In Japan today, the sport with the greatest number of participants is walking. Competitive walking events are held everyday in different places in Japan, and up to 30,000 people compete in the biggest events.
About 33 million people in Japan aged 20 and over practice walking as a sport, according to estimates based on a survey conducted in 2000 by the Cabinet Office (formerly called the Prime Minister's Office). This means that more than one Japanese in four is an active walker. The same survey found that 7.60 million jog or run, and 4.64 million bicycle. These results show how popular walking is.
But we can't assume from this that walking was equally popular in the pastit began as a sport in Japan only in 1964. Running was more common in those days. It wasn't until the 1980s that walkers outpaced runners, and not until the 1990s that the number of competitive walkers really took off. In 1988, there were about 13 million walkers, and nine years later, the number was 2.4 times greater. More than 10 million pairs of walking shoes are now sold in Japan annually, about 30 times more than 15 years ago.
Takabe Ikuo is a member of the Japan Walking Association and gives advice to beginners. He says, "The walking boom centers on those in their 50s, 60s or 70s. Jogging is very hard on the legs and back, so doing it safely is difficult for the elderly or sick. On the other hand, walking is good for you. You can do it anytime, anywhere, and it doesn't require any sporting equipment. The number of people picking it up began growing after everyone realized what an easy, yet effective, sport it is."
At first, beginners tend to think of a walk as a stroll. They become friends with people who are into walking as well, and before long someone invites the others to a walking seminar or competitive event. Many take up the invitation and end up becoming keen on the sport.
Walking is recommended by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, and by medical specialists. This is an important reason for the boom. Elderly people who are overweight, or have a medical condition like high blood pressure or diabetes due to inactivity or lifestyle, are almost sure to be told by their doctor, "Get on your feet and walk!" Newspapers and TV programs often present walking as a sport with healthful benefits. Just about everyone in Japan now looks on it as an activity that is good for health.
The Japanese have the longest average lifespan in the world. That's partly because of the advanced medical treatment, but also because many of them get the right amount of exercise by walking.