Former marathon runner Douglas Wakiihuri has been awarded Japan's Spring Medal of Honor, an award recognizing individuals who have make exceptional contributions to Japanese society and become role models. Japan has produced a lot of distance runners, but Wakiihuri was the first Kenyan to pass through the Japanese development system. His contributions to the sports and cultural exchange between Japan and Kenya are held in high esteem.
Speaking in fluent Japanese from his home in Nairobi, an ebullient Wakiihuri said, "I am very happy. I owe a longstanding debt to everyone in Japan. The joy I feel is not just mine, but belongs to all of them. I am truly grateful."
Wakiihuri joined the S&B corporate team in 1983. "I was just 19 years old," he recalls. "Japan gave me a chance." Under the leadership of the late coach Kiyoshi Nakamura, Wakiihuri won the gold medal in the marathon at the 1987 Rome World Championships and the silver medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
Since retiring, he has been active in a wide range of activities. He helped organize a program to send used shoes from Japan to children in the slums of Kenya, and to put on races for them. For three years he lived in Nasu, Tochigi, where he worked as a professional singer. He recently wrote a song in Japanese called "Gratitude" and filmed a music video for it. Needless to say, the song expresses his feelings of gratitude toward Japan.
Wakiihuri usually visits Japan once or twice a year, but in the last year he hasn't been able to due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Even so, he says, "I want other Kenyans to learn about Japanese culture and to learn the language." Wakiihuri continues to be the bridge for exchange between his two homes.
translated and edited by Brett Larner