Gambling is officially not allowed in Japan. However, there are several exceptions, and one of these is an Olympic sport known as Keirin (track racing). Its name originated from a Japanese word meaning ‘racing wheels’ or ‘bicycle race’. It was developed in Japan in 1948 for the sole purpose of gambling, and it became an official sport during the 2000 Olympics.
Keirin was developed as a way for the government to increase their income from taxes in the past. It became a phenomenally huge earner, around 1.5 trillion yen per year is made through Keirin! The sport is similar to horse racing in the West, where betters sit in velodromes while watching the race. Most of the betters prefer to watch it on a big screen where they can clearly see the race in the betting hall rather than watching the live action outside. One racing event lasts for 3 days, with 11 races happening per day. The rank of the racer depends on whether he wins or loses.
To be a keirin rider is considered to be a highly prestigious position and only 10% of the people that apply to the Keirin School are actually admitted. Before they begin to race, they have to undergo 11 months of gruelling training, which is not dissimilar to what happens at a real boot camp. They have to wake up as early as 6.30 am when they immediately start to do some exercises as well as their cleaning chores. The daily training can be very tough, from hill climbing to lap training.
It sounds a bit like torture, but so many people, often in their thirties, are aiming to become professional Keirin riders every year. What probably has a lot to do with that is that a professional rider generally makes a good living, with the top earner making more than 150 million yen (more than a million American dollars) per year. Riders aim to maintain a very good standing, as being stuck at the bottom for a long time will force them to retire. Women riders started competing in the year 1949 which was halted suddenly, and they were only readmitted in 2012.
Haven’t tried gambling yet in Japan? Then this could be your first time since Keirin betting is legal and doesn’t cost so much if you don’t want to bet with too much money. Give it a go next time!
You can click here for more information (mostly in Japanese).