A Beginner’s Guide To Bouldering In Tokyo
A Great activity to stimulate all your muscles and help you destress
Sometimes the search for an adrenaline rush comes from slightly slower-paced sports. Ladies, it’s time to enter the world of bouldering.
Don’t get the wrong impression though — bouldering is for those with a bit of edge and courage.
I knew absolutely nothing about the sport, and apart from some basic rock climbing and abseiling in the Kenyan wilderness as a child, the concept of climbing up a wall was alien to me. Perhaps it was my recent trip to Mt. Fuji that spurred me on.
I suppose my first fear was embarrassment. The thought of having all these other people watching me as I desperately grabbed onto the wall, my behind protruding far too much away from it, and my slight fear of heights causing unnecessary amounts of sweating, was beginning to get slightly unbearable.
I first saw the wall at T-Wall, a bouldering gym with branches in five locations in Tokyo. Its bright colors and strange protrusions meant absolutely nothing to me. Were there any rules? Or was the idea to just go into Spiderman mode and start scaling any wall?
No, it’s nothing like Spiderman
To start with, assuming you aren’t equipped with the right shoes, you must rent some at the gym. Your shoes must be fit enough that they are a little uncomfortable. In fact, I was told your toes will be slightly scrunched up.
Next, chalk up your hands and listen closely to the instructions.
Each colorful and sometimes-crazy shape popping out of the wall will also have a series of stickers with letters and numbers in different colors. The colors represent the level of difficulty, while the numbers show both increased difficulty within a level and the number of different courses for each level. I began on pink and kept following the pink stickers until I reached the top. This will change at different gyms, so be sure to get the lay of the land when you arrive.
Depending on the height of the wall, you may or may not have a harness. The two gyms I went to did not, however, there were certainly times that I wished I had one.
[I]t’s a uniquely satisfying experience in both mind, body and spirit.
Then, there is the angle of the wall. Depending on how adventurous you feel, you can test out not just the 90-degree wall, but the many others that are sure to test your nerve as you—quite literally—end up holding on for your dear life with your back horizontal to the ground and your cat-like finger desperately holding on.
A great way to avoid getting stuck on the wall is to figure out if you can track your journey up the wall when you are still on the ground.
Learning from the pros
One wonderful way to learn to boulder is with SOGO Fitness. Hosting weekly sessions (not just bouldering), the community of active Tokyoites are all there to cheer you on and fist-pump you when you make it up and back down again, on your bum or on your feet. Leo Fuchigami, Community Events Director at SOGO Fitness, values both the mental and physical benefits of the sport.
“What makes bouldering unique for me is the combination of intense bouts of physical exertion, mental visualization, and at-your-own-leisure rest breaks. The last point, in particular, allows friends to enjoy their time together in a relaxed and playful setting. As a result, it’s a uniquely satisfying experience in both mind, body and spirit,” he explained.
Falling down, getting up, and trying again
Climbing requires the use of muscles that are probably dormant. Your glutes, hamstrings and quads will burn with every little pushup, your arms and shoulders will scream at you as you hoist yourself around or momentarily hang suspended, and your calves will strain as you tiptoe and move from place to place. All the while, your abs are tensed, your back muscles engaged — and in my case, your tongue sticking out in concentration.
[I]n climbing, you literally learn what it is to fall, stand up and try again. You learn to push yourself.
Lidia Utkin, SOGO Bouldering Leader Head of Design, told me it has been invaluable for her back issues.
“I always felt I had a weak back and occasionally suffered from back pain, but since I started bouldering, my back strength has increased and I feel less pain. As a nice bonus, it has also developed my mental strength; in climbing, you literally learn what it is to fall, stand up and try again. You learn to push yourself little-by-little and not to give up, all made possible because you have all your friends watching and cheering for you.”
But my main takeaway from this sport is the stress release. Bouldering is a little like a puzzle. It requires intense concentration; a wrong foot could mean you unceremoniously and ungraciously sliding down the wall, hitting everything on your way down (mind you get your chin out of the way).
On those days when work, or life in general, has got you down, I couldn’t recommend anything better if you’re not the kind of person who enjoys throwing punches or sitting on a rowing machine. It’s a great way to just be in your own head, but also a great place for a confidence boost from fellow climbers.
As Emi Chiba-Smith, SOGO Bouldering Leader and Head of Engagement, explained, “Bouldering is an activity available for all levels allowing anyone to join with or without experience or being physically fit. It does not only develop your physical strength but also builds your coordination skills. The best part is climbing with other people who push you to your next goal.”
What to wear
Make sure to wear something comfortable and something that won’t rip when you end up sprawled across a wall, legs and arms akimbo. Personally, yoga pants or leggings and any old T-shirt worked perfectly for me. Don’t forget your socks if you’re renting shoes! Take some water along, too as it is a thirsty work.
Where to go
To join SOGO Fitness, search them out on Facebook and be sure to keep an eye on when new events are up.
If you go solo:
Location: 1 Chome-59-3 Kitasenzoku, Ota-ku, Tokyo (and other locations)
- Climbing Gym SPIDER
Location: 1 Chome-3-16 Minamiazabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo
- B-Pump Tokyo Akihabara
Location: 1-1-8 Yushima, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo
Location: 2 Chome-26-14 Kitazawa, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo
For other bouldering gyms and public spaces, see this article.