By Ryuzo Suzuki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior PhotographerSEIYO, Ehime — Competitors in an annual cleaning race that has been held since 2004 in the long hallway of an out-of-use wooden elementary school building in Seiyo, Ehime Prefecture, dash toward the finish line on all fours.
The race, called the Zokingake Race Z-1 Grand Prix in Seiyo, is held in the city’s Uwacho area. This year, it took place on Oct. 29.
The venue is the old Uwamachi Elementary School building that was built in 1928 and relocated in 1990 due to the construction of a new school building. The old building is now home to Uwa Kome Hakubutsukan, a museum used for such purposes as exhibiting equipment for cultivating rice, which is Uwacho’s specialty.
There used to be 12 classrooms lining one side of the 109-meter-long hallway, which is free of pillars and partitions. It is one of the longest hallways among the wooden school buildings that still exist in Japan. Participants race along a 100-meter section of the hallway while pressing a stitched cloth, known as a zokin, to the floor.
In 1999, some tourists came up with the idea of allowing people to experience cleaning the stretch of floor with a cloth — a practice known as zokin-gake. In 2004, the activity became a race for the first time at a regional exhibition. Since then, the Uwa branch of Seiyo’s Youth Leagues of Societies of Commerce and Industry has continued to hold the cleaning race in the hope of revitalizing the local communities by making use of the unique hallway.
The official zokin used in the race are made of a nationally renowned Imabari-brand towel, produced in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture. The towels measure 24 centimeters by 30 centimeters, and have a nylon cloth sewed to the bottom to help them slide smoothly along the floor.
The event this year was divided into five solo categories: third-grade elementary school students or younger; fourth-grade to sixth-grade elementary school students; women including female junior high school students; male junior high school students to men aged up to 39; and men aged 40 or older. There was also a doubles event in which two people run with one longer piece of cloth.
This year’s event attracted 154 participants from Ehime and other prefectures including Osaka and Aichi.
Seiji Sadayoshi, 44, who works for the Imabari fire department, was the fastest of them all. He had a time of 18.30 seconds — falling short of the best-ever 17.44 seconds. The winner received 60 kilograms of rice as a gift.
“I bought a small dolly about 5 centimeters high to practice running while bending down,” he said. “I had to run 100 meters in a hard position, and that made the distance feel longer. It was raining today, so the cloth did not slide as smoothly as on a sunny day.”
With a fee of ¥200, visitors to the museum can experience the cleaning activity and have their time clocked. Between 100 and 300 people per month visit the museum to try running along the hallway, according to the museum.