This is the much delayed second part to my earlier post where I promised to give some tips on where to go running if you’re visiting Tokyo. Even thought it’s been several months since I was there, the runs have stayed with me as some of the most enjoyable I’ve done.
As I mentioned in my other post, even though I was only in Japan a short time, having a ‘regular’ running route can make you feel more at home and something like a local as you start to recognise smaller landmarks and fall into the daily rhythm of an area. Now I’m home I miss passing the policemen sitting behind desks in the Koban stations on my way down to the Sumida River, and seeing the dogs dressed up for their walks around Shinobazu Pond.
At the time I was training for a half marathon (which I never completed due to a slightly hyperchondriacal reaction to a sore ankle which Dr Google convinced me was a stress fracture) meaning I was doing two shorter runs (around 6kms) and a longer run (around 14kms) a week. Finding places for short runs was fine, finding convenient routes for longer runs was more difficult.
Shinobazu Pond and Ueno Park
This was my local run from where we were staying in Ueno. I thought it would be convenient to be close to Ueno Park for running, but to be honest, it was hard going for a variety of reasons. Well, actually just one reason – cherry blossom season. So. Many. People. It was beautiful, but crowded. The Pond and Park are also quite small, requiring a lot of laps to get up a decent distance, even on just a 6km short run. That said, running under a canopy of cherry blossoms was amazing.
This is one of the most popular parks in Tokyo, and, lucky for me, I had it pretty much to myself on a rainy, mid-week, mid-morning run. There’s a range of concrete and dirt paths throughout the park with both natural woodland type areas and more formal garden areas to explore. My strategy on this occasion was to spot a local runner and follow them, which took me around the outer ring route of the park, around 3kms. I did my own variation of the same route during a second lap. I understand there’s also an oval nearby which runners frequently use for training, but I didn’t venture in there.
The real highlight of this run was discovering the joys of the ‘running station’. The idea is that if you don’t have showers at work, and aren’t a member of a nearby gym, you can stop in at a running station to leave your gear and then shower and get ready for work. Because I was meeting up with my travel companion for lunch straight after my run, I thought I’d give Nohara Running Station a go. I loved it. Everything that is good about Japan was captured in one small communal bathroom – cleanliness, smart modern design and efficiency with a touch of luxury in the form of high-quality toiletries. Locker and towel hire and use of the showers cost around $10.
Running around the Imperial Palace is to Tokyo what running around Lake Burley Griffin is to Canberra. With one distinct difference – everyone runs in the same direction: anti-clockwise. It’s about a 5km loop and there’s no need to stop for traffic lights which is a real bonus in Tokyo. It was also the most enjoyable long runs I’ve ever done as I did three laps in total. There were a lot of distractions to keep it interesting each time around, like the signs reminding people to watch their manners – some of them kind of cryptic and the distance and other markers built into the pavement. The main challenge was on the last lap (always the hardest) when around 40 bus loads of Japanese tourists flooded the path turning the run into a game of dodge and weave in a world where nobody keeps to the left to allow overtaking. Oh, and it was raining, so there was a whole bunch of umbrellas thrown in for good measure.
There’s lovely scenery and toilets and drinking fountains conveniently spaced out around the route. Also, keep an eye out for one of the best visual indicators of just how safe Japan is: people’s gear left in little piles on park benches, waiting for them to collect it at the end of their run. Top tip: Go during the week, not on a busy Sunday morning.
Before I left for Tokyo I did a lot of research online for information about where to go running in Tokyo. Much like this post, a lot of the information wasn’t that helpful, except for one tip: find a river and run along it. If you’re staying in Ueno or Asakusa, the Sumida River is close by and is a runner’s dream – there’s a wide clear boulevard and bicycles are banned. Yes, you read correctly. No bikes. This was the only river I ran along in Tokyo, but I understand that many of them have good walking/cycle paths along them. The problem with the Sumida River is that it’s hard to cover a lot of distance without going up onto the road to get over the many bridges. That said, the space more than makes up for it.