Skip to main content

Owakudani Volcanic Activity Raises Questions About Cutting the Hakone Ekiden Course Short

http://www.zakzak.co.jp/sports/etc_sports/news/20150512/spo1505121550001-n1.htm

an editorial by Mitsuo Kamiya
translated by Brett Larner

"If this volcanic activity continues like this then it won't be a situation where you could think about holding an ekiden," said an official nervously.  He was speaking of one of the biggest national events, the New Year holidays' Hakone Ekiden.  Located near the Hakone Ekiden's climax, the mountainous uphill Fifth Stage, the Owakudani valley famous for its "black eggs" is currently experiencing earthquakes and increased volcanic activity with the land in the valley having risen an alarming 12 cm.

On May 6 authorities elevated the eruption alert level at Owakudani from 1 (normal) to 2 (crater periphery restrictions).  To put it simply, the move meant that an eruption could happen at any time.  During the Golden Week holidays in early May the surrounding hot spring tourism area experienced few cancellations as tourists told each other, "If we all go then it won't be scary," but since then tourist numbers have dropped noticeably from normal.  "Owakudani is only a small part of the Hakone area and the only part that is restricted.  It is important that the public receives accurate information," said town hall officials, seeking to prevent damage to the reputation of the area and its artisans.

But at the same time experts warned that they could not even make a guess about what would happen, saying, "Nobody knows when an eruption will occur.  You have to rely on experience and intuition."  As is human nature, the rumors are already flying.  One says that it is highly likely that this is connected with Mount Fuji, located just 25 km away.  If they were to erupt together the nearby Tomei Expressway and shinkansen lines forming the heart of Japan's transportation network would be completely paralyzed.

If the level of magma pressure continues to increase gradually over a long period of time, it is entirely possible that authorities' elevation of danger levels could likewise continue until the next New Year holidays.  Seeming to indicate a reluctance to hold the only event bringing more people into the Hakone area than the Golden Week holidays, police officials commented, "We cannot take responsibility for people's safety and hope that they avoid the Hakone area."  As track and field officials said, it would not be the kind of situation where you could think about holding an ekiden.

So what would the options be for the Hakone Ekiden?  "Well," said a race official, twisting his neck in perplexity, "the only choices would probably be either changing the course or cutting the Hakone section."  The current course runs 107.5 km from Tokyo to Hakone and 109.6 km on the return trip.  If the course is changed, in terms of distance equivalent courses would be 120 km for Tokyo to Mito or 140 km for Tokyo to Nikko.  But with the race taking place over two days of heavy New Year's traffic it is impossible to imagine the police cooperating with the road closure needs created by an alternate course.  That means cutting the Hakone section, the uphill Fifth Stage and downhill Sixth Stage to create a race between Tokyo and Odawara, an Odawara Ekiden as it were.  At 84.3 km on the first day and 88.7 km on the trip back it would be an uninspiring distance, but that may be the only real option.

"At the Hakone Ekiden the mountain stages are incredibly dramatic every time, keeping viewers glued to their TVs until the very end," said one critic.  "If it becomes a flat race it will be no different from November's National University Ekiden between Nagoya and Ise Shrine.  It will lose half its appeal."  How long will the dangerous levels of volcanic activity continue?  For Hakone Ekiden organizers these are restless days.  All they can do is pray to the God of the Mountain.

Comments

Most-Read This Week

Kazami Breaks 100 km World Record at Lake Saroma

Running on the same course where Japan's Takahiro Sunada set the road 100 km world record of 6:13:33 twenty years ago, 2:17:23 marathoner Nao Kazamibested a deep and competitive field to win the Lake Saroma 100 km Ultramarathon in a world record 6:09:14.

Part of a front group of at least five that went through the marathon split in 2:33:36, on pace for 6:04:01, Kazami lost touch with the lead as rivals Koji Hayasaka and Takehiko Gyoba surged just before halfway to open a roughly 30 second lead that lasted until nearly 75 km. But in the last quarter of the race Kazami, a graduate of university ekiden powerhouse Komazawa University, was the only one who could sustain anything close to the early pace, overtaking Hayasaka and Gyoba before pulling away to open a lead of over 11 minutes. Kazami's mark took more than 4 minutes off the world record, and he also bettered the 100 km track world record of 6:10:20 set in 1978 well before he was born by the late Don Ritchie.
Trying to sta…

Boston Marathon Champion Yuki Kawauchi and Olympian Suguru Osako Join 2018 Bank of America Chicago Marathon Elite Field

A Bank of America Chicago Marathon press release

The Bank of America Chicago Marathon announced today that reigning Boston Marathon champion and “citizen runner” Yuki Kawauchi and 2016 Olympian and Nike Oregon Project runner Suguru Osako will join the elite competition as they both seek to become the first Chicago Marathon champion from Japan since Toshihiko Seko took the crown in 1986.

"I'm really happy to have the chance to race in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon and the Abbott World Marathon Majors," Kawauchi said. "I'm looking forward to running the same race where Toshinari Takaoka set the former national record and so many other great Japanese athletes have run well. My results in the other American Abbott World Marathon Majors races, Boston and New York, were pretty good, and I'll do everything I can to line up in Chicago ready to produce good results there too."

“Yuki and Suguru are exciting additions to our elite field,” said Executive Rac…

Kawauchi Wins 7th-Straight Okinoshima 50 km

Running the Okinoshima 50 km Ultramarathon on his late father's home island of Oki for the eighth year in a row, Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) ran 2:52:55 to win it for the seventh straight time. Starting strong on the relatively flat first 10 km where he clocked 33:26, low-2:47 pace, Kawauchi slowed to just over 2:50 pace on the course's toughest hills between 10 and 30 km. A sub-2:50 was still in range at that point, but over the last 20 km he faded further to finish in the second-slowest of his Okinoshima wins.



The day before the race Kawauchi paced children in Okinoshima's kids' run. Following that he greeted participants and local supporters at an expo event where he was hailed onstage as the Boston Marathon winner. As per his usual routine, his next race will be the July 1 Gold Coast Marathon in Australia.

© 2018 Brett Larner, all rights reserved