Japanese Gyms Suck! Anybody Out There Agree?

By Donald Ash | Japanese Gyms

Japanse Gyms Suck, but here are some of the most popular gym chains here in Japan.

Some of the most popular gym chains here in Japan.

Are you living in Japan? Do you workout? If so, and you’re attending one of the Japanese gyms…odds are it sucks.  More on that a bit later. For now, let’s start from the beginning:

I was once a wee young, awkward, bird-chested fellow who was just a tidbit lanky for his own good. I really don’t miss the gigantic, iron ball of self-consciousness that was chained to the utter shame that was my puny teenage body. Ugh, I hated those days! I remember reading every Black Belt Magazine, every Muscle & Fitness, and every glossy, Ironman publication I could get my hands on because I wanted to be bigger. I wanted to look like “those guys.” I wanted to be able to look at myself in the mirror WITHOUT having to squint, turn my head sideways and say “hey, hey, chin up, buddy you’ll grow out of it.” I wanted girls to notice me. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen as much as I would have liked (some things never change, shaking my damn head).

Luckily for me I had a former military officer of a Dad that was, and still kinda is, a pretty buff dude. Roll the father/son, weight training/bonding time montage footage. (In my best Wonder Years narrative voice) “Those weight training session with Pops meant more to me than he probably knew. With every rep, every set, I was learning how to become stronger, how to become better, a man…like my Dad.”

Once Dad put those weights in my hand, I was instantly hooked. A lot more quickly than I expected, the muscles came and with them came increased self-confidence (but what about the women, dammit!?!)

I’ve been lifting ever since…

Having the love of weight training that I do, meant that one of my first priorities in Japan was to find a good gym. That search has literally taken me years. Living out in Tsukuba, aka Science City, meant that it was literally easier for me to find hadron collider or an advanced robotic strength suit than it was to find a good gym.

Living on the Tsukuba Express Line only compounded this problem because that train is so incredibly expensive when compared to the standard, Japan Rail. Just a few stops on that thing can easily rack up a 500 yen (approx. $5.00), one-way trip. So even considering the 1720 yen (approximately $17.00) trip it would have taken for me to get Gold’s Gym Kashiwa and back was out of the question.

For several years I made do in a gym that was custom-designed for the elderly. But now that I’m in Yokohama, now that I have easy access to the Japan Rail Lines, I see that there are definitely more fitness club options. However, from what I’ve seen, and sports clubs I’ve toured, gyms in Japan are VERY different.

Can someone, anyone, PULLLEEEAASE tell me what is up with gyms here? Why do so many Japanese gyms suck!

Many of the gyms I have gone to are just so limited; that’s kinder, Japan Guy speak for “Many of Japanese gyms suck hairy, monkey butt cheeks.” I’m not claiming to be a professional bodybuilder or anything, but I’m no stranger to weight training. I DO know a good gym when I see one. And I have yet to find a gym that compares to the smorgasbord of fitness club options that I had back in the U.S.

Weird Gym Rules

Have you ever gone into a Japanese gym and just come across some weird rules? I can’t be the only one who’s experienced some of these things.

I remember training at one gym and this thin, tiny, little trainer was trying to give me a hard to for doing too many sets on the sit up bench. Too many sets! I swear I’m not joking. He wanted me to give other people a chance to use the bench. Sounds fair, right? But there was absolutely NOBODY waiting to use it. Jerkface!

In another gym, I tried to use these elbow slings I had bought to make it easier for me to do knee-ups and target my abs. I locked my slings onto the nearest pull-up bar and got to work. I finished my first set, feeling that oh so satisfying tingle and burn in my lower abs. As I’m resting, mentally psyching myself up for the next set, one of the staff members comes over and asks me about my sling in Japanese. He asks me where I got them. I sincerely thought, he was just curious, so I told him I bought them in the U.S. Much to my chagrin, the conversation took a swift turn when informed me that I couldn’t use outside pieces of equipment in this particular, city-owned gym. Pure and utter foolishness I tell you!

Or here’s another good one. I remember a couple of gyms in Ibaraki making you write your name on a board before using the treadmill. One gym even made you re-sign in every 30 minutes. Huh? So if I want to run for a straight hour, I can’t?!? Jesus Herman Christ.

I’m not really big on taking pictures of myself in the gym, but there are tons of people who are. It’s a great way to track your progress. But I guarantee you if I take my phone out and start trying to take pictures, somebody’s gonna walk over (very politely, mind you) saying “Sumimasen…”. Now I totally understand not taking pictures of other people, but I don’t think you should have to sneak to be able to take pictures of yourself in the gym, especially at the prices you’re paying!

Another thing that I find INCREDIBLY STUPID is Japan’s tattoo rule! You have to cover exposed tattoos in the gym if you’re lucky. Or, if you’re unlucky, you’ll be denied membership privileges altogether. Even if it’s small, non-threatening tattoo? Yep. You could have the smallest damn picture of Mickey Mouse on your neck, and you’ll still have to cover it. Really? Yakuza members sport Disney tattoos? Far more often than not, a foreigner in your gym with a tattoo is NOT a member of the yakuza.

I don’t have a tattoo, but this is a dumb, blanket rule that punishes everybody. Get over it, Japan!

What are the Major Japanese Gym Chains?

I know that I’m probably missing some chains, so if you have any to add please feel free to do so in the comments section 😉 Here are some of the gyms I have visited:

Japanese Gyms Suck: Konami Sports Club
This gym had some of the most high tech training equipment I’ve ever seen. They actually had weight training machines with electronic interfaces. You would actually use your member ship keycard to track your progress from your previous workout. Even though it was high-tech, overall something was missing. Konami has pool facilities.
Did I join: No.

Tipness Fitness Club
Japanese Gyms Suck: Tipness sports club
I have to be honest. Tipness really disappointed me from the weight training side of things. I think a gym should be more than treadmills, ellipticals, and TRX. That’s what most of the gym was devoted to. While there were machine weights here (that’s good), the one I went to had this tiny little section off in the corner for free weight training. My hopes were instantly dashed the moment I walked in. Tipness has pool facilities, too.
Did I join: Nope.

Savas Sports Club
Japanese Gyms Suck: Savas Sports Club
Savas was very similar to Tipness with only a slightly better free weight offering. It still could be far better than what it is. Again, pool facilities.
Did I join: Nah.

Joyful Honda Athletic Club
Japanese Gyms Suck: Joyful Honda Athletics Club
I did think that Joyful Honda (at least the one in Moriya, Japan) was pretty good. They still have weird gyms rules but it’s Japan. Shoganai, ne?
Did I join: Yes, I was only a member for a few months because it ended up being a bit to far for me to manage without a bike.

Gold’s Gym
Japanese Gyms Suck: Gold's Gym Logo

I was a Gold’s member in the U.S. and I eventually broke down and became a member here, despite the price. What can I say, Gold’s is Gold’s. Although I don’t like the Japan-ified Gold’s Gym as much because there are still weird rules, it’s still one of the best gym chains on the planet.
Did I join: Yes. I’m still a member.

Very Limited Free Weights?

It’s a real problem if you can walk into to the free weights area of a gym and the heaviest dumbbell they have is too light for you. AND I’M TALKING ABOUT ME!! Again, not a professional bodybuilder, nowhere close. That’s a serious issue.

The moment I would start a gym tour, I would ask the gym staff to take me straight to the free weights area. This is how I would gauge whether or not the gym would suit me. Anytime I saw that the max dumbbell free weight was something I could lift fairly easily, I just wasn’t interested. Most Japanese gyms go overboard with machine weights. Resistance machines weights can be quite effective, but I think a good gym should have a combination of good machines and good free weights.

Why aren’t free weights so big in Japan? In general, I think it’s because the goal of the average Japanese gym-goer isn’t to muscle up (unless maybe you go to Gold’s Gym). Some go just to stay active. I’ve seen this time and time again with elderly members. Some are going purely to lose weight. If you’ve ever seen that person that comes to the gym JUST to walk on the treadmill everyday, you probably know what I mean. But I’ve also noticed that many people treat the gym as a healthy social activity. They’re going to socialize with friends. They’re going to play racquetball or get in some golf swings with their buddies (yep, golf at fitness club, different, right?).

Bad Lifting Form?

Surely I can’t be the only one who’s seen this. Have you ever gone to workout at a gym and seen someone with lifting form strange that it makes you stop and look? Sure, you will run into people with bad form at any gym you go to, but never have I seen more cases of it than right here in Japan. Here are two bad form classics you may have come across:

The Super-Elevated-Ass Bench Press
When a guy at the gym is bench pressing with his heels on the bench, thrusting his hips up (and thusly his ass) in order to push more weight.

The Momentum Lat Pulldown
On the lat pulldown machine (the machine where you’re seated and pulling down a weighted bar from above you), instead of using your arms and back muscles to pull the weight, you do this teeter totter from the waist up, in order to pull down more weight.

Now, this may actually be a method to cheat yourself into more growth, but you still have to do the lat pull motion for that, right? I saw a guy doing the exercise without even bending his arms. He was just kinda slinging his body back. He was grunting, huffing, and puffing, too. That made it even stranger. I remember seeing this and thinking “Wow.”

Inconvenient Time Schedules

In my quest to locate a gym that would suit me, I have taken a tour of just about every major Japanese gym chain you can think of. I figured that with so many people in Japan taking pride in waking up early, and rushing to their trains at the ass-crack of dawn, that gyms would also open early and potentially stay open later. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most of the sports clubs I’ve come across have 9:00am or 10:00am starts. This blows if you like getting your workouts in early.

You know what else I hate? The whole “We’re closed once/twice every month?!?” thing. I find this both unnecessary and kind of annoying. Unfortunately, I haven’t come across a gym that doesn’t do something similar. Even at a 24-hour Golds! If you’re closed one day a month or have special days where you close the gym at 10:00pm are you really a 24-hour club? No! Perhaps you should advertise it as “Almost 24-hours.” Back home, the 24-hours TRULY meant 24 hours. If you wanted to work out at 3:00 am on Christmas morning, you could! Now the staff probably wouldn’t be there but you could train freely as long you had your card to unlock the door. You sign a form with your contract saying that you workout at your own risk during those times. That was fine by me.

I assume that once a month the gyms close, pull shades down over the windows and have the most amazing catered, staff stripper parties to boost employee morale. Just a hunch.

Here’s another weird time schedule rule at the Gold’s Gym I frequent. There are two areas to do weight training, one on the main floor and then an “Athlete’s Gym” on the lower level. The Athlete’s Gym is where are the super heavy weights are. This is where the hardcore weight training happens. If the gym is 24-hour, why does the area for the most serious weightlifters open at 10:00am and close at 10:30 pm? Conversely, the “lighter gym” area stays open for 24 hours. It seems kinda backwards to offer a limited time schedule to the the people who desire to train the hardest.

Why Are Japanese Gyms Sooooooo Expensive?

Anybody else feel like you don’t get even close to what you pay for with a gym in Japan? Well I do! Back in 2007, the year before I came to Japan, I remember being a Gold’s Gym member in Georgia. Do you know how much my monthly membership was? Thirty-five dollars a month. That figure may actually be incorrect. It’s been a while, but I know also I received a teacher’s discount at the time. I may have actually been paying as little as $30/month!

Care to take a guess how much my Gold’s gym membership runs me in Japan? Brace yourself… A whopping 12,250 yen! In dollar speak that’s right at about $123/ month for the full-time 24-hour plan. Excuse me an “Almost 24-hour” plan. That’s over four times the freakin’ price!

How does the Gold’s gym price compare to some of the other popular Japanese gym chains?

Savas runs 12,915円 per month (about $119 at the time of this writing) for a full-time plan.
Tipness costs 10,290円 per month (about $119 at the time of this writing) for a full-time plan.
Konami is 12,537円 per month (about $119 at the time of this writing) for a full-time plan.
Joyful Honda costs 10,500円 per month (about $119 at the time of this writing) for a full-time plan.

I’m not exactly sure why the gym memberships are so expensive here, but my theory is because of all of the “other stuff” they provide in addition to just the weights? Aerobics, water aerobics, golf, yoga, etc.? Japan being a much smaller country might mean that sports clubs become these overpriced, all-in-one sports centers. Regardless, these features still don’t justify the price in my opinion.

The Solution

Not liking the gym prospects here in Japan? Here are five potential solutions I can think of:

    1) Cross your fingers and pray to Zeus Magnusson (the God of fitness) that your l ese city gym is awesome.

When I was living in the Ouji sharehouse for a brief stint, I found that the city gym was an old school type gym that had better training equipment than most of the major Japanese chains for a mere fraction of the price.

    2) Give serious bodyweight exercise a try

A lot of people who lift weights might scoff at this idea, but man when I didn’t have a good gym to go to there was a university that had a gymnastics club that actually allowed me to train with them here in Japan. Those dudes are some of the strongest, most ripped dudes. Being that I hadn’t tumbled in a while, It didn’t hurt that the hot college, gymnastics girls were so willing to help me out, either. Dear Lord some of them were so good-looking I wanted to bite their faces (in a good way?). But in all seriousness, when done right bodyweight resistance training can really increase your strength levels and change how your body looks.

    3) Join Gold’s Gym

Gold’s is an American-based gym chain that has quite a few locations here in Japan. Although they aren’t as widespread as they could be just yet, at the very least you’ll know that you have more weights than you could possibly know what to do with. Professional bodybuilders go to Gold’s, so I honestly don’t think you’ll find a better gym in Japan. It’s not really that cheap, though. But what GOOD fitness club in Japan actually is?

    4) Join another type of club

Sometimes you’ll find that sports clubs will also have weight facilities combined. I know at my Kyokushin Karate school there were also free weights and heavy bags. I’m sure boxing clubs and other martial arts programs would offer something similar.


5) You could just let yourself go

You could always just give up on your fitness altogether. You could sit down, relax, watch TV and pop open a tub of the new Hagen Daas flavor, “Chocolate Lard.” Rinse and Repeat. I don’t recommend solution 5, though.

Is it just me? Any other weight training enthusiasts think that some of the major Japanese fitness clubs fall short? If so, why? If not, why?

Also if you have any weird gym stories YOU KNOW I want to hear about those.


About the Author

Donald Ash is an Atlanta, Georgia-born, American expat who has been living in a Japanese time warp for the last eleven years. While in that time warp, he discovered that he absolutely loves writing, blogging, and sharing. Donald is the creator of thejapanguy.com blog. Wanna know more about this guy? Check out his "What's Your Story" page.

  • Fran Ferran says:

    I’ve made attempts to go to sign up with a gym but I think it’s pointless to pay so much money for the few days and meagre hours that I want to use it. Maybe I’ll eventually join but not right now. Dancing will suffice for the time being.

    • thejapanguy says:

      Yeah, those prices are no joke sometimes, Fran. If dancing is what keeps you fit, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I can’t dance so well so I lift instead.

  • zoomingjapan says:

    I’m not really interested in weight lifting, but I’ve been thinking about joining a gym to be able to use things like treadmills and stuff.
    The thing is, however, that there is none nearby and I’d hate to drive far out just to get there.

    • thejapanguy says:

      I feel you on that, zoomingjapan. It’s something you really have to weigh. In some cases I actually believe joining a gym might not be worth the expense. In my case, I’m close enough to a good one to justify going. If I wasn’t though I would have to find other ways to train I think.

  • Katie says:

    I’m currently living in Tokyo for a gap year. I use the Chuo-ku Sports Center, and I agree with the funny rules thing. I don’t use the gym though. I’m a swimmer and that works best for me with running/core exercises on my own time to cross-train. I’ve actually lost well over 20 pounds since coming to Japan. But anyway.

    Access: I can walk to the sports center (it’s only about a mile away), so I don’t have to worry about transportation costs.

    Cost: Swimming uses 500Y for a 2 hour time slot. 250Y for a 1 hour time slot if you go between 7-9am but the pool is significantly more crowded. Expensive if you go 5 days a week. Plus, I’m not paying or a club membership or a structured workout or coaches, I’m just paying for pool time. Which in the USA is only $30 a month. Or free at my university. Or $20 for the entire summer for 2 hours in the early morning at my summer club. Exponentially cheaper.

    Weird rules: I’m a fast swimmer. I was just over a second off of the Olympic trials cut in 100 fly. I also have endurance. What annoys me is I’m not allowed to pass anyone because it’s rude. The lifeguards yelled at me when I swam around someone who was literally struggling to do freestyle. Some of these people hop in my lane (instead of lanes that are almost empty!) that are so slow that if I do not wait for them to swim (slowly) 50 meters I am going to be up their butt in less than 25 meters. Which takes sometimes 3 minutes for them to do. Which costs me time and money and a good workout. In the USA, generally this isn’t a problem (if two people are in the same lane with one obviously faster, you halve the lane and then you don’t have to worry about passing, OR if someone who is faster than you is close to you, you stop and let them go) but in Japan, I’ve been literally floating on my back sometimes waiting for someone to hit the wall and stop so I can pass them without getting the lifeguards upset, only to have them push off the wall again! Then I have to wait another 50 meters before I can go again, which is very frustrating. The only solution I’ve found is to try and go when there are less swimmers, usually around 10-11 am.
    Also, in the locker room, if you drip on the floor, you get death glares. You’re supposed to clean up any water that falls off your body with a little mop in the corner of the room.
    Oh, and after 55 minutes, the lifeguards make everyone get out of the water and they do this thing where one strips down to his suit and swims down every lane to check lane lines and push platforms back in place. Five minutes later, you’re allowed back in. This amounts to around 10 minutes lost for the 2 hours. Plus the two hour time-ticket includes locker room time, so you have to allot at least 10-15 minutes for that. More if you want a shower. So really, you’re paying 500Y for around an hour and a half of pool time.
    Also, the pool is kept at around 88-90 degrees. That’s fine if you’re not moving around too much or using the walking course. But my usual pool in the usa was kept at a frosty 78 degrees. That ten degree difference makes it feel like I am on fire literally. My whole body is like a lobster (and I’m a latina with very dark skin, I usually never get flushed) and I get very dehydrated because the water is so hot. But we aren’t allowed to keep water behind the lane!!! It has to be kept on the water stand, a good 10 feet away! And I can’t get out of the pool in between sets for a sip. It’s very inconvenient.

    I agree with the bodyweight stuff. You’d be surprised how much it can help. But even with diet regulation, it’s hard for me to keep the weight off with running and bodyweight alone. So I need the pool.

    • thejapanguy says:

      That is so crazy. I thought it was just me! I too am a swimming enthusiast (nowhere near Olympic trial cuts, though LOL). I happen to be a breast stroker myself. But when I was living in Tsukuba, I went to the local pool and it was the EXACT same thing. Everybody had to get out of the water and wait for the whole “checking process.” It really did seem like a total waste of time. I’ve never seen that at ANY pool I’ve gone to in the U.S. So if you wanna go longer than an hour, I guess you can’t?? smh

      That’s one of those rules that I totally forgot about! Thanks for mentioning it, Katie.

  • Enricopallazzo says:

    Bodyweight is really the smartest way to train. It’s absolutely free! Check out youtube for a wide variety of challenging routines.

    Working out in front of girls really motivates me so I’m a member of a gym now. What I love about it is the private showers. I don’t have to listen to all that snorting that orientals are not embarrassed about doing. But the hours are terrible. And the dumbbells max out at 30 kilograms.

    Evenings are family time. I want to do my training early in the morning.

    People working out in right front of the dumbbell rack, sitting at a machine and using their smartphone, grunting and hissing, and not wiping off their DNA from the benches seems to be a worldwide problem.

    I am looking for a nice bench that has a lat pull and an adjustable bench for decline bench pressing as well as incline pressing. No doubt I will have to pay 4 times as much as I would in the USA.

  • Katarzyna Pawlus-Ono says:

    I think I know what could be the problem for gyms in Japan and availability of their weightlifting equipment…

    After many chats with my j-husband, he made me realise that japanese girls are not into, how he calls it, ‘Macho men’.

    When he visited Australia for the first time, he was surprised to see how many guys aimed to get those big guns and pecs, he said – it never happens in Japan.

    Instead, you’ll see dudes with toned calfs and thighs, because more popular sports are baseball and football (whoops sorry I mean soccer).

    Japanese media makes the ‘feminine herbivore’ (my husband got this term from somewhere) more desired model for a perfect boyfriend than dudes who aim to get their upper body bigger. Maybe because muscles are associated with engineers and working class? Beats me..

    Another thing he mentioned were the prices, he said – only rich people can get really fit, because gyms in Japan are so expensive hehe!

    • SumoFit says:

      Yes, they definitely aren’t into the “big guns”, but even the slim, wiry Japanese are surprisingly strong and they have a lot of endurance and stamina. At least that’s how I remember them, but things have probably changed with all the mod-cons and fast food.

      This excerpt from Professor Kano’s memoir, “Mind Over Muscle” provides some insight:

      “The development of muscles like that requires a great deal of effort on a daily basis, therefore it requires the expense of a great deal of wasted energy. The famous American wrestler Dalue once came to visit me. He was quite well developed and strong, and wasted no time in showing off his muscles. I found myself quietly laughing at the absurdity of this, but I didn’t want to make fun of him, so I said nothing.”

      Then again, if you’ve ever seen the great Chiyonofuji in his prime, you would realise what the Japanese (at least the stockier ones) can accomplish with a bit of weight-training. Chiyo was known for working out when all the other rikishi were stuffing their faces with chanko-nabe and lolling about.

  • Gnome says:

    Have you ever tried going to your local community center gym? I went to one when I lived in Higashi-Jujo (it was 2 stations away on the Keihin-Tohoku line) that had free weights, weigh machines, treadmills and exercise bikes. It was 300 yen per visit. 2400 yen per month, and around 6200 yen for 3 months (you purchased tickets from a machine near the entry way). Although it wasn’t open 24 hours a day and it did close on certain days for some special events or holidays, there were no contracts, initiation fees or other such gimmicks. I avoided going to any gym-chain in Japan for a long-time simply because I didn’t think paying 10,000 per month to exercise was worth it (unless the fee included a personal trainer). Finally, a friend told me about community center gyms. Best wishes to you in finding something to your liking!

  • Ryan says:

    My wife and I live next-door to a sports center in Nagoya. While we’ve never used their training room, we do frequent the pool. It’s cheap (4000 yen for a 1-month pass, even cheaper if you by a yearly pass) and very convenient as we literally just step off the elevator of our building, cross the street and we’re there.

    However, I still find a few things a bit annoying:

    First, the pool is only 25 meters long. I’m no hardcore swimmer, but by the time I find a good rhythm, it’s time to turn around. Next is the pool depth, max 1.3 meters in the middle, 1 meter on each end. My wife and I like to tread water, but seeing as we’re tall Americans, it’s a bit difficult without kicking the bottom of the pool all the time. Sadly, they also suffer from limited open hours (10AM to 8PM) making the after-work hours extremely busy.

    But the thing that gets me the most is this one rule — You HAVE to wear a swim cap. Now, I understand it helps keep hair out of the pool so it doesn’t clog the drains and filters, etc. etc. But I keep a very short hairstyle. Like, there’s-more-hair-on-my-back-than-my-head short. Doesn’t matter… still have to wear that swim cap!

    P.S. I still haven’t found a swim cap for my back.

  • JCM says:

    Starting with the weird rules in Japanese gyms, I am not sure I agree with you. I definately understand the no pics in gyms and although many people dont abuse it, there are definately privacy issues and people are in sometimes awkward positions. For not using outside equipment, you cant really blame people either as they can be held liable, Golds Gym, is one of them and they cannot vouch for safety of outside equipment and I can understand that as well as they dont want to be worried about people damaging their equipment. If you want to use outside equipment, then just do it outside. I do agree with you on the 30 minute thing for running, but I think that is just that one gyms weird rules and cant say all Japanese gyms are like that as I have been a member of many and none had that rule.

    Now, for the pricing, you are comparing the pricing of a Tokyo gym to one in Georgia! Come one, compare the average price of a full service gym in London or New York if you really want to compare the cost. I used to live in Japan for 10 years and 3 years ago moved to London and I will tell you that gyms in the city run the same as the Tokyo pricing or higher here. I am moving back to Japan soon and actually looking forward to Japanese prices.

    I agree with you on the times and even here in London, most gyms start at 8am. Personally, I need one that is open by 6:30 at the latest. So, had to look around. I only have a few that I can look at here sadly that open at a good time for me. The reason that they close the gym once or twice a month is to do a full cleaning of the gym and full maintenance. Personally, I dont mind a gym saying they are 24 hours a day, because they are… they are just not 24/7 gyms. Personally, I like that they close for a whole day to do a completely cleaning and care of the gym facilities.

    I think now-a-days, most gyms are for social and general keeping in shape. Personally, I enjoy weightlifting and that is the hardest thing to come by. There are definately lesser known weightlifting gyms in Tokyo that are not too expensive, just have to find them. I think (http://www.midbreath.com/) is pretty decent from what I have heard for about 10,000 a month. Actually, if anyone checks out the latest issue of http://www.ironman-japan.com/ the Ironman Mag in Japan, then you will see advertisements for the smaller hardcore workout gyms if you dont like the social gyms that seem prevelant and many will run 6-8,000 yen a month. Of course, dont expect to have the full-english experience either, but again, just like in the states, likely you would not get a smaller gym that caters to other languages.

    Overall, in my opinion, Tokyo gyms are not really much different from other gyms in major world cities such as New York and London.

    • Mal says:

      I know you posted this over a year ago, but maybe you weren’t looking in the right places for London? I’m just about to relocate from the North of England to London and only expect to pay £22.99 a month (so very roughly 2300 yen per month?) for a *good* 24/7 gym. That seems to be at least a quarter of the cost for a month’s membership in Japanese gyms. In addition, the joining fees for Japanese gyms seem to be very expensive. In the UK I’ve paid a max of £20 and as little as nothing when there’s been a special offer. Looking at some of the Japanese gyms, particularly the ones in Roppongi, joining fees can be way over £150 which is kind of insane. There are plenty of very affordable gyms in London which open early. I was looking for a gym to go to while on holiday in Japan, thinking there may be affordable day pass gyms, but unfortunately it doesn’t look like I’m going to find one….

      • Lzp says:

        I got to this thread looking for gyms for my holiday in Japan too. I also live in London and I have to say that the discount gyms which have spread in London in the last couple of years are great! I used to go to a Virgin Active paying over £100 a month (so I guess that’s like 18,000 yen per month) and a low cost 24 hour gym opened up right across the street from me at a cost of £20 per month, so it was a no brainer to switch! No classes or fancy changing rooms, but all the weights and machines are good quality. Maybe someone should open a discount no-frills gym chain in Tokyo?

  • crcaccounts says:

    Trust me, I feel your pain. I go to a slightly upscale gym, of which 70% of the members use the gym’s personal trainers, for something like 5000-8000y/hr. Only 1 of the trainers actually looks like he works out. The rest have your typical Japanese build, all are slim with zero muscle mass. Based on their young age, physiques and lack knowledge on anything fitness related, it seems like most of the trainers are just college students looking for temporary work until they graduate.
    The clients are also either overweight or don’t look like they work out at all, even the ones that I’ve seen going consistently for the past 2 years. When I first joined, I got odd looks doing deadlifts, weighted dips, weighted pullups, and heavy squats. Apparently real exercises are either unknown or don’t fit into their cookie-cutter conception of working out.

    Some of the trainers talk to their client while they run for 30 minutes on a treadmill and aid them in pressing buttons. There’s also the creepy moments when someone pays for a “stretching session”, where the client holds a stretch pose while the trainer unnecessarily touches them to “help” them stretch. No, they’re not pushing on the muscle to help the client hold the pose, just touching the client for no reason at all. Creepy.

    Instead of deadlifts, trainers have their clients do this weird thing which looks like a cross between a bent over row and a good morning. The range of motion is about 12 inches. They believe they are doing deadlifts. I’m considered odd because I do real deadlifts on the floor with 2-3 times as much weight and their clients continue to make zero progress on their fucked up version of the deadlift. Belts are always used, even when lifting well below their bodyweight.

    Instead of squats, they allow their clients to lift more than they can handle, and end up doing quarters squats, all while they yell out the rep count in a deep, macho voice. Again the range of motion is about 12 inches. Sorry, 225lb quarter squats are not macho or even useful.

    Instead of letting clients perform a proper leg press, again they load up the machine with too much weight, and the client either ends up doing half-reps, or they get two trainers to push on the sides of the machines to lift the weight for the client. Not on the last rep to failure, no…. every, single, rep. Its really funny to watch. Its like team lifting. Same thing on bench press.

    Tricep extensions consist of pulling the weight down forcefully with the lower back and using the remaining momentum to push the stack down to a lockout. Repeat.

    The best one of all. Dumbbell curls. Not the way you were taught. No. Dumbbell curls at my gym consist of something resembling a softball throw. Again with too much weight, but still only 25-30lbs. The rep begins by pulling the arm behind the back, then swinging the wrist forward. The momentum is used and the elbow is pulled forward under the dumbbell, and finally the arm is closed. Repeat.

    Hilarious to watch, but amazing when you consider people are actually for this crap, and some have been consistently for years.

  • Yuki says:

    I lived in Osaka for a while, and then Tokyo. Im more of a swimmer but I used the community sports clubs or the school one that was near where I lived. But Japanese pools are so crowded with their dumb lane rules, it’s sooo annoying when you end up swimming behind a slow person who decides to chill in the fast lane (Japanese people son’t care about fast and slow lanes). And you can’t overtake either. Irritating!! It was cheap though, 4700yen for an unlimited monthly pool pass. They had a weights room and cardio room too for an extra price, but this is the normal price in my country but the public community price in Japan :O… Private clubs are sooo expensive. And they have weird holidays, like closed on a monday for no reason.

    Also, there is “Kyuukei” or break time where they make everyone get out and do this weird aerobic shit or whatever… it was old people, i just said on the bench but that was so damn weird!! They also have swim classes all day or something cause theres only ever 2 or 3 lanes for normal swimming so you have to share with so many (slow and annoying) people.
    But the most stupid thing I found was the fact that you are not allowed use soap and shampoo in the showers (I snuck in and used it anyway since I don’t really care). But thats beyond ridiculous!! How can you swim in a pool and only be allowed to rinse after, leaving the place stinking of chlorine. wtf?!?
    In my gym at home, you would most likely get a whole lane to yourself since its private, and of you actually wash your hair!

    The sauna is not a sauna though, its just a lukewarm room at 40C… but Japanese saunas don’t seem to be as warm as hot saunas.

    Another thing I noticed is that Japans gyms are full of old people! In the gym I go to in my country, its full of teenager-> adult but no one over 50. While you would be hard pressed to spot even one young person in a Japanese gym or club. Old people sure fork out a lot of their pension to go to the gym!

    • Melissa says:

      It depends on the gym your going to, I have been to a gym in Japan that has a bunch of eldery in the pool but the workout room did not have any elderly people in it, and at another gym I went to there were no elderly at all just a bunch of young guys mostly and a few young ladies. Elderly all probably have their favorite “particular” gym that they use at their senior center to do water aerobics, while other gyms (especially the workout rooms) lack elderly people.

      • Melissa says:

        I meant to say use “as” their senior centers not “at” senior centers (meaning a substitute place to hangout with other elerly, acting like its a senior center even though it isn’t).

    • SumoFit says:

      Perhaps gym staff and patrons don’t care for personal care products with strong, cloying fragrances. Banning all such products means they don’t have to single out people who use the stinky ones. Be courteous to your fellow gym-rats, it is their country, after all….:)

      Check out the Japanese “fragrance conundrum”:


      • SumoFit says:

        I forgot to mention the tattoos: Japanese don’t like them and associate them with criminals, yakuza and lowlifes. It might seem unfair or overly critical to Westerners, but the attitude is deeply ingrained in their culture and should be respected. Ironically (or coincidentally), the displaced native people of Japan — the Ainu — were big into tattooing.

        Negative attitudes towards tattoos is not unique to the Japanese. I recently overheard a young lady from Eastern Europe — I’m guessing the Czech Republic — who said she was going back to visit her family, and that they wouldn’t be happy with her tattoo, because where she comes from the only people with tattoos are in jail! 🙂

  • Melissa says:

    If you don’t join an American branch gym located in Japan (like Anytime Fitness which is American), like if you go to a private or local non-American-chain gym then doesn’t the paying methods differ from the U.S.? I know in the U.S. they make you go on hard-to-get-out-of contract and make you pay by credit card/debit card, where they hold your credit/debit number info so they can keep draining your account, plus the contract has an automatic renewal so you have to try and cancel when your time is up since it automatically renews. And they scam alot of people and keep taking money out after your time is up and people have a hard time cancelling. So while Japan gyms might be pricey at least there is some non-American chain gyms with options to pay monthly and by cash (since there is no option to pay by cash at the American gyms) seems alot less of a pain than getting stuck in some contract getting scammed out of your money and them having your personal info like your card number.

  • sam soda says:

    i am from canada and the gym’s i have gone to in japan suck i am wondering if anyone knows of any outdoor chin up bar sets i have found one in ropoongi but it is just a close grip set and would like to use rings as well as wider grip chin up bars ? any help appreciated

  • Karen says:

    I just moved to Yokohama about 3 weeks ago, and I am having the toughest time finding a “decent” gym. Perhaps it doesn’t exist here in Japan. As hard as it is to accept that gyms here don’t typically open till 10am, their absurd shoes removal policy, and how they are not at all English-friendly (yet Gold’s Gym uses only white people in all the ads I see), I’ve come to realize that I will need to cater to them if I want to maintain an exercise regimen for as long as I am here in Yokohama. However, I witnessed the most shocking thing during my one week trial at Gold’s Gym – I took a what they call “fat burner” class, but in fact it’s an aerobic class!! I seriously thought I stepped into a time machine and traveled to the 1980’s. Think Jane Fonda and her leg warmers.

    • Regan says:

      Hey Karen, hopefully you’ve found a good gym by now, but just in case, have you tried finding a public, city-owned place? I believe that every Ward in Yokohama city has one. I lived in Yokohama for 2 years up until a year ago, and during that time I lived in 3 different places, all in different Wards, and there was a XXXXXX-Ward Sports Centre in every one. For example, I went to Seya Sports Centre in Seya-Ward, Izumi Sports Centre in Izumi-Ward, and Naka Sports Centre in Naka-Ward. For residents of the particular Ward that they’re in, the price is cheap, something like 300yen a pop for up to 3 hours (although no-one really times you). They’re simple places, and I found the best were the ones in Izumi and Naka, but if you just want the basics, then I really recommend them.

  • AnotherWorldCitizen says:

    I would say that the price is no worse than London (where I lived just before coming to Japan) at today’s exchange rate (it was a different story about 2-3 years ago). In central Tokyo at least I find it not too surprising, space is expensive. Now I am lucky enough to have access to the University gym which is super cheap and more than sufficient for me. It is good enough for the barbell club, and those guys are a cut above the average Japanese build. Before that I went to another gym that allowed me to pay as you go (400 yen a pop if I remember right). It would work out at 12000 yen per month if you go everyday, but since I train no more than 3 times a week, it was quite decent.

    Lately, I have reduced the number of gym visits though, and and opted to do various other sports instead, some which includes bodyweight exercise. At first, it was just to break from the routine, but I’ve found new challenges along the way and tackling them has been rather fulfilling. That said, this is mainly because I have access to affordable university sports facilities. I still want someone to open a parkour gym, but I can only imagine that the space required would probably make membership cost 20,000 yen or be located in the next prefecture haha.

  • Don J says:

    Moved to Tsukuba a year ago and would like you recommend a good gym with a personal trainers. I want to lose the belly fats then concentrate on body building. Your help is much appreciated. Thanks

  • yj says:

    The tattoo rule has recently come to haunt me. I overheat easily so I always wear tanks to the gym and thus, it shows a little ink on my back. I’ve been going to the same gym for three months and today someone asks me quietly when I am stretching to leave. It was the worst feeling ever 🙁 What’s even weirder is that 1) they refunded me my day pass and 2) they gave me my membership card back. Hopefully that means I’m allowed back x___x Funny rules suck.

  • Mad Guy says:

    There should be a tv show called “Benchin’ the Bar with Yu-kun and Hiro.”
    Ok I’m done J-bashing. I’m no Hercules.
    Now the real bulls#it is Japan Golds Gym–nevermind it costs 5 times as much as the US–they actually charge a “Holiday Fee” to go during the New Year period. It’s not like the New Year holiday is 1 day, it’s a week. You gotta pay 1300 yen to use it during that period. This is ridic. With these retarded prices and this New Year fee stunt, I don’t think Golds Gym Japan should be allowed to call itself Golds. It’s a good gym and considering Crapan, it’s worth the money (only in Crapan, though)..but…I think I am going to write corporate about this.

  • cloa513 says:

    I looked at Renaissance- its closed Mondays and for this coming of age public holiday- also closed on Tuesday. Opens at 10. The place is OK with a pool and usual stuff and classes and some sports stuff.

  • Eric says:

    I’m a powerlifter who is about to work in Japan and I’m dreading the idea of not being able to Powerlift. I am currently at a 620 deadlift, 510 deadlift, 170 overhead press, and 315 bench. I’m scarred that I won’t be allowed to deadlift or that at best the heaviest weights will be 225lbs (102.3KG). I will either be placed in Tokyo, Osaka, or Fukushima. Any advice?

    • Regan says:

      Eric, if you’re put in a decent urban area that has a gym or two around, even a city-owned gym, you’ll most likely be able to keep up your bench press, but in all honesty, it might be hard to gather together enough plates to put on the bar for your deadlift. I’m Australian, and in both Australia and Japan the metric system is used. so I calculated that for an approx. 280kg (620lb) deadlift, you’d need 12x20kg (45b?) plates plus 2x10kg plates on the 20kg bar. Of course there are other combinations, but trying to fit it all on the bar with 10, 5 and 2.5kg plates probably won’t make the weight you need. There’s also the problem that all those plates might in fact be ALL the plates they have, so if someone is doing bent over rows or bench or overhead presses at the same time that you want to deadlift, it could be a problem in that you’d have to wait and it would throw off your rhythm.

      At the city-owned gym I go to now (very sparse), I think they have a total of 8x20kg plates, plus maybe 6x10kg and plenty of lighter ones.

      As The Japan Guy mentioned above, all the Japanese gyms here don’t really have enough for serious lifting (I’m no pro, but…) in terms of free weights, so your best bet would be Gold’s Gym, but for that you’d better hope to be set up in Tokyo or Osaka, out of the three location options you listed. You’d be fine at Gold’s.

      At any of the Japanese gyms, private or city-owned, you might possibly run into opposition regarding lifting so much weight, but I’m assuming that by the very virtue of being able to lift so much (heaps more than me!), you probably look like it, so the staff might just leave you alone too. Plus, ask them to show you in the contract where it says “Patrons must not lift over X-amount of weight”. I can almost guarantee it won’t be there, so that should shut them up. Also mention that you’re paying them money, and if it’s just one of the lowly unqualified “trainers”, ask to speak to someone higher up, and in all honesty, keep going until you’re satisfied. One more word of advice, if you sign up for a private gym with an entrance fee along with your monthly membership fee, ask to take a copy of the contract home with you and ask someone who is proficient in both J and E to translate it for you, especially the rules (unless you can do it…?) Knowledge is power in these red-tape situations.

      All the best with your new life in Japan, mate. If you need a bit of help, try to get in touch with me through this thing.

  • Takahashi says:

    You are the WEIRDO please get over it! This is Japan and those ones are normal and polite rules, if you or any other American do not like the rules then you can go back to your country and live by your rude and NOT polite way of living. American people always think it is correct what they think it is and everything else is either wrong or “weird” so please stop complaining or criticizing Japanese rules and manners, here is JAPAN respect!

    • TritoneJapan says:

      No need to take it personally. I’ve been living in Japan for 3 years. Japan has a lot of elegant and useful rules. In a lot of ways they take consideration of others very seriously and because of that it’s an absolute pleasure to live here. But they also tend to go overboard with the rules. Every culture has its flaws and this is one of Japan’s. No need to get upset about it. I’m American and I’ll be the first to admit American culture has LOTS of problems and messed up ways of doing things, which I won’t get into here–it would take all night to type!

      • thejapanguy says:

        Well said, TritoneJapan. No culture is perfect.

        Takashi, not once did I claim that what everything I think is correct or that everything in American culture is right. That would be pure ignorance for me to even consider thinking that! I do respect the culture. I wouldn’t have been able to live in Japan as long as I have if I couldn’t.

        Takahashi, you seem to have some kind of American chip on your shoulder. Contrary to what you think, not all Americans are rude.

        I think you’re taking this article to a place it wasn’t intended to go. This article wasn’t at all intended to be an attack on Japanese culture/society/manners. I am talking about gyms…period!

        I understand what you’re saying about Japan respect and all, but respecting a culture/society doesn’t make every Japanese gym rule a good one. Before you go group what I’m saying into the “complaining American” category, take another look. I’ve even heard other Japanese people and non-American foreigners complain to gym staff about the very some of the very rules that I “complain about” in this article. I’m just saying.

        I hope that clears things up a bit. Thanks for being so candid with your thoughts.

    • EZFX says:

      Takahashi-san. Come to America and train in a good gym for a few months then go back to Japan and compare. I think you’ll understand what we’re complaining about. I don’t believe these rules are about respect and politeness so much as an obsession with having rules. I don’t think they improve the experience of paying customers of these facilities.

  • TritoneJapan says:

    I just joined a gym and started the Stronglifts 5×5 program. I’m finding I’m actually spending more time waiting for the single power rack to be free than I am working out. I don’t know enough Japanese and I’m starting with basically no weight on the bar so asking to work in is not really an option. Today I got there at 4:45 and had to wait to 5:30 to use the rack, AND I had to leave by 6:00 because if I stay later they put me on the more expensive plan. It freaking sucks.

  • John Litton says:

    Hahahahahahaha, (sigh) I’m guessing the High School fitness isn’t that great either.

  • Kellie Parker says:

    I know this an old article, but I was wondering if working out in public is normal in Tokyo? For example, going for a run or doing bodyweight exercises in a park.

  • Whitney says:

    Hey thanks for this post! Very useful! I might be heading to Japan and in the 5 years since I’ve been, I’ve become a gym rat!

  • Chad P says:

    I’m new to Tokyo (as of Monday) and I’ve yet to explore the gym scene. This saved me a fair bit of time hunting, so thanks. As I’m here to study law at my university’s campus, I’ll have access to the Musashi University gym. I can provide feedback if you like? For completeness’ sake.

    I can already see that the hours are pretty lame, though.

    There also appears to be an “Anytime Fitness” up the road. As I’ve taken a vow of (temporary) poverty to be a student, I doubt I can afford it, though.

    This morning saw me in the park, rocking the tree branch pull-ups and body weight stuff.

  • Jacuzzi says:


    I have a gym 5 mins… Yes 5 mins away from my home and it costs 7,500円 a month.
    The gym is called Fast Gym24.. Me and my other half go there to look around, literally 2 customers in the whole place, and still not nearly enough facilities.

    I don’t understand how a gym could cost so much and have so little, no pool, no sauna nothing.

    I found out that there is a Golds gym opening here in Feb’, 7 mins away from me by train thanks to you!

  • christinanolanXD says:


  • Myu tube says:

    Hey man, nice blog. You should try Any time fitness gyms. I joined one here in Chofu, 24/7 open, no holidays whatsoever, about 7,000 yen/month.

  • Jennifer says:

    I know this is an old article, but I just stumbled on it. We are currently in Nagoya and we did crossfit back at home in the US prior to moving here. The weightlifting was definitely my favorite part and I struggle to find something similar here. I did experience the varying degrees of the tattoo rule unfortunately. Gyms like Anytime Fitness and Gold’s Gym told me if I covered it up (it’s a small tattoo on my shoulder) I’d be ok while Axtos told me flat out no on the off chance that I changed at the gym another member may see my tattoo. Heaven forbid.

    It’s just a different environment coming from the US, we had 5 crossfit gyms and 4 larger gyms (La Fitness, etc) all within a 5 mile radius. There are very limited options here. We have started at the local city training room, which can’t technically discriminate against people with tattoos because it is funded by city tax dollars. The free weights are limited and have been told that we were unable to lift any of the weights overhead. I guess I’ll have to take what I can get for now.

  • Jammer Lemur says:

    Anytime Fitness is a really nice alternative. ¥7,500 a month. Good choice of free weights and machines (the one I go to actually one has 1 Smith Machine and three squat racks/bench racks) and a good selection of dumb bells. Showers included also and its 24/7 with ability to join any Anytime Fitness worldwide.

  • Tari says:

    MI Sports in Osaka is tattoo friendly, really reasonably priced and have personal training/martial arts… As for lifting, they have a dead lift set, kettle bells and bulgarian bags.. https://www.facebook.com/MISportsLtd/

  • Ryan Wilson says:

    Great article, thanks for sharing your experience. Mine experience is quite different since I live in the Japanese country side where there are no gyms. My solution was to buy some gymnast rings and get into calisthenics. There is an abandoned shrine near my house that is now my gym. No lines, no rules and beautiful views. The only problems is that I have to put-up with the rain, no partner and mosquitoes. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/ab13e1ea41c6078dc4f4afffcbfb6b1087080101971cbc4e01492a0facb057c6.jpg

  • Gio says:

    new to the blog. just moved to japan. joined a gym in the nagoya area. yes they arent that great and very limited compared to the gyms back home. you guys should post work out vids what u guys can do with the limited equipment.

  • jun says:

    hahaha!! konnichiwa, i’m japanese and I totally agree with you!

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