In Japan: Fat Gaijin (Me!) Races 500 Junior High Students

Morioka, Japan. l thought was going to die.   My legs were numb, my lungs were bursting; l expected at any moment to succumb to heart attack.   In self-pity, looked back at how easy my life had been only ten minutes before.   Then, pacing cockily to and fro along the starting line, I had displayed my ”˜towering height’ to the cheering junior high school students.   I was their English teacher, after all, and they had wanted me to do well in the race.


Yet those fond memories were behind me already as l puffed my way between the now golden colored rice paddies.   ’Just a little’ more; Mo sukoshi, mo sukoshi!, I tried to convince myself.   As forced my screaming body along, however, my bouncing eyes viewed with horror the throngs of tiny seventh graders flashing by me.   Although the path was narrow, these miniature running machines passed me with ease on both sides.   I felt like an interstate ”˜wide vehicle’ being left behind by all the Hondas and Toyotas.

It seems that individuality here in Japan is just not the virtue it is at home; although far from the front.   I was happy to be still running with the pack.   It was enough to be the only one out of the five hundred not wearing the school’s blue sporting uniform; I did not want to come in last.

As the pain increased, imagined that hara-kiri would be an easier way to go.   At least hara-kiri is · considered honorable; if l merely diminished from exhaustion l could lose face forever.


Eventually the end loomed into my jogged view and I forgot about suicide.   Luckily my fellow teachers, bowing to me as l passed, filled me with the encouragement l needed.   With every milligram of energy left, clashed for the human tunnel of well wishers through which l had to pass to reach the finish line.   With three meters to go, l imagined the crowd going wild; their cheers drowning out the noise of my pounding heart.   Indeed, the Japanese syllables were flying.

Suddenly it was over.   l had managed to finish, placing forty third.   Anthropologically speaking, l noticed that whereas my own elated happiness was personal, the students pride seemed truly communal; they had finished as a group.


Still catching my breath, I lined up with my fellow victors before the school principal.   We were asked to contemplate our communal achievement, I think; at any rate we meditated for several minutes.   After we were dismissed, parted, dragging aching bones away to a youthful chorus of sayonara’s.

It had been fun, but my exhausting day at the races was over.   Along with five hundred junior high school students, I had thoroughly enjoyed this three kilometer endurance test across the autumn colored landscape of northern Japan.

Originally published in The Voice, College of Wooster, October 31, 1980.

Read other stories by Jim Luce on Japan:

NYC’s Japan American Association Funds Haitian Students Dream of International Study

Yoko Ono Supports Mayor Akiba and Nuclear Disarmament at John Catsimatidis’ Home

2,870 Mayors for Peace: Does Yours Belong?

Japan’s PIKADON Project & Hiroshima Yes! Campaign in New York City

Keiko Tsuyama: Japanese Woman of the World

Park Avenue’s Nichibei Exchange – and the Japanese Flute

Notes From Japan: From Harajuku to Waseda

Notes from Japan: Shinomori – Mediating in the Woods

Notes from Japan: A Rural Village in Iwate Province

Notes from Japan: Hitchhiking Through the Storm to Hokkaido

Notes from Japan: Japanese and English Language Very Far Apart

Notes from Japan: Living with a Former Samurai Family

Notes from Japan: Fat American (Me!) Races 500 Junior High Students

Notes from Japan: From Zen Life in the Country to Tokyo – Help!

For the complete listing of thematic stories, see Jim Luce Writes.

About Jim Luce: Thought Leaders & Global Citizens

View all posts by Jim Luce: Thought Leaders & Global Citizens
Jim Luce: Thought Leaders & Global Citizens
Jim Luce ( writes and speaks on Thought Leaders and Global Citizens. Bringing 26 years management experience within both investment banking and the non-profit sector, Jim has worked for Daiwa Bank, Merrill Lynch, a spin-off of Lazard Freres, and two not-for profit organizations and a foundation he founded. As Founder & CEO of Orphans International Worldwide (, he is working with a strong network of committed professionals to build interfaith, interracial, Internet-connected orphanages in Haiti and Indonesia, and creating a new, family-care model for orphans in Sri Lanka and Tanzania.

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