Living in Japan

Run Towards Your Dreams

Excited to run, head-first into your new life in Japan? Make sure you read this guide first if you’re interested in continuing the sprint in the Land of the Rising Sun. Here, you’ll find everything you need to know about where to run, famous races to join, and where to buy gear.

Running is a pastime that has captivated people all over the world. Some people run for their cardio health. Others to destress from a hard day of work. I choose to run away from my responsibilities. I jest, but it is safe to say that running is a hobby that is definitely shared between Japan and the West. Lace up your running shoes and make sure you’ve stretched, because I’m going to take you through everything you need to know about running in Japan.

How Popular Is It?

Cardio is loved by Japanese people. This isn’t a nation of people wanting to be macho, it’s a nation where slim is attractive. Go to a gym in Japan and you’ll likely find a tiny weights section to accommodate the masses of running machines. This is all to say, running is a big deal here.

Finding Areas To Run

One thing that I find a bit difficult here, is finding areas where the traffic lights don’t cut off your run every 100 meters or so. In a country where red means red, you might find you’re interrupted more than you’d like. But, here’s a couple of hints to help find a decent running space in your area.

First, look for rivers. I find rivers often have uninterrupted paths next to them, so you get the double-win of a beautiful view alongside no traffic lights. In Tokyo there’s some good routes along the 多摩川 (たまがわ) (Tama river). Whilst it’s not right in the centre, it’s certainly worth the short hop to the Kanagawa border.

Second, look for your area’s sports ground. I can’t speak for every single area in Japan, but I’ve been to a lot of this country, and I’ve found city or prefecture-run running tracks in most areas. Here in Nagasaki, my local sports track is a hub of activity as everyone from the High School track and field clubs to the elderly, use it to exercise. If you’re struggling to find one in your area, try searching for 陸上競技場 riku jyou kyou gi jyou (Athletic Field) in Japanese. This website might also be able to help you out:

Third, look for a park! Japan loves its green spaces. There’s no shortage of parks to go for a run in. If you’re based around Tokyo, why not check out the famous Yoyogi park?

Some Famous Races

Japan has all sorts of great races to get involved with. One unique race you might want to try is 駅伝 ekiden. This is a kind of relay race where you each run a specified distance. Normally, this is 3km-5km each. The team aspect enthrals the Japanese masses, and famous 駅伝 ekiden races are even watched on TV on New Year Day. If you want to get involved, I’m almost certain that most workplaces put together teams every so often.

For those of you looking for more of a challenge, you can get involved in 10km, half marathons, and full marathons all over Japan. One thing to beware of, is that the word マラソン (marason) in Japanese actually refers to any running race. I was shocked when I first got here and was told elementary school students at my schools were doing their morning marathon training. I later found out that this was just 3 laps of the school field.

If you want an interesting race, why not try the Nagasaki Bayside Marathon? It’s in November and there are options to do 10km, half, or full marathons. The route is along the coast, so you’ll be looking at ocean vistas the whole way. The highlight of the run is the big bridge you’ll pass, which stands like a beckon over Nagasaki Bay. I can’t recommend it enough.

Looking for something a bit more out-of-the-box? How about the Iki island 100km Ultra Mararthon? This is an absolute beast of a race. My good friend has done it twice now, and even as an exercise fanatic, he had some trouble. You can choose a 50km or 100km course, which you have 14 hrs or so to complete. There are rest stops along the way where you can yourself a meal and a drink. But even so, this one is for those more adventurous among you.

You could also try the Goto Sunset Marathon. The Goto islands are an island chain in Nagasaki, Western Japan. From Tokyo, you’d get a plane to Nagasaki and then a ferry out to the islands. Every year, they run a race along the coast of the main island, Fukue. It takes you through countryside that only very few foreigners get to lay their eyes on. If you want off-the-beaten-track, this is about as good as it gets. When you finish the race, you should treat yourself to some 五島牛 Goto Gyuu (Wagyu from Goto Islands). It’ll be the cheapest, best-quality Wagyu you’ll find in Japan. Seriously, I’ve tried Wagyu all over, and this island chain wins every time.

No Gear But All The Idea?

If you’re looking to buy new trainers, or running gear, I can recommend a few shops for you to try. For trainers, you can check out Sports Depo. They’re found all over the country and can help you find personalised shoes that meet your needs. But, if you’re a bigfoot like me, you might want to consider internet shopping for your shoes.

You can find decent clothing at the same chain if you’re looking to buy new. I opt to shop at Hard Off for sports clothing because they have so much decent stuff for so cheap. I normally get breathable running shirts for around 300 yen from Hard Off.

When It Goes Wrong

Clinic Type Japanese Name Associated Running Injuries
Orthopedic Clinic 整形外科 (Seikeigeka)
  • Sprained ankle
  • Stress fractures
  • Shin splints
  • Muscle strains
  • Tendonitis
  • Ligament injuries
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Achilles tendonitis
  • Foot arch problems
  • Rehabilitation after injuries
  • Strengthening exercises for runners
Sports Medicine Clinic スポーツ医学クリニック (Supo-tsu Igaku Kurinikku)
  • Gait analysis and correction
  • Arthritis
  • Joint inflammation
  • Overuse injuries
Podiatry Clinic 足病医療クリニック (Ashibyou Iryou Kurinikku)
  • Foot arch problems
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Achilles tendonitis
  • Blisters
Physical Therapy Clinic 理学療法クリニック (Rigaku Ryo-ho- Kurinikku)
  • Rehabilitation after injuries
  • Strengthening exercises for runners
Rheumatology Clinic リウマチ科 (Ryumachika)
  • Arthritis
  • Joint inflammation
Dermatology Clinic 皮膚科 (Hifuka)
  • Chafing and skin irritations
  • Blisters
  • Sunburn and sun-related skin issues
Cardiology Clinic 循環器科 (Junkika)
  • Heart-related concerns during exercise
  • Evaluation of cardiovascular health for runners
Neurology Clinic 神経内科 (Shinkei Naika)
  • Nerve-related issues affecting running performance
  • Evaluation of neurological symptoms in runners
General Practice 内科 (Naika)
  • Overall health check-ups for runners
  • Consultation for general fitness and wellness

Running often can be hard on the joints and muscles. What should you do if you get injured? Well, everyone who lives and works in Japan is enrolled in the national health insurance scheme. You’ll pay 30% of your medical bills, which isn’t too bad in my opinion. Here, you have to choose a specialist clinic to visit first, rather than going to a GP and being referred from there. Here’s a list of different clinic types and what kind of injuries they might be able to treat from running:

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