How To Use The Gyms In Japan – A Guide On Gyms & Courtesy

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Japan is a great country to explore. Its food, its culture, its people, and its natural wonders—everything’s great here. You’d be hard-pressed to find something you don’t like. Except if you’re trying to find a gym for a short-term visit.

Japan has a host of gyms, the most popular being Gold’s Gym, Konami Sports Club, Anytime Fitness, and Tipness. Generally, gyms in Japan encourage visitors to pay for a monthly membership, however if you are without a long-term visa, you’ll struggle to find a gym that will allow you to purchase a membership.

To help you continue your exercise routine while on vacation, I’ve compiled a list of gyms that allow short-term use or one-day trials for tourists. I’ll also discuss types of gyms in Japan and what to watch out for when you’re in one.

Types of Gyms

There are two general types of gyms in Japan: private and public.

Private gyms cater to anyone who can pay. This type covers hotel gyms, franchises, and privately-owned gyms. Some of these are open for 24 hours so they’re very convenient, especially if you’ve got jet lag. Some also have top-notch facilities. But, of course, you’ll need to pay a hefty fee to use these facilities. Some hotels even require their visitors to pay extra fees to use their gyms.

Meanwhile, public gyms require considerably lesser fees. But, the facilities may be old and many might not have regular amenities like showers.

Possible Issues

Before we go to the list, let me share some gripes I’ve had and ones I’ve heard from other foreigners about gyms in Japan.

As stated above, gym fees can be very expensive. More expensive than, for example, in the USA. A monthly membership fee in Japan can range from $80-$200 (8,000-21,000 yen) while it can be as low as $35 in America. Short-term visits in Japan can range from $3-$50 (300-5,000 yen) per visit.

One theory for the high fees is that many Japanese private gyms have facilities that few people use. But as a member, you still have to pay even for amenities you don’t use. For example, some gyms have facilities for water aerobics. How many people attend water aerobics classes?

Most of the time, you’ll need to speak with staff members who only communicate in Japanese. Some gyms require you to fill out forms, which are in Japanese.

Because cardio is popular in Japan, a majority of the equipment and programs are for cardio. So, if you’re into weight training, it’s a bit harder to find an adequate gym offering the equipment you want. The focus of many Japanese gym members is losing weight and staying active rather than gaining mass and muscles. Also, people go to gyms for the social atmosphere rather than the fitness regimens.

Additionally, Japan is an aging society so the gyms also target older people. So, generally, gyms offer studio classes, lighter weights, and more chances for social interactions. Classes like yoga, Zumba, and Pilates are popular. If these are the types of workout that you engage in then there’ll be no problem.

Not a lot of foreigners go to gyms. So, be prepared to be the center of attention. Some friendly locals will try to engage you in conversation while stark naked in the locker rooms, sauna, or onsen or sento.

Many gyms don’t allow people with tattoos to enter their premises. Tattoos are connected with the Yakuza, the Japanese equivalent of organized crime syndicates. If you manage to cover them up, you won’t be allowed to use the shower so you’ll need to shower at your hotel or apartment, making things very inconvenient if you’re busy.

A List of Recommended Gyms

Without further ado, here are some gyms that will allow you to use their facilities for a short period. Just a disclaimer, some of the schedules and fees are subject to change.

Private Gyms (franchises)

We’ll start with private gyms that are international and national franchises. These attract many foreigners so they offer services that are tourist-friendly.

  • Gold’s Gym – This is an international franchise. Some branches in Japan have English-speaking staff. This franchise also has the most comprehensive range of equipment and facilities. The fees for short-term use vary depending on the location. On that note, its fees are more expensive than other gyms.
  • Konami Sports Club – It offers programs even for kids. Branches generally have hi-tech machines. They even have machines for weight training with electronic interfaces. But, besides the fee for your visit, you will need to pay a “membership” fee even if you visit once. Also, the weights area is usually pretty small compared to the other facilities in a branch.
  • Anytime Fitness – This is another international franchise. Some locations, like the Nishiohashi branch in Osaka, offer one-day trials. But you have to go there between 11:00 AM-8:00 PM, even though the gym is technically open 24 hours. This is because the staff will need to process the forms you’ll need to fill out. Fees also vary depending on the location. Like other gyms, the focus is on cardio so the area and equipment for weight lifting may be lacking for a serious bodybuilder.
  • Tipness – This is another international franchise with branches in Tokyo and Kansai, Tokai, and Chukyo areas. A one-time trial of about 3,000 yen is offered by some branches. But the majority of the branches offer only monthly membership programs. Their Roppongi, Tokyo branch has an English site that lists the facilities. Besides the usual facilities and equipment (the weights room is pretty impressive), this branch offers services like personal training sessions for extra fees.
  • COSPA (Comfortable Sports Space) – This is another major franchise, with branches mainly in the Kansai area (Osaka, Kobe, Kyoto, etc.). Like Tipness, some branches offer one-time trials while others don’t. If you’re lucky, the branch near you could offer special visitor passes that have discounted fees for a limited time only.

Private Gyms

A good alternative to consider when looking for something different or specializes in your specific workout routine.

  • Yaeyama Kinkotsudo (Ishigaki Island, Okinawa) – If you want a gym experience that you can write home about, visit this one. It’s quite out of the way. It’s also actually a small building attached to the owner’s house. It’s small but it has a lot of equipment geared towards bodybuilders. You’ll need to contact the owner for a reservation.
  • Sports Gym B&F (Hanazonocho, Osaka) – This is an unusual gym because it’s focused more on weights than cardio. There are some basic cardio machines, but most of the pieces of equipment are for weight training. You’ll find practically all of the equipment for a full weight routine. The place is packed during the early evenings so you might want to go there in the morning.
  • Spa World (Shin-Imamiya, Osaka) -This is actually an onsen (hot spring) and waterpark facility. But the building has a gym on the 6th floor, which has some cardio machines and a basic free weight area. Learn more about it here. If you want to soak your tired muscles in an onsen then get a massage afterward, this is your ideal place.

Public Gyms

Public gyms are the better solution for tourists as most of them offer exclusive package one-day package deals that are affordable.

  • Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium (Shibuya, Tokyo) – The gym is divided into two training rooms: one for cardio and weight training machines, while the other is for serious weight lifting and bodybuilding exercises. The gym is open even on holidays. If you’ll stay for just 2 1/2 hours, you can buy a 600 yen ticket. If you spend the whole day there, the fee is 2,500 yen. Since it’s in Shibuya, there might be a long wait for popular equipment like treadmills during peak hours.
  • Minato City Sports Center (Minato, Tokyo) – There is no limit to your short-term visit. You can go there every day during your entire vacation. You’ll need to get a membership card free-of-charge. The card is valid for 3 years. The Center has six floors offering a variety of facilities, from basketball courts to dance halls. There’s even a pool. There is a lot of equipment in the training room, but the weights are pretty light (dumbbells are only up to 30kg). Since it offers everything for free, this place can get very crowded.
  • Toshima City Ikebukuro Sports Center (Ikebukuro, Tokyo) – This Center has a great range of cardio and machines. But the equipment for free weights is a bit lacking. You don’t need to register but you need to pay 400 yen, which is valid for just 2 hours. You can use the training room and the swimming pool. You’ll need to pay an additional 200 yen per hour if you want to extend your stay.
  • Chiyoda Sports Center (Chiyoda, Tokyo) – The fees for this center depends on what you’ll be using. The most expensive would be about 600 yen. Classes can be as low as 350 yen. But, the gym facilities and equipment are mostly basic stuff.
  • Sumida City Gymnasium (Sumida, Tokyo) – The building is near popular sightseeing spots like the Tokyo Skytree, Akihabara, and Kinshi Park. A one-day pass will cost about 920 yen. You’ll be able to use the swimming pool, running course, and training room (which has a pretty good free weight area). If you want to join sports programs, you’ll pay 1,840 yen. It’s closed every 3rd Monday of the month, New Year’s holiday, and some days in November.
  • Waku Waku Dome (Asaka, Saitama) – This is a pretty big building. It offers free classes like Radio Gymnastics and aerobics classes for children and adults. There is a basic set of machines and equipment, including free weights. Fees depend on what you will use and where you’re staying (if you’re not staying with the general vicinity, you’ll need to pay a higher fee). The standard fee is for just 2 hours, though.
  • Yanmar Stadium Nagai (Higashisumiyoshi, Osaka) – This is more commonly known as Nagai Stadium. It is primarily an athletics and soccer field. But it has a reasonable training and fitness center. The weights area has very good and extensive equipment.
  • Osaka Municipal Central Gymnasium (Asashiobashi, Osaka) –  This is a multipurpose gym with halls for various sports like judo and kendo. You’ll need to make a reservation if you want to use this gym’s facilities (+81 6-6576-0800). It offers the standard cardio programs and equipment and a pretty decent weightlifting area. The swimming pool requires additional fees. Depending on the staff, you might need to go through an introductory session and fill out forms. Since it’s a public gym that is used for various activities, the staff has an English flowchart for English-speaking visitors who need help.
  • Shimadzu Arena (Kita, Kyoto) – This is also called Kyoto Prefectural Gymnasium. This is a large hall with a mat area, basic weight equipment, and a few cardio machines, most of which are old but still serviceable. It has a weird schedule so better ask around first before you go there with your gear.
  • Noevir Stadium (Kobe, Hyogo) – This place is also known as the Kobe City Misaki Park Stadium. It’s primarily a football stadium. But it has a gym with cardio machines, weight training area, a swimming pool, and a studio. A 90 minutes membership costs about 5,500 yen. It’s closed every Thursday.

Gym Etiquette and Reminders

I’ve discussed a lot of public etiquette in this article. Here are more general reminders and social rules specifically for gyms. Some of them might be unusual but as the age-old saying goes, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. Or, in this case, do as the Japanese do.

Bring your passport everywhere. You can use this as an ID when a gym requires registration. Generally, you can’t just walk in and expect to start training immediately. You’ll have to talk with someone at the front desk first, especially if you are using a private gym.

Footwear change. Bring an extra pair of shoes when you go to the gym. Many gyms require you to change from your “outdoor shoes” to your “indoor shoes” at the entrance. This is an extension of the Japanese culture of cleanliness. Some gyms rent out shoes, while some allow you to train while wearing only socks. Sometimes you can even go barefoot. But do you really want to do that?

If you are a swimmer, these rules shouldn’t be anything foreign to you. You need to take off your piercings in the changing room. Besides a swimsuit, you’ll also be required to use a swimming cap. There are usually lanes set aside for athletic swimmers, and a set of etiquette you should follow if swimming with someone else. Normally in America, you’d be able to pass up someone without an issue, however in Japan it is considered rude to do so. You might want to scout out the pool before entering to see when it’s busy.

Equipment Reservation is a biggie in Japan. Some public gyms impose a reservation system. Look for a red magnetic card. You’ll find this near popular machines like treadmills, stationary bikes, and barbell benches. If there’s a red card, get it and you’ll be able to use the machine next. If no one’s using the machine but the card is missing, there’s usually someone pocketing it.

Outside equipment is considered a liability and isn’t typically allowed. Some gyms will not allow you to bring in your own equipment. Even just a sling might be prohibited. If you manage to smuggle it inside, an attendant will probably tell you off for using it.

Weirdly enough, train etiquette has found a place in the gym. Silence is golden. Although gyms encourage social interactions, making loud noises is frowned upon. This includes grunting, dropping weights with a bang, talking on the phone, or playing loud music from your tablet. It’s okay to listen to music with your headphones. Texting is also allowed, but talking out loud is a big no-no.

Time To Inflate Internationally

Finding a gym can be frustrating for some tourists and often times discouraging. You’ll need to search for one that meets your needs. Then you have to remember all the rules. Then you’ll need to “talk” with overly attentive Japanese gym staff and friendly locals. If you manage to go through everything, then it’ll be an adventure.

But if you want to explore other options then you can go to gyms in universities or join a sports club. Some college teams allow visitors to work out with them. Local sports clubs have their own training equipment and facilities.

Now, the gyms listed here are what I know about. It’s not an extensive list. What did I miss? Tell me in the comments section.

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