Running in Japan: From Tokyo to Takayama

Running in Japan

I recently went travelling in Japan and took my running shoes with me, as always! I wanted to share a few tips on running (and pictures) from the places that I visited, including Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Nagano. 

Tokyo

My first stop was Tokyo, a pretty overwhelming city in terms of size and density and not one that I was expecting to be a running paradise given how urban it is. That being said, Tokyo marathon is pretty famous, so I knew there must be something about running in Tokyo that attracts runners from all over the globe.

We decided to go on a running tour to get an introduction to the city - and found that Tokyo Great Tours were providing a running tour alongside there bike and kayak tours. Their run was 15 kms over 3 hours, and a 9:30 am start time in the middle of summer was going to prove difficult in the stifling humidity. The tour would take us along part of the sumida river and through the north part of the city, including the Asakusa area, where we were staying. Overall we enjoyed the tour, and although we found the guide quite difficult to understand, he was friendly and showed us some places we would not have found otherwise, including a Sumo wrestler training stable!

If you want to go on some self guided runs, I ventured out three more times while in Tokyo so have a few suggestions. From the north side of Tokyo (we stayed in Taito), I would recommend running along the Sumida river, which was definitely the most relaxed and enjoyable thing to do. Another option is to run to/in Ueno Park. Although small you can run around the Shinobazu pond and in the spring this is one of the best places to see the famous cherry blossom trees. You will also be running around the zoo, home of the famous giant pandas.

If staying more centrally or south, like we were the second time in Tokyo, you'll need there options. I took a run starting in Akasaka near Chiyoda Park, where I ran across to Yoyogi Park and back around Shinjuku National Garden, Jingu stadium, and Togu Palace and the State Guest Houses (15 km total). What I found out on this run is that you are not actually allowed to run in Yoyogi Park, a common trap for running foreigners. Without knowing this, I initially managed to slip past the guards and into the park, but was subsequently chased down 2 km later by a screaming security guard. So probably best not to go to Yoyogi park to run... but laps around the other areas is another option. I came back from my runs soaking wet, be aware of the humidity in the summer, and if you can run early in the morning or late at night, like the locals do.

Kyoto

The old capital, famous for its temples, is also a pretty nice place for a run! I went out twice, once I ran quite centrally, exploring the Geisha district (around Gion corner) and Yasaka Shrine and gardens, and the second time I ran up (north) along the Kamo river, eventually turning left to end up at the golden temple. The second run was great, with views of the mountains in the distance and many traditional houses lining the river bank. I even saw a big eagle soaring above me searching for pray. Another option is to run over at Lake Biwa, but unfortunately I ran out of time for this!

Hiroshima

Many people who come to Japan venture over to Hiroshima because of its history, and we decided to do the same. However we only gave ourselves one night there, enough to see central Hiroshima and do a side trip to Miyajima. We were staying centrally and I just went for one run, along the river near the memorial park. The memorial park itself does not seem an appropriate place to go running and I found it difficult to find a path along the river that was not interrupted by roads and traffic. It was a bit of an urban fail - see the picture below... Given the chance again, I would run on Miyajima, as there are some nice trails and hills to climb with views over Hiroshima Bay. At least I found Caballo Blanco (for those who have read Born to Run).

Nagano (Japanese Alps): Matsumoto and Kamikochi

Nagano is a very big area famous for skiing in the winter and hiking in the summer, and we only visited a small part of it. We briefly stopped off in Matsumoto, one of the gateway cities to the Japanese Alps, before going up into the mountains and staying at a Ryokan (highly recommended). We explored two areas, Kamikochi, which is what is shown in the pictures below, and Mt Hakone, which unfortunately was invisible on the day we were hiking there due to mist and rain. I would definitely recommend taking your trail shoes and getting off the bus at Kamikochi, the valley is beautiful with a turquoise stream running through the middle and mountains surrounding, and the trails are all very well marked.

And that was it for running in Japan! Hopefully if you are visiting it will help you decide where to run, or it might provide some inspiration for a trip to Japan. Running aside, it was a fascinating trip with amazing food, interesting culture and friendly people. 

Happy running!

Dan