Noted Japan marathon race gets new winner’s trophy

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Hakone Mayor Hiroyuki Katsumata, right, receives a new trophy from Nana Kanazashi in the town government office of Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture, on Monday.

HAKONE, Kanagawa — The Hakone Ekiden marathon relay race has a new winner’s trophy.

The trophy was recently completed and handed over to the town government of Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture, on Monday. It will be presented to the winning team in the 99th Tokyo-Hakone Intercollegiate Ekiden, scheduled to be held on Jan. 2 and 3.

Traditionally, the trophies for the first-day, outward leg of the race were made by the late Katsuhiro Kanazashi. The traditional craftsman used a style called Hakone Yosegizaiku to create the trophies for the past 26 races, prior to his death in the summer at the age of 82.

Following Kanazashi’s passing, his three disciples completed his unfinished trophy, carrying on their master’s tradition. Hakone Mayor Hiroyuki Katsumata expressed his gratitude saying, “The sash of the yosegizaiku trophies has been passed on.”

Products made using the Hakone Yosegizaiku style — which the government has designated as a traditional craft — are made by combining differently colored wooden blocks and plates to create a wide variety of patterns.

The town government first asked Kanazashi to make a trophy for the 73rd race.

In recent years, he crafted the trophies based on popular topics of the day. For example, the design for this year’s race — the 98th — was inspired by the ichimatsu checkered pattern featured in the emblem of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Kanazashi’s wife, Nana, 64, said her spouse had suffered from blood cancer since about eight years ago, and had been in and out of hospital.

She recalled her husband repeatedly saying, “I want to make [the trophies] until the 100th race.”

The craftsman was heartbroken over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and resolved to make “peace” the theme of the newest trophy. He began working on the award in April, four months earlier than usual, but passed away in July, before its completion.

As Kanazashi had already made the main part of the body, his three disciples cooperated to produce the remaining parts of the trophy: a globe symbolizing the Earth, which sits over the body; the base, on which 10 young and elderly men and women join hands; and a mountain, on which the marathon runners run are depicted.

“We started over many times but were able to complete it by the deadline,” said 29-year-old Takeru Suzuki, one of the disciples. “I’m glad we were able to prevent the trophy-making tradition from being lost.”

During a visit to the local government office on Monday, Nana said: “[Kanazashi] continued making the trophy, drawing on his final energy just before passing away. I’m sure his soul is happy that ‘Team Kanazashi’ was able to complete the task.”

The trophy will be displayed in the local government office until Thursday, before being presented to the winning team of the outward-leg of the race by Katsumata at an award ceremony in Tokyo on Jan. 3.