And I’m not just saying that because of my, um, thing for the Japanese run culture. japanrunningnews.blogspot.com is a daily visit; Toshihiko Seko was one of my early heroes and his heir apparent, Yuki Kawauchi is the working man’s idol; my mom had a crush on Toshiro Mifune, but that’s pretty irrelevant; and Kaori Yoshida is fast and hott!
The Wave Rider are the ones that you’re most familiar with. They’ve been the Mizuno go-to for more than a decade and remain relevant in the running specialty market still. The popular Wave Precision will be replaced by the Wave Sayonara, which should be super legit. The Wave Kudos are not available in the US, but should be, because they look like a, I don’t know, cooler version of the Musha, which are pretty simple and have a small cult following. The Musha are the shoe, inmyveryhumbleopinion, that Mizuno could use as the model for all their other shoes. Simple, low profile, complete ground contact; they have the smoothest transition of any in the Mizuno line, save the Universe, which is just foam, isn’t it? Back in the day, I was a big fan of the original Phantom, which predated the Wave technology and was cushioned, light, fast and pretty obviously old school. (Years ago I found several pair at the old Fleet Feet in Albuquerque, which was like going into a combination running shoe museum and hoarder’s paradise.) The Universe is the minimalist runner’s archetypical shoe and in the current purple and yellow, has a look of royalty about it.
The Wave Ekiden are a Japanese model brought unadulterated to the US market. And that’s a good thing, because I think many of the Japanese market models would function far better than most of the US market models. I tend to believe that most of the US market designs–from all brands, and not just Mizuno–are created with marketing in mind, rather than with functional product as the focus. It isn’t right or wrong, it’s just how things are, which I guess sucks for us who buy running shoes. Maybe that is why, in the last few years, the minimalist movement was born and shoes like the Kinvara have become so popular. This new breed of running shoe falls under the form-follows-function design umbrella and not the other way around, thankfully.
When the generous people at Mizuno sent me a pair, I wept openly in pleasure and excitement. I wrote a sonnet about the shoes, and then I wrote I haiku about them because of the, you know, heritage thing. I’m not going to share either of those with you, because my haiku are shit, but you know what I’m trying to say. The Ekiden, like the similar adidas Takumi Sen, feel like they could be handcrafted.
The uppers are ridiculously light and pleasantly roomy, but not baggy. The overlays and stitching are such that I can’t imagine them binding or irritating the foot anywhere. It is common these days to have uppers with heat welded overlays and such in an attempt to reduce weight, but the downside of those types of uppers is that they never really form to the foot and they tend to be a little baggy from time to time. For lack of a better term, sometimes they just feel, I don’t know, cheap, especially when you compare them to an upper like on the Ekiden or on the Takumi Sen. I’ve worn them sockless, too, on some grass loops around the park near my house, without any troubles whatsoever.
But the Ekiden are the shit because the midsole is just so right. Firm, lightweight, with complete ground contact, flexible. The Wave plate in the rearfoot isn’t really a plate, but probably more a resin paint job to reduce weight and increase the smooth transition. There is a wee bit more protection with the Ekiden than with the Universe, so you might be able to put some distance on them. The ground feel is really noticeable, and the faster you’re going, the more it feels like you’re barefoot, nomesane? The main thing I think about on those occasions when I do run barefoot is how much fun it is, how much I feel like a kid again. When I put the Ekiden on, I feel like a kid again. Except older. They make me want to run, which I’d think is about all you could ask for.
I’d really like to see the Ekiden with a full blown rubber outsole too. The softness of the blown rubber might make for a more palatable–at least by American tastes–marathon flat. I’d like to see the Ekiden with maybe a few more millimeters of foam underneath as well, so that we could have a real, grown-up Wave Rider. But what I’d like more than anything is to see Mizuno bring over some of the simpler designs from the Japanese market, where the marathon and distance running are almost national sports. The Japanese designed models are, for the most part, simply better shoes, done simply.