The first ever Tokyo Marathon was held in 2007. It was the start of an annual event that would change the way people in Tokyo thought about running. While there were several other marathon races, and half marathon races, this was the first marathon that was widely broadcasted. This was also the beginning of what would become the “running boom” of Japan, which is still going strong today. The first ever Tokyo Marathon, and all subsequent versions after that started in Shinjuku near the Tokyo Government Offices. From there, the route heads east to the Imperial Palace where the course turns south. It then makes a U-turn at Shinagawa where it heads north to Asakusa via Ginza. From there, runners make a second U-turn and head east again once they return to Ginza where they continue until they reach Odaiba and the finish line. It is by far the most popular marathon in Japan and one of the most interesting ones. For those who want to participate in this marathon, it’s necessary to enter a lottery to get a chance to run. Due to the extreme popularity of this marathon, you must enter the lottery. Thankfully, there are several other marathons and half marathons run throughout the Kanto area. If you ever want to try it, feel free to ask.
In terms of running courses, there are several courses located within Tokyo itself. The most popular route has to be around the Imperial Palace. This route is fairly simple and has promoted many running related shops to open up along the route. Most Japanese people start around Takebashi Station. There are several reasons for this. The biggest reason people start around here is that the station entrance is located on the course itself. The entrances have small areas nearby for you to stretch and prepare a little before you head out on a run. The other reason is that there is a small section on the road where drivers can stop and drop people off. While this isn’t quite legal, if you do it quickly, you can probably get away with it. The last reason people enjoy starting at this station is the number of places to change and shower after a run. With several locations with lockers, it is obviously popular. One of the few places that I would think about visiting would be the Art Sports: Running Oasis. Art Sports is considered to be one of, if not the best place to buy running shoes. They tend to have the most recommendations among the Tokyo Runners Clubs and among many Japanese people. Unfortunately, it’s still somewhat of a specialized shop, so it isn’t very famous yet.
While Takebashi Station is the most popular starting point, it isn’t the only place to start. You can always start from Nijubashimae Station, Hibiya Station, Sakuradamon Station or Hanzomon Station. You can also easily access the Imperial Palace from Tokyo Station, Yurakucho Station, Kasumigaseki Station, Jinbocho Station, Kudanshita Station, and many more. Whichever station you do use to access the Imperial Palace, just be aware that the location can alter how you feel during your run. The route around the Imperial Palace is located on the side of a hill. The west side, near Hanzomon Station, is the highest point, while Takebashi Station and Hibiya Station are at the lowest points. There are, obviously, two ways run around the Imperial Palace, clockwise and counter-clockwise. This can make a huge difference in the quality of your run. Most people run in a counter-clockwise direction. The north side, from Takebashi Station to Hanzomon Station is a shorter and steeper uphill climb compared to the longer Sakuradamon Station to Hanzomon Station section. For this reason, it is relatively easier to run counter-clockwise. The secondary reason to run counter-clockwise is only for night runners. Cars drive on the left side of the road in Japan, so if you run clockwise, the headlights of all the cars will be shining in your face the entire way around the palace. If you are like me, you will probably enjoy the challenge of going clockwise, but be warned that it adds the extra challenge of running against the stream of other runners.
In the last year, there have been a many articles regarding the Imperial Palace and the “Runners Boom”. While most of it has been good, there have been some calls to improve the signage around the palace so that runners can understand where to go easily. The first time you run, there is one section that can be confusing, if not get you into trouble. Running on the gravel, aside from near Sakuradamon, will get you into trouble and the police guards will tell you to get out. The sidewalk is free to run on, but be aware that there are many tourists walking around. The east side of the course is the busiest for tourists and you will have to avoid them. One article said that there was an estimated 4500 people running around the Imperial Palace between 6pm and 9pm on a weeknight. That is by far the busiest time, and probably best to avoid running there. I have heard from friends that it can be too busy, and running at your own pace can be a challenge. Weekends and weekday mornings are probably better, but you may have to find a way to pass people who are slower, or let others who are faster pass. While this may sound bad, the actual route is very nice and picturesque. Most people only visit the east side, but the west side offers a look at the palace grounds from a different angle. It may not be the most beautiful thing in the world, but a quick run around is worth it.
This is part of a series on running in Tokyo. To read more, continue to Running in Tokyo – Central Tokyo.
Running Club: http://www.namban.org/
Runner’s World Article: http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-239-281–6897-0,00.html
Running In Tokyo: http://runningintokyo.com/
Time Out Tokyo (Blog): http://www.timeout.jp/en/tokyo/feature/176
Imperial Palace Running Guide (Japanese): http://koukyo-run.boo.jp/
Art Sports: Running Oasis (Japanese): http://runningoasis.art-sports.jp/