Running in Japan

There are monks on Mount Hiei whose meditation exercise consists of running, running all through the night, in any weather, running until the mind itself is empty of any awareness. Perhaps I have been running the whole time I have been in Japan, perhaps I run only when I run. But in some way I sense a kinship with the monks of Hiei. In daily life, running is both my means of exuding awareness and enhancing awareness, and I now know that this is no contradiction.

Running the Seven Continents, Clint Morrison

General Guidelines

Japan is a great country in which to run: clean air, well-maintained trails and roads. The only problem may be if you’re in a major urban environment like Tokyo or Osaka; it’s not exactly commonplace to see runners in major metropolitan areas, nor are the parks always big enough to accommodate long distance runs. Aquajogging isn’t exactly easy either; in my experience, most pools are olympic length, but hardly depth – unless you’re a five-foot runner, you’ll have to settle for road work.

In terms of racing, you naturally need to get used to kilometer markers vs. miles. Timing chips seem to be limited to major races only; smaller half marathons and 10ks probably won’t have them. The term marathon in Japan, マラソン, isn’t necessarily 42.195 km, but the name of any running race; for example, the Hiroshima International Peace Marathon is only 10 kilometers. Be sure to check the distance on the race website before signing up for a “marathon”.

Signing up for races is pretty easy; you can usually do so from your local post office (if they have wire transfers), or from your bank. Check the links below to find two of the bigger online registration companies, RUNNET and Sports Entry.

Ekiden, 駅伝, is essential for understanding running in Japan. It is the ultimate road race, a huge relay ranging from 18 km (for junior high students) to 219 km (collegiate level). Your prefecture or sub-prefecture will have one at some point, guaranteed. Check out the Hakone Ekiden for more information.

Running Supplies

  • Sports Authority – Throughout Japan
    Probably the largest supplier of athletic supplies in Japan, including weight training equipment, camping gear, and a full selection of shoes. Usually, Sports Authority stores are located in the biggest shopping centers: AEON in south Kagoshima, Canal City in Fukuoka, Diamond City in Hiroshima.
  • Hayakawa Sports – Kagoshima
    Hayakawa would be my recommendation for running shoes and apparel in the Kagoshima area; the people there know about the distance, about the speed, and stock their shelves accordingly. A full assortment of racing spikes, distance shoes, singlets, and decent shorts. Local race information is also available. In Tenmonkan, just a few minutes’ walk from Starbucks.
  • Yanbo – Hiroshima
    Website from GetHiroshima
    Map to Yanbo
    Yanbo has a large selection of running and fitness apparel including lots of Powerbar Gel packs, something I doubt you’d find in any convenience store. Just like any running store, they have entry forms and posters of all the upcoming races.

    Sasaki-san, the manager, is a runner himself and loves to talk shop. He knows a little English, but it would be better if you were familiar with a few set phrases. He’s always up for talking about your best races, and knows the best places to go in the Hiroshima area. Be sure to ask him about his PR (personal record) of 3:18:00 several years ago or his last marathon in 2002. If you can’t manage the Kanji or instructions with certain race entry forms, Yanbo is the place to go for help.

Japanese for Runners

男 Men
女 Women
マラソン Marathon
スタート Start
ゴール Goal (Finish)
クロスカントリー Cross Country
全国大会 Athletic Meet
ナンバーカード Number Card
位 Place (i.e. 45位=45th place)
39分21秒 39 minutes 21 seconds
ファイト! Fight! (cheered from the sidelines)
がんばって! Gambatte! Keep it up! (another cheer)
お疲れ様です! Otsu kare sama desu! Well done!
足は痛いです。Ashi wa itai desu. My leg/foot hurts.

More Japanese for Runners

Race Narratives

Nagasaki Bayside Marathon
At some point on Sunday my heart stopped. My soul left my body, began floating into the beyond, when it suddenly glimpsed me continuing to pound the pavement because that’s my purpose on this Earth. I am a runner. Evidently, I am also a masochist. And I believe the most difficult things in life must be earned through sweat, blood, and guts… read more

Favorite Trails

Terayama Park, Kagoshima

Check out some other decent trails at Run The Planet.

Recommended Books

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami

The Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei, John Stevens

Running the Seven Continents, Clint Morrison


To any runner in Japan, remember…

I speak like a foreigner, but I run like a Kenyan.

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