Test your limits at a triathlon in Japan
A triathlon is an endurance multisport race that consists of swimming, cycling, and running. The number of participants has increased ever since the sport became an official event at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and triathlon events of various scales are held throughout Japan.
The standard distance (Olympic distance) is 51.5 km, with 1.5 km of swimming, 40 km of cycling, and 10 km of running. Races of this relatively short distance are held throughout Japan. There are also middle races that are double the standard distance as well as long races that extend for over 10 hours. You can participate in races at remote islands such as Ishigaki Island and Miyakojima Island in Okinawa, the Goto Islands in Nagasaki, and Sado Island in Niigata, or at major tourist destinations like Kyoto, Hiroshima, or Hokkaido.
Take in the natural beauty and historical townscapes as you compete, and afterwards, treat yourself to local cuisine, cultural experiences, and fun activities. Pre-triathlon events are also a great way to meet and interact with locals.
Triathlon events are held throughout the year in various parts of Japan. The official website of the Japan Triathlon Union (JTU) provides information on upcoming events and competitions in Japan and abroad.
Entry methods, application periods, and participation requirements vary from event to event, so be sure to check for details beforehand. For example, for the Goto Nagasaki International Triathlon, foreign nationals can register through the Sports Entry page. In some cases like the Kujukuri Triathlon, you have to individually email the event office. Many events require a JTU license, but participants from overseas may not need one, or may be able to join by paying a one-day license fee.
Once you’ve decided to participate, you’ll need to make arrangements for a hotel. Accommodations get booked up fast, so it’s best to make a reservation well in advance. If you’re planning to bring your bicycle into Japan, most airlines will allow you to carry it in as checked baggage. However, you may have to pay an additional fee depending on the size and weight, so check with your airline beforehand. When choosing a hotel, it’s also a good idea to find out if you can bring your bicycle into the room or keep it stored safely. Don’t forget to check the official race schedule as well as the local rules for each event, and be sure to set aside enough time to deal with unexpected issues.
Sado Island is located off the western coast of Niigata Prefecture and is the largest island in the Sea of Japan. It covers an area of 855 square km. Formed by crustal movements over three million years, Sado is recognized as a Japanese Geopark with every kind of coastal landform seen in Japan—the terrain of the island is actually like a miniature version of the country.
The Sado International Triathlon, held every year at the beginning of September, is the longest of all long distance races held in Japan. It’s a popular event with about 2,000 participants each year. It includes a long distance race featuring a 190 km bike ride around the perimeter of the island, a middle distance race, and a junior event for kids over the age of six.
The event gives you an opportunity to swim in the crystal clear waters of the Sea of Japan and enjoy the spectacular scenery of Sado Island as you zoom across the hilly cycling course. On the eve of the race, join the pre-game festival to enjoy some island hospitality, delicious seafood, sake, and traditional performing arts.
Sado is also home to many other points of interest, such as the Sado Gold Mine, a source of income for the island throughout its history, and the Toki-no-Mori Park, the only place you can closely see the crested ibis in Japan. The bird is designated as a Special Natural Monument.
Sado International Triathlon (Japanese)
※Cancelled in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kujukuri Beach, located in Chiba Prefecture, is a 66-km stretch of sandy beach with a gentle arc that overlooks the Pacific Ocean. It’s one the leading surfing spots in Japan, and Tsurigasaki Beach at the southern end of Kujukuri will serve as the venue for the Tokyo Olympics surfing event.
With about 2,500 participants, the Kujukuri Triathlon is one of the largest triathlons in Japan. It hosts middle and standard distance races, and Ichinomiya is the main venue. The race starts with the swim leg around the mouth of the Ichinomiya River, which is less affected by waves, and the bike and run legs are both along the coast—they’re mostly flat and straight. Enjoy the refreshing sea breeze as you dash along the course.
The Kujukuri area is a spacious and popular recreational spot with many beaches and visitors. You can try a variety of activities like surfing, SUP, beach walks, and horseback riding. If you’re hungry, visit a local orchard to pick strawberries, grapes, or pears. A variety of fish and shellfish, like sardines, mackerel, and horse mackerel, are caught off the coast, making it a great place to sample fresh seafood throughout the year.
Ago Bay, located in the southern part of the nature-rich Shima Peninsula in Mie Prefecture, is known for beautiful sunsets and pearl cultivation. The area has a unique landscape with an intricate ria coastline and numerous tiny islands.
The Ise-Shima Satoumi Triathlon was voted the most popular triathlon event in the standard distance category for two consecutive seasons (2018, 2019) in a ranking conducted by a Japanese triathlon magazine. The reasons behind its popularity include the rewarding course, hearty cheers from locals and the beautiful seascape.
The swim leg takes place at Oyahama Beach. It faces Ago Bay, and has quiet waves and crystal-clear waters. The cycling leg features a series of ups and downs unique to the ria coastline, while the running leg will take you through the local shopping streets and the scenic Bindama Road dotted with glass buoys. Overall, it has a fun, local vibe with local elementary and junior high school students volunteering for the event.
Ise-Shima is also a popular tourist destination. You can try your hand at extracting pearls from Akoya oysters in Ago Bay, or take a cruise around Ago Bay from Kenjima Port. After the race, treat yourself to seafood such as oysters and Ise shrimp, or Mie Prefecture’s Matsuzaka beef.
Miyako Island is located about 300 km southwest of the main island of Okinawa. With its hot and humid subtropical oceanic climate, it stays relatively warm even in the winter. The island is popular for its laid-back vibe and stunning natural beauty, and it offers an array of marine activities such as diving, sea kayaking, wakeboarding, and offshore angling.
The Miyakojima Triathlon has been taking place since 1985. The 200 km long-distance race starts from Yonaha Maehama, a 7-km stretch of beach located at the southwest end of the island—it’s ranked among the best white sand beaches in East Asia. The stunning views of the pristine beach and clear blue waters do a great job of pumping up participants for the tough race ahead.
The island is mostly flat, and you’ll get a chance to enjoy the views as you circle around the island during the bike and run legs. The course involves crossing bridges to neighboring islands and running through the central part of the island strewn with sugar cane fields. You’ll get a chance to interact with locals at the festival on the eve of the race—expect hearty cheers as you make your way towards the finish line.
Located about 100 km west of Nagasaki Prefecture, the Goto Islands are an archipelago of more than 140 islands of various sizes. Fukue Island, located at the southern part of the area, is home to a variety of landscapes, including the iconic Mount Onidake, vast grasslands, unique elliptical fields surrounded by trees, a craggy ria coastline, white sandy beaches and emerald blue seas.
The Goto Nagasaki International Triathlon, also known as Baramon (brave) King, is held on Fukue Island and offers two types of races—long and middle distance. You’ll be swimming in the calm waters of Tomie Bay before you cycle and run across the hilly terrain.
The Goto Islands were also home to Christians who secretly maintained their faith during the 250 years of religious prohibition and are collectively registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site known as “Hidden Christian Sites in the Nagasaki Region.” Some noteworthy places to visit include the village of Kuga Island and the village of Egami on Naru Island. After an exhilarating race, fill up with fresh seafood dishes or locally-raised Goto beef.
Goto Nagasaki International Triathlon (Japanese)
※Cancelled in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Odaiba is an artificial island that sits on Tokyo Bay. It’s packed with shopping and recreational facilities, making it one the best spots for fun and leisure in Tokyo.
The spot also has an interesting history. The arrival of the US Navy lead by Commodore Matthew C. Perry in 1853 led to the construction of cannon fortresses called daiba to protect Tokyo Bay. Of the six daiba that were built, only two still survive.
Odaiba Park was converted from a daiba battery and now you can take a stroll around the remnants. It’s located adjacent to the Olympic triathlon venue Odaiba Seaside Park, which also offers a sandy beach, fishing area, running course, and marine house with showers and lockers. At the recreational water zone, you can try windsurfing, sea kayaking, and SUP against a backdrop of skyscrapers. Rental equipment is also available.
A water bus service to Hinode Pier and Asakusa is available from the pier right next to the park—it’s a great way to go sightseeing around Tokyo.