The eyes of many Americans were fixed upon Boston this week. Boston holds a special place in the history of our country, but also is a special place in the relationship between Japan and the United States. Japan's direct relationship with America began with two people: a young Japanese fisherman who was swept out to sea in 1841, and the American sea captain who rescued him. More than 10 years before Commodore Perry arrived at Yokohama, Captain William Whitfield invited Nakahama "John" Manjiro home to Massachusetts, and encouraged his education in America. During the 19th century, Bostonians became enamored of Japanese art and collected many artworks that are still held at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. The Boston MFA spearheaded an effort to preserve the artwork of "Old Japan" through a partnership between American scholars and Japanese intellectuals such as the author of "The Book of Tea," Kakuzo Okakura.
The relationship of Boston and Japan was strengthened further when Kyoto became Boston's first Sister city in 1959. Seiji Ozawa served as the Boston Symphony Orchestra's conductor beginning in 1973 and served for almost 30 years. Of course, the Boston Red Sox were never more popular in Japan than when Daisuke Matsuzaka was their pitcher from 2007-2012.
Japan even has close ties to the Boston Marathon. Runners from Japan have had 15 total victories in the Boston Marathon. The only countries that have more total victories than Japan are the U.S. (95), Kenya (29), and Canada (21). Shigeki Tanaka was the first Japanese person to ever win the Boston Marathon; he won the men’s open at the age of 19 in 1951, finishing with a 2:27:45 time. Tanaka’s personal history as a survivor of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima garnered much media attention. His win was also memorable because instead of typical running shoes, he wore tabi (足袋), which are traditional style split toe Japanese footwear. Today, advocates of barefoot running often look to him as an example.
Other memorable Japanese winners of the Boston marathon include Wakako Tsuchida, who has won the women’s wheelchair division 5 times (most recently in 2011) and Toshihiko Seko who won twice during the 1980’s.