Nakamura is buried in a cemetery near his home in the Sendagaya section of Tokyo, under cherry trees and bright, polished marble. "When he died," says Wakiihuri, who often carries Nakamura's favorite red roses to his grave, "it came into my mind that every man must have a time when he now depends on no one but himself."
Yet Michoko Nakamura asserts that her husband's spirit will continue to guide the S & B runners until their destiny is played out in Seoul. (Indeed, she said it was his posthumous permission that gained this Western visitor a few days' entry into the tightly bound group.) Murao, who had been Nakamura's assistant, took over the coaching reins of S & B. The runners still meet in the parlor of Nakamura's house before training. There is an elk head from New Zealand, and a bear's from Oregon, both shot by the patriarch. Out the window, where roses climb, there used to be a gnarled old tree from which Oman, mistress of the third Tokugawa Shogun, hung herself in the early 1700s. Her ghost stuck around. Nakamura wrote in his autobiography that the tree never could abide people after that. Tree trimmers used to fall out and get hurt.
"We finally had to get rid of it," says Michoko Nakamura, blending old and new Japan, in a sentence: "The story was driving down property values in the area."
A large photo of an exuberant Nakamura, and a bronze bust of the man, throw his strength over the room. They convince you of the truth of his widow's merry words, "My husband's personality is so strong, criticism never reached his heart."
Here, therefore, is the place to try to grasp how it was that Seko, Wakiihuri and the others could so blithely surrender their independence to this authoritarian man.
"There is a Zen teaching," says Murao, "that if there are people lined up at the well, and you are first, and you drink and spill the rest, the others will be angry. You must drink and pass it on."
The water is knowledge. Nakamura, in his dominant way, was passing it on. And the parched soul, be it Japanese or Kenyan, must accept or go thirsty. It is a perfectly natural metaphor, for what is good running besides compelling one's body to obey one's commands? It must be equally natural for at least some men to feel that if they obey another in mind, they are on the symbolic path. "We know he changes us," Seko has said, "but we want it to happen."
The question is how the pupil knows the right master. How do these pure hearts find each other? By luck or fate? How many miss?
The last miles of the Olympic marathon, on the afternoon of Sunday, Oct. 2, may well evolve into a struggle between men born below two sacred mountains. Of the eight top-ranked marathoners in the world last year, four were Japanese and two were Kenyan. The strongest should be the training partners and friends, Seko and Wakiihuri.
Both are expert at husbanding reserves. Both will be running under the ghostly eye of their spirit lord.