The Honolulu Marathon is a big deal. It’s among the largest in the world, as well as one of the most popular for visiting runners to take part in. Japan, however, tops the list every year with the most participants from abroad.

Of the 30,898 marathon participants this year (the most since 1997), more than half of them traveled from the “Land of the Rising Sun.” It’s a slight bump since last year’s race, which happened just nine months after the devastating March tsunami hit their home country. Even then, event coordinators were surprised so many Japanese runners signed up. But this just goes to show their dedication and ability to keep h3 in such tragic times. It also shows how much the Japanese love to run.

Japan Airlines (JAL) has been a title sponsor for almost three decades, hence the official name: JAL Honolulu Marathon. In order to accommodate the thousands of Honolulu-bound Japanese runners, marathon coordinators set up an office in Tokyo to process the large number of race entries.

Japan does, however, have its own marathon, the annual Tokyo Marathon. It’s recognized as one of the World’s Major Marathons (WMM), along with Berlin, London, Boston, Chicago and New York. This is a new series offering a $1-million prize purse to be split between the top male and female marathoners in the world. WMM organizers set up five races to help advance the sport and increase interest levels in elite racing among running enthusiasts.

What keeps the Japanese coming to Hawaii? Analysts point to the fact that Japan has very few marathons open to all entrants. Also a contributing factor, the new routes from Japan that Hawaiian Airlines recently added. But the most obvious reason would be Hawaii’s tropical destination, where it’s warm all year round – making for excellent marathon conditions a runner could only hope for.


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