Tokyo City Guide
A sprawling megacity that stretches as far as the eye can see, Tokyo is unrivalled in its size and diversity. The city is the beating heart of Japan, and a place where you can experience the whole breadth of the country’s culture. One aspect of this is sport, and whilst Japan has traditions in sumo and martial arts, interest in sport in general is at an all time high, thanks to the recently hosted Rugby World Cup in 2019 and the (postponed) 2020 Summer Olympics. There has never been a better time for endurance-driven athletes living in or visiting Tokyo.
Given its size and geography, sitting at the head of Tokyo Bay and with mountains out to the west, Tokyo has a multitude of options for running, cycling and swimming in and around the city. With a number of business districts and cultural highlights spread across the city, this guide focuses on facilities that are more centrally located in an attempt to ensure ease of access for all, regardless of where you are staying.
To make the most of this Tokyo city guide for endurance athletes, note a few patterns and features. Facilities are broken into categories according to their running, cycling or swimming focus, with a separate section highlighting quality gym facilities in Tokyo. Exact hours aren’t indicated unless very restrictive, so check the linked website for latest times. Cost of admissions are also omitted in the knowledge that no listed facility charges more than $20 for day access. The place names in Directory link directly to the venue’s Google Maps profile – click on the name to generate directions. Finally, the Sleeping & Eating section towards the end of the guide provides an insight into good places for sleeping and fuelling during your time in Tokyo.
Orientation & Logistics
The better-known portion of Tokyo (formerly known as Tokyo City) is made up of 23 wards (or districts, each known locally as a ku). These form just part of Greater Tokyo, which is said to have over 1000 neighbourhoods in total, each identified by a train station. While many of these neighbourhoods are small, some are so large that Tokyo often feels more like a collection of cities than a cohesive one. Generally speaking, Tokyo (City i.e. the 23 wards) can be divided into central, east and west. The Imperial Palace sits in the centre of the city, in the Chiyoda district. To the east (often thought of as the old city) highlights include the areas of Ueno and Asakusa. To the west, notable districts include Shinjuku (the administrative centre) and Shibuya (a commercial and business hub), which have a more contemporary feel. Tokyo is best navigated via its extensive rail network, which includes train lines, a subway system and private commuter lines.
Trains and subways run 5am to midnight and depart precisely on time.
Japan is highly attuned to the seasons, and Tokyo is no different. It is worth noting that summer (Jun-Aug) is hot and humid. Spring and autumn are fair and comfortable, whereas winter is on the cooler side. Typhoon season runs from Jul-Oct. The summer sun rises as early as 4.30am and sets as late as 7pm, whereas winter days are noticeably shorter, however first light is before 6.30am year-round.
Japan’s love for running and walking is noticeable throughout the year with both forms of bipedal exercise viewed as fitness. This lifestyle edge rubs up against a more competitive streak, framed by endurance and a handful of world-class marathon runners. Runners visiting Tokyo have a number of choices when looking towards the city’s stunning parks or built trails and tracks.
Yoyogi Park Athletic Track (also known as Oda Field) located in the southern section of Yoyogi Park, Shibuya is your best option in the western part of the city. A fantastic location, wide opening hours and free access make this a popular option for a variety of runners, especially in the evenings (when it can get very crowded). Despite this, track etiquette is generally very good. Above all else, head here to experience a great community running vibe. After a particularly taxing session, kickstart your recovery with a visit to the nearby sento to aid recovery (entry c. ¥400).
In the eastern part of the city on Yumenoshima (literally ‘Dream Island’) is Yumenoshima Running Track, which provides a quieter alternative. Wide opening hours, excellent facilities and close proximity to Shin-Kiba Station (Koto-ku) make this a solid option for your (more serious) track and speed work. [Note: closed on the 2nd and 4th Monday of each month. To check the schedule ahead of visiting, click here.]
Off the track, Tokyo is loaded with options for longer runs. Bang in the middle of town is the Imperial Palace Run – offering a 5km traffic-light-free loop around the Imperial family’s residence and gardens. With gentle gradients and no stopping, this iconic run offers it all: location, scenery, ease (you literally cannot get lost) and the simplicity of adding laps to increase distance. Note: the norm is to run in a counter-clockwise direction. Lockers and showers are available at adidas RUNBASE, a 3-minute walk from the course on the western side (and just 1-minute from Nagatacho Station, Exit 4).
Head to Meiji Jingu Gaien for a 1.3km loop and a great starting point for a number of runs on the western side of town. Easily accessible from all sides via various lines and stations (including Sendagaya, Shinanomachi, Aoyama-Itchome and Gaiemmae), here you will run in the shadow of the impressive New National Stadium built for Tokyo 2020. After a lap or two, add variety and distance by heading either; east for a loop of Akasaka Palace (3.3km), or west for Yoyogi Park which offers various circuits (up to 1.8km on asphalt or just under 3km on a trail hugging the perimeter). If heading east, it is easy to tack on a loop of the Imperial Palace (with the course around 1km on from the east side of Akasaka Palace). If it’s hills you are looking for, Akasaka Palace is the place to go, with two challenging inclines – one on the east (+/- 6%) and the other on the north-western side (+/- 5%). Note: Tokyo Gymnasium is nearby and offers access to the training gym and showers for a modest fee, see more below in Gym.
On the social side, Namban Rengo is Tokyo’s International Running Club, join them at Oda Field for a track workout (Wednesdays, 7.30pm) or at the koban (Police Box) outside Aoyama Itchome Station for hill repeats (Saturdays, 10am) – both free of charge.
A Japanese curiosity for quality materials and design was a welcome beach for road cycling. With a Rapha cafe in town and an organised set of cyclists, the city’s reaches are easily penetrated for longer rides in the surrounding countryside.
Cycling in the city is a popular means of getting from A to B, especially on a local level. However, riding in town can feel a little messy, with few cycling lanes and therefore a mix of cyclists and pedestrians congesting the sidewalks. Fortunately, for the more serious cyclists, the surrounding countryside (especially out to the west) offers a number of routes including river trails, hills and mountains, all within easy reach of the city. This is where you’ll find Tokyo’s relatively small but solid number of organised and dedicated road cyclists.
Getting out of town (to the west). Head SW to the Tama River via Ebisu and Komazawa, when you hit the river, ride upstream (see this handy GPS route for guidance). For a straightforward and relatively flat ride, stick to the riverside path and head for Ome (Ebisu-Ome, 55km one-way). If it’s hills you’re after, peel off en-route at Tappi Bridge and seek out Mt. Takao (599m). For a real leg-tester, bolt on Mt. Jinba after (857m). For longer rides, do the Ome route and continue on along Route 411 then tackle Tsuru Pass, Matsuhime Pass or the Kazahari Loop.
An alternative to using the Tama River as your gateway to the mass of hilly and ultimately mountainous terrain, is the Arakawa River. Riding it upstream will take you NW out of the city. Much like the Tama, it has a lengthy riverside path providing access to multiple rides and routes into the countryside. For a 150km super loop incorporating both the Tama and Arakawa River, check out this GPS route.
Note: trains provide quick access to the countryside and are useful for skipping the urban section of a ride in one or both directions. To catch one, you’ll need a “bike bag” or rinko-bukuro as they’re known locally – available at almost any bike shop and small enough to pack into a jersey pocket. Your best option for hiring a bike is GS Astuto, who will deliver direct to your hotel/accommodation. If you’re looking to join a group ride, contact Tokyo CC.
Japan’s interest in running pairs nicely with its long interest in swimming, also popularised by Haruki Murakami. Impressive indoor facilities are met by a militant approach to cleanliness. There are a good number of options littered across the city, many of which are public pools run by the local municipality with very modest entry fees. Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium (Sendagaya, Shibuya-ku) has both a 50m and 25m pool. Note: midweek opening hours are 9am-11pm. Visit the website for additional info including weekend hours, pool schedules and rules. An alternative on the east side of town is the impressive Tokyo Tatsumi International Swimming Center (Koto-ku), open 9am-10pm during the week, shorter hours at the weekend. Further info can be found here, check the schedule ahead of visiting. The nearest station is Shin-Kiba, serviced by a number of lines. Note: this is the same station for access to Yumenoshima Running Track.
The summer months bring some fantastic outdoor options. Nestled in amongst some of the city’s well-known landmarks and historical sites is the 50m pool at Aqua Field Shiba Koen (Shiba Park, Minato-ku). This pool has a more-than-impressive location and backdrop, think Tokyo Tower, Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples dating back to the 1600s… Open July to mid-Sept 9am-8pm (note: closes at 5pm in Sept). In neighbouring ward Meguro (SW of Minato), sitting alongside the Meguro River is the 50m outdoor pool at Meguro Citizens Center. Again, a great location with good access. Open July to mid-Sept 10am-8pm. Note: this pool can get very busy on weekends. Further info can be found here.
Open Water Swimming. Tokyo Bay’s water quality means that swimming in it is generally off limits, however the nearby Shonan Coast and Miura Peninsula provide plenty of options for swimming in the sea. Seek out the beaches of Kamakura, Enoshima, Zushi, or Morito, all located within an hour or two of central Tokyo and easily accessible by train. On the social side – join Triathlon in Tokyo (TiT) members who regularly swim at pools in and around the city and beaches in the Hayama area. For more info and contact details, vist the TiT website.
The public sports facilities in Tokyo are generally of an excellent standard. A very reasonable entrance fee of around ¥500 usually gives access to all facilities at a ward ‘Sports Center’, including the gym (and pool where applicable). Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium (open 9am-11pm during the week, closes a little earlier on weekends) is a superb facility with two ‘training rooms’ – one of which is a dedicated free-weights room. It is also an architectural masterpiece, steeped in history. Originally built in 1954, it was used as the gymnastics venue for the 1964 Summer Olympics before a futuristic rebuild in the late 80’s which still wows today. Located a one-minute walk from Sendagaya and Kokuritsu-Kyogijo Stations (Shibuya-ku), the gym is very accessible. Other notable municipality gyms can be found at Minato-ku Sports Center, Meguro City Citizens Center and Shinjuku Sports Center. Public gyms are your best bet for drop-in sessions, although with most opening around 8.30-9am they do not favour those looking for an early morning workout. The iconic Gold’s Gym brand has a number of branches across the city and offers the biggest and best free-weights facilities of all the chain gyms. Short-term visitors can benefit from their 1-day or 2-week passes, although these will cost you. Always contact the branch ahead of a visit. Note: having tattoos visible is generally prohibited at any gym facility in Japan, be prepared to cover up.
Sleeping & Eating
Tokyo’s visitors tend to stay around Shibuya and the Imperial Palace. A near four-fold increase in tourists since the beginning of the century has driven an investment in new hotels in convenient locations for accessing the breadth of the city during short stays. Meanwhile a smattering of international cuisines have been blended and merged to Japanese standards, also signposting Tokyo’s best coffee shops.
New arrivals to Tokyo should make a note of three culinary neighbourhoods to provide orientation and enough calories to make up for travel and training. On the west of Yoyogi Park is Tomigaya where you can find Fuglen, an all-day Norway-inspired cafe also near to French-Japanese restaurant, Mimet (Facebook) and CAMELBACK sandwiches+espresso. This is one frontier. Working towards the east and Harijuku and you come across Rapha’s store, also neighbours Tas Yard and . To the south of Shibuya is Cignale Enoteca, serving up Italian. For knock-out Japanese food, head to Toriya Kou in Ginza, and for vegan food head to Brownrice Cafe.
Coffee is abundant in Tokyo, with matchbox-sized venues being common architecture for the city’s third wave and waypoints for workouts. Streamer Coffee have multiple venues including one in Shibuya, around the corner from the Roastery from Nozy Coffee and near to About Life Coffee. Melbourne’s AllPress Espresso Roastery have an outpost – less central and to the east of Chiyoda.
Also make a note these cycle-friendly coffee shops: Switch Coffee, Little Nap Coffee Stand which hug the western side of Yoyogi Park. The Local Coffee Stand (Instagram) in the heart of Shibuya. Little Darling Coffee Roasters on the east side of Aoyama Cemetery south of the larger Meiji Jingu Gaien. Finally Turret Coffee in Ginza and finally Switch Coffee who have a venue in the south-west corner of Yoyogi Park around the corner from Flugen. All of these are in the Directory section below.
Among Tokyo’s outstanding set of hotels, two stand out for athletic travellers in terms of amenities, value for money and proximity to facilities. In Shibuya, Trunk Hotel is your best bet. The hotel was completed in 2018 with a “Socialising Hotel” concept, brought together in a calming space. A on site diner is a welcoming place for those crippled by jet-lag – breakfast from 9am to 11am with your regular Western fares, with lunch and dinner menus offering value-add options.
The Gate Hotel is another option in another part of town, a few blocks to the south of the Imperial Palace near Chiyoda and Ginza. Tokyo Station is also nearby. K5 is a third hotel, also in the vicinity of the Imperial Palace but marginally cheaper than The Trunk and The Gate.