Sprint past Japan's most spectacular spots
Running is a popular sport that anyone can easily get into. Many people go running in cities and parks for their health, and running courses are being set up along scenic coastlines, riversides, and historic cities around Japan. If you’re an avid runner, you can opt to join a marathon during your visit if your schedule permits. The Tokyo Marathon has the largest number of participants, followed by the Osaka Marathon and Naha Marathon. There are also plenty of other fun run events held throughout Japan, giving you an opportunity to meet locals and experience the regional food and culture. So, hop into your running shoes and sprint to your heart’s content!
Out of the four seasons, sunny winter days are the best time to run in Japan. You can run for long distances without getting too exhausted in winter, but be careful about losing too much water in the dry weather. You won’t sweat as much as you do in the summer, so it’s easy to neglect hydration. Your body temperature will vary—be sure to layer so that you can adjust to changes.
In summer, humidity levels can soar to over 90%, so it’s best to run in the early mornings or evenings. Wear a hat and sunglasses to avoid direct sunlight. Take regular breaks if you start to get tired. If you’re running after sunset, brightly colored clothes in shades like white or yellow and reflective shoes are recommended. Also note that typhoons and sudden showers take place in the summer. Be sure to check the weather forecast regularly.
The Minato Mirai area in the port city of Yokohama is 30 minutes by train from the Tokyo city center. The fantastic seaside views make it a great place to run. In addition to the port facilities, there are parks and promenades by the sea, as well as plenty of cafes and stores. If you’re planning to do a light 1-2 km run, go for a lap around the Harbor View Park or Yamashita Park. For a longer run, take the 5-km course that starts from Yamashita Park and takes you north towards the redeveloped Shinko Pier before finishing in a loop. It takes you past some of Yokahama’s most iconic sites, such the Red Brick Warehouse, which has been converted into a commercial facility, the Cup Noodle Museum, and the gigantic Ferris wheel at the Cosmo World amusement park. Further north from the Shinko Pier is a 10-km running course with views of the bay area. It takes you through parks like Rinko Park and the Takashima Waterfront Park. The nearest station to the starting point, Yamashita Park, is Motomachi-Chukagai Station on the Minato Mirai Line.
Hiroshima, an “International City of Peace and Culture” is packed with scenic and historic sites, making it a great place for running. Start your run at the symbolic Peace Memorial Park and make stops at Hiroshima Castle and a Japanese garden.
The first half of the route takes you upstream along the river with the Atomic Bomb Dome in sight. After passing through Hiroshima Central Park, you will be greeted with the majestic view of Hiroshima Castle on your right—the castle was originally build in the 16th century and the existing building is a restored version. Run along the moat before you pay a visit to the Shukkeien Garden, where you can enjoy a carp pond, cherry blossoms, plum blossoms, fall foliage, and other seasonal delights. You will also find shops offering coffee and light meals like udon noodles within the premises.
In the second half of the run, head downstream along the Kyobashi River, which runs next to the garden. The final leg of the course involves running along the expansive Peace Boulevard until you arrive back at the Peace Memorial Park, covering a total distance of about 10 km. It’s a pleasant urban run with most of the course running along rivers and parks. You can extend it by running further along the riverside path.
Kamo River is the setting for many historical events. Now, it is a popular spot for relaxation among the locals. There are three jogging courses along the banks of this iconic river.
The easiest one to try is the 2.5 km Marutamachi loop course, which begins at the Kamo Ohashi Bridge and takes you south, along the Kyoto Imperial Palace. The Kamo River branches off at the bridge— the eastern branch is called the Takano River while the western branch continues as the Kamo River. You can take the western branch to complete the Kamigamo course. The 9.2-km loop takes you northward towards the Nishigamo Bridge. The road is wide and there are restrooms along the way. It is particularly beautiful in the cherry blossom season.
Another option is the Takano course, a 4.3-km loop that starts from the Kamo Ohashi Bridge and takes you northwards along the Takano River to the Matsugasaki Pedestrian Bridge. The roads may not be as wide as the one along Kamo River, but it is perfect for anyone looking to peacefully experience Kyoto’s seasons. Since each of the courses takes you upstream, you’ll be able spot wild birds along the way.
The most convenient stations to access these courses are Jingu-Marutamachi Station and Demachiyanagi Station.
The Sapporo Campus of Hokkaido University offers one of the best sceneries in Japan. Most of the grounds, including the cafeterias and shops, are open to the public. Located just 10 minutes from Sapporo Station, the campus is a popular spot for visitors. The campus measures a whopping 180 hectares and houses beautiful maidenhair, poplar trees, and two farms. The lush green backdrop is perfect for running. You can start from Sapporo Station and do a 7.5-km run covering noteworthy spots in the campus like the statue of William Smith Clark, Ono Pond, and a museum with academic specimens of plants, animals, and minerals.
For a quick run along the maidenhair trees, head to the closest station—Kita-Junijo Station on the Namboku subway line. Nearby is Odori Park, which is known for its summer beer garden. It’s also a great spot for a quick run.
Kouri Island is located off the northern part of Okinawa’s main island. This small coral reef island has a circumference of only 8 km and has long been known as the “Island of Love.”
Since the opening of the Kouri Bridge in 2005, the island has been attracting visitors for its simple, rustic landscape. The surrounding waters teem with tropical fish and are great for a variety of marine sports.
The Kouri Bridge is 1,960 m long, making it Japan’s longest bridge. It can be crossed without a fee. Start your run at the parking lot at the south end of the bridge. You’ll be rewarded with fantastic views of the sea from both sides as you run across it. You can also opt to do a loop around the island to enjoy the stunning landscapes. Stop by a white sand beach or cafe, or pay a visit to Tinu Beach to see the remarkable Heart Rock, a spot popular with lovers.
The 5-km loop around the Imperial Palace grounds in Tokyo is arguably the most well-known running course in the country. The road is wide and safe even after dark, so it is frequented by plenty of runners, many who come after work. The trees and lawns around the course are well-tended, giving the area a distinct Japanese touch. There are a few restrooms along the way. It is best to carry drinks with you since you won’t come across many shops or convenience stores along the path. In terms of access, Sakuradamon Station and Nijubashimae Station on the subway are convenient for runners.
Look out for the neatly-planted pine trees by the main square and the historic Nijubashi Bridge. During the cherry blossom season, proceed from Kudanshita Station to the Imperial Palace area via the beautiful Chidorigafuchi Greenway. An early morning run between Hanzomon and Sakuradamon on a fine day will reward you with stunning views of the palace moat glittering against the backdrop of the skyscrapers in Otemachi. It’s the perfect place to get a taste of Tokyo.
With Japan seeing more and more runners in recent years, endurance races like marathons have become popular. This has led to the spread of “local marathons” that take place all over the country. Rather than focusing on the running speed, these events are about fully enjoying local attractions. Aid stations offer local delicacies and some places have interesting twists like all-you-can eat koshihikari rice in the Minami Uonuma Marathon* or mini seafood bowls in the Hakodate Marathon*. The Tohoku Food Marathon and Festival gives you chance try Tome wagyu steak, strawberries, and other local delights.
You can also choose from various distances, from 5 or 10 km to a full marathon, making this event a great option for runners of all levels. There are special offers, like hot spring discounts and mini-events between races that promote interaction between locals and runners.