Note: This post has been updated as of December 4, 2011 to fix some links add new marathons from the previous post. It is difficult to keep up with all the new full marathons that keep popping up all over Japan, but I will try to update this page every six months or so.
Japan has dozens of marathons, but as a foreigner, it is sometimes as challenging getting into the races than actually running the race itself. This is especially true for the smaller city marathons. Japan is also going through a running boom and many of these races fill-up within a few days or have some type of lottery system. With the larger marathons being the exception, most of the marathon information in Japan is in Japanese only and the sites that are in English, they are usually minimally informative. Below is a list of marathons in Japan that I have either run or are aware of with their associated web sites. For the websites only in Japanese, a recommendation is to use the Google translator tool to get a basic translation. I’ll try and keep this post updated with the latest Japan marathon information, so you may want to bookmark this page. I know there are many other local marathons in Japan out there, so if you know of any that is not on this list, please leave a comment.
Japan Marathons I’ve Run
Tokyo Marathon (February) * – This is the largest marathon in Japan. I ran it in 2010 under some pretty poor weather conditions – sleet, snow, high winds, not the most fun experience. Very good crowd support and festive atmosphere and extremely well organized. Because of its large field size of over 30,000 runners, if you want to run a fast time, you will need to start toward the front. Otherwise, just enjoy the run, it will be pretty crowded from start to finish. This marathon has the largest expo I’ve ever experienced. Since I live in Yokohama, I took the train to the starting line from my home, but Tokyo has a large number of hotel accommodations that will fit any budget size. The goodies are okay, standard tech t-shirt, finisher’s towel and medal. The course is a bit odd with a number of turnaround points and toward the end there are a few bridges to cross, which can be quite challenging if you have hit the wall by that point.
Nagano Marathon (April) * – This is probably my favorite marathon in Japan. The field size is relatively small, maybe 8,000 runners, and it is a pure marathon – no 10K, half-marathon also going on at the same time. The 2011 marathon was canceled due to the big earthquake, but 2010 was a great experience and the weather is nice. However, the marathon is not easy to get to and you’ll need to take a two-hour Shinkansen ride from Tokyo to Nagano, which will cost you a couple hundred bucks. Also, I had a real difficult time finding hotel accommodations regardless of how much you are willing to spend. I believe there may be a major festival going on at the same time as the marathon, which I think fills up the downtown hotel rooms. But overall, great race to run especially if you are looking to PR. It is a point-to-point course, relatively flat and you pass many of the Winter Olympic arenas and stadiums. Also, an added benefit was I got to high-five Naoko Takahashi (the 2000 Olympic Gold Medalist) during the race. Got a t-shirt and finisher’s towel, but don’t believe they handed out medals.
Hokkaido (Sapporo) Marathon (August) * – This was an enjoyable marathon, but don’t expect to PR. Late August is normally very hot and humid in Japan and although this race is in northern Japan, because they choose to start the race at noon, it eliminates the benefits of cooler climate. The race is small, maybe 7,000 runners, and there is no 10K or half marathon going on at the same time – which is a plus in my book. Sapporo is a very nice medium sized city and hotel accommodations were readily available for all budgets. The course was fairly flat, but the warm weather will be the major challenge. The interaction with the race organizers was not all that great, but adequate.
Lake Kawaguchi Marathon (November) * – This was my first Japanese marathon and probably the worst. I ran this race in 2009 and the weather wasn’t great, so we couldn’t see Mt Fuji, which was kind of the selling point of the race. Hotel accommodations were difficult to find and many of the decent places were priced at $300 – $400 dollars a night. They also let way too many runners on the course and have a 10K and half marathon going on at the same time. Areas of the course had streets that were very narrow for the number of runners so you had to slow down because there was a bottleneck of people trying to squeeze through. The organization was fine and the one nice touch is that you can obtain a printout of your results right after you finish. The goodies included a bag, t-shirt and finisher’s towel, but no medal. Not sure I’ll sign-up to run this in the future.
Naha (Okinawa) Marathon (December) – I ran this marathon in 2010 and had a very good experience. The course is very hilly and makes one loop around Naha city. Probably not a course where you will PR on since it is usually still warm in Okinawa in December and the course if fairly difficult, but it was nicely organized. However, the expo was pretty pathetic, they really are missing an opportunity here considering there are over 25,000 race participants. One interesting note was that they televise the entire marathon on local television, all the way until the last runner crosses the line – I’ve never seen that before, a very festive and fun marathon. Hotel accommodations are readily available and we were fortunate to stay at a hotel close to the start line. Goodies included a tech t-shirt and glass finisher’s medal.
Honolulu Marathon (December) * – I know, this is not a Japan marathon, but since two-thirds of the participants are Japanese, I figured I’d add it to the list. I love Hawaii, but the marathon was sub-par in my opinion. I ran this marathon for the first time in 2009 and was disappointed with the value you received for your entry fee. I think I paid about $140 to enter and all you get is an ugly t-shirt and key chain at the end. Also, for the end of marathon snack, they hand you an old apple and couple oatmeal cookies. Clearly this marathon is marketed toward the Japanese and their tour groups seem to offer a bunch of benefits not available to the average schmuck who just signed up for the race. The course is fairly difficult, with warm conditions and with some hilly areas course. Being Hawaii I was expecting better scenery during the marathon, but about half the time you are running on highway and through residential neighborhoods, although there were a few interesting spots around Waikiki. The organization was a little below average and everyone is on there own when it comes to seeding themselves at the start – so you have walkers up front who you have to run around the first couple miles. If you do run the Honolulu Marathon, I would recommend it be something you tack on to a vacation and not the primary purpose of your trip.
Other Japan Marathons
Ibusuki Nanohana (Kagoshima) Marathon (January)
Ishigaki (Okinawa) Marathon (January)
Katsuta (Hitachinaka) Marathon (January)
Tateyama Wakashio (Chiba) Marathon (January)
“New Year” Tokyo Kita (North) Marathon (January)
Okinawa Marathon (February)
Senshu International (Osaka) Marathon (February)
Ehime (Shikoku) Marathon (February)
Kishu Kumano (Wakayama) Marathon (February)
Nobeoka Nishi Nippon Marathon (February)
Sasayama ABC Marathon (March)
Itabashi City Marathon (March)
Nagoya Women’s Marathon (March) * – Note: This has changed from an elite marathon to a mass women’s participation marathon in 2012.
Kyoto Marathon (March)
Yoron (Okinawa) Marathon (March)
Izu-Oshima Marathon (March)
Rocket (Tanegashima) Marathon (March)
Yomiuri Relay Marathon (March)
ECO INBA (Narita) Marathon (April)
Fuji 5 Lakes Ultra Marathon (April)
Kasumigaura Marathon (April)
Tsuyama Kamo Marathon (April)
Kakegawa Shincha Marathon (April)
Sado Toki Marathon (April)
Taketa Marathon (April)
Satsuki Kanuma Marathon (May)
Lake Saroma 100km Ultra Marathon (June) *
Tango History Highway 100km Ultramarathon (September)
Lake Tazawa (Akita) Marathon (September)
Niigata City Marathon (October)
Chikugo River (Kureme, Fukuoka) Marathon (October)
Osaka Marathon (October)
Iheya Moonlight (Okinawa) Marathon (October)
Hirosaki Shirakami Apple Marathon (October)
Omachi Alps Marathon (October)
Betsukai Pilot Marathon (October)
Nogata Marathon (October)
Fukuroi Melon Crown Marathon (Shizuoka) (October)
Izumi (Kagoshima) Crane Marathon (October)
Kume Island (Okinawa) Marathon (October)
Tokushima Marathon (November)
Osaka Yodagawa City Marathon (November)
Shonan International (Kanagawa) Marathon (November)
Ibigawa Marathon (November)
Fukuchiyama Marathon (November)
Tsukuba Marathon (November)
Nara Marathon (December) *
Elite Japan Marathons
Osaka Women’s Marathon (January) *
Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon (February) * – Note: May be considering adding a women’s field and relaxing its entry standards to accommodate slower runners.
Fukuoka International Open Marathon Championship (February) *
Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon (March) *
Yokohama Women’s Marathon (November) *
* Recognized by the Association of International Marathons and Distance Races (AIMS)