Gaijin in motion: Getting fit in Japan
By Casey Lary
Hanami time has passed and all at once we are on the brink of summer; so before the heat and humidity settle in, it’s time to get outside and get active. With a little guidance, a foreigner in Japan can easily enjoy activities they did back home, or just as easily start something new. Don’t let language be a barrier. With its mountainous terrain, Japan is an outdoor adventurer’s dream! Here is a brief guide on how to get involved in some of the easiest and most accessible outdoor activities in Hiroshima.
The easiest way to start getting involved in new activities is to join a group or club. There are numerous hiking, running, cycling, and alpine clubs throughout the prefecture. Universities and specialist sports shops are great places to start your enquiries. Although many clubs are very exclusive (i.e. for close friends or coworkers) there are some that let visitors join and the local foreigner turning up could just make their day. Few groups have English speakers so bring your dictionary and look at it as another way to practice Japanese. Alternatively, round up a few other English teachers to start a group of your own. Doing activities with friends is always more fun!
If joining an organized club doesn’t appeal, find a specialty store in your area and become friends with the owners or staff. They will know all the right people and will also be a great source of information on the best places in your area for your desired activity. In addition, they will make sure that you are fully equipped before you set out to try your new sport and will fix your equipment if it breaks. A specialty shop is also the best place to look for private or group lessons.
One of the biggest hurdles to taking up activities in Japan is finding equipment that is large enough for foreigners, with shoes causing the most difficulty. Women who are happy to wear men’s shoes should have little problem but few stores in Hiroshima sell shoes large enough for western men. Yanbo’s Running in Hiroshima City, however, stocks shoes up to an American size 12 (30cm). Yanbo recommends that customers call ahead (082-247-4424) to find out when he receives his new shipment of shoes because the largest sizes sell fast. Special order shoes can take up to 6 months to arrive. Otherwise, ordering from your favorite shoe store at home and having them sent over is your most reliable option.
Finding clothes might not be as easy as back home but it is possible if you shop around and ask for advice. It is a bit frustrating that they offer more workout clothes for dogs than gaijin, isn’t it? Now that you look the part and know where to get information, what activities are there to do? I spoke to experts in each of the following fields to find out their tips:
Running is by far the easiest and cheapest outdoor activity to take up. With just a pair of shoes you can run for miles, exploring your town and surrounding rice fields as you go. If you lack the motivation to run, Sasaki Yanbo (of Yanbo’s Running) recommends preparing for one of the numerous races held in Hiroshima. From September to December there is at least one race held every weekend somewhere in Hiroshima or in a neighboring prefecture. In January there is a lull in races because of the New Year celebrations, but the number of races picks up again between February and May.
Look for information and advertisements posted around your town or at local sports stores. The hardest part about these races is signing up – the registration forms are in Japanese and the deadline for entry is usually around a month in advance, but with the help of a Japanese friend or colleague entry is perfectly possible so don’t be put off.
Local bike shop owners and cyclists admit that on the whole Hiroshima is not the best place for cycling – neither Mitsuo-san nor Nekomoto-san, who each own bike shops in Hiroshima City, consider Hiroshima’s roads particularly bike-friendly, but there are plenty of off-road places for a novice to get started. Nekomoto-san recommends going to parks such as Shinrin Chuo Park in Hongo, and Mominoki Shinrin Park in Yoshiwa in northern Hiroshima where there are special bike paths. Nekomoto-san also suggests heading out to the numerous islands in the Seto Inland Sea. The weather is nice and with sparse local transportation cycling is the best way to explore. On the GetHiroshima webpage, there is a fabulous link with a wealth of information on cycling in Hiroshima. (http://www.gethiroshima.com/en/Places/HealthFitness/details?placeid=50264). Bikes are allowed on trains as long as the wheels have been removed and you carry the whole thing in a special travel bag, which can be bought at any bike shop.
If you haven’t yet explored the Seto Inland Sea by bike, follow Nekomotosan’s advice and make sure you do so this spring – Hiroshima is home to one of the most famous bike rides in Japan called the Shimanami Kaido. It is a 78km ride that starts in Onomichi and takes you across various islands before finally arriving in Imabari on Shikoku. The route offers incredible views of the Seto Inland Sea and is a great way to see islands that you might otherwise not make it out to. The ride is long but fairly easy and safe with a separate bike road. The hardest parts of the ride are circling uphill to reach the numerous bridges connecting the islands. Bicycles can easily be rented in Onomichi. For more information check out www.kancycling.com/Destinations/Shimanami/Shimanami.html. avid cyclist or complete beginner, this ride is raved about by anyone who has done it and is highly recommended.
For those seeking an activity that is a bit more adventurous, rock climbing may be perfect for you. As much fun as it would be to immediately go out and scale vertical cliffs like Spiderman, without proper training and equipment it is very dangerous. Aya Hayashi, a Hiroshima resident who spent 6 years working in America as a climbing instructor, says that the best place for a foreigner to start climbing is in one of the local indoor climbing gyms: “At the gym you can meet people who can introduce you to the Japanese climbing world and a few climbing techniques along the way.”
Aya explained that the most popular type of indoor climbing is called ‘bouldering.’ This requires no special equipment, except for climbing shoes (which can be borrowed from many gyms). It involves climbing up 10 to 15 ft walls while following a specific path. Once you have become comfortable with this, you can advance to top rope/belayed climbing, which is the most common in outdoor areas. Once you establish contacts at a gym and learn the basics, you will have the chance to try out Mikura and Bicchu, two famous outdoor climbing areas in the Chugoku region.
There are two climbing gyms in Hiroshima city; CERO near Yokogawa station, and the Green Arena in central Hiroshima City. Depending on your location, you may be closer to a gym in a neighboring prefecture. Here is a link to the gyms in the Chugoku region: http://www17.big.or.jp/~yuuko/climbing/gym/gym0-e.html#chugoku. As regards equipment, popular chain store Assess, which can be found in both Itsukaichi and Fukuyama, will see to your every need. The stores have their own climbing walls allowing you to try out your equipment right away if you want.
Now armed with an arsenal of information on getting active in Japan, step up to the challenge and get moving. Before you know it you will be in peak physical condition and ready to embrace the rapidly-approaching swimsuit season.