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Thursday, December 5, 2013

The First Japanese Man To Win The Boston Marathon And Why It Sucked

It's 1951… Boston… and you are 19-year-old Tanaka Shigeki (surname first)… and you have survived the Hiroshima atomic bomb in 1945 and have just won the world-famous Boston Marathon in a time of 2:27:45… and none of the Americans watching you cross the finish line are impressed enough to applaud or cheer.


You shouldn't be. After all… Japan and the United States of America were biter, bitter enemies between December of 1941 and August of 1945... and it was only a mere six years later when Tanaka invaded US soil to capture an iconic US race.

Holy crap! A Jap (said as derisively as humanly possible) won the race! You would think the good folks of 1950s Boston would have preferred anyone… even the niggers or the chinks (if you will excuse my purposely racist, comedic line from the classic comedy movie, Blazing Saddles (Originally: "We'll take the niggers and the chinks, but we don't want the Irish).

FYI, 90 years earlier - all over the US, the Irish were despised.

Of course… Boston is an Irish town. But, first and foremost, it is an American city… and Boston, like many other cities in the U.S. and its people had yet to take the time to forgive Japan for its attack on Pearl Harbor, or its trail of destruction across Asia or its notoriously terrible treatment of Allied POWs (prisoner of war).

Trust me—even now in 2013, some 68 years after that war—that there are many people in the US and other countries around the world who refuse to forgive Japan for its war-time atrocities.

Bostonians - or even Americans - certainly did not want to see a "Nip" show his dominance in 'their' marathon.

Thanks to a very fast run over the Newton hill, Tanaka finished 2 minutes and 31 seconds ahead of American runner John Lafferty.

While Tanaka was the first Japanese runner to win the Boston Marathon, he's hardly been the last. Japanese runners have claimed 15 victories... which is good for fourth best over-all, following the U.S. of A. with 95, Kenya (29), and Canada (21).

Okay... let's change gears here a bit.

Check out the photo… aside from the non-cheering crowds watching the very happy Tanaka cross the finish line… look at his shoes!

He's wearing what are known as tabi (Japanese split-toed) running shoes that were made by Onitsuka of Kobe, Japan. Onitsuka is now known as Asics.

These Tabi running shoes were modeled after the traditional wooden Japanese sandals, which like most sandals had a strap between the big toe and the second toe.

Perhaps it was because it was a shoe worn by a Japanese runner, but these Tabi shoes never really caught on at the time. 

After a few years when Blue Ribbon Sports and owner Phil Knight began to import in the Japanese Asics line, they were all the standard shoe type - no Tabi was brought over.

Now... after the deal with Asics had passed, and Blue Ribbon Sports was now called Nike (Phil Knight is the current Nike chairman), Nike created a split-toe runner it called Air Rift in 1995, but it never caught on... but in 2006 when Asics created two split-toe runners: The Tai Chi Tigress and Marathon Tabi, complete with Japanese motifs printed on them, the limited edition 4,400 shoes were quickly sold out, proving that there is no accounting for taste, but you really have to know your target audience.

Andrew Joseph

1 comment:

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