TAC Talk: Justin McCurry

From postwar tax source to high-profile Olympic event, keirin cycling is a uniquely Japanese phenomenon.


With its working-class origins, the sport is followed by millions across Japan and more than $12 billion a year is bet on races.

At this October TAC Talk, Justin McCurry, the Tokyo correspondent for The Guardian newspaper and the author of War on Wheels: Inside the Keirin and Japan's Cycling Subculture, offers an insight into the highly lucrative sport.

McCurry (pictured in black), who has lived in Japan since 1991, will also share his experiences of visiting the keirin school in Izu, where rookies live in spartan conditions and undergo brutal training for a chance to race professionally.

Whether you’re a keen cyclist or you just want to learn more about this fascinating area of Japanese sporting culture, register today.

There will be an opportunity to ask questions after McCurry’s presentation.

Q&A with Justin McCurry

How did the idea for the book come about?
James Spackman, the London-based founder of Pursuit Books, approached me in 2017. I didn't consider myself an expert on cycling. I'm a keen, if slow, amateur cyclist, but the sport's history and culture really appealed to me as someone who has written about Japan for a largely foreign audience for well over a decade. It quickly became clear that War On Wheels was going to be a book about Japan through the prism of keirin, rather than a straightforward guide to the sport.

What was the appeal of keirin?
I think my interest gathered momentum after watching live races at close quarters and when I started to appreciate the rules, tactics and history of the sport. And the febrile atmosphere in the stands was something I had not expected. Keirin is a gambling sport, but the races themselves are a gamble for the athletes. The unexpected lurks around every bend of the track, and crashes are not unusual. That, combined with the speed and physicality, had me immediately hooked.

What were the highlights of researching the book?
There were so many, but spending hours at velodromes in the company of punters, riders and officials was always a pleasure. Keirin cyclists are often ignored by the big newspapers and broadcasters and so were delighted—and possibly a little perplexed—that a non-Japanese writer was taking so much interest in their sport. Riding around the Olympic velodrome on a retired professional's brakeless, fixed-wheel bike was a lot of fun once I had overcome my fear of the track's steep angles. They say you should never meet your heroes, but getting slightly drunk with keirin legend Koichi Nakano was another highlight.

  • 7–8pm (doors open: 6:30pm)
  • Members: ¥1,650 (online: ¥550)
  • Guests: ¥1,980 (online: ¥660)
  • TAC Talk season pass holders: free
  • In-person price includes welcome drink
  • Copies of War on Wheels available for ¥2,860
  • Online attendees who don’t receive a Microsoft Teams event link on October 11 should check their e-mail spam folder or contact the Library.

 


TAC Talk Archive

Check out past TAC Talk events on the Club's YouTube channel.

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