Fukushima 'citizens' racecourse' turns 100(市民に愛されたターフ「福島競馬場100周年」)


 Back in 1918, The Fukushima Minyu newspaper ran a breathless report on the atmosphere of the first horse race at Fukushima Racecourse, held on June 28 under clear skies.
 "Spectators erupted in wild cheers as they watched 12 swift horses all at once come galloping down the track," the newspaper reported the following day.
 The echoing of horses' hooves and the roar of the crowd still reverberate as strong as ever at the racecourse in Fukushima, which marked its 100th anniversary on Thursday. The venue has been cherished not only by horse racing fans but citizens of all ages in the century since its opening.

 「12頭の駿馬(しゅんめ)が一斉に疾駆せる壮観を眺めし観客の熱狂は物凄(ものすご)きばかりなり」。 1918(大正7)年6月28日、晴れ渡った福島競馬場。第1回福島競馬が開催され、翌日の福島民友新聞は会場の様子をそう伝えた。

 This first horse race was the fruit of a campaign by local politicians and businessmen to attract a racecourse to the city. Yozo Oshima (1859-1932), who served as president of the Fukushima Chamber of Commerce and the fourth president of the Fukushima Minyu, played a leading role in bringing horse racing to Fukushima.
 To realize his plan, Oshima hit on the idea of relocating to Fukushima the racecourse of the Fujieda horse racing club in Shizuoka Prefecture, which was facing financial difficulties. A company comprising citizen shareholders was established to construct the Fukushima race track.


 "Fukushima citizens have been deeply involved in the racecourse since its starting point. The venue deserves the nickname 'citizens' racecourse,'" said Toshiaki Shibata, 68, a city official at the historiography section of the Fukushima board of education.


 When Emperor Showa toured the Tohoku region in 1947, locals chose to welcome the Emperor at the racecourse.
 "Its selection indicates how dear the facility was to citizens," Shibata said. Emperor Showa visited the racecourse again to watch an equestrian event at the seventh National Athletic Meet in autumn 1952.


 Overcoming 2011 disaster
 Tsutomu Shikauchi, 66, a former employee at the racecourse, felt a great tremor at his office in Fukushima at 2:46 p.m. on March 11, 2011, when the Great East Japan Earthquake hit the area.
 Shikauchi, who was responsible for lawn maintenance, rushed to inspect the turf. There was no major visible damage to the course from the earthquake, but the spectator stands were soaking wet because sprinklers had been activated.
 Before long, a trial-and-error process of restoring the racecourse got under way.


 As many as 550 evacuees were forced to live at the facility in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake.
 Recalling the early days of restoration work, Shikauchi said, "We were told to do radioactive decontamination work, but we had no idea what to do."
 Racecourse officials eventually came up with a decontamination plan after observing a case at a nearby schoolyard in which polluted soil was replaced with clean soil. The racecourse decided to replace its lawn as well.


 In the end, horse racing at the Fukushima course was cancelled in 2011 because of seismic retrofitting as well as restoration work on the stands.
 Racing finally resumed at the venue on April 7, 2012, for the first time in a year and five months. A crowd of 13,198 spectators -- far larger than the figure in spring 2010 -- gathered to witness the reopening.


 Shikauchi, by then retired, also watched the race. "I was relieved to hear the pounding of horses' hooves on the course. The resumption of the race had profound implications for Fukushima, which was suffering the ill effects of false rumors," Shikauchi said.
  Many regarded the resumption as a symbol of recovery from the quake.
  "The 100-year history is significant. I hope the course will remain loved by people," Shikauchi said.


 Fukushima Racecourse began its next 100-year chapter on Saturday, when the summer season kicked off.

( Translated by The Japan News )


 【 2018年6月17日、20日付・福島民友新聞掲載 】