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Tue, Aug. 22, 2017 Obuse, Nagano: Walking and running for fun
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Marathons are hugely popular in Japan. Every year, hundreds of them take place around the country. But the race held in the town of Obuse, in Nagano Prefecture, is very different.

The aim of the Obuse Mini Marathon is not to compete against the clock but for participants to enjoy the hospitality of the local area. There are no major tourist attractions in the town. The runners just move at a relaxed pace through the residential areas and around the surrounding countryside. This event has become famous throughout Japan as the marathon with the largest number of runners in fancy dress.

In this edition of Journeys in Japan, Sabrina Sayin comes to Obuse to take part in the Mini Marathon. She also takes time to explore the town, which still retains many buildings from past centuries - including a temple decorated with a work by one of Japan's best known artists, Katsushika Hokusai.

Obuse Mini Marathon
Obuse Mini Marathon
This half-marathon is held in July each year. The 2017 race was the 15th time it's been held. The cut-off point for runners to finish the course is set at five hours, so it's possible to reach the finishing line even if you walk.
There is also a prize for the participant with the best costume. This attracts many runners in fancy dress, which adds extra excitement to the event. Participants can apply on the official website from December of the previous year.
Traditional architecture
Traditional architecture
In the old days, Obuse prospered as several major roads crossed at this point. It became an economic and cultural hub for the surrounding area. To this day the town center retains a traditional feel and it attracts some 1.2 million tourists each year.
Strolling back alleys
Strolling back alleys
One of the attractions for visitors is that you can walk through the back alleys behind the shops, warehouses and private houses. These walking routes are open to the public.
Matsubaya Honten
Matsubaya Honten
This sake brewery has a history of more than 200 years, and the current owner is the 14th generation of his family to run the business. Visitors are welcome to look round the premises, including the brewing areas. There is a shop where you can taste and purchase the products.
Address: 778 Obuse, Obuse-machi, Kamitakai-gun, Nagano Prefecture
Gansho-in temple
Gansho-in temple
This temple dates back about 550 years. The ceiling of the main hall is adorned with a huge image of a phoenix. It was painted by Katsushika Hokusai about 160 years ago - and is considered one of the famous artist's masterpieces.
Hours: 09:00 am - 17:00 pm
Admission: 300 yen
Address: Karida, Obuse-machi, Kamitakai-gun, Nagano Prefecture
Obuse Chestnuts
Obuse Chestnuts
Obuse is known throughout Japan for its chestnuts, which are especially large and sweet. Nearly 200 tons of these chestnuts are grown here each year, and a range of sweets made from them can be sampled at shops around the town.
To reach Obuse from Tokyo, it takes about 95 minutes by Shinkansen bullet train to Nagano; from there it's another 30 minutes by local train on the Nagano Electric Railway's Nagano Line.
Travel Log

Traveler: Sabrina Sayin > More Info



Length of residence in Japan:5 years

Reason:To became an idol

I never imagined that Obuse would affect me so much! I can't stop thinking about my visit, even now.

My first impression was the flowers: when I stepped out from the station, I saw so many different types of flowers. As a flower lover, I felt I was in a world of my dreams.

I thought that only people who have time, money and the opportunity can make a populated city so beautiful. And to top that, to put flowers everywhere! But no, it takes people's mindful hearts and their wish to contribute!

Can you imagine letting strangers walk through your garden? How would you feel about it? The mindful citizens of Obuse have done that, by creating "Open Gardens."

Again, this is the special kindness of Obuse. Everybody makes their community garden an "Open Garden" so you can go through freely, enjoying the beautiful nature. This makes me think the people trust each other not to violate their rights or vandalize their property.

There is another thing that I discovered in Obuse - the ceiling art in the Gansho-in Temple. It's a painting created about 170 years ago by the famous Japanese Ukiyoe artist Katsushika Hokusai. And it still looks downright beautiful.

This painting, called "The Phoenix Staring in Eight Directions," amazed me. When I looked at it from different directions, each time it looked different. All kinds of feelings came to me. I felt fury, treachery and pain - but also kindness in the Phoenix. It is a painting that is alive.

Now about the marathon…!

This was my very first marathon. Normally, I don't even run more than 5 minutes. I kept wondering why people enjoy running - and I probably know the answer. But I wanted to make sure, just for the benefit of this exciting expedition. So, I took part to the Obuse Mini Marathon to find out.

But that's not the only reason! I heard that the runners dress up in this marathon. I was curious whether this was true! This is what I saw on the train to the start of the Marathon… so many runners in different costumes. I still remember the excitement their faces.

I was very nervous. I worried whether I could make it to the finish line, since it was my first marathon. As I expected, my knee started to hurt after a few kilometers. But the people of Obuse were cheering us on throughout the race. They kept saying, "Ganbatte!" ("Keep going") with huge smiles - and I forgot my pain and just kept going.

I was touched by their kindness. They kept cheering the runners the whole time, giving out food and drinks, playing instruments, singing and more. They were supporting us from the bottom of their hearts. They were such lovely people!

Obuse is full of love. I really want to go again. Thank you very much for reading my long blog. Hope to see you next time.

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