I’ve always been an active person, and these days especially I’ve gotten very serious about fitness. As anyone with fitness goals will tell you, doing what it takes to reach your goals requires patience, dedication, and the ability to overcome temptation. Already, this can be quite the challenge, however, I have found living in Tokyo makes matters even worse. If you also live here, then you know that:
- Getting started at a Japanese gym can be overwhelming
- Restaurants here tend to be on the carb-heavy side
- The drinking culture is very real here, and so cutting back is next to impossible without a plan
These challenges coupled with a low level of Japanese language abilities make the process of living a healthy lifestyle an uphill battle, to say the least. So I’ve decided to create this post as a sort of guide to getting past these very common obstacles.
Note: I plan to update this post from time to time, so be sure to check back to see if there are any additions relevant to your situation.
Hitting the Gym
Let’s begin with the most obvious obstacle. Where does one go to exercise in the city? If you are anything like I was, you know a gym when you see it, but (assuming your level of Japanese is also as low as mine was when I first moved to Tokyo) stepping in and getting started is entirely too overwhelming. Luckily, with some preparation and foresight, the process becomes drastically simpler.
Perhaps the simplest and cheapest option is to locate your ward’s sports center. Basically, every ward in Tokyo has some sort of activity center open to the public, and discounted for anyone who lives, works or studies in the area. These sports centers are maintained by each local ward and are very affordable. Generally, you pay anywhere between 200-500 yen for a set amount of time (Usually 2 hours). It’s important to note that not all sports centers are created equal. Some have weight rooms, while others don’t. Some have pools, open mat areas, lessons, etc. So make sure to plan a visit to make sure your nearest center is a viable option for you.
As an example, I work in Minato-ku, and so I often visit the Minato-ku Sports Center . To get started, I was required to fill out a registration form and show proof of my association with the ward, in this case, my work ID. Once I finished this process, I was given a refillable membership card with which I pay 500 yen each time I visit the sports center. People who don’t go through this initial process are still able to use the sports center’s facilities, however, they must purchase single-use tickets for 800 yen.
To give you an idea of what to expect from sports centers, some of the facilities available at the Minato-ku sports center include:
- 25 meter pool
- Indoor and outdoor tracks
- Training room (with Weight area)
- Open matted areas
- Dance, Workout, Martial arts lessons
- Basketball Court
- Volleyball Court
- And more
I should also note before moving on that the Minato-ku sports center is one of the more updated centers, so don’t expect every one of the same services at other locations. To find your nearest sports center, you can ask at your local ward office, police box, or just google “[your ward] sports center.”
If ward gyms don’t cut it, or you simply want a less crowded option, Tokyo has tons of gyms that offer monthly memberships. It’s always best to bring a Japanese speaker with you if you yourself don’t speak the language, however, I have found most gyms in Tokyo have some way of accommodating English speakers. In either case, the following are two gyms I would recommend checking out if you would like to go the membership route.
This is the option I currently go with for three reasons. Members have access to any Anytime Fitness in Japan, all locations are open 24 hours, and they are very affordable. Signing up is fairly pain free, and depending on which location you choose, some staff actually speak English. In terms of equipment, with a few exceptions most locations include at least all of the following:
- Flat Bench
- Power Cage
- Smith Machine
- Cable Machine
- Free Weights
- A bunch of various machines designed for specific body parts
- Belts and straps for lifting support
In terms of price, the monthly cost varies location to location with the average being about 7500 yen/month. Essentially, you sign up for one “home” Anytime Fitness. After your first 30 days of membership, you will then have access to all of the anytime fitness’ in Japan via a small keychain which you use to buzz yourself in at any of the locations. There is one stipulation though, you must go to your “home” location more than the others each month. In the event you don’t abide by this guideline, your membership transfers to the other Anytime and you will begin being charged their monthly rate instead. I haven’t run into an issue with this system yet and can’t foresee a problem coming up anytime soon.
One last thing worth mentioning is if you are interested in signing up wait for a campaign. Almost every location will run their own versions of a campaign once every couple of months, which can save you a good chunk of change. When I signed up, my initial fee and key fee were both waived. Additionally, my first 3 months were half off!
Here is the link to their Japanese website. There is no English, but google translate should make it manageable:
This international gym chain is essentially a fancier version of Anytime Fitness. There tends to be more equipment and more space, which translates to fewer chances of having to wait for a machine. However, the cost is also a bit higher, averaging at about 10000 yen/month. One other major benefit to signing up to Gold’s Gym is that the crowd here tends to be a bit more serious about fitness. And so if you are the kind of person who gets motivation from others, it’s definitely worth the investment!
Here is the link to their Japanese website:
Going out to eat is kind of the thing to do when meeting friends in Tokyo, and so it can be very challenging to eat right. That being said, I feel the only reason this is a challenge for me in the first place is that when
I was caught in the moment, I was never prepared, and so I always just gave in and chose to eat an unhealthy, albeit delicious meal. (Tokyo has the most Michelin Stars in the world.)
So in an effort to help all of you going through a similar sort of problem, I have listed out some common dishes which are on the healthier side. I’ve also listed out some pretty healthy restaurants for those of you who are in a more strict phase of your eating habits.
A Japanese style full set meal (The word literally means set menu) which includes a bowl of rice, a bowl of miso soup, a pickled vegetable, and is served with a meat or fish. Look for this kanji: 定食.
Soba Noodles (Cold)
Buckwheat noodles served chilled. They can be dipped into a special soba sauce. The sauce contains pretty high levels of sodium, so its best to use only a bit and dilute it if possible.
Sashimi or Sushi
Hopefuly you’ve heard of sushi before, raw meat served with white rice. Sashimi is essentially sushi minus the rice.
Below is a list of healthy (or at least as healthy as it gets eating out in Tokyo) which will be updated from time to time:
- Crisp Salad Works
- Green Brothers
- Ikinari Steak (This is actually a chain all over Japan)
- Any Teishoku restaurant. There are tons of these places all over Tokyo.
- Any Sushi restaurant. There are also tons of these places all over Tokyo.
Of the three points I listed at the start of this post, I’d have to say this is the most difficult because drinking is so ingrained in the culture of this country. In fact, there is a Japanese word specifically for going out for drinks with colleagues after work: Nomikai. If you are associated with any culturally Japanese group, you will at one point or other be forced to partake.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably already aware of the effect alcohol has on your fitness goals. From things like reducing your body’s ability to process protein, adding a bunch of empty carbs into your diet, and inhibiting you from resisting food cravings throughout the night, drinking too much or too often is a huge barrier to any plans to stay in shape. Fortunately, dealing with this problem is very similar to dealing with eating out: you just have to be prepared.
Firstly, assuming you socialize in any way, you will probably be drinking to a few kanpai‘s (The Japanese word for cheers). However, as you are probably already aware, there are some drinks which pack fewer calories and can be drunk a bit slower than others. Here are a few I fall back on and how to say them if your bartender doesn’t speak English:
- Whiskey on the Rocks: wiss-key-roc-kku
- Gin and Tonic: gin-toni-kku
- Standard Draft Beer (normally Kirin or Asahi): nama-bee-ru
Aside from the Kanpai‘s, you can probably get away with going non-alcoholic. Here are a few drinks you can order in place of alcohol that give off the appearance of being part of the in-crowd:
- Oolong Tea: oo-ron-cha
- Jasmin Tea: ja-su-min-cha
- Sparkling Water: tan-san-mizu
Hopefully, with these small pieces of advice, you too can attain a healthy lifestyle, despite the social pressures of Tokyo. It took me a while, but after a few years of figuring out small life hacks, I was able to do just that. If you’ve taken anything from this post, I hope it’s that while staying fit in Tokyo can be quite the challenge, with some planning and foresight (and some dedication) it is definitely possible.
I am always open to trying new things, so if you have any other recommendations for staying fit in Tokyo, leave a comment below!