Five Cheap Ways to Get (and Stay) Fit in Tokyo

By Kelly Wetherille
January 20, 2015
Health & Beauty

Fitness is all the rage lately, with specialized gyms and exercise studios multiplying at a seemingly exponential rate, and new hybrid programs being introduced all the time. Of course, this is overall a very positive thing, as our bodies are designed to move and be active. But it also seems that this trend is geared toward the wealthy, or at least at those with fairly large disposable incomes. To be clear, I'm all about spending time and money on bettering yourself when you can, and making your health a priority. But this does not mean you have to bankrupt yourself with memberships to fancy gyms or the latest carbon frame racing bike and matching gear. Even in Tokyo, getting and staying fit on the cheap is not only possible, it's actually rather easy.

palace cycling by KW

1. Make the World Your Gym

I had a gym membership in Tokyo for a long time, and while there were some positives (great variety of equipment and classes, camaraderie with other members, easy access to advice and consultations from staff members and personal trainers), in the end I decided I wasn’t getting enough out of it to make it worth the steep monthly fee. Now I run and bike outside and do yoga and weights at home. As small as Tokyo apartments can be, I’ve never seen one that doesn’t have open floorspace the size of a yoga mat. As long as you have that, you can do any number of strength exercises (bodyweight or weighted), stretching, yoga, Pilates, and more. If you’re not sure where to start, search YouTube for tutorials and workout ideas; you may be surprised at the huge volume of information that is available online for free. When the weather permits, get outside. Do your strength exercises on your balcony, go for a walk or jog around your neighborhood (click here for five of Tokyo’s best running courses), cycle around the Imperial Palace (did you know the roads are closed to all but bike traffic on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and you can even rent bikes for free?) or take your yoga mat to a local park. The fresh air and change of scenery will motivate you and help you get even more out of your workout.

Props by Hobbies on a Budget

2. Invest in a Few Simple Props

While there are plenty of ways to get and stay fit with no equipment at all, a few well chosen items will help mix things up and keep you feeling challenged. Consider buying a jump rope, a yoga mat, a hand weight or two, some resistance bands, or a balance ball. None of these things are particularly expensive, and all can be used for many different exercises. If you’re looking to make a larger purchase, like a new road bike or a complete set of weights, check out online classified sites such as Craigslist. Especially in cities like Tokyo, where the expat community tends to be somewhat transient, you can often find great deals on lightly used equipment.

pool by KW

3. Put Your Tax Money to Work

One great thing about living in Japan is the large number of public facilities that are available to residents. Each ward or city usually has at least one community sports center, and most include such facilities as indoor and/or outdoor pools, full-sized gyms, running tracks, cardio machines, and both free weights and weight machines. Normally you just have to show your residence card and you’ll be able to enter for a small fee (often under ¥500). Once inside, staff are on hand to explain how to use the equipment if needed, and many centers offer fitness classes for no additional charge. If you’re not sure where to find your nearest public sports facilities, just ask at your ward office or city hall.

namban

4. Join a Club

If you’re the kind of person who enjoys a little friendly competition, needs someone else to keep you accountable to your goals, or just likes to exercise in a group, consider joining a club based around the sport or activity that interests you. There are several long-standing international clubs in Tokyo (such as Half Fast Cycling and Namban Rengo, a running club), and new ones are popping up all the time. Can’t find a club for your activity? Consider starting one on your own by advertising for members on social media or sites like Craigslist. Chances are, there are people just like you looking for the same thing who will jump at your idea.

weights by rcvictorino

5. Chose the Right Facility for You

If you’ve tried exercising at home, outside, or at your local community sports club and have found that none of these were right for you, do some research before joining a traditional fitness club or studio. No matter what your fitness interest, the majority of studios offer trial lessons at a discounted rate, and many fitness clubs offer weeklong trial memberships. Do as many of these as you can, and don’t feel pressured to sign up after your first lesson or visit. You’ll know when you find the place that’s right for you. The more you enjoy a particular place or activity, the more often you’re likely to go, and since many clubs and studios in Tokyo offer a flat monthly rate for membership, you’ll be getting more for your money that way as well.