A riot of pink cherry blossoms greeted runners arriving in Central Park Sunday morning for the Japan Run 4M and kids' races and the accompanying Japan Day festivities. After a rainy Saturday evening, the park was clear, cool, and in full bloom.
Ambassador Sumio Kusaka wished runners well at the start, then darted onto the 72nd Street Transverse in time to hold the finish-line tape for West Side Runners
member Yonas Mebrahtu, who won by a 48-second margin. Mebrahtu was followed by teammate Mikael Tesfaye Kahsay and Greater New York Racing Team’s Daniel Wallace-Periac. A short time later, speedy ladies Allie Kieffer, Margaret McMahon, and Fiona Bayly joined them on the podium. And as the finish-line clock ticked past the half-hour mark, thousands of runners—some beaming with pride, some grimacing with effort—dashed across the finish line and then made their way toward smiling volunteers proferring water, bagels, and apples.
Japan is home to a robust running culture, and many participants today proudly proclaimed their heritage. One couple covered the four-mile course dressed in the loose-fitting white cotton karate gi usually seen in a dojo, and another man wore a jaunty hat decorated with plastic sushi.
Ayako Yamazaki and Yumiko Nishikawa were unmistakable in white singlets emblazoned with the red rising sun of Japan. “We had a great time this morning,” said a beaming Nishikawa. “Well, we ran OK times,” Yamazaki added with a laugh. “But it’s a beautiful day, and the atmosphere all over the park is great.”
After the kids' races for runners ages 2-12, the Japan Day festival featured music, dancing, and tastes of Japanese culture—both traditional and contemporary. Runners and race fans learned origami and calligraphy, posed for pictures with Hello Kitty, and checked out a model of a high-speed train.
And runners of all backgrounds saluted Mother’s Day. Regan Hofmann and her mom, Cathy Forrest, have made the Japan Run an annual celebration. “This was the first race I ever entered four years ago,” said Forrest. “Regan slowed down to run with me, and we ran a ‘blistering’ 11:45 pace. Since then, I’ve run six half-marathons and one full marathon—and today we ran 9:30s!”
And with that, they clinked paper cups of water, and headed off to brunch.