Exercising in Kyoto

As of today, NaNoWrimo is over for the year. (Didn’t win it for the first time in a few years and I’m kinda down about that, but hey, that’s another post!) Which means I can get back to the things that I’ve been putting off for the past month. Cooking my own food. Sleeping more regular hours.


I’m one of those strange people who actually enjoy exercising. I get super red-faced and gross while doing it, and I look miserable and curse and think all sorts of nasty things about you if you have the (mis)fortune of being my trainer or my coach, but at the end of the day it feels good to me. I like being able to do things, be it walk eight million miles or pick up heavy stuff (and put it back down).

Recently, I was talking to an adult student about what we do to stay active. She was telling me about how she goes to a friend’s house and does videos online for a few minutes a couple times a week. I told her hey, if it’s fun for you keep doing it. Then she asked me: Stefanie, what do you do for exercise?

So I thought I’d share some insights with you all about what staying active in Japan is like.

Spoiler: If you want to sign up for anything, it’s expensive.

If you’re from the States, where you can get gym memberships for 10 or 20 bucks a month, you will face severe sticker shock. There are Gold’s Gyms here in Kyoto but the full-time, regular membership will cost you 9,000 yen a month. This doesn’t include things like locker or towel rentals, and won’t even necessarily grant you a pool. It also won’t give you access to other gyms in the area- you gotta pay about 13,000 yen a month for those kind of privileges.

Want to only go a couple times in the week or perhaps in the evenings only? The sticker shock eases somehat. COSPA is a gym chain in Kyoto that’ll run you 9,600 yen regularly, but “only” 6,500 yen if you want to go after 9pm or on holidays.

“But that’s way too much!” you protest. I hear you. I certainly am reluctant to pay that much.

In every ward in Japan there should be a community center or a local gym that you can pay a one-off fee every time you use it. For example, in Kyoto one of the better-known options is the Aquarena, located near Hankyu Nishikyogoku station. To use their training room it’ll cost you 510 yen a time; if you want to use their pool, make that 820 yen. So if you go once a week and use both things, you’re still looking at something in the neighborhood of 5,320 yen per month.

What about yoga? Oh yes, Kyoto loves its’ yoga! Especially Hot Yoga, it’s a major thing here. You can sign up for memberships from anywhere in the neighborhood of 6,000 yen to 16,000 yen, depending on how often you want to go and what school you attend. Sometimes teachers offer one-off lessons you can join- I’ve joined classes for 1,300 yen a time in the past.

“Okay, what about those of us who AREN’T rolling in cash, because we’re students or just came to Japan?”

If you’re a student (or a recent one), hitting up the universities is definitely a way to go for that sweet free gym access. Even if you’re not a student, it’s possible sometimes to sign up for certain clubs at universities. In my personal experience, some of the marital arts clubs at Kyoto University allow non-students to join after paying a one-time fee. (The fee will vary.)

Here’s what I do, personally:

  1. Walk or jog. Kyoto is a really safe place to do this, and there are several popular spots for joggers especially. Nijo Castle or the Kamo River are common places to get your exercise in; you’ll see packs of students running, elderly couples power-walking, the whole bit. No one will look at you sideways if you choose to join them. Both are also easy enough to clock in terms of distance. You can also…
  2. Hike. There are so many hiking paths it’s ridiculous. Mt. Hiei alone has dozens of them, all varying levels of difficulty. Just be sure to take anything you could possibly need, like… a friend who will help you in case you twist your ankle. (No I’m not kidding.) Some people are fond of running up and down Fushimi Inari Taisha’s mountain.
  3. Buy equipment at home. I went to a sports store and picked up two sets of adjustable dumbbells that to up to 10kg each (22 lbs). I tend to keep them around 5kg (roughly 11lbs) because I am a weakling but hey, you do you. I also have a stretchy band, a yoga mat, and workout videos, all of which cost me maybe 1,000 yen apiece. The downside to this is, of course, if you live in an apartment you can’t do much high impact stuff unless you want to tick off some neighbors. Or invest in some serious padding.
  4. Shrug your shoulders, say, “Shou ga nai*”, and shell out the cash. I pay more than I care to admit for my taiko lessons (which are once a week for about two hours). I feel like it’s worth it, but it might not be for you. That’s cool; find what you want to do and do it.

Oh, one more thing:

The Budo Center up by Heian Shrine often has classes you can observe, and sometimes join. I’m not certain of the fees, but if you’re interested in martial arts at all, it could definitely be an option. I’ve heard rumors of people joining dojos that “only” require a commitment to show up every day with nominal fees, but as I’ve never experienced this myself I can’t say much about it.

If you’ve found an option that’s cost-friendly and works for you, please share in the comments! Even if you’re in a different area of Japan.

*  Shou ga nai = It can’t be helped. Also can be said as Shikata ga nai. Essentially, imagine someone shrugging their shoulders and going, “WELP.”

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