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Japanese Citizen Stephen Mayaka Dreams of Returning to Hakone Ekiden

translated and edited by Brett Larner

Samuel Wanjiru (L) and Stephen Mayaka (R)

Stephen Mayaka, who came to Japan from Kenya in the 1990's and dominated the Hakone Ekiden while running for Yamanashi Gakuin University, is in pursuit of his 'second dream.' Having become a Japanese citizen three years ago and taken a Japanese name, Mayaka, 35, is now head coach of the track and field team at Sozo Gakuen University in Gunma Prefecture.

This year Sozo Gakuen's team ran October's Hakone Ekiden qualifying race for the first time, finishing 28th and missing Mayaka's mark of reaching the main Hakone race. Considering that less than two years ago there were only two runners on the team, however, Mayaka is not discouraged. "This year we have twenty athletes," he nods. "There is a lot to look forward to." Not least of which is undoubtedly the chance for him to resume his rivalry with his university-era foe Yasuyuki Watanabe, the star runner at Waseda University and now Waseda's head coach.

After graduating from Yamanashi Gakuin Mayaka became a jitsugyodan runner, first with Team Daiei and later with Team Hitachi Cable. As a pro Mayaka was a major force on the road race circuit, winning the Sapporo International Half Marathon three times among other achievements. He was shocked when his elder at Yamanashi Gakuin, Joseph Otwori, the first Kenyan university student runner in Japan, was killed in a car accident two years ago.

In the time since Otwori's era, Mayaka has become recognized as a leader among Kenyan runners based in Japan, busy day to day with helping his countrymen cope with life in their host country. "There are now more than 100 Kenyan runners in Japan. I want to be the bridge between the two countries," Mayaka says.

In his capacity as a leader among Kenyans, Mayaka travelled to the Beijing Olympics as part of the support staff for Kenya's first Olympic marathon gold medalist, Japan-based Samuel Wanjiru, and went back to Kenya with Wanjiru afterwards to attend the celebrations in Wanjiru's honor. "It was nice to be invited to the party given by Kenya's president, but even better was the one in Wanjiru's hometown. The whole stadium was completely filled. It was really incredible."


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