This weekend was another ekiden (a relay-type marathon) on Kumejima. The one previously this year was for the Junior High School students from all over Okinawa. This one was just for Kumejima. There are nearly thirty aza (neighborhoods) here, and since Kumejima has been around for so long tensions can rise between the members and families of different areas. Many have their own festivals, traditions, and ideals. For a long time the various communities were organized into two villages, but not long ago those villages were incorporated into Kumejima Town. Suddenly, independent communities became one entity. In order to avoid creating more tension and bring the separate communities together the leaders of Kumejima sought to facilitate communications through friendly sporting competitions. The ekiden is one modern competition to bring both the smaller communities and Kumejima as a whole closer together.
Each aza selects a team for the competition which comprises 16 segments over nearly 40 kilometers. This requires a meeting which is an opportunity for locals to meet at the community center (kominkan). During the actual race, even those who aren’t participating gather to cheer on their teams. Everyone from babies to grandmothers lined the roads to cheer on everyone. Through out the day various groups from different aza talked as they waited at their stations to run, or while waiting to cheer on the runners. As I rode on one of the safety bikes I was able to see and hear various people from different areas laughing and cheering as runners fast and slow went by.
At the end of the night, after awards, each aza met at their kominkan to celebrate their victory, loss, or participation. The winners were happy, and the not-so-triumphant plotted their revenge for next year. Everyone, however, grew a little closer together.