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Takafumi Yanase

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The importance of practicing and studying every day

Takafumi Yanase
Three-time participant in the Hakone Ekiden
Member of the 68th class of legal apprentices

The secret of balance

In addition to the Hakone Ekiden (an ekiden is a road relay race), Yanase performed well in other ekidens. During his third year at university, he won the Single-Stage Prize at the Japan Collegiate Ekiden Championships. How was Yanase able to perform well in ekiden races and also pass the National Bar Examination? Everyone would love to know the secret to such success. Here is Yanase’s answer: “I just kept at it every day, both studying and running.”

According to many experienced runners, the best way to post good times in long-distance running is to “build up distance.” This refers to sustained and diligent training.

Compared to sprinting, success in long-distance running is said to rely less on born talent and more on effort. Results come from large amounts of practice and mental discipline. Every day is a battle with oneself.

The Chuo Ekiden Team has a tradition of valuing independence. Team practices are held three times per week. Known as “point practice,” these three strenuous practices are held on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. For the remaining four days of the week, runners are expected to manage their time and train independently. “It’s just me,” says Yanase. “There is no one to push or encourage me.” The difficulty of self-discipline is evident.

Yanase was blessed with the perfect environment for training. A riverside jogging course is located near the Chuo University Nanpei Dormitory. Furthermore, a full-scale athletic field is located on campus, only a ten-minute ride on a university bus from the dormitory. “The dormitory offered great access to the campus, while being away from the hustle and bustle of downtown,” says Yanase.

Away from the temptations of the city, Yanase was able to train fully at his own pace. After training by himself, he would study at the Tama Student Research Building ”Honoh-no-Tou” (Tower of light).

Yanase also watched little television at the dormitory. He lived according to his self-determined schedule of team practice, independent training, classes and studying.

If he had gone to a university where athletes were expected to adhere to strict practice schedules, Yanase might have had to temporarily stop studying in order to focus solely on running.

After graduating from the Faculty of Law in 2010, he enrolled in the Chuo Law School. The day finally came when he would take the National Bar Examination, sometimes said to be the most difficult of all national examinations.

“Although I studied really hard, I felt totally overwhelmed by the Examination—it was then that I decided to get really serious,” recalls a somewhat embarrassed Yanase. In September 2014, he passed the Examination on his second attempt. “I still can’t believe that I passed, he says. “I really didn’t want to spend another year doing nothing but studying, so I felt a sense of great relief and freedom upon passing.”

Glory and failure

When Yanase was a student at Sendai Ikuei Gakuen High School (Miyagi Prefecture), his team won the All-Japan High School Ekiden Championships 3 times in a row. During his second year at high school, he was selected as an anchor and led the team to setting a record time that has yet to be broken. He also won the Single-Stage Prize.

Actually, Yanase had intended to stop competing as a runner after graduating from high school. The strenuous training, constant competition to be included as a starting runner, and heavy pressure of representing one of Japan’s most powerful high schools—all of this had taken a heavy toll on Yanase’s physical and mental health. “I just wanted to escape from the competitive world,” he laughs. Accordingly, Yanase had wanted to enroll at a university which is not qualified to compete in the Hakone Ekiden.

However, Hiroshi Tako, the hot-blooded former coach of the Chuo Ekiden Team, refused to give up and ardently recruited Yanase. Yanase had always dreamed of entering a law department, and Chuo University provided a path to becoming a lawyer. He decided to enter the Department of Law in the Faculty of Law.

There are two university races which Yanase remembers well. One is when Yanase was a second-year student and the other is when he was in his third year. Immediately before the Hakone Ekiden, the athlete scheduled to run the fifth leg was injured. On the day of the race, Yanase was suddenly asked to run instead.

Yanase faced a fifth leg which required runners to surmount steep hills. Although he ran the first half of the leg at a good pace, he lost speed in the second half and was passed by the runners of other teams. He also experienced the feeling of “running beyond his limits.” Ultimately, Yanase finished in 14th place for the leg. “The younger runner who was originally scheduled to run the leg greeted me at the finish line,” he recalls. “He was crying and asked for my forgiveness, apologizing for not having trained harder.” Yanase will never forget what happened on that day.

The other race which left a deep impression on Yanase was the Japan Collegiate Ekiden Championships where he won the Single-Stage Prize. It was the first time that he had won such an honor at a national race since the All-Japan High School Ekiden Championships when he was in his second year of high school. Yanase was overjoyed to finally win a Single-Stage Prize after such a long time.

Yanase competed in the Hakone Ekiden a total of three times. As a first-year student, he ran the first leg and finished in 17th place. When he was a second-year student, as described above, he ran the fifth leg as a last-minute substitute and finished 14th. In his third year, Yanase ran the fourth leg and finished 23rd.

For his first 3 years at university, Yanase participated in the three major collegiate ekidens (Izumo Ekiden, Japan Collegiate Ekiden Championships, Hakone Ekiden) each year. However, during his fourth year, he suffered an injury and was unable to compete in even a single race.

The Chuo Ekiden Team has a policy of playing younger runners in the Izumo Ekiden, and Yanase was unable to compete in the Japan Collegiate Ekiden Championships and Hakone Ekiden due to his injury. He spent his final Hakone Ekiden at university serving as water boy for the seventh leg. During the race, he handed water for refreshing to the fourth-year student and team captain Yasushi Takahashi. Although it was just a few hundred meters, Yanase was able to take one final run through Hakone with a teammate who had shared the triumphs and difficulties of the past few years.

“Although I didn’t enter university with the intention of competing at Hakone, even after graduating and entering a completely different world (the legal circles), everyone knows that I competed in the Hakone Ekiden,” explains Yanase. “It’s truly a grand sporting event. I’m just disappointed that I couldn’t post better results.”

Empathizing with others

“I want to become a lawyer who can empathize with my clients,” says Yanase. Only someone who has overcome difficult experiences is able to understand the pain and troubles of others. Experience is truly the best teacher. Not everyone is capable of thinking of others, offer kind words, and providing support.

After winning three consecutive championships in high school, Yanase experienced finishing last place in his leg at Hakone. He also dealt directly with extreme changes in the feelings of his teammates. Yanase has experienced both glory and failure in big moments and under the weight of enormous expectations. This experience lends weight to his pledge to empathize with others.

Toward a new world

 Yanase was born in Yamagata Prefecture. He set his sights on becoming a lawyer due to legal problems which occurred in his community when he was a child. His father and mother placed great emphasis on education and supported his dream.

Ultimately, Yanase passed the National Bar Examination while also competing in the Hakone Ekiden. There is a saying that “he who runs after two hares will catch neither.” This proverb emphasizes the difficulty of pursuing two goals at once. Still, despite all the doubters, Yanase was able to capture success.

After retiring from competition, Yanase spent all of his time studying for the Bar Examination and didn’t have time to run. He ended gaining close to ten kilograms of weight. Today, when he meets new people, they often express disbelief that he actually ran in the Hakone Ekiden. Yanase is trying to find time to run around the Imperial Palace grounds in Tokyo and to commute by walking.

In the past, Yanase cut a dashing figure in his Chuo runner’s uniform—a white uniform with a red “C” on the front. Today, he looks sharp in a suit, with his legal apprentice badge sparkling on his lapel.

Takafumi Yanase
Three-time participant in the Hakone Ekiden
Member of the 68th class of legal apprentices
Takafumi Yanase was born in December 1987. After graduating from Sendai Ikuei Gakuen High School, he enrolled in the Department of Law in the Chuo University Faculty of Law in April 2006. He enrolled in the Chuo Law School in April 2010. He is a member of the 68th class of legal apprentices.