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

Japan is a great country in which to run: clean air, well-maintained trails and roads. The only problem may be if you are in a major urban environment like Tokyo or Osaka; it is 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 are a five-foot runner, you will 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, is not necessarily 42.195 kilometers, 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. Two of the bigger online registration companies are RunNet ( and Sports Entry (, both in Japanese.

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

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 is 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.

To any runner in Japan, remember: 私は外国人のように話すがケニア人のように走る。
(I speak like a foreigner, but I run like a Kenyan).

Credits - would like to thank Once a Traveler ( for the authorization to partially reprint the article "Running in Japan" by Turner Wright.

Since September 7, 2007 - © Aerostato, Seattle - All Rights Reserved.

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