This competition, known simply as “The Regatta”, took place in a similar style to Great Britain’s ‘Boat Race’, but between the Japanese universities of Waseda and Keio. They vied for supremacy in the 86th edition of their own historic rivalry on the Sumida River in the heart of Tokyo’s main sight-seeing district.

In a sign of the warm reception rowers can hope for as the Tokyo 2020 Games approach, cheering crowds lined the bridges along the traditional stretch of river for the 1,000m women’s event and 3,750m men’s event. The race took place close to the site of the Olympic rowing regatta at the Sea Forest regatta course in Tokyo’s harbour.

Both of Waseda’s top crews carried the day, with their women defending last year’s win and their men putting an end to five long years of defeat. Keio seemed poised for victory in the women’s race when a crab in the final stretch dashed their chances and left them trailing 2 ½ lengths at the line.  

The Keio men put up a strong defence in their quest for a sixth win in a row and gained a lead with a steady 33 strokes per minute early on. Waseda surged back in the second half with a jump up to 37 strokes per minutes and the boats clashed blades three times before Waseda finally cross the line first with Keio a length behind.

“Since we had not won the last five years, we have gone through a strenuous season,” said Tatsuhiro Uchida, a member of Waseda’s men’s crew and captain of the team. “We are happy and proud that both men’s and women’s eights won this year. I would like to show our appreciation for all our coaches and team staff, who made this happen.”

Since its founding in 1905, The Regatta or Japanese University Boat Race has gained international notoriety over the years by playing host to some high profile visiting crews especially through the 1980s and ‘90s. Eights from the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge (GBR) as well as the Universities of Sydney and Melbourne (AUS) have taken part.

Despite the history, this year’s event was focused on the future and looking towards the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. The athletes left no question about the long term aspiration of the top rowers on both teams.

“We are happy to win the race,” says Daisuke Uchida, a member of Waseda’s winning men’s crew. “We hope to keep a good rivalry with Keio and hopefully rowers from both teams can compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.”

This sentiment is echoed by Sahoko Kinoda, who raced in Waseda’s victorious women’s eight. “As the two leading universities, hopefully we can compete together in the Tokyo Olympics.”

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