Japan’s summers are notoriously brutal. In colder months, it’s easy to pop into a local sento (bath house) or onsen (hot spring) and heat up. But in summer, it feels like an effort to cool off. Compared to sento and onsen, swimming pools feel few and far between.
Of course, you can always head to the water park, but what if you want something local? Where are all the swimming pools in Japan? What are the rules and etiquette?
In this article, we will dive into the depths of swimming pools in Japan.
Finding a swimming pool
The first step to finding a swimming pool near you is to hop on Google Maps and search for one. Since Google Maps in Japan is fickle, you’ll probably get different results depending on whether your search is:
- Swimming pool
- プール (pool)
- スイミングプール (swimming pool)
You’ll probably find a lot of sports gyms like Tokyu Sports Oasis and Konami Sports Club. Sports clubs are great, but you’ll need to sign up for a membership, which typically starts at around ¥13,000 monthly. Plus, there will be a sign-up fee, and depending on your membership level, you can only swim at specific times.
It’s cheaper and relatively hassle-free if you go to a community pool, such as at a municipal sports center, community center, park or public school. It is typically only around ¥500 to enter, and there are discounts for children and older adults.
One thing to learn is whether the pool is a recreational pool or an athletic pool. A recreational pool is typically outdoors, with relaxed rules or dress code. An athletic pool will have lanes for swimming laps. Sometimes an athletic pool will have a section split off for recreational swimming. Research the pool before going so you know what to expect.
Here is where you can find public pools in your area:
- Municipal sports centers (市営スポーツセンター): Most cities and towns in Japan have municipal sports centers with swimming pools. These centers feature indoor and outdoor pools for laps, diving boards and even kiddy pools and water slides for children.
- Public parks: Some public parks in Japan may have swimming pools (E.g., East Chofu Park in Ota, Tokyo). These pools are usually open during summer or all year if they’re indoors.
- Community centers: Neighborhood community centers often have swimming pools available for residents. These pools are typically smaller and provide more community-oriented swimming experiences (lessons for children, water aerobics for older people, etc. Even if you’re not a resident, you should still be able to enter, but you might have to pay more.
- Schools: Some schools have pools open o the public outside of school hours and on weekends (E.g., Gohongi Elementary School in Meguro, Tokyo).
Swimsuits, rules and tattoos
Men will wear normal swimming shorts or a speedo. Women wear bikinis to a recreational pool but typically wear one-piece swimsuits or zip-ups (i.e., conservatively) at an athletic pool. You will also likely need to wear a swimming cap at an athletic pool. Rules can vary depending on the season, but whether you have long flowing hair or a shiny bald top, expect to wear a cap. You might also be required to wear goggles at an athletic pool.
Besides common sense rules, such as showering to wash off makeup, hair gel, etc., before entering the pool, you likely won’t be allowed to wear jewelry or, sometimes, even a fitness watch like a Fitbit. Community pools will usually have clocks set up to time laps.
Moreover, laps will have lanes for free swimming, fast swimmers, slow swimmers and diving. There will likely be separate, shallower pools for children. If pool floats are allowed, they will likely be available from the facility.
Finally, like onsen, tattoos are almost universally banned at most pools. You can try covering them with a bandage or rash guard, but the staff may not let you in. You’ll need to research and find a pool allowing tattoos.
One rule that can surprise visitors is the mandatory hourly break. In Japan, it is common for public swimming pools to have mandatory breaks throughout the day. A chime or the lifeguards will usually announce the break. If you’re worried about looking silly, leave the pool when everyone else does. It will be hard to miss when you’re the only one still in the pool while a lifeguard politely yells at you.
These breaks are implemented to ensure lifeguard rest and rotation, shift changes, water quality and maintenance checks to check water pH and chlorine levels and cleaning.
During peak hours, this can also signal your time is up. For example, a ticket into a public pool is usually for up to two hours. Breaks are sometimes hourly. Thus after two breaks, your time is up.
Love swimming in Japan? What are your favorite pools? Do you know any hidden gems? Let us know in the comments!