Dejima Award 2: NJ students barred from starting Ekiden footrace (Asahi)


Hi Blog. In what is sure to be a continuing series, I would like to award the Second Dejima Award to the All Japan High School Athletic Federation.

Suggested by Chris Flynn, the Dejima Award is a showcase for those small-minded people in this society who feel the need to keep foreign peoples, ideas, and influences from these pristine shores. In much the same spirit as Feudal Japan kept foreigners secluded on an island off Nagasaki named Dejima centuries ago.

The obvious prescience displayed by the people who organize these footraces for students, when deciding to “keep the race more interesting for disgruntled fans” by shutting foreigners out of the starting lineup, is sure to make foreign students feel more welcome, and help keep Japan’s education system (struggling with our low birthrate, desperately courting foreign students) solvent and equal-opportunity. Not.

More from the Asahi Shinbun on this issue immediately following, with Japanese articles in the Comments section.

More on Japan’s nasty habit of shutting foreigners out of its sports and other competitions (again, sometimes using the same argument that foreigners have an unfair advantage due to physical or mental prowess) archived at

Avoid katou kyousou as best you can if it’s tainted with foreignness, I guess… Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Foreign students can’t start ekiden
Courtesy of Glenn Boothe

Bowing to pressure from disgruntled fans, a high school athletic association will prohibit foreign students from running the first leg of the All Japan High School Ekiden Championships relay marathon starting next year.

The All Japan High School Athletic Federation said the decision, reached Tuesday, is intended to make the races more interesting for fans.

But others say the move reeks of discrimination against foreign students.

In recent years, many students from Kenya have started the first–and longest–section of the ekiden races.

They have often built such wide leads that rival teams have had almost no chance to catch up in the later legs.

Ekiden fans and organizers said the strategies of those teams have made the races dull because the huge early leads all but eliminate the chances for the drama of a close finish.

Teams with foreign students running the first leg have won the All Japan High School Ekiden Championships five times in the past 10 years. Three of those victories were achieved after the first runner broke well ahead of the pack.

Of the five foreign students selected for the 2006 All Japan High School Ekiden Championships, four ran the first section for their teams.

“We looked into the issue in a constructive manner after angry fans complained it is a turnoff to see foreign students scoring an insurmountable lead in the first section,” said Kazunobu Umemura, executive managing director of the federation.

The rule will also apply to prefecture-level qualifying events.

The boys’ 42-kilometer ekiden consists of seven sections, with a 10-km first leg. The girls’ race, totaling 21 km, consists of five sections, starting with a 6-km leg.

Keisuke Sawaki, a director of the Japan Association of Athletics Federations, said the high school federation likely had an “agonizing” time coming up with its decision.

“From the standpoints of ‘internationalization’ and school education, it would be ideal not to have any restrictions,” he said. “In reality, however, the differences in physical capabilities between Japanese and foreign students are far beyond imagination.”

Under rules established in 1994 by the All Japan High School Athletic Federation, the number of foreign students attending any competition under its supervision must be about 20 percent or less of all participating students.

In accordance with the rules, the number of foreign students who can enter the ekiden race has been limited to one from each school since 1995.

Koji Watanabe, coach of the track team at Nishiwaki Technical High School in Nishiwaki, Hyogo Prefecture, said new rules are needed to give public high schools with no foreign students a chance to win.

His team won the ekiden race in the boys’ division a record eight times.

But Takao Watanabe, coach of the track team at Sendai Ikuei Gakuen High School in Sendai, disagreed.

“It remains questionable to distinguish runners by nationality,” said Watanabe, whose team won the ekiden race for three straight years with Kenyan students through 2005. “The decision is not good from an educational point of view because it can be viewed as excluding foreign students.”(IHT/Asahi: May 24,2007)

4 comments on “Dejima Award 2: NJ students barred from starting Ekiden footrace (Asahi)

  • Japanese version:
    高校駅伝「1区」は外国人留学生ダメ 高体連決定
    朝日新聞 2007年05月22日20時10分







    The ekiden could be a test case to see how to handle the results of this survey:

    外国人留学生を全競技で調査へ 高体連
    朝日新聞 2007年05月23日01時13分



  • That’s pretty sad. As a runner, I am fully aware of the Kenyan advantage in races, but eliminating the competition? What if an all-Japanese school simply had one outstanding athlete who created the same kind of early lead? Bar him as well? And I don’t see how this helps make the race more exciting or competitive – if these students go on to other city or national events in the future, they’ll have to deal with international athletes; if someone is faster than you, that alone should give you enough motivation to try and push your limits. Take that person out of the situation, and you may have a more tightly-knit group, but you’re not pushing yourself with as much heart.

    I didn’t even think about schools doing this… A few months after I arrived in Japan, I saw this on

    Free Triathlon Entry
    Okayama tri assoc. is offering free entry to foreign athletes wanting to compete in the “Fashion-town Kojima Kurashiki International Triathlon Race” August 19 and August 20. If you are interested, please contact for more details.

    Promoting internationalism, I hope.

  • Dave,

    As I mentioned when I posted this on FG, I know quite a bit about school athletics and their workings here
    in Japan. As a result, I do not hear this disgruntled or angry fan BS. As a matter of fact, I have not heard
    anything about the Kenyan students and other African students, other than they are quite fast.

    What I smell here is the losing coaches using this together with the usual “Ware Ware Nihonjin” crowd, to try to
    get rid of the edge.

    Normally, the All Japan Sports Associations only entertain complaints or requests from the leagues, the schools (read the kantokusan-tachi), local governments, or in flagrant incidents, act themselves on incidents which impact on their sport. Only an extremely large number of complaints from fans would make them take this type of action and it would have to be a truly large number to make them jump consensus to make this type of ruling.

    I really suspect it is a testing of the waters to see what other issues they can explore. There have been major on-going discussions about exchange students in HS baseball and its impact. Primarily the Brazilians. Most of this is probably not racial as much as it is backlash to the large number of the big pro stars bailing out of Japan and going to the States. There has been major calls for more protectionism i.e. the driving question if that of “what will happen to Nippon no Yakyu?”

    My son pitches for the defending All Nihon Collegate baseball champions, XXXXXXX University. He (as well as myself) gets asked every day when he is going to leave Japan and return to his home. When he says he was born here and is Japanese (not naturalized like the Susukino Flash), it is beyond their comprehension.

    So I really feel that this decision was more of a test than anything. If a Kenyan runs a 8 minute leg leading off, or he runs it on the 2nd or 3rd leg, the time will still be the same. Obviously, it is a psyc edge to have a motorcycle leading off to demoralize the opposition, but time-wise it shouldn’t make that much difference whether the kid leads on the first leg, or passes ten or fifteen schools running from the third position.

    Enough thinking for Friday,



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