th, Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational 10000 m, 5/4/14 - 28:05.67 
1st, Golden Games in Nobeoka 5000 m G-heat, 5/10/14 - 14:04.22
1st, Setagaya Time Trials 3000 m, 5/30/14 - 8:07.28
9th, National Championships 10000 m, 6/7/14 - 28:44.34
29th, National Championships 5000 m, 6/8/14 - 14:04.36
2nd, Guldensporenmeeting 1500 m, 7/12/14 - 3:42.21
11th, KBC Nacht 5000 m, 7/19/14 - 13:29.03
4th, National Corporate Championships 5000 m, 10/12/14 - 13:47.15
5th, Kyushu Corporate Ekiden Fifth Stage (9.2 km), 11/23/14 - 27:00
4th, Hachioji Long Distance Time Trials 10000 m, 11/29/14 - 27:38.99

Yoroizaka, a graduate of 2014 National High School Ekiden champion Sera H.S. and the fastest-ever Japanese-born collegiate over 10000 m, started the year off well with a win on his New Year Ekiden stage for the Asahi Kasei corporate team.  For most of the year he was relatively incognito, his only noteworthy mark a 13:29.03 at July's KBC Nacht 5000 m, the 2nd-best Japanese time of the year, before running the best-ever 10000 m by a Japanese man in a domestic race, 27:38.99 for 4th at November's Hachioji Long Distance Time Trials.  With that time Yoroizaka joins the swelling numbers of current Japanese athletes within a few seconds of Toshinari Takaoka's 27:35.09 national record from 2001.  It's got to fall sooner or later and Yoroizaka looks like one of the best bets to get there.


3. Masato Kikuchi (24, Team Konica Minolta) - 181.8 pts.

5000 m: 13:35.18 - 6th, Golden Games in Nobeoka Heat 3, 5/10/14 - #7 Japanese, 2014
10000 m: 28:04.25 - 14th, Hachioji Long Distance A-Heat, 11/29/14 - #9 Japanese, 2014
half-marathon: 1:01:17 - 2nd, National Corporate Championships, 2/16/14 - #2 Japanese, 2014

Major performances:
2nd, New Year Ekiden Seventh Stage (15.5 km), 1/1/14 - 47:37
6th, National Men's Ekiden Third Stage (8.5 km), 1/22/14 - 24:00
5th, Marugame International Half Marathon, 2/2/14 - 1:01:50 
2nd, National Corporate Half Marathon, 2/16/14 - 1:01:17
18th, World Half Marathon, 3/29/14 - 1:01:23
6th, Hyogo Relay Carnival Asics Challenge 10000 m, 4/19/14 - 28:32.05 
8th, Oda Memorial Meet Grand Prix 5000 m, 4/29/14 - 13:38.17
6th, Golden Games in Nobeoka 5000 m C-heat, 5/10/14 - 13:35.18
4th, East Japan Corporate Championships 1500 m, 5/17/14 - 3:47.62 
4th, National Championships 5000 m, 6/8/14 - 13:44.43
33rd, Hokuren Distance Challenge Fukagawa Meet 10000 m, 6/25/14 - 29:42.38 
1st, Hokuren Distance Challenge Abashiri Meet 1500 m, 7/6/14 - 3:44.21 
3rd, Hokuren Distance Challenge Abashiri Meet 5000 m, 7/6/14 - 13:40.40
5th, Guldensorenmeeting 1500 m, 7/12/14 - 3:43.52
10th, Great North Run half marathon, 9/7/14 - 1:04:18
19th, Nittai Univ. Time Trials 5000 m, 9/28/14 - 13:59.86
10th, National Corporate Championships 10000 m, 10/10/14 - 28:43.86
2nd, East Japan Corporate Ekiden First Stage (11.6 km), 11/3/14 - 33:31
14th, Hachioji Long Distance Time Trials 10000 m, 11/29/14 - 28:04.25

Kikuchi raced often this year, everything from 1500 m to the half marathon. On Jan. 1 he anchored the Konica Minolta corporate team to a second-straight New Year Ekiden win.  His 1:01:17 runner-up finish at February's National Corporate Half Marathon was the 2nd-fastest of the year by a Japanese man, but his biggest accomplishment was running 1:01:50 two weeks earlier in Marugame before doubling at the Corporate Half time.  To say nothing of running 1:01:23 at the Copenhagen World Half Marathon in March, the best time there by an athlete born outside Africa.  Despite all this he came up short of any really significant accomplishments, winning only one race, a minor 1500 m in July that was just a warmup for a more serious 5000 m at the same meet. 


4. Yuki Sato (28, Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 140.25 pts.

5000 m: 13:34.97 - 6th, Asian Games, 9/27/14 - #5 Japanese, 2014
10000 m: 27:46.59 - 8th, Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational, 5/4/14 - #2 Japanese, 2014

Major performances:
4th, New Year Ekiden Fourth Stage (22.0 km), 1/1/14 - 1:04:22
4th, Kanaguri Memorial Meet 5000 m, 4/5/14 - 13:53.63 
5th, Nittai Univ. Time Trials 5000 m, 4/13/14 - 13:43.61
8th, Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational 10000 m, 5/4/14 - 27:46.69 
3rd, East Japan Corporate Championships 1500 m, 5/17/14 - 3:47.35
8th, East Japan Corporate Championships 5000 m, 5/18/14 - 13:57.85
1st, National Championships 10000 m, 6/7/14 - 28:32.07
2nd, National Championships 5000 m, 6/8/14 - 13:40.99
19th, KBC Nacht 5000 m, 7/19/14 - 13:59.67
6th, Asian Games 5000 m, 9/27/14 - 13:34.97

Sato's year got off to a slow start, injury problems keeping him out of February's Tokyo Marathon and his track season unremarkable except for an unexpected 27:46.69 at the Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational.  In June he won a 4th-straight national title in the 10000 m, for the 3rd-straight year doing it by sitting on the younger Suguru Osako (Team Nissin Shokuhin/Waseda Univ.) until the final 200 m.  Each of those 10000 m title has been slower, something Sato seemed aware of as he appeared almost defensive in his victory interview.  He doubled back the next day with a 2nd-place finish in the 5000 m, but at the Asian Games he was spent after a season-best 13:34.97 for 6th and did not start in the 10000 m.  Since then he has been out of public sight, but he is reportedly in good shape for the New Year Ekiden where his Nissin Shokuhin teammates include fellow Saku Chosei H.S. graduates Osako, Akinobu Murasawa and Keigo Yano.  Look for Nissin Shokuhin to have a solid shot at taking down Konica Minolta.


5. Suguru Osako (23, Team Nissin Shokuhin/Waseda Univ.) - 116.25 pts.

5000 m: 13:26.15 - 9th, KBC Nacht, 7/19/14 - #1 Japanese, 2014
10000 m: 28:11.94 - 2nd, Asian Games, 10/2/14 - #10 Japanese, 2014

Major performances:
5th, Hakone Ekiden First Stage (21.4 km), 1/2/14 - 1:02:14
4th, Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational 1500 m, 5/4/14 - 3:43.19 
2nd, National Championships 10000 m, 6/7/14 - 28:33.57 
2nd, Hokuren Distance Challenge Shibetsu Meet 5000 m, 6/28/14 - 13:42.54
2nd, Runnersworld Track Meeting 3000 m, 7/11/14 - 8:02.11
9th, KBC Nacht 5000 m, 7/19/14 - 13:26.15
7th, Birmingham Grand Prix 2 Miles, 8/24/14 - 8:28.30 - all-time JPN #2
6th, Rieti Meeting 3000 m, 9/7/14 - 7:40.09 - NR
2nd, Asian Games 10000 m, 10/2/14 - 28:11.94 

Osako has been in an ambiguous position for the last two years, training on and off with the Nike Oregon Project without being a full member, signing with the Nissin Shokuhin corporate team after his graduation from Waseda University this year but moving to the U.S. to be with the NOP closer to full-time, returning to run with Nissin just for the biggest races like the New Year Ekiden where he will make his debut in 2015.  He seemed to come up short of his biggest goals, losing to Sato the same way yet again just a week after tweeting that watching Galen Rupp set a U.S. record at the Prefontaine Classic had shown him the need to change and not keep doing things the same way.  In July he ran the best 5000 m of the year by a Japanese man, 13:26.15, following up with an all-time Japanese #2 8:28.30 two-mile in August, a 7:40.09 national record for 3000 m in September, and a silver medal over 10000 m at October's Asian Games.  More national records, especially Takaoka's 10000 m mark, can't be far away.


6. Sota Hoshi (26, Team Fujitsu) - 96 pts.

5000 m: 13:38.46 - 6th, Hokuren Distance Challenge Kitami Meet, 7/2/14 - #11 Japanese, 2014
half-marathon: 1:01:18 - 3rd, National Corporate Championships, 2/16/14 - #3 Japanese, 2014

Major performances:
2nd, New Year Ekiden Third Stage (13.6 km), 1/1/14 - 38:46
6th, National Men's Ekiden Seventh Stage (13.0 km), 1/22/14 - 38:03
3rd, National Corporate Half Marathon, 2/16/14 - 1:01:18 
53rd, World Half Marathon, 3/29/14 - 1:03:29
10th, Oda Memorial Meet Grand Prix 5000 m, 4/29/14 - 13:48.12
3rd, Golden Games in Nobeoka 10000 m, 5/10/14 - 28:50.53
6th, National Championships 5000 m, 6/8/14 - 13:46.28
25th, Hokuren Distance Challenge Fukagawa Meet 10000 m, 6/25/14 - 29:08.92 
2nd, Hokuren Distance Challenge Shibetsu Meet 1500 m, 6/28/14 - 3:49.79
6th, Hokuren Distance Challenge Kitami Meet 5000 m, 7/2/14 - 13:38.46
3rd, East Japan Corporate Ekiden Sixth Stage (10.6 km), 11/3/14 - 30:12

Last year's 5000 m national champion in a photo-finish with Yoroizaka, Komazawa University graduate Hoshi started the year off with a close loss to Yoroizaka at the New Year Ekiden and another near-photo-finish at the National Corporate Half Marathon where he was 3rd behind Kikuchi in 1:01:18, the year's 3rd-best Japanese time.  The rest of his year was relatively unremarkable, but a 3rd-place finish on his stage at November's East Japan Corporate Ekiden suggested he is rounding back into good shape in time for the New Year Ekiden.  Part of an untouchable quartet at Komazawa with Takuya Fukatsu (Team Asahi Kasei), Yusuke Takabayashi (Team Toyota) and Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Team Konica Minolta), Hoshi was all but forgotten after senior year injuries kept him off the scene for too long.  It's long been a pet JRN belief that in the end he will have had the best career of the four, and 2014 was another step toward seeing that become a reality.


7. Kohei Matsumura (28, Team Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki) - 88 pts.

marathon: 2:08:09 - 8th, Tokyo Marathon, 2/23/14 - #1 Japanese, 2014

Major performances:
14th, New Year Ekiden Fourth Stage (22.0 km), 1/1/14 - 1:05:31
8th, Tokyo Marathon, 2/23/14 - 2:08:09 
3rd, Golden Games in Nobeoka 5000 m B-heat, 5/10/14 - 13:48.14
7th, Kyushu Corporate Championships 10000 m, 5/17/14 - 28:38.80
23rd, National Championships 10000 m, 6/7/14 - 28:57.18
20th, Hokuren Distance Challenge Fukagawa Meet 10000 m, 6/25/14 - 28:55.29 
2nd, Asian Games Marathon, 10/3/14 - 2:12:39
7th, Kyushu Corporate Ekiden Fifth Stage (9.2 km), 11/23/14 - 27:17
15th, Kumamoto Kosa 10-Miler, 12/7/14 - 46:47

Little-known but making steady progress in the marathon, Matsumura ran the fastest time in the world in 2014 by a non-African when he took 8th at the Tokyo Marathon in 2:08:09.  He made a quick recovery and showed stability through track season before turning to October's Asian Games marathon where he took silver in a three-way sprint finish, losing to Kenyan-born Bahraini Ali Hassan Mahboob but beating notable strong finisher Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't).  Younger than many of the other current-top level Japanese men, Matsumura looks like one of the top contenders for the Rio Olympic team.


8. Yuki Yagi (25, Team Asahi Kasei) - 80.25 pts.

5000 m: 13:37.25 - 2nd, Golden Games in Nobeoka Heat 1, 5/10/14 - #9 Japanese, 2014
half-marathon: 1:01:37 - 5th, National Corporate Championships, 2/16/14 - #4 Japanese, 2014

Major performances:
18th, New Year Ekiden Second Stage (8.3 km), 1/1/14 - 23:20
82nd, Kagawa Marugame International Half Marathon, 2/2/14 - 1:05:21
5th, National Corporate Half Marathon, 2/16/14 - 1:01:37
2nd, Kanaguri Memorial Meet 5000 m, 4/5/14 - 13:48.12 
8th, Hyogo Relay Carnival Asics Challenge 10000 m, 4/19/14 - 28:42.36 
2nd, Golden Games in Nobeoka 5000 m, 5/10/14 - 13:37.25
10th, Kyushu Corporate Championships 10000 m, 5/17/14 - 28:51.84
32nd, Rock 'n' Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon, 9/21/14 - 1:09:03
15th, National Corporate Championships 10000 m B-heat, 10/10/14 - 29:35.70
16th, National Corporate Championships 5000 m B-heat, 10/12/14 - 14:17.88
5th, Kyushu Corporate Ekiden Third Stage (10.5 km), 11/23/14 - 30:02
48th, Kumamoto Kosa 10-Miler, 12/7/14 - 47:56

A former star member of Waseda University before heading to the Asahi Kasei corporate team, Yagi was mostly off in 2014 but had a brief window from February through May where he turned in strong half marathon and 5000 m performances that got him onto the year's best lists.  With a 1:01:37 best at February's Marugame Half he ran only 1:09:03 for 32nd the Rock 'n' Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon in September.  By December his condition had still not improved as he was 48th at the Kumamoto Kosa 10-Miler in 47:56. With a massive influx of top-level Hakone talent like the Murayama twins and Ichida twins arriving at Asahi Kasei in April Yagi will need to turn things back around to keep his contract beyond next year.


9. Hiroto Inoue (21, Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 79.2 pts.

5000 m: 13:42.74 - 5th, Hokuren Distance Challenge Abashiri Meet, 7/6/14 - #22 Japanese, 2014
10000 m: 28:19.28 - 1st, Kanto Region University Time Trials A-Heat, 11/23/14 - #16 Japanese, 2014
half-marathon: 1:01:39 - 3rd, Kagawa Marugame Int'l Half Marathon, 2/2/14 - #5 Japanese, 2014

Major performances:
8th, Hakone Ekiden Fifth Stage (23.4 km, 864 m climb), 1/2/14 - 1:21:11
3rd, Marugame International Half Marathon, 2/2/14 - 1:01:39 
36th, World Half Marathon, 3/29/14 - 1:02:25 
8th, Hyogo Relay Carnival Grand Prix 10000 m, 4/20/14 - 28:23.34 
2nd, Kanto Regional University D1 10000 m, 5/16/14 - 28:55.87
1st, Kanto Regional University D1 Half Marathon, 5/25/14 - 1:04:07
20th, National Championships 10000 m, 6/7/14 - 28:54.86
5th, Hokuren Distance Challenge Abashiri Meet 5000 m, 7/6/14 - 13:42.74
13th, National University Championships 10000 m, 9/5/14 - 29:45.88
5th, Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai 20 km, 10/18/14 - 59:25
3rd, National University Ekiden Fourth Stage (14.0 km), 11/2/14 - 41:28
1st, Kanto Region University Time Trials 10000 m, 11/23/14 - 28:19.28

The top Japanese member of Yamanashi Gakuin University, Inoue's 1:01:39 for 3rd in Marugame was lost in the excitement over Kenta Murayama's 1:00:50, but at the World Half Inoue was strong again, running 1:02:25 to Murayama's 1:03:52.  In May he lost to Kota Murayama in the Kanto Regionals 10000 m D1 race, 2nd in 28:55.87, but came back to win the D1 half marathon.  With two quality runs during ekiden season he ran a 10000 m best of 28:19.28 in late November to put himself into good position for his final Hakone Ekiden.


10. Shinobu Kubota (23, Team Toyota/Komazawa Univ.) - 77 pts.

5000 m: 13:41.14 - 8th, Oda Memorial Meet Heat 1,  4/29/14 - #19 Japanese, 2014
10000 m: 27:54.25 - 8th, Hachioji Long Distance A-Heat, 11/29/14 - #4 Japanese, 2014

Major performances:
2nd, Hakone Ekiden Ninth Stage (23.2 km), 1/3/14 - 1:08:56
11th, National Men's Ekiden Seventh Stage (13.0 km), 1/22/14 - 38:11 
9th, Kumanichi 30 km Road Race, 2/16/14 - 1:33:17 
9th, Oda Memorial Meet Grand Prix 5000 m, 4/29/14 - 13:41.14
4th, Chubu Corporate Championships 10000 m, 5/11/14 - 28:43.03
8th, National Championships 10000 m, 6/7/14 - 28:44.34
16th, Hokuren Distance Challenge Fukagawa Meet 10000 m, 6/25/14 - 28:47.85
7th, Hokuren Distance Challenge Abashiri Meet 10000 m, 7/6/14 - 28:05.08 
1st, Chubu Corporate Ekiden Seventh Stage (13.1 km), 11/16/14 - 38:02
8th, Hachioji Long Distance Time Trials 10000 m, 11/29/14 - 27:54.25

An anchor stage specialist while at Komazawa University, Kubota headed to the Toyota corporate team after graduating in April.  Decent through track season as he made the transition to the new environment, he hit ekiden season with an anchor stage win at the Chubu Corporate Ekiden and his first sub-28 with a 27:54.25 at the Hachioji Long Distance Time Trials meet.  Having already run a marathon his junior year at Komazawa and a 30 km as a senior look for him to make an early move in that direction while at Toyota.


Honorable Mention Hyuga Endo (16, Gakuho Ishikawa H.S.)

5th, Nittai Univ. Time Trials 5000 m, 12/7/14 - 13:58.93 - #1 all-time Japanese 16-yr-old time

Endo was one of a dozen or so high schoolers to break 14 minutes for 5000 m this year, doing it at the final Nittai Univ. Time Trials meet of the year on Dec. 7.  What made it news was that Endo was only 16, running a 36-second PB of 13:58.93 to clock the fastest-ever time by a Japanese 16-year-old.  JRN readers picked Endo's run as the Japanese men's distance performance of the year.

Honorable Mention  Kota Murayama (21, Josai Univ.)

1st, Kanto Regional University Championships D1 10000 m, 5/16/14 - 28:54.85
2nd, National University Championships 1500 m, 9/5/14 - 3:39.56 - #1 Japanese, 2014, all-time #9 Japanese
5th, Asian Games 5000 m, 9/27/14 - 13:34.57 - #4 Japanese, 2014
1st, Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai 20 km, 10/18/14 - 58:26
2nd, National University Ekiden First Stage (14.6 km) - 42:58

Always in the shadow of his twin Kenta, Kota Murayama stepped out this year with a string of performances that deserve special mention.  Alongside Kenta's D2 win at May's Kanto Regionals meet Kota took the D1 title in 28:54.85.  In one six-week period in the fall he ran the fastest Japanese 1500 m time of the year, 3:39.56, was the top non-African-born athlete in the Asian Games 5000 m in a PB 13:34.57, and ran the best-ever Japanese time at the Hakone Ekiden 20 km qualifier to win in 58:26.  His battle with Kenta and Takashi Ichida (Daito Bunka Univ.) on the First Stage of the National University Ekiden, discussed above, was one of the year's highlights.  Kota has been slower to develop than Kenta but looks like he's going at full speed now.  Look out for more.

Honorable Mention Yuma Hattori (21, Toyo Univ.)

1st, Kumanichi Road Race 30 km, 2/2/14 - 1:28:52 - CR - collegiate NR, #3 Japanese all-time

One of the top members of 2014 Hakone Ekiden champion Toyo University, the 20-year-old Hattori delivered JRN's pick for Japanese men's performance of the year at February's Kumanichi 30 km with a collegiate record performance 1:28:52, the 3rd-fastest time ever by a Japanese man.  Having never even run a half marathon he split 58:52 through 20 km, recording almost identical 5 km splits to the lead group at the simultaneous National Corporate Half Marathon where Kikuchi and Hoshi both went under 1:01:20.  Look for Hattori to make an early marathon debut at age 21 at the 2015 Tokyo Marathon.

(c) 2014 Brett Larner
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Having left the Konica Minolta men's corporate team at the end of March this year, Keita Shitara, 25, announced on Sept. 19 that he will join the Hitachi Butsuryu team. The official announcement is scheduled for Sept. 20.

As a member of Toyo University Shitara was part of two Hakone Ekiden-winning teams before joining Konica Minolta following his graduation in 2014. His first year at Konica Minolta Shitara ran New Year Ekiden national championships' toughest stage, but since his second year he has experienced a slump. Saying, "I need to change my environment in order to get my head straight and back on track," Shitara chose to leave the team at the end of March, returning to Toyo as his training base.

The Hitachi Butsuryu team came into being in April, 2012 as the successor to the Hitachi Cable Marathon Team. It is based in Matsudo, Chiba. Under the leadership of head coach Manabu Kitaguchi, 45, it has grown steadily, placing 10th at this year's New Year Ekiden.…