In the wooded village of Mitsue, a rousing tradition called the ‘Zokin Dash!’ takes place on Sports Day, a Japanese national holiday. Taking place in the Mitsue Culture Community Hall, a refurbished elementary school, the event revolves around the use of a ‘zokin’. What exactly is a zokin? A zokin is simply a cleaning cloth used for wiping dirty surfaces, typically the floor. When using a zokin, you place both hands on the cloth and push across the floor using your legs. Think along the lines of Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, where Chihiro is cleaning the bathhouse’s floor.
There are several competitions throughout the day which are separated by age, distance, individual, and relays. The purpose of the race is to dash across the wooden hallway while pushing the zokin in the shortest amount of time. The competition is tough, but the prizes and atmosphere make the experience worthwhile. If you are crowned champion in any competition the awards include a medal and diploma commemorating your victory, as well as a 10-kilogram bag of locally grown rice.
In front of the Mitsue Culture Community Hall, there is a check-in booth which provides you with your racing number and zokin towel. Keep in mind that getting to Mitsue takes about 40 minutes if you’re driving from Nabari Station. You can rent a car near Nabari station, with a few car rental companies to choose from. There is a downloadable roadmap of the East Nara Nabari area if needed.
After checking in, the materials I received were in a personalized packet with my name (in Katakana) printed on the front. I enjoyed reviewing my packet over a freshly brewed cup of coffee from a local vendor. There were multiple options of coffee roasts and coffee grounds for sale. The coffee is also available at the local Michi no Eki (Roadside Station).
After enjoying my cup of coffee and reviewing my participant packet, I entered the Mitsue Culture Community Hall. Inside, I examined the poster above which lists every category the event has and the best times from each year’s event. All the times impressed me, especially the 3rd and 4th graders who went 50 meters in less than 13 seconds!
Starting at 10:00AM, the inside of the event center was jam packed with participants, family members, local villagers, and a film crew. Two hosts commentated during the event, giving words of encouragement and an occasional funny quip. Before beginning their attempt, every participant gets an interview with the hosts. The interview contained basic information like “How are you feeling?” and “Where are you from?”. It was refreshing to hear both younger and older people give their opinion of the race.
Between the morning and afternoon events, I enjoyed a traditional Japanese dish called oden. Oden is a dish predominantly enjoyed during the cold season in Japan. The ingredients may vary regionally. The oden being served at the event contained konjac (the triangle sliced food), chikuwa (the cylinder-shaped food), a chicken wing, and two thick slices of daikon. On the side was a sauce similar to an Indian chutney. Also, konjac is a gelatin-like texture made from the konjac root. This konjac had slight diagonal cuts helping the soup stock absorb into the food. The meal was warm and rich in flavor.
It’s Time to Race
After digesting my warm and hearty lunch, it was my time to race. The goal in my event was an all-out-sprint. Go 100 meters across the wooden floors as fast as possible. Easy enough, right? Not at all. When I stepped up and the buzzer went off to start, I felt great. My balance was good and my strides felt even, until the 55-meter mark (pictured above).
By 60 meters, I was wobbling from side to side trying to prevent the towel from sliding out in front of me. Needless to say, I slipped.
Now, after losing my momentum, my legs were on fire. I pushed hearing the crowd chant my name, but I was spent. After a hard 38 seconds, I was across the finish line trying to catch my breath. First place finished in under 19 seconds, by the way.
After my race, I enjoyed a wand-shaped churro inspired by Mitsue’s village mascot, Tsuemi-chan. The churro was airy, with a sweet crunch from the crust. The perfect cap to end my day at the Zokin Dash. Pictured in the background of the photo are the 10-kilogram bags of rice for the first-place champion in every event. The Zokin Dash was much harder than I thought, but the encouraging crowd and new challenge made the experience amazing. Anyone who is in, or near, the area during October’s Sports Day should make an effort to attend (and participate!) in the Zokin Dash. Who knows, maybe you will end up taking home some freshly grown rice from the village!
- Mitsue Culture Community Hall
- 2060 Sugano, Mitsue Village, Uda-gun, Nara Prefecture
- ‘The Zokin Dash 2023’ TV coverage