Obuse town is famous for its cultural heritage such as historic landscape, artwork by Katsushika Hokusai, and chestnut confectioneries. Although more than 1 million visitors come to the town annually, most visitors surge at a few specific blocks around the central area, where most cultural sights are located, and the number of visitors fluctuates heavily between the peak period in autumn and other seasons. “Obuse Mini-Marathon” (“mini” also means “to see” in Japanese) is held in July as an attempt to tackle both geographical and seasonal concentration that the local tourism is facing, and provide an opportunity for visitors to run through the beautiful nature and farm lands across the town and enjoy the true treasure of rural Japan with theirs eyes, palates (full of local food and drinks at the aid stations), and hearts (interaction with local residents.) It has also become an important occasion for local cultures, where many town residents not only participate as volunteers, but also express themselves through music and performances, creating an atmosphere of hospitality for the runners throughout the town. Each year, approximately 8,000 runners and their families and friends visit the town for the marathon, out of which 70 percent have joined the event in the past. This high repeat ratio shows the level of satisfaction by the participants and contributes to the town’s enthusiastic fan base, in contrast to unsustainable “one-off” visitors. There are even 30 runners who have participated in every marathon from the first one in 2003 to this year’s 20th marathon.
Keywords: rural Tourism; seasonality; community participation; stakeholder engagement; sport, marathon