Fitness Clubs in Japan: A Wonderful Adventure Awaits You

On December 6, 2014

Visiting Japan is a wonderful, fun adventure. From the safety of a low-crime environment, the convenience of public transportation and yes, the magic of conveyor belt sushi, the country no doubt dazzles, and delights first-time foreigners with its cultural oddities and curiosities.

It can be easy to discount the importance of exercise while on a vacation. But, for those of us who spend a large amount of time enjoying the gym, life in Japan could bring new challenges. I’m here to tell you that exercising and finding a gym in Japan is just one of the magical paths you’ll walk down as a foreigner living abroad.

As the only foreigner, prepare for a wonderful locker room adventure

As the only foreigner, and a naked one at that, you will be the center of attention in the locker room. Your presence will draw interesting looks and sometimes conversation from the curious few who are brave enough to try their English with you. Of course, there are lockers, bathrooms, grooming stations, complete with mirrors, combs, and blow dryers, but a fitness club locker room can be so much more.

Once you head into the bathing area the locker room will transform into a Japanese style onsen, and this is a great thing. The onsen style baths and sauna, are an amazingly relaxing and peaceful pastime that I long for almost daily as a former ex-pat. It does take time to get used to being naked with other people but once you overcome this small mental obstacle, you’ll be free to enjoy a unique cultural aspect of Japan which many foreigners shy away from.

Just remember that nudity in Japan is not as taboo as in the West. I one time had a Japanese old man slide up to me, literally thigh against wet, naked thigh in the onsen bath to have a discussion about America. It is uncomfortable but remember, you’re the only one thinking about being naked.

A gym in Japan can be more expensive than in the West. As a Westerner, I’m accustomed to the luxury of a $45 per month or less gym membership at various fitness clubs; La Fitness, Gold’s Gym, and Planet Fitness to name a few. Some gyms in the US even go as low as $10 per month. In Japan expect to pay around ¥10,000 or more per month.

I lived in a suburb of Tokyo so expect even higher rates in the city. My theory is that many clubs in Japan include amenities most people will never use, such as aerobics, water aerobics, golf, yoga, swimming, to name a few. If you’re a person trying to do weight training or simple cardio exercise, you may find the price tag a considerable barrier to joining a gym.


In Japan, weightlifting and power lifting takes a backseat to cardio. As a weight lifter, I truly struggled to find the kinds of fitness equipment that I needed to have a good workout. Many fitness clubs in Japan have amenities such as pools, fitness classes, tons of aerobic equipment, and locker room luxuries but the majority lacked weightlifting equipment. It came to the point that during the tours of the gym (they all give extensive tours) I would merely ask to see the gym’s weight area because if the weights were very light, I just knew that the gym wouldn’t be adequate.

It wasn’t until I joined a small hole-in-the-wall gym run by an ex-competitive bodybuilder (shout out to Sports Gym Win) did I find squat racks, Olympic, heavy free weights or even pull up bars. This gym was obviously an anomaly in the country with the oldest population in the known world. However, for those looking for simple machine equipment and aerobic equipment such as Stairmasters and treadmills, you’ll have no problem.

Prepare for a dietary challenge. In the west, 5lbs of whey protein can easily be bought for about $55. In Japan, you’ll find this luxury supplement for three times the price, or more. In addition to this, most pre-workout powders and vitamin supplements are not available. For these amenities I recommend buying bulk whey protein online. (It’s cheaper, even after the shipping to Japan!) For other supplements, you’ll likely have no other choice.

In my opinion, working out in Japan has just not taken off like it has in America. Young adults are simply too busy with work to find time for the gym and women are too afraid of looking too buff to hit the weights. It is very rare to see a “built” man or women in Japan. It was my experience that gyms in Japan were always filled with men and women trying to preserve their fitness in their retirement years. But, don’t let this stop you from hitting the gym and enjoying yourself. Working out in Japan is just as amazing and rewarding as it is in your home country and is always worth the effort.

Guest Contributor

This article was written by Jeffrey Joseph, host of the Anime Addicts Anonymous Podcast, a podcast dedicated to Japanese animation and anecdotes about Japan. For more information about Japan and for wonderful Japan and anime driven dialogue, tune in to the podcast at our website and on iTunes.


Your Entry to Japan.
  • Alex Jordan says:

    Thanks for the post, i find it very informative. Keep

    Fitness equipment

  • Christine Wood says:

    I saw you mentioned not many women powerlifters or buff women in Japan. Are there Western women who are buff in they gym? Also, Do they have any supplements that are brain enhancement for focus over there? Like #EHT? Just curious.

  • ChikaraMike says:

    Try a CrossFit gym. They all have olympic barbells and plates as it’s part of the program. There are at least 4 now in Tokyo.

  • DJ Rose says:

    Ummm…Gold’s Gym in Omotesando? You want to see built Japanese people, look no further.

  • steve2999 says:

    Hello, I live in Tokyo and looking for a gym with olympic weights etc as well.
    Could you kindly share more info about the gym you eventually joined (Sports Gym Win?)?
    Thank you very much!

  • Nadsumatal says:

    A deal breaker when it comes to membership chain fitness clubs: you can’t use other locations than the one you signed up at. What’s the point of it being a chain then? What’s the benefit of paying all that money?

    For my casual workouts, I found city gyms (taiikukan) to be just as good, if not better equipped than membership sports clubs. Much cheaper: 200-400 per entry and without all the paperwork needed for membership. Bring your ID or meishi to prove that you live or work in the area to get a discount. The usual clientelle (students and retired people) don’t use dumbbells, so you’ll have that section to yourself. Downsides: may be far from the station, opening hours are 10-ish to 21-ish, pools paid separately from gym. Not a problem if you have a flexible schedule.

    Best of both worlds: the Olympic Stadium next to Sendagaya station. No paperwork, ¥600 gets you 2 hours, gym well equipped, deep, 50m pool. Better than any membership-based chain.

  • Net says:

    Hey, what about tatoo? Is it true that you can be rejected if you have a tatoo (yakusa related), even in parts when is not visible?

  • シェルナット says:

    Thoughts on how women and tattoos fare? I’m a pretty avid basic user in the US, not using more than 20# free weights and most machines, but it sounds like that’s non existent. I am also very tattooed, which is the locker room is onsen-like, I would assume they’d kick me right out and throw my clothes out behind me.

    • Quincy Fox says:

      As a lady with tattoos, I will be addressing this in an upcoming post. I have been kicked out of gyms before. The issue is very real. The best way to get around it is by using athletic supporters, tape, long sleeves, and a lot of creativity to keep everything hidden. I always showered and changed at home.

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