The rest of my coworkers had gotten “A”s, but the grade on my most recent health report was a “B”. Motivated partly by jealousy and partly by wanting to upgrade my fitness level from “sea slug” to “sea snail”, I decided to join a gym. Armed with some advice from coworkers, I found myself treadmilling and “pole stretching” at a local gym with a monthly membership fee of only JPY 2500 (USD 22 at a JPY 118 = USD 1 exchange rate).
As discussed in Jeffrey Joseph’s article, most gyms are expensive and you’d be lucky to find one in the city with a membership fee of JPY 10,000 (USD 85) per month (not to mention the joining fee!). Several readers, though, pointed out that cheaper public gyms are available. The city-run gyms probably won’t have satisfactory facilities for the more advanced athlete or onsen for a relaxing post-workout soak, but they are a great alternative for those on a budget.
City Gym Outline
In Tokyo, each district has several inexpensive public sports centers, and even out in the inaka (countryside) where I used to live, there was a public training room within three kilometers. The public gyms go by several names, which can make searching for them on the internet a little tough. Most are called “sports centers” (スポーツセンター, supōtsu sentā), but some other names include “health centers” (健康センター, kenkō sentā), “gymnasiums” (体育館, taiikukan), “sports plazas” (スポーツプラザ, supōtsu puraza) and so on.
Most sports centers will have a basic training room (usually called トレーニング室/torēningu-shitsu or トレーニングルーム/torēningu rūm) with treadmills, weight machines, free weights and a locker room. Many public sports centers will also have a pool, kyūdō (archery) range, dōjō (martial arts room) and a basketball court. If you’re lucky, you might also have a rock-climbing wall or air-rifle range at your local sports center.
The public gyms serve a large demographic, so you’ll probably find other services that interest you. Among these services are various clubs, such as badminton club, and classes, such as “stretch pole”, “balletone” and aerobics. The Ikebukuro Sports Center even has a 45-minute personal trainer program for 4000 yen.
Fees and Usage
Much like how the facilities at each gym vary, the fees also vary. In general, you’ll pay between 200 yen and 600 yen for one-time entry into the training room. You can usually get a discount if you live or work in the district, so bring a form of ID. Sometimes, but not always, this one-use ticket will extend to other facilities, such as pools and classes. As an extra bonus, the gyms will occasionally hold days on which entry is free to district residents and workers.
To use the training room, even just once, you may have to register and take a simple on-site health check. Some gyms have forms in English, but be prepared just in case your local public gym only has forms in Japanese. In addition, a few gyms require new training room users to take an introductory class, which may only be offered in Japanese. If your Japanese is a little rusty, it might be worth bringing a Japanese-speaking friend.
As mentioned above, residents and employees of a district usually can get entry tickets to the public gyms at a reduced fee. For further discounts, you’ll want to check if the gym offers batch tickets or memberships/free passes.
Generally the public gyms are open to all members of the public, but several readers justifiably expressed concern about reactions to tattoos. Reflecting the official advice on the Shinjuku and Minato gym websites, GaijinPot author Quincy Fox suggested keeping tattoos covered with long sleeves, athletic supporters and tape as well as avoiding changing clothes at the gym.
Whether your motivation is completing a triathlon or simply showing up your coworkers at the next health check, definitely consider the public gyms in Japan to help you reach your goals.
Tokyo Public Gym Details
Minato-ku Sports Center
Facilities: Training room, running course, pool, baby room, restaurants, etc.
Hours: 9:00-21:00 (last entry at 20:30)
Fees: 400 yen (Minato-ku residents/employees, all facilities, 2 hours for pool), 700 yen (non-Minato-ku residents/employees, all facilities, 2 hours for pool)
Address: 108-0023, Tōkyō-to, Minato-ku, Shibaura, 3 Chome−1−19
Minato-ku Sports Center Website [in Japanese]
Koto-ku Ariake Sports Center
Facilities: Training room, pool (with slide), gymnasium, etc.
Hours: 8:30-22:00 (training room from 9:00-21:50, last entry 21:30)
Fees: 400 yen (adult, training room, 4 hours), 4000 yen (batch ticket worth 11 training room entries), 15000 yen (6 month training room membership/free pass)
Address: 135-0063, Tōkyō-to, Kōtō-ku, Ariake, 2 Chome−3−5
Koto-ku Ariake Sports Center Website [in Japanese]
Toshima-ku Ikebukuro Sports Center
Facilities: Training room, pool, dojo, etc.
Hours: Monday-Saturday/Holidays, 8:30-22:00 (last entry at 21:30, training room/pool closes at 21:45), Sunday, 8:30-21:00 (last entry at 20:30, training room/pool closes at 20:45)
Fees: 600 yen (adult, training room and pool, 2 hours), 5400 yen (prepaid card worth 6000 yen/6 training room and pool entries)
Address: 170-0012, Tōkyō-to, Toshima-ku, Kamiikebukuro, 2 Chome−5−1
Toshima-ku Ikebukuro Sports Center Website [in Japanese]
Arakawa Sougou Sports Center
Facilities: Training room, warm water pool, kids’ room, ping-pong room, air-rifle range, etc.
Hours: 8:00-22:15 (last entry at 21:30)
Fees: 400 yen (adult, training room, 3 hours)
Address: 116-0003, Tōkyō-to, Arakawa-ku, Minamisenju, 6 Chome−45−5
Arakawa Sougou Sports Center Website [in Japanese]
Public Gyms with English Websites