Photo by: LocalFitness.com.au
Ever since I was little, I ran around expending energy. I played sports through grade school and then martial arts in college. Even after graduating I continued weight lifting and training martial arts.
Now, living in Japan, life has seemed to have caught up to me. I must juggle language studies, paying bills, cooking, and work all within a 24-hour day… not including sleep and the crammed commutes. Physical fitness seemed to always be the last thing on the list. Now that my language learning has plateaued I have decided to shift my hobbies and schedule around to go to the gym.
What to Expect
When I started doing research about gyms near my apartment and my work I ran into quite a surprise. There are quite a few gyms in and around the Tokyo area. There are simple 24-hour fitness centers like JoyFit and Anytime Fitness, high level gyms like Gold’s Gym, and boutique all-encompassing gyms like Konami Sports Club… each come with hefty price tag compared to their Western counterparts.
Small 24-hour gyms can cost around 5,000~7,000 yen a month depending on location. Gold’s tends to be on the higher end with monthly fees over 10,000 yen/month. Konami Sports Club has various plans from 4,000 to 14,000 yen/month.
So, your schedule and goals will play a big part in what you are going to spend for your fitness program. Do you swim, rock climb, or play table tennis? Then prepare to shell out some cash for Konami. Do you want some of the top equipment and a challenging environment? Gold’s Gym is your place. Do you just want a good sweat? Any of the 24-hour gyms will do finely.
Once you do find a gym that fits within your schedule, budget, and location, it’s time to sign-up. Registration, like many other things in Japan, comes with plenty of paperwork. If you are not confident in your Japanese, grab a friend who can help you read and understand the rules. Some rules are fairly straightforward, such as put the weights back when you are done, while others are more Japanese, such as not having exposed tattoos (tattoos tend to be thought as gang-related in Japan). Once the paperwork is all signed and you’ve given your bank account information for direct deposit, you will receive a key or membership badge to get in and out of the gym.
Space is limited in Japan. It’s an island. Living in Tokyo, one of the world’s most dense cities, means space is even more limited. So, that means, gym space is limited. Unless you walk into the big sports clubs like Konami or Gold’s expect the gym to be no bigger than 200 meters-squared. In America these would be certainly filed under “hole in the wall gyms,” but again this is Japan; this is normal.
The layout, at least for the gyms I shopped around, followed a very similar route: 1/2 treadmills and stationary bikes, 1/4 weight machines, and 1/4 free weights. The sad truth is that not many people use the treadmills: a majority of the year the weather is great, crime rate is low, and running outside is much cheaper than a gym membership.
This imbalance of treadmills to weights causes many who come to the gym, weight lifters, to have to huddle around the dumbbells and squat racks and wait for the others to finish. Due to this limited space my advice is to create a lifting program that incorporates pieces that can be moved around in case someone is using a bench or machine you need. Spend time on the mats doing calisthenics while you wait for the cable machine or do one set of exercises before another.
I know many of us get into the flow of our schedule but if you train on any given weekday after work, chances are there will be someone using something you need. That is unless you go to the gym on Saturdays at 7AM like I do.
Overall, I have to say there are two attributes you need when finding and going to the gym in Japan: patience and flexibility. You need the patience to find the right gym and the flexibility in both your daily schedule and workout routine.
As far as the grand scheme of living, Japanese culture doesn’t put much importance on physical fitness, so options from fitness gear to supplements are few and far between. It’s only as of late that young people have been turning to physical fitness as a means of recreation and stress relief and fitness is getting the recognition it deserves.
So, work with what you’ve got… or sit on the couch and destroy individual servings of Häagen-Dazs watching Dragonball for the second time.
Software Engineer and Blogger at TalentHub
Usually coding, writing, or exploring Japan.
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