Benetta Juarez

Written by Benetta Juarez

Modified & Updated: 31 May 2024

Sherman Smith

Reviewed by Sherman Smith


The Hakone Ekiden is a long-distance relay race that captivates millions of spectators and runners alike in Japan. This prestigious event, which takes place annually on January 2nd and 3rd, showcases the incredible endurance and teamwork of university athletes from the Tokyo and Kanagawa regions. Spanning a distance of approximately 217.9 kilometers, the Hakone Ekiden traces a challenging route through scenic landscapes, steep hills, and bustling cities.

But the Hakone Ekiden is more than just a race; it’s a cultural phenomenon that has captured the hearts of the Japanese people. With a history dating back to 1920, this iconic event has become a symbol of determination, commitment, and pride. Whether you’re a seasoned fan or new to the world of long-distance running, here are 20 fascinating facts about the Hakone Ekiden that will surely ignite your passion for this extraordinary sporting event.

Key Takeaways:

  • The Hakone Ekiden is a prestigious long-distance relay race in Japan, featuring university teams, scenic routes, and intense rivalries, captivating millions of viewers and inspiring future runners.
  • This legendary event celebrates teamwork, perseverance, and the indomitable spirit of athletes, uniting communities and inspiring generations of runners to pursue their own athletic dreams.
Table of Contents

The Hakone Ekiden is a renowned long-distance relay race in Japan

The Hakone Ekiden, also known as the Tokyo-Hakone Round-Trip College Ekiden Race, is one of the most prestigious and exciting long-distance running events in Japan. It takes place annually over two days, covering a distance of approximately 217.1 kilometers.

The race is held on January 2nd and 3rd each year

Hakone Ekiden is a traditional New Year event that starts on January 2nd and finishes on January 3rd. It is seen as a symbol of determination, teamwork, and perseverance, and is highly anticipated by both athletes and spectators alike.

It features university teams competing against each other

The Hakone Ekiden is a team-based event where top university teams from the Tokyo and Kanagawa areas go head-to-head. Each team consists of ten runners, with each runner completing one of the ten relay sections along the course.

The course follows a scenic route between Tokyo and Hakone

The route of the Hakone Ekiden takes the runners through breathtaking landscapes, including picturesque mountains, tranquil lakes, and charming rural areas. The challenging course includes both uphill and downhill segments, testing the runners’ endurance and skill.

The first Hakone Ekiden was held in 1920

The inaugural Hakone Ekiden race took place in 1920, making it one of the oldest annual sporting events in Japan. It was initially organized to celebrate the recovery of Tokyo from the devastating Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923.

Tokyo and Kanagawa universities have a fierce rivalry in the Hakone Ekiden

The Hakone Ekiden is well-known for the intense rivalry between universities from Tokyo and Kanagawa. Tokyo-based teams, such as Waseda University and Meiji University, often compete against top teams from Kanagawa, including Aoyama Gakuin University and Kanagawa University.

The Hakone Ekiden attracts millions of TV viewers

With its thrilling races, passionate supporters, and dramatic finishes, the Hakone Ekiden has become a major television event in Japan. Millions of viewers tune in each year to witness the excitement and cheer for their favorite university teams.

The event is closely followed by the Japanese media

Hakone Ekiden receives extensive media coverage in Japan, with newspapers, television stations, and online platforms providing daily updates, interviews, and analysis. The race has gained popularity beyond the sporting community and has become a cultural phenomenon.

It is considered a stepping stone to professional running careers

Participating in the Hakone Ekiden is of great significance for college athletes aspiring to pursue professional running careers. The race offers them a platform to showcase their talents and catch the attention of professional running teams and sponsors.

Runners often face challenging weather conditions during the race

As the Hakone Ekiden takes place in early January, runners frequently encounter cold temperatures, strong winds, and sometimes even snow along the course. These demanding weather conditions add an additional layer of difficulty to the already grueling race.

The popularity of the Hakone Ekiden has spread globally

While the Hakone Ekiden is primarily a Japanese event, its popularity has spread worldwide. International running enthusiasts and athletes appreciate the race for its competitive spirit, remarkable performances, and the unique team dynamics it showcases.

The Hakone Ekiden is known for its enthusiastic supporters

One of the most distinctive features of the Hakone Ekiden is the passionate support from spectators along the course. Thousands of fans line the route, cheering and encouraging the runners, creating an electrifying atmosphere throughout the race.

It holds the record for the highest average viewership rating in Japan

The Hakone Ekiden consistently achieves impressive television ratings in Japan. In fact, it holds the record for the highest average viewership rating for a sporting event in the country, highlighting its immense popularity among the Japanese audience.

The winning team receives the prestigious championship flag

At the conclusion of the Hakone Ekiden, the winning team is awarded the coveted championship flag. This flag bears the names of all the victorious teams since the race’s inception and symbolizes excellence, dedication, and the indomitable spirit of the participants.

Each leg of the race has a designated theme song

To add to the excitement and atmosphere, each leg of the Hakone Ekiden is associated with a unique theme song. These songs motivate the runners and resonate with the fans, creating a memorable experience for everyone involved.

The Hakone Ekiden is a celebration of teamwork and camaraderie

A central theme of the Hakone Ekiden is the importance of teamwork and camaraderie. The event brings together athletes, coaches, supporters, and volunteers, fostering a sense of unity and inspiring individuals to work together towards a common goal.

It serves as a platform for university rivalries to unfold

The Hakone Ekiden is not only about athletic prowess but also about showcasing the historic rivalries between universities. The competition fuels the competitive spirit among the participating teams, creating intense and memorable moments throughout the race.

Participants undergo rigorous training to prepare for the Hakone Ekiden

Competing in the Hakone Ekiden requires months of dedicated training and preparation. Athletes follow strict training regimens, including long-distance runs, interval training, strength conditioning, and mental fortitude exercises to ensure they are ready for the challenge.

The relay-style format adds strategic elements to the race

In the Hakone Ekiden, runners pass a tasuki (sash) to their teammate at designated exchange zones. This relay-style format adds strategic elements to the race, as teams strategize on when to deploy their strongest runners and how to optimize overall performance.

The Hakone Ekiden inspires future generations of runners

The Hakone Ekiden serves as an inspiration for aspiring young runners in Japan. Witnessing the determination, talent, and sportsmanship on display during the race motivates many to pursue their own running goals and dreams, contributing to the continued growth of the sport.


In conclusion, Hakone Ekiden is not just a long-distance relay race; it is a cultural phenomenon and a testament to the spirit of perseverance and teamwork. This prestigious event brings together the best university athletes in Japan, captivating millions of spectators and igniting a sense of national pride. From its humble beginnings to becoming an iconic sporting event, Hakone Ekiden has left an indelible mark on the world of long-distance running.The 20 facts we have explored shed light on the history, traditions, and significance of Hakone Ekiden. From its challenging course to the grueling training regimes, it’s clear that this race is not for the faint-hearted. The passion and dedication of the athletes, the enthusiasm of the supporters, and the electric atmosphere make Hakone Ekiden an event like no other.Whether you’re a sports enthusiast or simply intrigued by Japanese culture, Hakone Ekiden is a spectacle that should not be missed. So mark your calendars and prepare to witness the magic and excitement of this legendary long-distance relay race.


1. What is Hakone Ekiden?

Hakone Ekiden is a long-distance relay race that takes place annually in Japan. It features university teams competing against each other over a two-day period, covering a total distance of approximately 218 kilometers.

2. How many teams participate in Hakone Ekiden?

A total of ten teams participate in Hakone Ekiden, each representing a different university. These teams are selected based on their performance in regional qualifying races.

3. What is the history of Hakone Ekiden?

Hakone Ekiden was first held in 1920 and has since become one of the most prestigious and popular sporting events in Japan. It has a rich history, filled with records, legends, and memorable moments.

4. What is the course like for Hakone Ekiden?

The course for Hakone Ekiden is a challenging one, featuring steep uphill and downhill sections, as well as a mix of urban and rural landscapes. It showcases the scenic beauty of the Hakone region.

5. How do the teams prepare for Hakone Ekiden?

Teams undergo rigorous training throughout the year, focusing on both physical and mental conditioning. They also participate in various qualifying races to secure their spot in the main event.

6. How long does Hakone Ekiden last?

Hakone Ekiden takes place over a two-day period, usually on January 2nd and 3rd. Each day consists of multiple stages, with the teams handing over a sash (tasuki) to the next runner at each exchange point.

7. What is the significance of Hakone Ekiden?

Hakone Ekiden holds great cultural significance in Japan. It showcases the determination, endurance, and team spirit of the university athletes, and brings together people from all walks of life to support and celebrate their achievements.

8. How do spectators support the teams during Hakone Ekiden?

Spectators line the streets of the course, cheering and encouraging the runners as they race by. They wave flags, play musical instruments, and create a festive and electrifying atmosphere throughout the event.

9. Are there any records or notable performances in Hakone Ekiden?

Yes, Hakone Ekiden has seen many records broken and notable performances over the years. From individual runners setting new course records to teams achieving remarkable comebacks, the race has produced numerous memorable moments.

10. Can anyone participate in Hakone Ekiden?

No, only university teams are eligible to participate in Hakone Ekiden. However, anyone can spectate and cheer on the athletes along the course.

Discover the fascinating world of long-distance relay races and university athletics through our captivating articles. From the iconic Hakone Ekiden to the Yokohama International Women's Ekiden, which showcases the strength and determination of female runners, to the Tarleton Texans' impressive achievements in collegiate sports, our stories will inspire and entertain you. Join us on this journey as we explore the rich traditions, fierce competitions, and remarkable individuals who make these events truly unforgettable.

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