Ryokou: Chapter 2

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“Ryokou” — the Japanese expression for the word ‘journey’ — is a story about the determination of an Australian athlete, set amongst the backdrop of the Land of the Rising Sun. The series explores Shane Perkins’ journey to re-define his career, whilst taking up the challenge to become a champion rider in the National Keirin Series competition in Japan, 2012/2013.

The documentary has been split into five chapters with one part being released every day this week. This is chapter 2 and you can find chapter 1 here.

Here’s what Josh Capelin, co-producer of Ryokou had to say about chapter 2:

Each year the Keirin School welcome a new intake of men, and in 2013, for the third year in a row since its inaugural season in 1948, women, to submit themselves to the rigorous training program of the Keirin School. These students live at the School near Shuzenji, in the Izu region, about 2 hours south of Tokyo, for 12 months. Graduation means gaining a racing licence to compete in the national competition.

They live in lycra from sun up to sun down. They are trained to breaking point, as the teachers, who are ex-Keirin riders, must instill in them a unique form of obedience and determination that will prepare them well for the physical questions they must answer during Keirin competition.

International riders, regardless of competing in the Japanese Keirin before, must attend the school for 2 weeks at the start of each season. This is a “refresher” course as Shane told us, but it seems more like a chance for both parties to arrange all the financial agreements between rider and organisation. For instance, all riders must purchase and repair their bikes and bike parts. If they crash, the cost is theirs to bare. And even if a frame is scratched it gets replaced as no bike can have an advantage or disadvantage on the track that might affect a rider’s chances of winning, and therefore of a fan winning or losing money.

During our first trip to the School we met the famed Nagasawa, who learnt from the Italian frame builder Ugo De Rosa. Here was a man without office or uniform who has dutifully supplied frames (at the right price) for Keirin riders for more than 40 years. He was in negotiations with Shane about the right colour green for a new frame he was building. Shane had pointed the Olympic Australian green to him but he preferred to work off nature so Shane had to find the right colour trees!

I recall Shane telling us about the Keirin School prior to us arriving. Tales of international riders sleeping on floors in cockroach infested wooden houses hidden in dense rainforest, unbearable humidity, snow, rain, and beer vending machines being regularly emptied, all combined to construct images of a dense greenery hiding a fortress of sport… And all were true. Almost. It wasn’t the season for snow and cockroaches.

Click here to read more about Ryokou and click here to see our interview with Shane Perkins about Keirin racing. And if you aren’t familiar with Japanese Keirin racing, check out this video.

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