When you think of Japan, trail running probably isn’t the first thing that springs to mind.
But the four islands that make up Japan’s mainland are filled with mountains (lots of them active volcanoes) and thick forests. About 75 percent of Japan is mountainous—and as the population has long revered the outdoors, there are plenty of trails. Surprisingly, some of the best running is actually in Tokyo, Japan’s capital and one of the most densely populated cities in the world. Sure, there are more than 10 million people living in the city, but great public transportation can get you to a trailhead in no time.
About 75 percent of Japan is mountainous—and as the population has long revered the outdoors, there are plenty of trails.
Plus, there are miles and miles of paved walking/biking trails that provide leisure and training opportunities for everyone from ultra marathoners to recreational joggers. There are also plenty of mountains (with famous hiking and running trails) that sit a short distance from Tokyo; you’ll pass Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples while on the routes, and chances are you may come statues of Yamagin, ascetic monks who lived in solitude in Japan’s mountains and forests.
If you are running in Japan, remember that going off-trail is not a good idea. The densely wooded forests can hide steep drop-offs and cliffs. There are also roaming bears, wild boar, poisonous snakes, and giant wasps. Sticking to the trail is good manners and makes good sense.
Here are few of the best within the Tokyo region:
You can run for miles in this area, which sits at the western end of Tokyo. This mountainous trail is filled with hot springs and campgrounds. There’s a nine-km hiking trail, but you can also piece together longer, two- to three-hour runs along the river. Lake Okutama is the biggest lake in the region, while mounts Ozen and Otake are accessible by hiking trails. The Nippara Caves are also worth exploring.
This mountainous trail is filled with hot springs and campgrounds.
If you take the Chuo Line from Shinjuku to Haijima (with a change to the Itsukaichi Line) and disembark at the end of the line (Musashi-Itsukaichi), you’ll be at the Konpira Ridge. You can head up to Hinode-san, along to Mitake-san, and then down a trail on the other side to Hatonosu and end up at a small onsen (public bath) by the river.
This is a short (four-kilometer) run that takes you along the river. It’s beautiful in the spring, when the cherry blossoms are in bloom. The trees provide shade in the summer, and protection from rain in the fall and winter. You can reach the trail from Merguro, Ebisu, Gotanda, and Osaki stations. This trail is popular with cyclists and walkers as well as runners; it’s recommended you start your run early (or late) to avoid crowds.
Runners who prefer flat terrain to mountain trail should consider the trails near this big marsh. The trail takes you about 30 kilometers around the circumference of the lake. The scenery is lovely and the trail easy to follow.
It’s a short train ride northeast of Tokyo to this big lake; take the Keisei Line train from Keisei Ueno, with a change at Katsutadai for a train to Keisei Usui.
This tree-lined path follows the Tamagawa Josui, an ancient aqueduct completed in 1653 to carry drinking water from the Tama River. The unpaved trail starts near the Hajima station in western Tokyo and extends about 40 kilometers along the canal to Shinjuku station in central Tokyo.
Runners have developed a 26-mile section of the trail between between Hajima station and Waseda University, near the Edogawabashi Station. Perhaps the most popular (and scenic) section is the 15 kilometers that stretch from Hajima to just east of Koganei Park, Tanashi (Seibu Shinjuku line), and Musashi Sakai (JR Chuo line). Another five kilometers deliver you to Inokashira Park; those looking for a longer day can keep going to Koganei Park.
You can reach challenging mountain trail by train or bus from Tokyo. The 6,600-foot Mt. Kumotori is located in Omatsuri, at the intersection of Tokyo, Saitama, and Yamanashi prefectures, in the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park.
This run is arguably one of the prizes of the Tokyo area, with some long, steep grades that afford excellent views of Mt. Fuji. There are plenty of huts where you can stay if you’re planning on multiple days of hiking or running; plus there’s onsens for soaking and plenty of great spots for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
You might recognize this name from our most recent film, Road to Trail. Mt. Nabewari is a popular hiking destination, but for those intrepid and experienced trail runners, the steep climb up endless stairs is worth it. At the summit, you’re greeted by a cozy hut, where you can get a fresh, steaming bowl of Nabeyaki Udon.