Shibuya Ward organizers seek to boost local community through mile run

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Hajime Yabe, a vice chair of the Kitashibu Mile race organizing committee, talks in front of a road that used to be a waterway in the Honmachi district of Shibuya Ward, Tokyo.

A mile run will take place in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward on Nov. 13 — the first such event to be held on a public road in Japan, a nation that typically gives little attention to short-distance races outside of track and field competitions.

Organizers are hoping to convey the appeal of short races while also giving a boost to the local community.

Old waterway route

 The Kitashibu Mile race will be held in the area around the Keio New Line stations of Hatsudai and Hatagaya, in the Honmachi district in the northern part of Shibuya Ward.

 “The course is flat and straight, so we can expect good finishing times,” said Hajime Yabe, 71, the chair of a local sports association that organizes events in the area. Yabe is also a vice chair of the one mile race’s organizing committee.

Runners will start from Opera-dori avenue in front of Hatsudai Station and head toward the Hatagaya area along Tokyo metropolitan route 431. Local residents refer to route 431 as the “water supply road,” as it used to be a waterway connecting the Izumi water station in Suginami Ward and the Yodobashi water treatment facility in Shinjuku Ward.

 “The spectators will probably feel the speed of the runners, so it should be interesting for them too,” Yabe said.

Mile runs are not officially recognized by the World Athletics Championships, but they’re popular in Britain and the United States.

A one-mile race in New York on Sept. 11 drew such top global runners as British athlete Jake Wightman, who won gold in the men’s 1,500 meters at this year’s world championships, and Nozomi Tanaka, a rising star from Japan who finished eighth in the women’s 1,500 meters in the Tokyo Olympics. Tanaka placed fifth in the New York mile race.

Legacy of 1964 Olympics

 Shibuya Ward and local residents organized the Kitashibu Mile in the hope of vitalizing the northern area of Shibuya Ward, namely the districts of Honmachi, Hatsudai, Hatagaya and Sasazuka. The ward actively contributed to the 1964 Games by hosting the athletes village and some of the competition venues, which led to the formation of many sports associations in each district. Local residents continue to actively participate in sports-based events.

The local government and residents came up with the idea of holding a one mile run as a way to take advantage of the flat, straight road.

 During the Kitashibu Mile race, more than 400 residents will provide support as volunteers, and shopkeepers from the local shopping district will set up stalls along the race course to sell light meals.

 “We hope the community will work together to make the race a success, and that Shibuya will eventually be recognized as the birthplace of one mile races on public roads in Japan,” Yabe said.

From children to adults

 In addition to the main race, which is open to people of junior high school age and older, organizers are planning several other races to make the event fun for all ages. There will be a relay in which teams compete to see how many laps they can do in an hour, and a special race in which participants can run with Nozomi Tanaka.

Even toddlers will be able to test their legs in a short run.

 “This is a rare opportunity for people to see middle-distance runners, who run much faster than marathon or Ekiden relay runners,” a person working to promote the event said. “It’s just 1.6 kilometers, so we hope lots of people will not just watch but run themselves.”