I’m originally from the United States, and I’ve been living in Japan for three years. Everyone in my family is athletic, so we’ve had an intimate relationship with sports, exercise and health all our lives. Since my father taught me how to lift weights when I was 15, it’s been a regular part of my fitness regimen wherever I’ve lived.
Japan enjoys many sports and boasts some of the world’s top athletes in various fields. Much of its population is active and enjoys working out. However, as an American, I’ve found that the capacity and style in which many Japanese people workout can be strikingly different than that of my home country.
Yoga is a practice that has grown popular in Japan relatively recently. You’ll find numerous yoga studios in every major city in each prefecture. The challenge is finding an appropriate style. Hot yoga, in particular, has become famous. There are a few studios that distinguish between the various styles of hot yoga you may find in the US, such as Bikram, Power, and Core.
Each yoga studio offers its own variety of classes, some of which you may not find in the US, such as a Korean form of “brain yoga” and another style originating from Thailand. You may bring your own mat, but it is not necessary, as towels are more commonly used and provided. Also, expect to pay 2,000 to 5,000 yen per class. Becoming a member of the studio is encouraged and makes classes cheaper. Membership varies widely from studio to studio but is a one-time fee of upwards of 5,000 yen.
In what the Japanese refer to as a “sports gym”, you’ll find much of the typical equipment and machinery as you would in any small-scale American gym: treadmills, ellipticals, stationary bikes, a lot of universal machines and a small range of dumbbells.
There are generally two types of people that frequent these gyms: a handful of bodybuilders, and the general populous who tend to be significantly less informed and enjoy the gym as much for its social atmosphere as for its fitness opportunities.
For those of us who enjoy the socializing, many Japanese prefer to sign up for the variety of studio classes each gym offers, such as ab routines, Zumba, stretching and yoga, and a method called “Body Combat” which incorporates some light weights. These tend to be very popular, and people arrive early to sign up and line up for them.
Another activity that has become more popular in recent years is climbing and bouldering. More and more, you can find a small climbing wall in some private gyms. More often than not, though, climbing walls tend to be a feature of specialized climbing gyms. They aren’t impossible to find, but are yet few and far between.
For those of you who are more knowledgeable about bodybuilding and are looking for a comprehensive provision of dumbbells, weight plates, barbells and Smith machines, my best advice is to go very expensive or very cheap. Let me explain …
The most popular gyms tend to be relatively new and cater to the majority of the populace, which are the ones who prefer lighter weights, more studio classes, and more talking in between universal machines. These gyms tend to run from 6,000 to 11,000 yen per month in addition to the one-time membership fee. You can stay active here, but you won’t be doing cross fit, and you probably won’t be tearing up any muscle.
Famous international brands, such as Gold’s Gym, will be just as expensive, if not more, but will provide the most comprehensive array of equipment. You’ll find a lot of bodybuilders and foreigners prefer these gyms. Sometimes, they are also open 24 hours, which is also notable, because Japanese gyms tend to operate only between 9 am and 11 pm.
My current choice is the city gym in Nagoya. For 1600 yen per month (and no membership fee), I get a card with which I can access any of these public facilities throughout the city. Equipment varies slightly from gym to gym, but you are more likely to find most of what you need, as a more serious body builder. If nothing else, I look for four staples in a gym: a dip frame, a pull-up bar, a satisfactory range of dumbbells and a Smith machine.
If you have the time, it’s definitely worth seeking some of these community gyms out, as it will save you hundreds of dollars instantly.
One more tip: some gyms – SOME – will allow you a chance to try the gym (or yoga studio) once or twice for free or for a cheaper fee. It’s worth asking about.