• The Gift of running for Soka University


The Gift of running for Soka University

    The Tokyo Hakone Round Trip College Ekiden Race is one of the biggest relay races in Japan. Always held on January 2nd and 3rd of the new year. 10 runners from 20 universities run 217.1 km in a span of 2 days trying to call themselves the best in all of Japan. In 2024, the famous Hakone Ekiden will welcome its 100th race and Soka University will be running on this special occasion thanks to their recent success that started only in 2015. 2015 marked the first time Soka University ran the Hakone Ekiden. In 2019, a young man from Kenya arrived at Soka University with a vision to become a famous runner in the world and make Soka University a famous university in Japan. 4 years later, Soka University is one of the top teams in Japan and participates in the 3 main races for universities. 

    Philip Kilonzi Mulwa

    • Graduated Soka University March 2023
      From Kenya
      Kiteta Boys High School

    Why did you come to Soka University?

    I was introduced to Soka University and talked about running for them. I was not scouted by any university in Japan, so I was very surprised Soka University showed interest in me. Before Soka University, I had a dream to go to Japan to run in races and become famous, but it was only a dream, and never thought I would be able to. After the university talked about goals and visions and that ultimately lead me to choose Soka University as my destination.

    What was your first impression of Soka University?

    Everyone is nice. Not just my teammates but professors, staff, students, and international students, the feeling of not being alone was very big. Because I did not know any Japanese before coming to Japan, I think that it was very big how much love they showed when I first came to the university. The University was very big and clean and the environment is beautiful.

    When you entered the university what were goals?

    The first one of course was to run Hakone Ekiden. I wanted everyone in Japan and the world to remember Soka University. We were still new at the time when I arrived, so I wanted to leave a mark not just only individually but as a team and university.
    Second, to achieve personal best times when in competition. I did not just want to run in competitions, I wanted to achieve goals and targets in every single race to improve as a runner.
    Third, to improve my Japanese and English. Running is very important to me but to live in Japan I needed to improve my Japanese and learn the culture, or it would be hard to live in the future and make friends. For 4 years I must live with my teammates not being able to talk to them would be a waste, so in that aspect as well I needed to achieve this.
    Lastly, to show everyone my running. I love to run and giving people courage through running makes me happy. Every time I run, I feel like I am on top of the world, and nothing can stop me.

    Hakone Ekiden your first year what did you learn?

    I had a Kenyan senpai, Mr. Muiru, who taught me a lot. We have different personalities, but he overcame a lot by himself in the 4 years he was here. He didn’t have a Kenyan senpai to learn from I know that was very difficult for him but when I came, he showed me the ropes to be mentally strong for long races and to achieve all goals that I set. When he was running his last Hakone Ekiden in 2020 it was encouraging to me. Watching the Hakone Ekiden, was amazing, so many people were watching and cheering from the sidewalk and television, it was quite the experience, and was excited to run from 2021.

    After the 2020 Hakone Ekiden COVID-19 pandemic hit did that have any affect?

    It had a very big impact. I could not go back to Kenya. In January there were already rumors going on about COVID-19 and if I left in January, I thought there would be a big chance I would not be able to come back to Japan so I decided to stay. It was hard to practice because I would have to go running on my own and with a mask on. All competitions were canceled so a chance to grow and improve was limited.

    Experience of running your first Hakone race

    It was unusual because there were no fans. When I was watching the television and hearing from my senpai everyone would talk about the amount of supporters that would be cheering and that would make me not give up. That was the year we placed 2nd overall and I was very happy with the way we ran. I ran 6th in section 2 so I was happy with my own results and was determined to be better the next year.

    Your third year, running the Hakone race for the second time

    It was much better than the year before and I was used to course, and I trained hard to get to the point I was at. This time around I was able to run with Mr. Vincent of Tokyo International University and he pushed me to do my best. I finished 2nd overall and this result was great I could help Soka University get another seed and a chance to run at Hakone my final year. Also that year we ran the Izumo Ekiden for the first time in our university history and placed 1st in the section.

    Talk about your final year at Soka University and how much improvement you saw

    The biggest improvement as a team as we were able to run all three big university competitions for the first time in Soka University's history. I improved as a runner as well, finishing races first overall and gaining many fans in Japan. First time gaining a seed for the All Japan competition which has never been done and running at All Japan was a great experience as well.

    What would you like to for one last time to fans of Soka University and people at Soka University

    I would like to say thank you so much to everyone who believed in our team and me. I am very grateful to have run for Soka University and my time here was amazing. The people here are the best and I want everyone to come to Soka University to study here because it changed my life in so many ways unimaginable. Please continue cheering and supporting Soka University and I hope this is not the last time I am at Soka University.