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Three Ways Living in Tokyo Changed My Relationship with Sports

Moving to Tokyo from Riverside, California, in 2009 was a seismic shift in lifestyle. That being said, prior experience with Japanese language and culture minimized the culture shock of the experience. Looking back, perhaps the greatest adjustment I had to make was moving from a sprawling, medium-density city to a hyper-dense urban megacity. Besides obvious lifestyle changes regarding commuting, dining, and socializing, moving to Tokyo also brought changes to the sports that I enjoy.

A Different Type of Cycling

A bicycle in front of a lake. In the back, Mount Fuji.
A scene from my 2020 ride from Tokyo to Lake Yamanaka, the closest lake to Mt. Fuji.

I’ve enjoyed riding bikes for as long as I can remember. BMX bikes dominated my childhood, and mountain biking took over in my teen and adult years. As I preferred to bike off-road, I had never owned a proper road bike. That changed after I moved to Tokyo. With no mountains, or even hills, in sight, cycling in traffic became my only option, at least until I built up the endurance to ride beyond the city limits and back. At first, exchanging the fresh air of trail riding for plumes of vehicle exhaust was daunting, and I almost gave up cycling altogether. Thankfully, I persisted, and eventually found hidden gems like the ones featured in this article. Once I found a few comfortable routes within and beyond the city, I was hooked on cycling once again.

Saying Goodbye to Snowboarding

Anthony holding a snowboard
Snowboarding in Hakuba in 2010.

Although Japan is home to some incredible ski resorts, accessing them from Tokyo can be cumbersome—especially if you don’t own a car. As much as I love riding the shinkansen, relying on it—along with local busses and trains—to reach the nearest quality ski resort makes snowboarding more of an event than a hobby to be enjoyed throughout the winter. Despite having slopes far superior to what I was used to, I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve only been snowboarding once since I moved to Japan (compared to going several times a season back in California). That being said, perhaps this will change now that I use a car-sharing service.

Saying Hello to Running

Out of the three sports in this article, my relatively newfound love for running is actually a direct result of Japanese office culture and my experience as a foreigner in Japan. Back in the U.S., I only ran short distances, just to warm up before weight training. However, as described in this article, an invitation from my Japanese colleagues to take part in a 5K running event inspired a new fitness habit that pushed me to run farther and more frequently than I could have ever imagined. This made me realize that moving to a new country is more than just learning a new language and culture. Sometimes, just simply being in a new environment inspires you to achieve things you never thought possible anywhere in the world.

Embrace Change

These are just a few of the ways moving to Japan has impacted the physical activities that I enjoy. As with the activities featured above, some things have become more convenient and attractive (i.e. hiking) while others have become less so (i.e. swimming). When I was preparing to move to Japan, all those years ago, I put little thought into how my physical activities might change. Perhaps the same holds true for some of you who are reading this. So, if you’re planning to move to Japan, especially to an urban center, know that your sports routines will likely change. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. You may end up letting go of some of your favorite pastimes, but you’ll also find exciting new ones to fill the void.  

Originally from California, I've been living and working in Japan, now my second home, since 2009. My work as a communications consultant lends a unique perspective to my writing, and I often explore the business behind Japan’s beauty. When I’m not working, you can find me hunched over a screen reviewing kanji flashcards in my never-ending quest to master the Japanese language.