Photo/IllutrationA signboard to be used during the Tokyo Marathon is mounted on a special device to counter a knife-wielding assailant hidden in the back. (Yohei Kobayakawa)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

In a dress rehearsal for the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tokyo officials will gauge their anti-terror and traffic control measures ranging from drones to a samurai weapon at the Tokyo Marathon this weekend.

The organizer, Tokyo Marathon Foundation, will deploy a "sasumata" device, which it jointly developed with a security equipment maker, to restrain a knife-wielding assailant in the March 3 race.

The sasumata, a defensive weapon that dates to samurai days, is a long pole with a U-shaped prong that is designed to keep an attacker at bay. The device will be used to prop up signboards at the marathon venue.

When an emergency arises, staff for the event can instantly swing the restraint into action.

Thirty such boards with the pole devices are expected to be placed, including at the starting line of the race near the Tokyo metropolitan government building in the capital's Shinjuku Ward and the finish line, which is close to Tokyo Station in Chiyoda Ward.

A record 38,000 runners are entered in this year’s race, in which some of the top finishers will qualify for the Olympic trials.

Earlier this month, a foundation senior official underlined the importance of staging the event free of a serious incident in front of a group of 46 employees and others.

“If something occurs in the Tokyo Marathon, it would likely affect international competitions lining up for Tokyo,” the official said in reference to the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the Tokyo Olympics. “I would like you to always keep in mind whom you should contact in case of emergency while protecting yourself.”

There were reports of bomb threats and the discovery of suspicious objects during past Tokyo Marathons.

To bolster security, the organizer plans to install 140 surveillance cameras for this year’s race, seven more than last year.

In addition, the foundation will deploy five special motorcycles and helmets equipped with global positioning system (GPS) and cameras for emergency responders.

The foundation has worked on compiling a detailed crisis management manual to deal with various scenarios since the 2013 Boston Marathon was marred by two bombs that exploded near the finish line, killing three people and injuring hundreds.

The manual envisages not only a terror attack, but also a natural disaster, fire on the street, an accident among the spectators, a traffic hazard and other scenarios.

Tokyo's Metropolitan Police Department is also treating the Tokyo Marathon as a litmus test to check its security arrangements ahead of the Olympics.

It will send a troupe of “running police,” who will be wearing small cameras on their heads, to run alongside the competitors.

Police will also deploy a unit that will use a large drone to capture a small, suspicious small drone flying over the course and an armed initial response team that will be mobilized in the event of terrorism.

Police officers who are assigned to police stations along the marathon course in the Tokyo Olympics will monitor the running of the Tokyo Marathon for future reference.

(This article was written by Yohei Kobayakawa and Chihiro Ara.)