Four New Rules for Running in Japan

Japan’s a reasonably good place to head out for a little exercise, assuming you’re into that sort of thing. I personally enjoy indulging in “the fitness” myself, as I’ve found that it burns off potato chips while simultaneously making beer taste all that much better afterwards. So that’s a win-win. At the same time, I feel it’s my civic duty, as President of Japan, to point out some real dangers associated with running here.

Sorry, I meant to type “a resident.” I really gotta get that backspace key fixed. Anyway, I recently hopped on the shinkansen for a quick trip to Kyoto, where I booked a room in a quaint little minshuku. A minshuku is what you’d call a Japanese bed-and-breakfast, if your idea of a bed was the floor and your idea of breakfast was rice. Anyway, it’s cheaper than a hotel, so that’s good. The proprietress was a kindly, aged lady of approximately a thousand years old who walked with a limp and spoke in a shaky voice.

“Thiiiiis issss yoooouurrr rooooom,” she quaked.

“Thaaaanks,” I replied in kind, because I’m all about empathy with old ladies.

“Dooo youuu neeeed annnnyyyythinnngg elsssse?” she quivered.

“Nooooo, juuuussttt theeeee keeeeey,” I said.

“Theeeeere isssss nooooo keeeeeyyy,” she laughed, and I laughed too, because of my empathy, and plus it was way too weird and I was half expecting her to vanish in a puff of black smoke. But instead she just stood there and looked at me. So that was a bit uncomfortable.

“Seriously?” I said. “No key?”

“Nope,” she said, and walked briskly away. Well, miracle cure apparently. Whatever, I decided to put on my shorts and go for a run.

I guess it’s a Japanese thing, you know, staying in a place with unlocked rooms. And it sounds all groovy and peaceful because you’d like to believe that every Japanese person is inherently trustworthy, except that half the people in the minshuku were from other countries, so I was basically relying on random people from around the globe not to enter my room and run off with my camera and suitcase full of yen. I don’t pack a lot of clothes, you know, since that’s just more work when I’m trying to go on vacation. It’s easier to take cash and simply buy new underwear and socks at the 100-yen shop on an as-needed basis. Plus, freshness.

“Keep an eye on my room, please,” I said to the proprietress as I headed out the door.

“Cuuuuuute shoooortsss,” she called after me. Jeez, way to objectify me, lady. Although I guess I did look pretty good, considering my muscular thighs.

Running in Kyoto

Outside, it was just slightly cool, and I jogged through a maze of small streets until I reached the Kamo river, then turned towards the mountains lit warm with the sunset glow. What a perfect evening. I found a small trail behind Nanzenji temple, and wound uphill into a thick forest. I felt alive. Ah, Ken Seeroi—-I thought—-you sir, are a dude who lives for adventure. I ran a bit faster.

The trail got smaller and fainter until it became little more than a deer path. The sun was setting fast and I felt a wee bit disoriented, but since Ken Seeroi is also a dude who hates retracing his steps, I kept going along the ridge line, deeper into the woods. Finally it got quite dark and I began to think I might have to take a brief overnight siesta in the forest, but at last the trail turned downward, and I eventually found myself back in the city, near the Gion quarter.

It was now fully dark. The orange glow had turned pitch black, the cool evening had become ass cracking cold, and I had absolutely no idea where that little minshuku was. And for some reason, I also couldn’t remember the name, probably because it was in damn Japanese. I kept running. Wasn’t it Hi-something? Higashi? Hiniku? Hijyouguchi? Ni-something? Nimono? Nikibi? Ken Seeroi—-I realized—-you are so screwed.

I also had no money, so just running until I reached the Osaka airport and flying the hell back to America was out of the question. Have you ever been freezing cold, like in a blizzard, and you’re sure you’re going to die? I know I’m not the only one this happens to on a regular basis. Anyway, now picture you’re about twice that cold and sweaty and lost in the middle of Japan wearing only tiny shorts and a t-shirt. My advice is, next time take a Gore-Tex suit; that, and maybe a dogsled, and a flare gun.

The thing about Japan is, it really is a very different place from day to night. I promise I’m not making this up as an excuse for being lost. At sunset, all the cute cafes and vegetable marts pull faceless steel shutters down over their lively storefronts and disappear. At the same time, the businesses that were closed during the day suddenly raise their blank gray shutters and emerge as bright neon-lit restaurants and hostess clubs. So none of the streets look the same after dark. Really. It’s like that minute before your parents pull into the driveway, when the stereo gets unplugged, all the kegs are rolled into the hedges, rugs are pulled over broken glass, and the girl passed out in their bed is wrapped in a towel and hidden in a closet. When they walk in, you’re all like, Oh, hello, have a ginger ale? Join us in a game of whist?

I won’t bore you with the long and freezing tale of my wandering hopelessly through half of Kyoto battling wolverines and asking terrified strangers if they knew of a shaky old lady who ran a low-budget minshuku. Suffice to say that, with Roald Amundsen-like tenacity, I fought through the polar bears and hypothermia to survive. Several hours later, submerged up to my neck in a hot bath and accompanied by several carbohydrate-replenishing cans of malt liquor, I had time to reflect upon my four new rules for running in Japan.

Japan Running Checklist

1. Before crossing any street, look wildly both left and right like a rabid squirrel. If you’re from a country where they drive on the right side of the road, you stand an excellent chance of being flattened by a truck full of tofu. You’ve basically spent your entire life practicing looking a certain direction before stepping off the curb, and in Japan, that’s the wrong direction. In my first six months here, I personally stepped in front of cars while looking the wrong way on two occasions. You simply can’t unlearn that habit overnight. Thank God nobody in this country drives a Dodge Ramcharger.

2. Carry at least $50 worth of yen. The chances someone mugging you while you’re out running are astronomically small compared to the odds of becoming lost, hungry, thirsty, or needing to take a taxi or train home. Money fixes a world of problems, so just safety-pin a 5,000 yen note to the inside of your shorts and be done with it.

3. Carry a copy of your passport or (if you live here) your foreign residence card. I’m pretty sure that legally, you have to carry the real thing at all times, but since you probably won’t be stopped by the cops while running (unless you’re carrying a TV), you might be able to get away with just a copy. Anyway it’s better than nothing, and you really ought to have something that identifies you after you become road pizza from that tofu truck.

4. Carry the name and address of wherever you’re staying. In fact, carry every bit of information about it you can—phone number, closest station, pictures, everything, written in both English and Japanese, if possible. I know this is kind of common sense, but apparently some of us are deficient in that respect.

Some people run with a smartphone, which is good too, assuming you don’t trip and land on the thing or drop it in a pond or something. Personally, I don’t like running with a phone, but I will concede that the GPS capability could help prevent freezing to death while sleeping in the children’s play park wrapped in newspapers. Either way, I don’t think you can go wrong with the above list. Overall, running in Japan is a good way to stay in shape, since it’s inexpensive, requires little equipment, and gives you something to do until the bars open. Just be prepared, and remember, Safety first. It’s a wilderness out there.

58 Replies to “Four New Rules for Running in Japan”

  1. I think you were talking about “minshuku” (民宿), not “minshoku”? 😉

    I know you’re not making things up. It depends on where you are, though.
    I’ve been at tourist spots where it’s exactly like that. If you stay for too long, it’s suddenly dark and nobody is around anymore. Everything is closed and all you can do is wait for the next train / bus etc. …. that is if there is still a next one on that day. 😉

  2. Omg, you are tooooo funny, Ken! I’m glad you didn’t die of hypothermia, otherwise I’d have no more witty and informative posts about Japan to enjoy. 😀

    I once stayed at a B&B in a small tourist-y town outside of Ottawa for a friend’s wedding. That place also had no locks on the doors. The owner said in a small town like that, nothing happens. Uh-huh, sure. Because all small town residents and tourists who visit such small towns are so gosh-darn honest.

    I love running, and I used to enjoy trail running very much. Then I started P90X and that became (and still is) my main workout. I’m getting tired of it though. Been doing it for more than 1.5 years, so methinks it’s time to get back into running, and reading your post makes me want to run even more! Now, if only all this snow, ice, and bitter cold will go away soon. 🙁

    1. That P90X stuff looks intense. After a year and a half of it, you must be in great shape. You do a lot of pull-ups with that, right? Well, at least if you’re indoors, it should decrease your chances of getting lost.

      1. There certain resistance workouts where you do a lot of pull-ups. I don’t have a pull-up bar (seriously, a pull-bar up affixed to a door smells like an invitation to trouble to me), but I have a Bowflex Ultimate with a lateral pull-down bar, which I use in place of pull-ups.

        Yeah, I suppose I’m in good shape. I certainly have never achieved this level of fitness before. The only downside is that my shoulders and arms got bigger. :-O

        1. Downside? I thought that was the point. Anyway, glad to hear it works, although I’m 100 percent certain a Bowflex would exceed the width of my apartment. Guess I’ll have to keep doing pull-ups on the monkey-bars in the park.

          1. Well Ken, I don’t know if you’ve ever gone shopping for women’s clothing, but most items are not cut for wide shoulders and arms with small rodents as biceps… I should have said it’s a downside for *me*. If I were a guy, I’m sure that I’d be jumping up and down with joy. 🙂 As it is, I’m kind of meh about it.

  3. CM was great, I was past laughing by the third paragraph of “Running in Kyoto” and started to leak drool! FYI, Germans are very competent. We would have never gotten to the moon without them (retired NASA)!! From all of the pics on Zooming’s site, I bet running in Japan is great. Lots of great scenery, rolling hills and paths that keep you off the concrete are all pluses. Was that pic of the Penguin supposed to be how you felt… cause it sorta seemed unrelated to the story…LOL sorry, I’m half German, nyah! But, the kids and walking bird were all very very cute! Great material for a section in the book too!

    1. “I started to leak drool.”

      A higher compliment has never been paid to a writer. Thank you very much, Bud.

      The picture, well, yeah, it’s a little unrelated to the story. But then I do that, you know.

      1. Ya, leaking drool primarily happens to old men that don’t have large monitors. Its an occupational hazard when you laugh profusely while trying to lean forward and see the small print on the screen (because your eyes are going bad). Luckily I have a drool resistant keyboard that glows in the dark.

        I’d also like to complain to you just a tiny bit. Maybe I’m developing carpal tunnel syndrome on my cheeks…. from grinning too much and I gotta blame your CMs. Whenever I start to go to your website, I’m like some kind of Pavlov dog…. my cheeks start cramping from pre-grinning and it makes the drooling worse. Of course, I’m willing to risk looking like the Joker because there’s going be a Gaijin Bible at the end of that carpal tunnel!!

        1. Bud, you just need a larger monitor, and maybe something absorbent to snack on, like crackers or cotton balls or something.

          1. I really worked hard for that light at the end of the tunnel analogy, ya know; but it was based on a true incident.

            P.S. I use “Stacy’s simply naked” Pita chips now to try and dam the drool, but when I sneeze, my monitor and the desk look like a carpenter just walked by.

  4. Great post as always! I have a question though; is it concidered normal to go out for a run in Japan? I have never seen any runners in Japan like I do in my country, so either they hide or I just haven’t met any. I also havent seen any gyms in Japan!

    1. Good question, Cat. Yes, it is absolutely normal, although the number of runners in most cities is fairly small, given the populations. In Tokyo, a lot of people come out after dark, probably because everyone works so late. On the weekends, you can see runners around the Imperial Palace and along the banks of rivers. But they’re also in smaller cities and even out in the country.

      I will say that it’s rare to see anyone running in shorts, even in the heat of summer. It’s much more common to wear tights or a track suit. I’ll also add that I’ve almost never seen anyone running very fast. Most people seem to plod along at a 9-10 minute mile. For that reason, they don’t stand out as much.

      There are gyms, but like many things in Japan, they’re harder to recognize until you get used to what they look like. You might just see a sign for a gym on the 10th floor of some building. You’re probably not going to walk by a plate glass window of people doing bench presses.

      1. I find a lot of runners along the little river/water run off streams that occur throughout the city. There aren’t so many long, uninterrupted stretches so these tend to serve as good alternatives. If you zoom way in on google maps, you’ll see what I’m talking about. Or get out to the larger rivers, Tama for example, and you’ll see tons of people running.

        Everyone stares when I wear short running but it could be because of my fantastically white legs.

        The speed of running is more like a fast shuffle and maybe why you have to have leggings because I can’t see how you can get warm. It’s really odd to me but perhaps people run for hours and I tend to just try to zoom through 5km in 20 minutes and just be done with the whole ordeal.

        I have not found a gym that opens prior to 9am which aligns to many things in Japan. People are up and looking for coffee/food/workout but nothing’s open. I still don’t understand this. And I still don’t understand why I haven’t taken it upon myself to open my own breakfast place to cater to these people.

        1. Theres heaps of runners on the track in the park in Kichijoji near the Ghibli museum. Maybe thats got something to do with the womens’ university … Have you, Ken, been to Kichijoji its got a sweet harmonica of tiny bars and a mad old yakitori izakaya called Iseya… and tons of uni girls. its a bloody paridise mate


          1. Yeah, I went there a few times a few years back, as I had a buddy who lived there. I thought it was one of the cooler parts of Tokyo, and it struck me as a good place to live, assuming I could find a job nearby, maybe at one of the universities. That’s still kind of my dream for a life in Japan.

        2. Japanese people have a pathological fear of breakfast. There are even coffee shops that don’t open before 11:00. Like no one could possibly need a cup of coffee before that.

          I agree completely about running along the small canals and tributaries that wind their way through Tokyo. In the spring they’re often lined with sakura, and provide some of the prettiest places to run.

    2. Okay so I’ve been in Kyoto for about 1,5 month now, and the statistics so far are:

      No of seen japanese runners: 8
      No of seen gaijin runners: 23
      Clothing of japanese runners: something way too hot
      Clothing of gaijin runners: something way too cold

      I like running here though, because every time I get lost (literally every time so far) I always seem to find some new cool and pretty places. It’s an adventure (sometimes an unpleasant one when you decide to go for a run in fushimi inari at 6pm and then get lost for about 5h but oh well)

      1. That’s funny, because I’ve also been lost at Fushimi Inari just as the sun was going down. I spent about an hour walking through some bamboo forest figuring I could at least craft some sort of bamboo bed if it came to that. Great place to explore, but one should probably start a bit earlier in the day. Eh, hindsight.

        And yeah, I don’t know how Japanese people run in full sweatsuits when it’s clearly shorts weather. Although if you know you’re going to get lost in advance, then maybe that’d be useful.

  5. I never paid much attention to the whole “you must carry your residence card at all times” thing but I recently read a blog about a college kid a few years back who got randomly stopped on his way back from a video store. He didn’t have his card, he was just getting a movie, would Officers Takahashi and Uchida care to come back to my place and I can show you my card there? Anyway, long story short, he was arrested, had to appear in court, make a show of being gravely sorry, etc, etc, despite having a valid card less than a couple blocks away. Now I’m like terrified of leaving home without it.

    1. Yeah, I have a feeling I’ve fooled myself into thinking this isn’t a big deal. Like somehow the police are going to stop me and say, Well, okay, but make sure to carry it next time. We’ll just trust that you are who you say you are and that you’re in our country legally. The more I think about it, the more I realize that ID is one of those non-negotiable things with police. Guess I’ll have to find a way to stuff it in my left sock.

      1. Oh you’re probably fine. I mean the chances are like astronomically small, right? I can seriously go weeks without seeing a cop. I don’t even understand how this country doesn’t grind to a halt given the minimal police presence. So you’ll probably never be stopped to begin with, and I’m sure the officer would probably be understanding. Not racist or ultra-nationalist or just having a bad day or anything like that. I’m pretty sure. Probably.

        1. Thank you for encouraging my irresponsibility.

          Maybe making a color copy and laminating it would be a good solution. And yet somehow, that smacks of making a fake ID. Ah, why is life so complicated?

          1. But like what happens when we renew our visas and we have to send EVERY IDENTITY DOCUMENT WE HAVE to immigration? That’s when I really freak out. And last time there was some trivial little error and they had my passport and residence card for TWO MONTHS. Official response from immigration: “It’s fine, no worries.” Likely response from police: “I don’t care about the Yakuza down the street, or the three cars full of un-seatbelted children (in the front seat, on mom’s lap) that just drove by at 20kph over the speed limit. You’re so fucked, I’m going to arrest you forever.”

            And I just realized it’s that time of year again. Thanks, Ken.

            1. I know, right? And this year I gotta get a passport renewal, so I need to mail my passport to the U.S. embassy. What if war breaks out during that time and I need to evacuate the country? What if someone invites me on vacation to Thailand? Like food and beer, there are some things in this world that you just can’t live without.

      2. I was stopped by police in my first week of exchange in Japan and I didn’t have my residence card with me. But I had a pretty good reason which was that it hadn’t been freaking made yet (as in it had, but I had to leave it with the city office so they could put my new address on it to finish it off). They let me off but I had to come back the next day with paperwork showing that I had given my card in to the city office temporarily. I think they were also lenient to me because I could speak Japanese, they kept going on about it anyway. The annoying thing was all my Korean and Chinese exchange student friends were walking literally 2 metres behind me at the time and none of them got stopped.

        1. Sorry this is a little off topic from your hilarious running story (I don’t do ‘the fitness’ so there isn’t much I can add anyway) but on the topic of how different people from different countries get treated in Japan I was wondering if you’ve ever had any experiences being treated differently from foreigners of other countries?
          For example I was treated in a rather racist manner from this old Japanese lady I served once (I work at the reception of a hotel here) then she found out I wasn’t American and she was like ‘oh what’s your name? Thank you so much for having me at your hotel, aren’t you sweet, remember me next time I come! toodles!’

          I also find it interesting how ‘foreigners’ from other countries are treated in comparison to white people. Especially foreigners from China and Korea I guess. My friend from Vietnam actually wrote a thesis on this when we were on exchange in Japan. Anyway I basically see it like this:

          Pro’s of being Asian foreign in Japan:
          -People don’t start off by assuming you don’t know Japanese
          -You probably won’t get stopped by the police
          -Even if people know your a foreigner, they aren’t that shocked if you speak good Japanese
          -You can call all the white people Gaijin along with all the Japanese people, as though you yourself are not Gaijin (I have Korean friends who do this, it pisses me off)
          -You are probably good at Kanji (if you are Chinese, Taiwanese etc anyway. If you are Korean, then we are in the same boat)
          – You can test how fluent your Japanese is by whether people realise you aren’t Japanese (I’m not saying all asians look the same, the certainly don’t to me, but my Chinese friend does this is dark bars by starting random conversations with Japanese people and seeing if they realise)

          Cons of being Asian foreign in Japan:
          -people don’t start off by assuming you don’t know Japanese (which means that if you don’t there is perhaps some disappointment)
          -Even if you are good at Japanese it’s not as interesting as seeing a white person speak it and it is also taken for granted more
          -You don’t get asked to be on Tv or on posters for shit cause you don’t ‘look’ foreign enough
          -You get treated like the ‘not-as-interesting’ foreigner (as opposed to someone from say France, Japanese people love France)
          -You are quite likely to encounter racism. I used to think this wasn’t a thing young people had an issue with in Japan until I made friends at Uni here who would casually say ‘oh yeah I hate chinese people’. I also got a lecture from a friends dad about how terrible racism is which ended in ‘except those chinese people, they’re so freaking greedy’
          – You will probably get asked to comment on awkward political conflicts between Japan and your country (I took a class where we had to read the newspaper and talk about it every week. Me and two chinese people where the only foreigners in the class and thank god for the lack of articles about Australia, because I hardly ever got asked to comment on anything. If I did it was usually for an article about something happening in America, and then I could just be like ‘well I’m not sure, as, well, you see I’m not American’. But the Chinese girls got asked EVERY SINGLE CLASS which was a lot more than the Japanese students in the class did. And it was always something like ‘why do you think that person in Beijing ran around screaming Anti-Japan slogans? or what do you think about Yasukuni Shrine? How about the rape of Nanking?’. All easy to answer questions in a classroom full of Japanese people).
          -You are probably bad at Katakana.

          Sorry for the ramble.

          1. Gah sorry again for the spamming lots of comments but I thought I should add a disclaimer that I’m just a crazy white person and I don’t know about the experiences of Korean or Chinese people in Japan in the same way as someone who is actually either of those races does- just my impressions from what my friends have told me. So I hope I didn’t offend anyone, but the topic kind of interests me after reading my friends thesis…

            1. You brought up a lot of interesting points. Thanks for the comments.

              I’m sure the grass is always greener, but from my perspective the people who have it best are Asian-Americans, Asian-British, etc. because they can play it both ways.

              I have a number of friends in this category, and they seem to do quite well in Japan. If we go to a restaurant, they get treated normally, while I’m given the “Here’s the English menu and wow, you can use chopsticks” treatment. Then when they speak English, everyone’s like sugoooi. At which time they proudly announce, “Of course I can, I’m American.”
              And whenever anyone brings up a Chinese or Korean issue, they happily deflect it with “China? Where’s that? I’m American.”

              Probably the most interesting thing is that, despite the fact that my Japanese is better than theirs in every case, strangers almost invariably speak more natural Japanese to them than to me. The waiter looks at them when speaking, not me, all that stuff. It’s just the face, you know? If you have a “Japanese”-looking face, you will be treated differently.

              I know there are downsides too, but from where I’m standing, that grass sure is looking awfully green.

  6. Ken, the night and day thing is amazingly true.

    I’ve lived in my town for going on three years now. I have spent… many?.. a night in our center town, perusing the vast boulevards of snacks, filled with grumpy old men, always willing to buy you a drink. The enchanting smells coming from the dirty old lady bars, that combination of mold and stale cigarette. I could tell you, blind folded, how many steps it will take to get from A to B, anywhere in the center town, and I can even calculate for how drunk you are. I can also tell you EXACTLY when all the taxis disappear and you are left on the street, drunk as all get out, freezing off your naughty bits. I know it like the back of my hand… or any other frequently looked at body part.

    Fuck if I can figure out where anything is in broad daylight down there. Not a clue. There is a day map, and a night map, and never the twain shall meet.

    1. Glad I’m not the only one. That’s something that’s always amazed me about Japan, and in fact, continues to do so. I used to go to work during the day and come home at night, and every day I was like, Is this the same street I walked this morning? You feel like you’re losing your mind.

  7. Darn I would have shown you a good bar if I had know you were in town. Then again, I’ve been busy as all heck so I probably would’t have. Busy putting all my crap into boxes that is. Tokyo here I come! The Yakko bus awaits at Kyoto station tonight. I have a neck pillow and a charged iPhone.

    I need a job. And somebody to drink with. Send me a line for either. I’ll be living in 江東区 living off the sweat of my hard working GF who has just become a company empoyee.

    1. Ah, the yakko bus, highest form of transportation man has ever invented.

      And as for living off the sweat of your hard-working salarywoman girlfriend, it sounds great. That’ll free up a lot of time for running.

  8. Sorry to hear you got lost, Ken, but I’m glad it turned into a great piece here 🙂

    I like the idea of running but on the very rare occasion that I’ve actually managed to pull on the sneakers and socks, I find the whole running thing turns into cycles of 3 minutes of jogging followed by 15 minutes of walking off the stitch. Any advice for newbie runners? Maybe I should make that my “springtime” resolution (so excited for spring!)

    I was reading through the comments and saw the ones about the Residence Card. I lost my wallet a couple of weeks ago and I expected it to be returned, seeing as it’s Japan and everyone’s honest and all. But here I am 2 weeks later having to replace everything in my wallet. I have a suspicion it was pickpocketed out of my backpack, but maybe I’m just trying to console myself. How is it possible to lose something and have no clue when and where!? Anyway, sorry about the rant. Point is, I was walking around fearfully for about a week and a half as I didn’t have my Residence Card (just got a new one today – at least it’s free to replace). I did have my passport though. Having an Asian helps ward off the police it seems!

    1. “Having an Asian face” is what I meant for the last sentence. Since I naturally don’t carry an Asian around with me everywhere 😛

    2. Your wallet and residence card nightmare reminds me of when the same thing happened to me: . I kept thinking it would turn up, but it never did. Must’ve been stolen by some foreigner.

      So yeah, when it comes to running, I actually have a ton of experience. My family is basically all runners and coaches, so running is what we do. Well, that and drink beer. Hey, that’s called balance.

      My advice would be to, initially, change your mindset as to what constitutes running. First, just get into the habit of getting out the door and exercising for 30 minutes. Get used to stretching, lacing on the shoes, and then heading out for half an hour. Then just walk. Then jog a little bit, real nice and easy. If it starts to feel hard, or you feel like you might get a stitch, then just walk again. And just keep going, either walking or jogging slowly, for the 30 minutes.

      Once you’ve established that routine—where you’re walking/jogging for 5 or 6 days a week for a month, then come back and let’s talk about going faster and making the transition to more serious running. But the bottom line is, I think many people are too concerned with running fast or seriously, when it really doesn’t matter whether you go slow or walk. What matters most is just getting your ass out the door.

      Lots of things can cause stitches, but most of the time you’re either going too fast or your body isn’t used to breathing in that way.

      1. Thanks for the running advice! It actually helped a lot..Now I just have to wait for it to stop raining – thwarted! Although maybe I was just looking for an excuse ^^:

        Also, thanks for the link back to your previous story about you and the skipping rope haha. I guess when I read it for the first time, the loss of the residence card didn’t hit home so much!

        1. Glad to help. Just remember that swimsuit season is only two months away. So put on your Gore-Tex suit and get out there!

  9. Whoa! Your updates are becoming more frequent! As always, a great and entertaining read. Are you familiar with TheOatmeal? He did a post about running in Japan (, page 5 is about his run in Japan, and the angry bees he encountered.

    Ken, thanks for writing. Seriously. Your take on the Japanese experience has inspired me to resume writing in my own space. Partly because I couldn’t wait for your next update, so I started to do updates for myself.

    If I could create the community at my blog that you have here, I’d be a happy camper.

    So, did you make it back to your place that night? Or did you use your wits and charms to stay at someone else’s place?

    1. Thanks much. My updates are usually a reflection of how much time I’m spending studying Japanese, drinking in local izakayas, exercising, or trying to talk to various women. So sometimes I’m busier than others, is what it boils down to. But thanks for reading, seriously.

  10. I remember jogging through my village in Niigata. I tried it once, but after all the stares and pointing I got I was too self-conscious to go out and do it again. I just kept imaginging everyone thinking: “look at that sweaty, red-faced gaijin!”

    Eventually I found some desolated mountain/river path near my house to use as my daily ‘track’, that way I could avoid contact with my students and other villagers.

    I guess in Tokyo and Kyoto foreigners don’t really get starred at as much when running, right? Or do Japanese kind of it see it as a “thing” that foreigners do?

    1. Running’s kind of like that anywhere, isn’t it? I mean, it’s hard not to feel a little self-conscious when you’re the only one wearing spandex. Plus everyone else is walking and there you are, jumping around, running.

      Same goes for anything you do in Japan, unless you look Asian. You stand out. So then combine that with running and it’s like the most amazing thing in the world.

      But I guess maybe from years of doing it, I just tune the whole thing out. The way I figure it is, everybody’s way more concerned with themselves than they are with anyone else. Everyone’s thinking about themselves and wondering if their ties match their socks or if their panty lines are showing or something. I seriously doubt if they give a darn what I do, so long as it doesn’t impact them.

      I see enough people running anyway, at least out in the neighborhoods and in the parks, that I don’t feel it’s unusual. I mean, it’s not Oregon, but I’m pretty sure people are familiar with the concept of exercise, so I don’t worry about it.

  11. Hi Ken,
    I read this article when you first posted it and never forgot the important lessons you wrote. So this year, when planning our (my husband and mine) first vacation to Japan, I bought a small photo album and filled it with all of our hotel information, train directions, and copies of our passport.

    On our first night in Tokyo we couldn’t find our hotel. We approached a little old lady sweeping outside of a small restaurant and pointed to the photo and name of our hotel and asked in our best Japanese, “Excuse me, where is this?” She didn’t know. But she had her…a younger woman in the restaurant whom I can only assume was of some familial relation….walk us the block and a half and show us the hotel.

    Anyways. We traveled from Tokyo to Sapporo to Osaka and back to Tokyo in 10 days. It was the best experience of our life thus far! And it’s all because of your blog….Well….Your blog helped. Especially this entry. Thanks so much and please keep writing. Since we can’t move to Japan for another 2-3 years we need your stories.

    1. Wow, something I wrote actually turned out to be useful? I guess maybe I ought to be a little more careful with the crazy stuff I write.

      But yeah, it seems like the basic method of navigating in Japan is to get as close as possible, and then just start asking people. Japanese folks still do this, and they used to do it a lot more before everyone got a smartphone.

      Glad you found your hotel okay. Sleeping in the park near the train station isn’t really a good option. It’s very cold, and the benches are too small. So I’d recommend avoiding that.

  12. I’ve been running on and off in Japan for 37 years. If I compare urban running in Japan and the UK, I prefer Japan. In the UK there’s always some pot bellied fool or abusive teenager screaming insults or throwing stones. Women runners tell me it’s worse for them. 37 years ago Japanese Teenagers would scream “Gaijin” as I ran past, but that seems to have died out. People stare in both countries. Near my J-PIL’s house is an urban park with a good track. It’s a pain to have to carry a passport when running, but I also carry my smartphone so I can photo snakes when I see them. Even if the park is crowded, which it usually is on a Sunday, nobody bothers me, no insults, no stones, just respect.

    1. Sure, I reckon it’s okay for you to include the link with your comment. If you want more of a promotion, let’s talk. I’d need to read your book, for starters.

  13. Ken
    Found this article and I am starting to like you more, a fellow runner
    I 1st ran in Japan in Osaka and was told by the host family father that I shouldn’t run at night as I would scare the locals as a strange foreigner that was going to attack them.

    I have run a few more times in Japan and did a few loops of the imperial palace in the middle of summer. I was aiming for 20km so it was 4 laps of the place and it was really hot. Still there were people wearing full on track suits and I’m like in skimpy shorts, a singlet and dripping sweat so I get you on the difference in running attire.

    Pace, I don’t get the miles thing so hope you have gotten used to km but I was running about 4.30 m/km and everyone else was so damn slow, maybe 5.30 m/km +. The image I had of Japan was Ekiden and lots of runners, Takahashi Naoko etc, so it was a shock to me. But then again I was running in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday so I guess they were all working. I mean I get up an run at 5AM so I guess all the serious runners in Japan would do that too.

    I also went for a run in Tokyo sans iPhone and with just my Suunto running watch. We were back for my wife’s Mum’s memorial so we had a set time to head to that and I got lost too. I thought I didn’t want to run back on the same street so I took a right, then another right, and then another and then I had absolutely no idea where I was. I was about 8 km from the hotel I was staying and and the panic set in as I knew I was going to be late. I freaked out a few people running up to them and asking them if they knew where the station was and eventually got back to the hotel but it was certainly one way to make me run faster and get the heart rate up.

    Do you still do much running and how has Corona changed things? Not sure where you live but you seem to like trail running. Can you do that regularly? Heck, I live in Sydney and it is hard to do trail running as you need to drive for an hour just to get anywhere that there is a trail so I imagine not.

    Have you tried any Japanese running clubs? I’d be interested in that if I can get to Japan when these damn borders open.

    1. Your comment is incredibly timely, as I’ve seriously gotten back into running in the last two months. Actually, it’s one of the few things you can still do here, now that corona has put the kibosh on bars and restaurants.

      Everything you mentioned is spot-on. Let me respond in order.

      Your host family was insane, but also insanely predicable. That’s the common advice for all matters when it comes to “foreign visitors”: Whatever you’re thinking of doing that seems reasonable, normal, and harmless, just don’t. Of course, there’s a nice bit of racism baked into that.

      Japanese folks tend to wear a stupid lot of clothing when they run. It’s common to see people in tights and long-sleeve tops in the middle of summer. Probably this is a body-image thing, combined with a desire to simply do what everybody else does. But that’s people everywhere.

      I’m fully used to pace in km, as opposed to miles, and your observation about Japanese runners is absolutely right. Folks run butt slow, around 7:00/km. In general, Japan kind of sucks for running fast—you’re far too likely to slam into a car, bike, or pedestrian on the narrow roads. Be careful out there, seriously.

      Get lost much? Hell yeah, virtually every time I step out the door. That’s because Japan’s an urban-planning disaster. Roads at 30 degree angles to each other. Virtually no street signs. Even “straight” roads that gradually curve fifteen degrees, until you’re miles from where you think you should be. Luckily you remembered the name of the station near where you were staying. There’ve been times when I didn’t.

      I did some trail running today, actually. There are trails to be had in and outside of Tokyo, Kyoto, Fukuoka, and parts of Okinawa, to name just a few. Google maps helps, as does a hell of a lot of exploration. That being said, it’s not Oregon. Consider yourself lucky if you can find two or three km of non-paved surface.

      I’m actually looking for a running club right now. Up until now, I’ve only ever run with friends, workmates, or by myself. We’ll see how that goes.

      Keep on running!

  14. Ken
    Pretty hard to forget 新宿、yeah I live in Australia but I’d be real moron if I forgot that.
    Life throws a lot of curve balls at you (man, I admit I grew up in NZ, then moved to OZ, so the baseball analogies are not really my forte so forgive me if I stuff it up) but running is the one thing I can be honest about. What you put in you get out.
    I got pretty ill in 2012-2013 & spent a few years really running a lot. Like 120km a week. Really good physically as I was like 9% body fat but really not good for my marriage. Do you want to be married to someone that gets up at 4:30 am and runs a 1/2 marathon every day before work? Not really great for you sex life. Not in the morning & you are too tired to think about it after work.
    I’m only doing 40-50 km per week now and that’s my sweet spot.
    My wife’s happy, I’m happy & that’s what life’s about.
    You did a blog about friendship & you said you had to be genuine & give away shit about yourself. If you didn’t you’d never make friends.
    How much do you give away? Not sure if this is the appropriate forum for this conversation or not.
    Need to buy your book too mate.
    How much do you run at the moment? Was planning on doing the Tokyo marathon in 2021 but no chance with both Australian & Japanese borders closed at the moment. Heck, I’m nowhere near the level to be running marathons at the moment either. 10 km is my long run so that is not even a 1/2.

    1. Lately, I’m trying to be a bit strategic about my training and rest days. During the week, I’m running two or three days, with one or two days off. I shoot for just 30 minutes, since it’s winter and after work. Trying to set a low bar, in other words. On the weekends, I run both days, for about an hour each. I’m not too concerned with distance right now, just time.

      I think you’re wise to balance out your life. Running’s great, but then so are a lot of other things.

  15. “ A minshuku is what you’d call a Japanese bed-and-breakfast, if your idea of a bed was the floor and your idea of breakfast was rice. ”. That is an awesome explanation and made me laugh out loud. Thanks Ken!

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