As a runner and spin enthusiast, I came to Nagoya thinking there would be plenty of sports centers and bike trails where I could continue running, riding bikes through parks, or enrolling in a spin class. To my surprise, I discovered that exercise is not particularly popular among the Japanese, and even less so among college students.
At Indiana University, students have access to just about every sports club or activity imaginable. There are outdoor and indoor playing courts, track fields and pools. We also have multiple indoor workout and training centers across campus. Participants are always welcome whether they want to join a club or are simply curious. At Nanzan University, on the other hand, one must follow specific guidelines not only when joining a club or “circle” but also when using the gym’s equipment. For many of the ryuugakusei, adjusting to the comparatively rigorous rules can be difficult.
At the beginning of the semester, exchange students are given the opportunity to apply for a training room permit. This permit allows one to enter the campus’s fitness centers, which include a gym, indoor track, workout room and pool. Anyone with this permit may use the facilities and equipment—as long as they follow the correct procedures. To enter the fitness center, students must bring a pair of “clean” gym shoes. Wearing the same shoes you wear outside into the training room is considered as offensive as failing to leave your shoes at the front door before stepping into a home. In Japanese houses and even certain restaurants, everyone must remove their shoes in the genkan, or foyer. This custom follows the traditional notion of uchi/soto, in which the home remains separate from the “unclean” outside. To enter the pool, specific swimming attire is required. Your usual beach-wear bikini or trunks will not cut it here in Japan; if you want to swim in an indoor pool (this holds true for sport-centers’ indoor pools across all of Japan), make sure you bring athletic swimsuits, goggles and a swim cap. Most likely due to this requirement, I have yet to hear about anyone besides the swim team making use of the pool.
Rather than exercising for personal health benefits, students seem to be more interested in joining (exclusive) sports clubs with friends. Whereas at IU sport club attendance is oftentimes voluntary, at Nanzan attendance is mandatory. Practices could be in the early morning even before classes start, or long after classes have ended. The schedule may be especially difficult for those exchange students living one or two hours away. Students are also required to purchase the appropriate equipment—unfortunately, you cannot rent tennis rackets or the shinai used in kendō.
Although we joined no sports clubs, on the weekends, Sarah and I have been running long distance. Bike trails like Bloomington’s B-Line do not exist here in Nagoya; we must make do winding through city streets and residential areas. Near my host family’s house is a park with a lake, and there are a few larger parks throughout Nagoya that can easily be reached by train. The Mizuho Athletic Stadium offers an open track field and riverside pathways for walking, running, or biking. Apart from the parks, the only other open outdoor areas would be the sidewalks and roads. If you are a runner, you’ll know what I mean when I say that concrete can kill your feet.
An advantage of running along the main roads, though, is that you can easily travel to almost every part of the city without getting lost. Sarah and I have run from Nanzan’s campus to places such as Nagoyakō (Nagoya Port), Sakae, and the Nagoya-jō (Nagoya Castle). Traveling lightly is ideal for working out around the city! All you need is your bus or train manaca pass, camera phone, and maybe a couple hundred yen! Plus, Nagoya itself is not a large metropolis like Tokyo—you can easily travel to all sorts of interesting sites, from shopping streets to shrines.