In Japan, joining a gym is the same as it is in other countries, in some respects, but is quite different in other respects. In this article, I’d like to talk about joining a gym in Japan and some of the differences that exist between gyms in Japan and those in other countries (by other countries, I mean America, because that’s the only other country I really know for comparison purposes).
In the Countryside/Big City
In any major metropolitan area, or even in any mid-sized city, you should have no problem finding a gym to join, but in some very rural areas, there may not be a private sports gym (there may only be a “municipal gym” (more about that below)).
Private Sports Gym
In any urban area, there are a variety of private sports gyms. Tipness, Konami, Jexter, and Golds Gym are some of the more common private sports gyms. Of these, there are some that operate 24 hours a day. Private gyms in Japan are expensive when compared with private gyms in America (the only other country I know for the basis of comparison). Usually, private gyms in Japan have a ranked membership system, with the monthly fee depending on your membership status and your gym access also depending on this. For example, the most expensive membership status at my current gym is about 15000 JPY per month, and this allows me to go to any of these gyms (this gym has facilities throughout Japan), anytime, and allows me to use towels, gym clothing, and shoes for free. The second most expensive membership status (about 12000 JPY) allows me to go to any of the franchise gyms in Japan at any time, though gym clothing, shoes, and the like are not free. The third membership status (about 10000 JPY) allows me to go to one franchise gym as my main gym anytime, though if you go to other franchise gyms, you have to pay about 1000 JPY. The least expensive membership status (probably about 8000 JPY per month) allows me to attend one franchise gym only at certain times (for example, only weeknights or only weekends or something like that).
Called “taiikukan” in Japanese, most cities and towns and Japan have such a facility. When compared with private sports gyms, these tend to be far less expensive, with your residence status determining how much you pay (that is, if you are a resident of the jurisdiction (you are a local taxpayer), you will pay 200-300 JPY every time you use the facility, and if you live outside of the jurisdiction (you are not a local taxpayer), you will pay about 500 JPY per visit).
Facilities and Lessons
I enjoy lifting weights, and you can lift weights at both private sports gyms and municipal gyms. Usually, municipal gyms are much more limited in the amount of equipment they have. Also, both private gyms and municipal gyms offer lessons, such as yoga lessons, pilates, Zumba, belly dancing, and kaatsu training etc, but once again, municipal gyms are usually more limited with respect to these.
At both private gyms and municipal gyms, YOU MUST BRING indoor shoes. In Japan, in schools, gyms, and at home, you have outdoor shoes and indoor shoes. At the entry to the gym, you will take off the shoes you are wearing, and after changing into your gym clothes in the locker room (kouishitsu), you will put on your indoor shoes. In many American gyms, towels are usually free, but in Japan, usually, these cost money (however, most machines and equipment will have a small towel attached thereto with which you are supposed to wipe said machine after using it, just like in America (and probably other countries)).
In many private gyms in Japan, tattoos are frowned upon and members must cover their tattoos with clothes or sometimes with tape if the tattoo is on your calf (and you want to wear shorts) or on your arms (if they are in an exposed part). However, of all the municipal gyms I have been to, I’ve never seen such a tattoo policy. I don’t know the reason, but I suspect that because municipal gyms are public facilities, banning people who have tattoos could constitute some form of discrimination or a violation of human rights.
Another difference I’ve noticed with Japanese gyms is that you generally don’t ask other members for a spot when lifting weights. For example, when lifting a heavy amount on the bench press, and you want someone to spot you, instead of asking a strong-looking member near you, it seems to be the custom to ask a staff member for a spot (hojo shite moratte ii desu ka?). This can be a bit unsettling at some municipal gyms, where the staff member tend to be older (and sometimes female), whereas in private gyms, there is sure to be a strapping young male staff member who will assist you.
I hope this information will help you make the best of your fitness and training in Japan! I recommend you shop around for the best gym with the right facilities and needs for you!
Daniel / United States