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What to Expect When Signing Up to a Gym in Japan

If there’s one thing Japan loves more than paperwork, it’s rules. And boy, do gyms in Japan have a lot of them.

By 5 min read

When trying to get in shape, lots of annoying little things can add up and go from minor inconveniences to the reason you cancel your membership. For most people, it’s easy to start being active for a few days, only to fall off shortly after.

Minor obstacles pile up and ruin that streak of showing up and doing the work. Of course, living in a foreign country presents a ton more little obstacles that make people want to stop. Especially in Japan, where even a gym can be too bureaucratic,

If you know what to expect and come prepared, you’re less likely to run into these issues and have a smooth fitness life. Here is a quick rundown on what to expect when you want to get fit in Japan.

Signing up

So here’s everything you can’t do.

If you want to start a life of fitness in Japan, you will have to sign up for it. Japan loves paperwork, and the world of fitness is no exception. Unfortunately, signing up for a class or gym as a foreigner can really ruin the momentum people have when they decide to get in shape. Depending on the gym, you might even get turned away before reaching the option to start (E.g., a no tattoo policy).

Fitness is never risk-free, and the gyms and facilities want to keep themselves incident-free. And who else is more accident-prone than someone who can’t understand instructions or read the safety rules?

Many places work hard to accommodate foreign customers and will have at least one staff member around who can speak some English. However, it will be less likely depending on how off the beaten path you live, but the chain gyms that are growing in popularity, even in small towns, usually have something.

Find a gym buddy

You son of a bitch. I’m in.

A good way around this is to have a gym buddy who speaks Japanese or is native. They can vouch for you to the staff and help you if there are issues. Also, you’re much more likely to be allowed to join a place if you join with a Japanese friend.

Moreover, having a buddy to stay active with will keep you motivated and consistent after starting. Of course, another solution is to learn Japanese yourself. Already speak it? Then you’ll be fine, at least until you start and get hit with the rules.

Or, better yet, this could be just the motivation you need to study Japanese. Moreover, you can practice at the gym and maybe even meet people.

Strict privacy rules

No pictures, please.

Japan is hyper-protective of customer privacy. On the obvious end, this means no photos at the gym. While this can be annoying for the gym bros always taking selfies, it is an easy rule to follow for most people. Unfortunately, this can extend to no phones whatsoever on the gym floor, which does pose more of an issue for the average fitness starter.

If you like to take notes, you might have to get used to bringing a pen and paper along for the ride. And if you’re someone who needs to check your phone during downtime, you might want to make sure it’s okay before doing so.

At the very least, look around and see what other people do. If there are lots of phones, you’re probably fine, but as a foreigner, it is possible that you are the exception and will get called out, so be prepared.

Covering up

You’re going to have to put your shirt on, Santa.

Beyond protecting clients’ privacy, most gyms want to protect their clients’ eyes from anything deemed offensive. Of course, this means no tattoos, as is usual for Japan, but it can also apply to not wearing anything too revealing while working out.

This can be a real problem in the hotter months, especially when some places don’t have much air conditioning. So no matter how hot it gets, be careful going sleeveless or too short on your tops or bottoms and double-check if it’s okay with the staff first.

It isn’t unheard of to be asked to leave or change clothes if you reveal too much. Nothing kills momentum like being stopped mid-workout because one centimeter of tattoo shows or your thighs have offended someone.

Keep quiet

If you ever have to bail, prepare for a stern sumimasen (excuse me)

From eyes to ears, noise can be a real issue at many fitness establishments. With Japan being so small, gyms opt to build up rather than out, even in the countryside. So gyms and fitness studios are typically found on the second floor and up.

It gets really annoying when you have to constantly control how loud your footsteps are or how soft you put your weights down. Adding an extra layer of micro-management to ensure everything you do is within noise regulations can make each trip to the gym a drag.

It can even put you at the risk of injury when it comes to lifting heavyweights. If you ever do bite off more than you can chew, it’s always better to drop it safely away from you and make a big noise rather than break your back trying to put it down quietly. Just apologize after and try not to make a habit of it if you want to stick around.

In theory, getting in shape isn’t very difficult. All it takes is burning more calories than you eat. The hard part is being consistent. Hopefully, now that you know some of the more common obstacles, you’ll be ready to overcome them when they show up and keep your fitness momentum rolling.

Did you have a hard time signing up for your gym? Ever experienced any annoying rules in Japan? Let us know in the comments!

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