“These Nikes help me define me…”
I got really into running during the summer of 2013. I later lost my momentum after an unrelenting (and still mysterious) injury. Although I did pick it up again in 2014, I was never able to get back into a routine like I had that summer. Nevertheless, I have really fond memories of running in Kurobe. It was the first new and challenging thing that I attempted in a long while.
I liked to run on the streets of Kurobe. The more I ran, the more I realized that it was a way to discover new places that I’d never really seen before, even though I’d passed by them in the car at least 100 times. My favorite time to hit the pavement was early dusk. I was big on Macklemore in 2013 and to this day the first few things that come to mind when I hear WINGS is sweat dripping down the back of my neck and the distant outline of the YKK factory building. That building stared me down for weeks. YKK was my mission impossible (made possible? or is that too cheesy?)
“One bite and all your dreams will come true!”
One warm summer evening, I left my apartment to go for a short run around the neighborhood. Thinking back on it now, I remember the sun setting over the lush, green rice paddies. Radiant shades of pink, orange, and red marring with deep blues before being swallowed up into the darkening night sky. In all likelihood, there was no breathtaking sunset that night. I tend to put on my rose colored glasses when looking back upon the past. I did witness a handful of really exquisite sunsets while living in Kurobe, though. Perhaps I just like to remember the city at its most beautiful.
With my trusty Nikes laced up, I eased into a jog after stepping onto the street behind my apartment building. The road wasn’t a main road, but it did get a fair amount of traffic from people heading out to Ikuji – a sea side community in Kurobe. This would have been the point where I saw the magnificent sunset over the rice paddies. It’s where I began every jog. The local dry cleaners on my right, a 交番(こうばん/koban, police box) on my left. The dry cleaners was always fairly busy during the day – at any time at least one or two cars was parked in its lot. As for the koban, I never saw a single police officer (or person for that matter) there in four years.
I made my way straight past the koban. I always started slow, barely jogging. It was an awkward stride halfway between a walk and a jog, really. I’d pass an auxiliary fire truck garage, the children’s center (similar to a boys & girls club in the U.S.), and one of the smaller banks (I think it was for people involved in agriculture) before making a right just before the pre-school.
Usually I would encounter little to no people while on my runs. Cars would pass me by every once in a while but I rarely ran into (pardon the pun) anyone else on foot. On this particular evening, however, there was a group of middle aged men standing around a kei truck (get ready, the kei truck is going to be a reoccurring theme on this blog) a short distance in front of me. I tried to quiet my breathing (as I was most likely gasping for air) and got ready to smile and wave. That might sound strange to you, but I worked at the local elementary school. It was just 3 minutes away from my house and my students lived all around me. The likelihood that these guys were fathers of my students was very high. If they were parents of my students, the likelihood that they knew who I was was even higher because this school loved to put pictures of me in weekly newsletters.
As I passed their group, I put my hand up and slightly bowed my head. I heard the muffled sound of one of the men calling out to me, so I pulled out one of my ear buds just in case it was someone important (like the head of the PTA!) At this point in the story, I’m going to give you a little spoiler: It was not the head of the PTA.
Me: すみません？ (Sumimasen / Excuse me?)
Random guy standing on street next to kei truck: どこの人？(Doko no hito / Where are you from?)
This is a pretty standard question for a foreigner living in Japan (for obvious reasons).
Me: あぁ、アメリカです。 (Aa, amerika desu / Ahh..America.)
R.G.S.O.S.N.T.K.T: よく走っていますよね。(Yoku hashitteimasu ne / You run well, huh.)
Another pretty typical comment foreigners living in Japan will get from anyone hoping to start a conversation. Two of the most common – and most definitely universally disliked – conversation starters are, “Wow, you use chopsticks so well!” and “Wow, you are so good at Japanese!” The latter is usually comes after you’ve used basic conversational Japanese. – for example, saying thank you to a clerk at a convenience store. (“Thank you.” “Wow, you are so good at Japanese!”)
Me: いえいえ。。。(Ie ie / No no…)
Always deny! Must. be. modest!
One of the men reached into the truck bed and pulled out an apple.
R.G.S.O.S.N.T.K.T: りんご欲しい？(Ringo hoshii? / Want an apple?)
Me: えーと。。。(Eto / umm…)
R.G.S.O.S.N.T.K.T.: りんごをあげるよ。(Ringo o ageru yo / I’ll give you an apple.)
Me: ちょっと。。。走っているから。。。(Chotto…hashitteirukara / umm..I’m running so…)
R.G.S.O.S.N.T.K.T.: これを食べたっら、もっと早く走れるよ！(Kore o tabetara, motto hayaku hashireru yo / If you eat this, you’ll be able to run faster!)
Me: ちょっと。。。今。。。タイミング。。。行かなきゃ。。。すみません。。。(Chotto…ima…taiminngu…ikanakya…sumimasen…/ Umm…right now…timing…I have to go…sorry…)
In retrospect, maybe I should have just accepted the apple. But, that is not what I chose to do. Instead, I put my ear bud back in my ear and started to jog away. However, that was not enough to convince the man that I did not want to take his apple and carry it with me while I ran. He followed after me, apple in hand.
R.G.S.O.S.N.T.K.T: 食べてね！(Tabetene! / Eat it, ok!)
Me: すみません！行かなきゃ！ (Sumimasen! ikanakya! / Sorry, I have to go!)
As rare as it was to see anyone else out walking, running, or biking while I was out on my runs, almost all of my favorite running memories involve my students.
When I crossed paths with a student, their first reaction was usually shock and surprise. (グ。。グウェンせんせい？ / Gu..Gwyn-sensei? / Miss Gwyn?）This was potentially because they were young and thought that I lived in America and traveled to Japan everyday to teach them English. Another likely reason for their disbelief would be my unavoidably red and blotchy face. Running does not look good on me.
After they got over their initial shock, though, they became my #1 cheerleaders. Sometimes they’d try to run alongside me. Sometimes they’d try to race me – especially the boys. But, almost every single time they cheered me on. (がんばって、せんせい！/ Gannbatte, sensei! / You can do it, teacher!）
My runs became the standard topic of conversation during the greeting portion of every class. (昨日、グウェンせんせいが走っとったよ！/ Kinou, Gwyn sensei ga hashittotta yo! / Yesterday, Miss Gwyn was running!) I think running helped me create a stronger bond with my students because it allowed them to learn more about me and see me as more of a human rather than a foreign “doll” (not my words, I promise!). After kids saw me out running, they were more inclined to ask me to come play with them during recess. I think it shattered whatever image and expectations they had about me and showed them that I was capable enough to join their games. The pinnacle of my success was the time the 6th grade boys invited me to join their (very serious) soccer game. The sweet taste of victory!
Run, Anpanman, Run!
After running for six months, I was ready to enter my first race. I searched on runnet.jp for an upcoming race nearby and came across the Nyuzen Senjyouchi Marathon. (NYUZEN SENJYOUCHI MARATHON) By the way, if you live in Japan and are into running or would like to get into running I highly recommend checking out runnet. Unfortunately (or fortunately? it’s good practice!), is it only in Japanese. (RUNNET.JP) After figuring out all of the details, I convinced 3 friends to sign up for the 5k with me.
The race was towards the end of November. Toyama was easing its way into winter, but it was a beautiful sunny day with clear skies. A fair number of spectators showed up to cheer on the runners. I was surprised since Nyuzen is such a small town. To this day, I swear that race was longer than 5k, though!
Here we are post race, in all of our glory:
Cutting & Gluing