The list of cool ways to experience Tokyo is pretty much endless and watching horse racing might not be high on your personal agenda — but it should be. In fact, keiba, or horse racing, is big business in Japan — the Japan Cup is one of the world’s richest purses — and the sport attracts spectators of all genders, ages and interests.
A day at the Tokyo Racecourse has got it all: a sprawling theme park-esque venue that hosts top-notch events, how-to seminars on betting for beginners, kid-friendly play areas, a wide range of restaurants, seasonal events and more. Plus, as one of the few sports that you can legally gamble on in Japan, there’s that chance that you could win a whole lotta yen.
What is the Tokyo Racecourse?
The Tokyo Racecourse is located in Fuchu, western Tokyo and is run by the Japan Racing Association (JRA). It’s here you can watch the most prestigious events of the Japanese horse racing world, leading up to the famous Japan Cup held on the last Sunday of November. The Japan Cup gathers horses from all over the world to compete for some mega bucks — this year’s competitors are in the running for a total of ¥648,000,000 (US$5.6 million) on Nov. 26.
Until Nov. 26, there are cup races every weekend and that means the venue will be packed with families, couples and, of course, the hardcore horse racing fans. This makes for a fantastically exciting atmosphere. The best part? Entry to the entire Tokyo Racecourse and all its facilities is a mere ¥200.
What can you do at Tokyo Racecourse?
A huge venue spread across seven floors, you could spend hours having fun without even glimpsing the actual racecourse itself. Here’s a breakdown of the different areas.
Inside the Fuji View Stand and Memorial Stand 60
- The Stands: Reserved and unreserved seating with a capacity of 13,750 stretches across the Fuji View Stands and Memorial 60, though there is plenty of standing capacity close to the turf so you won’t need to jockey for a good position.
- West Hall: The audiovisual hall where you can watch the day’s races and check the odds.
- Center Court: Here you’ll find an exhibition space and a rest area with tables and chairs.
- Horse Preview: Exactly as the name suggests, this is where you can preview the horses heading to the racetrack.
- Tourist Information: During the race cup season (Oct. 7 to Nov. 26), there is a multilingual information center on the third floor. Foreign visitors can get a free gift if they post about their Tokyo Racecourse visit on social media.
- Betting Points: You can find automatic multilingual betting machines on each floor.
- Umajo: There are two women-only cafés where female visitors can learn all about the betting process in a kawaii environment. Special horse-themed savories, cakes and drinks are on offer if you don’t want to opt for katsu (breaded cutlet) curry with the studs next door.
Speaking of, there are tons of restaurants throughout the venue that serve not only the lucky katsu curry (“katsu” is a homonym for the Japanese verb “to win”) but also ramen, fried food, snacks and beer.
Outside the stands
- Parade Ring: Before each race, the horses come here to parade in front of keen-eyed bettors on the lookout for any attributes (good or bad) that might sway the race results. It’s a great chance to see the impressive horses up close.
- JRA Racing Museum: Currently running an exhibition on the legendary champion Deep Impact, this museum also features a racing Hall of Fame.
- Riding Center: This section for retired horses is also designed to help young children familiarize themselves with the animals. Kids can stroke the horses and the plucky ones can ride a former racehorse in the paddock.
- Kids Parks: There are two outdoor children’s parks on either side of the racetracks. The park by the South Gate has small rides, a bouncy castle and a climb-and-play area.
- Events Area: Adjacent to the second park you’ll find an events area with a view of the racetrack from the outfield.
Watching a horse race
On a race cup day there are usually 12 races that you can get lucky on. Gates open at 9 a.m. and the first race starts at 10 a.m., with the main race taking place around 3:30 p.m.
To start, you’ll need to get familiar with the odds of the race. The JRA provide a very comprehensive Introduction to Racing booklet which shows you how to read the odds on the big screens inside the stands and in the racing program.
Before the race, head to the Parade Ring to get a good look at the condition of each horse. Watch as the crowds descend from the stands and listen to the quiet beat of pens tapping newspapers as the horses circle the ring — the whole atmosphere is tense with anticipation. After the horses leave, it’s time quit “foaling” around and place your bets.
How to bet
First, pick up a betting slip; there are three types: green, red and blue. Go for the green slip — this is the easiest to fill out. Betting slips are in Japanese but you can get a translated betting card holder (English, Chinese or Korean) from the information desk and place the slip inside.
Using the How to Bet guide, mark the parts of the slip according to the bet you want to place.
There are eight types of bet:
Once you’ve marked your bet, choose your horse by number. Then, choose the amount that you want to bet. Take your slip to one of the automatic betting machines. Insert your money, then the slip, hit confirm and it will print out your betting ticket. Easy!
To the stands
It’s off to the stands to watch the race. You’ll see the horses gather around the starting gate in the distance. When the fanfare sounds, the race is underway. As the horses approach the goal post, the crowd starts to get rowdy and you might even find yourself yelling in excitement with them.
Make it rein
If you’re a winner, you can get your prize at an automatic payout machine and make it raaaiiiiin.
The Japan Racing Association has ten racecourses across the country, as well as around 100 off-track betting facilities called “Wins”, usually located close to major stations.
How to get to the Tokyo Racecourse
A 30-minute express train ride on the Keio line from Shinjuku station takes you to Higashi-Fuchu station. Transfer to a local train to Fuchu Keiba Seimon-mae, connected to the racecourse via a covered passageway. If you’re coming via JR, get off at Fuchu Honmachi station. From there, it’s about a 5-minute walk.