Notes from Japan

Marathon Blues

By Suzanne Kamata

Tokushima. Courtesy: Creative Commons

“Do you want to run the Tokushima Marathon with me?” my husband asked for the third year in a row.

The first time, three years before, I’d given him a flat-out refusal. The previous year, I’d promised to register, but then my brother had died suddenly, and I’d had to fly from our home on the island of Shikoku in Japan back to the United States for the funeral. My husband had run the race for the third time on his own. This year, though, I didn’t have an excuse. “Maybe,” I said.

To be honest, running a marathon has never been one of my life goals. Nor am I interested in bungee jumping, getting a tattoo, climbing Mt. Everest, or anything else that would cause pain or discomfort. I power walk four or five kilometers per day for my health, and I did run on my high school’s cross-country team, but I am not really into long-distance running any more. My New Year’s resolutions tend to be more aligned with pleasure: Try new wines. Read more poetry.

My husband, however, couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t want to run a marathon. He told me how satisfied I would feel afterwards. And we’d get swag – a T-shirt, a medal, a certificate worth framing. Maybe he also thought it was a fun activity that we could do together. He is a high school physical education teacher. He would think that.

The Tokushima Marathon course goes along the embankment of the Yoshino River right past our house. We live at the twelve-kilometer mark. In previous years, I’d used a tracking app to determine when he was about to run by. My daughter and I had then gone up the hill in time to cheer him on. Once, he’d shoved a jacket that he no longer needed into my hands as he’d dashed past us.

“What size T-shirt do you wear?” my husband asked.

I told him. I knew that he was registering me for the marathon, even though I had said, “maybe,” not “yes.” But perhaps I could just walk and run the first twelve kilometers, and then jog down the hill to our house. I could run that little bit as a tribute to my brother who had aspired to run a marathon himself. More than once, on my visits to see him, I’d found myself waiting at the finish line of some fun run or other. He had been such a devoted runner that he had been buried with his running shoes.

I started training. My husband usually didn’t put in any effort until a month in advance, and yet he still managed to complete the whole race. But I needed more time. I walked and ran and walked and ran instead of my usual regime. I did this at night after work. Then it started to get really cold, and my self-imposed training program started to fall apart.

Enter the new coronavirus. In January, we heard news of a deadly virus in Wuhan, and then a cruise ship full of afflicted passengers in Yokohama. Even though we were far away in Shikoku, by February local events were being cancelled. There would be no graduation ceremony at the university where I taught, no farewell party for professors who were leaving to teach elsewhere. Public schools began spring vacation a month early. I wondered if the Tokushima Marathon, which was scheduled for March, would be cancelled as well. I must confess that I secretly hoped it would be because I hadn’t kept up with my training and I didn’t want to disappoint my husband.

Of course, it was cancelled, like the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics and the national high school baseball tournament at Koshien Stadium and everything else. We were informed that there would be no refund of our registration fees, but we would get swag. I looked forward to receiving my Tokushima Marathon T-shirt, which I would wear ironically. I waited and waited for the package to arrive.

Finally, two bulky envelopes were delivered. Around this time, my husband and I were stuck together in the house with nothing to do. We’d already gotten rid of all of the stuff that didn’t spark joy. Our clothes were rolled neatly in our drawers. We were driving each other crazy. We opened the envelopes to find the finisher medals – ha! ha! – and no T-shirts, but an indigo-dyed handkerchief each.

“Let’s make these into masks,” my husband said.

At first, I protested. They were such nice handkerchiefs! But I already had a few indigo-dyed handkerchiefs which I never used, but which nevertheless sparked joy. If we cut them up and made them into handkerchiefs, at least they would serve a purpose.

My husband dragged our dining room table in front of the wide-screen TV in the living room. He found a mask-making tutorial on YouTube. He cut up the pieces, and I sewed them together. They turned out well! We wore them every day until the elastic started to lose its spring, and health experts declared that wearing paper masks was actually better than handmade cloth ones. And the medals? Well, maybe we will someday figure out something to do with those.

Masks stitched by Suzanne. Photo Courtesy: Suzanne Kamata

Suzanne Kamata was born and raised in Grand Haven, Michigan. She now lives in Japan with her husband and two children. Her short stories, essays, articles and book reviews have appeared in over 100 publications. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize five times, and received a Special Mention in 2006. She is also a two-time winner of the All Nippon Airways/Wingspan Fiction Contest, winner of the Paris Book Festival, and winner of a SCBWI Magazine Merit Award.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s