In recent years, running has become a very trendy and popular sport in Japan, thanks to its low barrier to entry (you just need some comfortable clothes and a pair of running shoes) and ease of engaging in this sport (you can either run outdoors or head to the gym’s treadmill when the weather is unfavourable).
There is no stopping you from exploring your neighbourhood or unfamiliar parts of the city since you can literally go anywhere as far as your feet take you. The increasing popularity of the sport can also be seen through the emergence of “city runners” i.e. running enthusiasts who pound the pavement at hot spots such as the perimeter around the Imperial Palace, Odaiba and Yoyogi Park in Tokyo.
For many beginner runners, you may be keen to participate in a formal race at some point in time but are hesitant to do so for many reasons. First of all, for major marathons like the Tokyo Marathon, it is extremely difficult to secure a slot due to the sheer number of applicants wanting to participate in such a prestigious and well-known race. Even if you do manage to get a slot, you will have to make sure that you can run within the designated time limits which may be too daunting for beginners.
It will also be a huge waste of your time and money if you can’t finish the race because registration fees for such big-scale races are generally on the high side. Moreover, not everyone can take up the challenge of doing a full marathon from the onset since it takes a lot of training to build up the stamina and power to last the entire distance.
Rather than stress yourself over a full marathon, why not consider these 5 short-distance races in Japan which are perfect for beginners? Be it whether you are currently living in Japan, you can experience what it’s like to participate in a race with others and have fun at the same time. Some of these races also welcome participants from overseas so for those who are traveling in Japan, this will definitely become a highlight of your vacation. What’s more, these races stand out for various interesting reasons so read on to find out more about them!
Ever thought of participating in a marathon at a geopark on a volcanic island? If so, the Izuoshima Geopark Marathon (伊豆大島ジオパークマラソン)(*Japanese Only) is definitely what you are looking for! This race featuring beautiful sights on Izuoshima created by natural forces such as Mount Mihara or the magnificent views of the Izu Peninsula and Mount Fuji from the coastline will be held on 11 May 2019. There will be four distance categories with details as follows so please click on the links for the route maps:
50km: One round of circling the island plus a stretch heading towards Noda Beach (largest elevation difference – 365m / elevation gain – 834m)
Full marathon: One round of circling the island (largest elevation difference – 365m / elevation gain – 834m)
10km: From Noda Beach to Oshima Town Office (largest elevation difference – 25m / elevation gain – 80m)
5km: Near Oshima Airport to Oshima Town Office (largest elevation difference – 15m / elevation gain – 17m)
Depending on your preference and how far you can cover, you can choose the category accordingly. Do take note though that for the 50km and full marathon categories, you will need to be at least 18 years old while for the shorter distances, you will have to be at least in junior high school and above. Given that there are limited slots (200 for the 10km category and 100 for the 5km category), this will also mean that you won’t be surrounded by huge crowds during the race.
There are also exclusive perks given to participants of this race including:
the chance to attend a free seminar hosted by a former national athlete
free servings of the local specialty Isojiru (磯汁) i.e. seafood soup when you complete the race
free entry to the onsen Hama no Yu (浜の湯)
access to the geopark tour on the day after the race (separate charges apply)
finisher towel given to those who complete the race
Registration is already open and will close on 24 April 2019. Note that for race participants, you can enjoy a discount on the ferry ticket to Izuoshima from Tokyo’s Takeshiba Ferry Terminal. On the other hand, if you are traveling to Izuoshima by plane, this discount will not be applicable.
Barefoot running has become increasingly popular in recent years but there are not that many races which allow you to do so. The Hanno Barefoot Marathon (飯能ベアフットマラソン)(*Japanese Only) is the only barefoot race in Japan where adults and children can run on the unpaved trail around Miyazawa Lake and Kaji Shrine. There used to be a category allowing the use of running shoes but ever since last year, this was abolished thus making it a true-blue barefoot race. Applications are accepted till 5 May 2019.
There are 6 distance categories as follows:
1.2km – 1 round of the kids’ course (for preschool children 3 years old and above)
2.4km – 2 rounds of the kids’ course (for primary school children)
2.4km – 2 rounds of the kids’ course (open to all)
5km – 1 round of the long course (junior high school and above)
10km – 2 rounds of the long course (junior high school and above)
21.1km – 3 rounds of the long course (junior high school and above)
There are no prerequisites to take part in this marathon other than for the 21.1km where the runner must have had prior experience participating in this barefoot marathon’s 10km category or any other road races of at least 21.1km barefoot. Note that there will be timings captured and prizes given out to the top three for all categories except for the 2.4km open group. All participants will get a finisher certificate.
Registration fees for all categories range from 2,000 yen to 5,500 yen. For the shorter races, there are 100 places in each category while for the longer races, there are up to 150 places each. If you wish to take part in the pre-run seminar which lasts for an hour, you will need to pay another 1,500 yen on top of your registration fee. There is another get-together session after the race where you can enjoy a free flow of food and drinks for 2 hours at the price of 3,300 yen.
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h30.5.2 今日はあいにくの雨☔️ ちょうどよい休足日。 pic❶昨日は、やる気スイッチポチッ❗️からのー２日目😙 八ツ面山をぐるぐると歩いたり走ったり🏃♀️ 久しぶりの八ツ面mountain🌳 これからどんどん陽射しが強くなる☀️から、こちらでがんばろっと😆🙌 紫外線おちょろちいなー（笑）💀😂 ・ pic❷ #vivacafesta岡崎 pic❸ #忍者アイス pic❹❺ #新舞子nestbythesea ・ 癒してくれるfoods😍 インスタ映えするものテンションあがるね☺️🙌 食べるためにも走ろう（笑）😂 明日は走れるかなー♬ ・ ・ #朝ラン復活 #ランニング女子 #ランニング初心者 #脚の治療 #痛みなく走りたい #フロッグ #名城公園 #春大好き #このままでは終われない #夏には汗だくラン #へきなんタイム申告健康マラソン #安曇野ハーフマラソン #次の目標 #ウィメンズ2019 #ぎふ清流ハーフマラソン2019
Over at Hekinan City in Aichi Prefecture, the Hekinan Time Shinkoku Kenkou Marathon (へきなんタイム申告健康マラソン) is unlike other marathons because your race timing is dependent on your self-declaration. Since the purpose of the race is meant to promote a healthy lifestyle, competing to win the race is not the key aim. As long as your self-declared time matches what’s recorded at the finishing point, you also stand a chance to win prizes if you are the fastest or finish among the top 6 in your category. Even for those who aren’t that fast, they can still win special prizes through the lucky draw.
There are three distance categories for this race held at Cycle Road in Hekinan City Rinkai Park:
3km (primary school students and above)
5km (junior high school students and above)
10km (senior high school students and above)
Registrations via the Internet are accepted up till 13 April 2019 while application forms sent through the mail must reach by 15 April 2019. Entry fees are rather affordable and dependent on your age i.e. ranging from 500 yen to 2,000 yen. Take note as well that the starting time for the various distance categories differ.
The Kaju Oukoku Higashine Sakuranbo Marathon (果樹王国ひがしねさくらんぼマラソン大会) is the largest civilian marathon in the Tohoku region which originated from Higashine City, Yamagata Prefecture i.e. the hometown of the king of cherries Satounishiki (佐藤錦) and the largest producer of cherries in Japan. As such, it is no wonder that the name of the marathon incorporates the title of Kaju Oukoku i.e. fruit kingdom. The race takes place along the fruit line (rows of fruit trees in farms open to tourists) and in the grounds of JGSDF Camp Jinmachi so you will be greeted by lots of colourful and delicious-looking fruits as you run.
This race also accepts applications from foreign runners so you may refer here for application details in English and Chinese. Note that the application deadline is 31 Mar 2019.
Compared to the other races featured above, the number of slots for this marathon is much higher at 12,000 and there is a finer segregation of categories in terms of age group and gender which is implemented from this year onwards. Here are the distance categories and number of slots available:
Half-marathon (6,500 slots) – 18 years old to 29 years old, 30s, 40s, 50s and above 60s
10km (3,000 slots) – senior high school students to 29 years old, 30s, 40s, 50s and above 60s
5km (1,500 slots) – senior high school students to 29 years old, 30s, 40s, 50s and above 60s
3km (1,000 slots) – Primary 4 to 6 students, junior high school students
Family – A pair made up of one Primary 1 to 3 student with one guardian
Due to the expected turnout, runners are encouraged to reach the gathering area between 6am and 7am. Do make use of the free shuttle bus services (*Japanese Only) plying between the venue, JR Sakuranbo Higashine Station and Sakuranbo Higashine Onsen. For all race finishers, you can expect to get cherries, rice balls and a commemorative T-shirt.
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The Ibaraki Melon Melon Run Mito Kairakuen (茨城メロンメロンラン水戸偕楽園)(*Japanese Only) is yet another unusual race because the ultimate aim is not to be the fastest runner. Being the No.1 producer of melons in Japan, Ibaraki Prefecture will be providing an unlimited supply of three types of their melons to all runners who can feast to their hearts’ content at the melon replenishment stations along the courses. How does this sound to you?
This race is very inclusive and accommodating to people of all fitness levels and ages because it features both running and walking courses. You can choose between the Lake Senba, Kairakuen and city courses as follows but do note that the assembly points for the running and walking courses are different:
Walking course – 11km (within Mito City)
Lake Senba – 1 round about 3km for parent-and-child (4 years old and above)
Kairakuen – 5km (junior high school and above)
Kairakuen – 10km (junior high school and above)
Lake Senba – 1 round (junior high school and above)
Registration fees for local residents in Mito City are lower than the general public and applications are accepted until 16 May 2019. As for your bibs and race guides, they will be sent to you by early June.
All participants can collect their T-shirts on the day of the race from 8am to 2pm and will get their completion certificates (no timing recorded) at the end of the race.
Are you raring to go after reading about all these races? Do head out to enjoy the fun of running while taking in the beautiful sights and treating yourself to some delicacies along the way!