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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Ekiden racing : examining the intercultural sporting experience of Canadian elite runners in the Japanese context Ekstrand, Kimberley Jean


Western perspectives on sport in Japan have tended to overlook running as a manifestation of a unique set of features influenced by environment and cultural attitudes. Running is exhibited through a variety of cultural displays in events, competitions, and training philosophies, with the runner embodying a system of performativity relevant to his or her cultural context. This offers us an opportunity to explore Japanese running culture by considering the cultural context which has encouraged, supported and enticed Japan’s proclivity for long- distances running. The lacuna of historical works concerning the social and cultural considerations related to Japanese running culture elicits an invitation to revisit Japanese sporting traditions through the experiences of Canadian athletes, as they navigate the Japanese running cultural context. Ekiden racing particularly embodies these sentiments: it is a long distance, multistage relay running event, invented in Japan which is credited with being responsible for propelling a national long-distance ‘running craze’. Despite its popularity in Japan, and the fact that international elite athletes are selected and invited to participate in these events, there has been little academic study of the sport of Ekiden racing. We know even less about the experiences of those who lived, trained and competed in a running event steeped in Japanese culture and tradition. Ekiden racing has become particularly alluring to numerous elite Canadian athletes who are attracted by this challenge to participate in a distinctive running culture revered by the Japanese. My study examines Ekiden racing through a transcontinental lens, in particular through the eyes of two elite Canadian runners who were invited to compete in Japanese elite running events. Sue Lee participated in Japan from 1990-1992, and Jeff Schiebler between 1996 and 2005. This study is designed to trace the experiences of two elite Canadian athletes in the Japanese running context and has encouraged me to revisit aspects of running culture from two main perspectives: 1) An exploration of the origins and cultural significance of long-distance running in the Japanese context, and 2) The ways in which Canadian runners have experienced Japanese running culture.

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