Posts Tagged ‘japan’

Racing in Japan – Kokyo Marathon – different yet the same!

Taking a trip? Always worth checking to see if there is a local race you can run! In this post I share the story of my first experience racing in Japan!

Before arriving in Tokyo, I registered for the 8th Kokyo Marathon. Before you are too impressed, I should explain that in Japan the term marathon can be used to refer to a race of any distance. My Kokyo marathon was 21.1 km so it was what most of us would call a half marathon!BibNumber

I received an email with instructions on how to find the start, right down to which exit to take from the subway station! Arigato! They also sent me my bib number: 1. With a bib number like that I already knew this would be a race to remember!

Race day was 18 degrees and raining. There was no mention of bag check, so I stopped at Tokyo Station to leave a backpack with dry clothes in a locker. Unfortunately I underestimated the time to get lost in Tokyo station and reached the start line 2 minutes before gun time. The start line consisted of a volunteer in a white rain coat clutching a Ziploc bag standing next to a large garbage bag. The local runners had all received their bibs in the mail, but since I was coming from Canada I was told to pick up my bib at the start. Luckily I found another runner who spoke English and with her help the volunteer retrieved my bib and four safety pins from her Ziploc. I was ready to go!

Susan and Japanese runner

Making a friend at the start

I looked around and spotted 4 or 5 other people with bib numbers. Several of them wearing clear plastic bags with arm holes to keep themselves dry. One gentleman stopped to ask where I was from. He has run the London Marathon, 2 Boston marathons, 7 Tokyo Marathons and 8 Maui Marathons (and those are just the ones he mentioned)!

9 o’clock was the scheduled start time, but at 9 AM we were still standing around. There were now about 15 runners milling about. The lady in the white raincoat starts explaining various instructions in Japanese. Thanks to a helpful local with fluent English I determine she has told us to make sure we make sure as we complete each loop we make sure we pass close to the garbage bag on the wall because it contains the timing mat and registers your timing chip.

Our race route is the loop around the Imperial palace, a popular local jogging spot. One loop is 5 km. Since the Japanese tend to be very organized, there are signs that inform joggers they should run counterclockwise. Our race will be 4 loops (counterclockwise of course!) and then an extra km after the last loop to reach the finish line,

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Because there are others using the trail, instead of a bulk start which might clog of the path with runners, one runner starts every minute. Soon I am called forward and I get a nod indicating I can tap my bib to the timing garbage bag. I can’t hear the beep but the official says she heard it so off I go

The first part of the loop is uphill and you past the first of the many imperial palace guards.

It’s easy to track your mileage even if you don’t have a Garmin. There are tiles of flowers on the sidewalk every 100 meters marking the distance.

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1 km into the race I see two guys in white raincoats and another black garbage bag leaning against a wall, this must be the finish line. Shortly after there is a nice downhill stretch with a beautiful view of the moat around the palace.

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At the bottom of the hill was another volunteer cheering us on and making sure we did not miss the turn through the gate.Volunteer

Immediately after the gate I pass the start line for the 5 km and 10 km runners. They start at 10 AM and it isn’t long before some of them start running past me. The trail is now a mix of joggers, 5km , 10km and 21 km runners. It’s fun checking out all the different race shirts from races across Japan. Apparently some races give you shirts after the race with your finish time. A group of 3 fit looking young men job past me wearing shirts that say 100 km finisher. Their shirts show a finishing time of 9:33, 9:34 and 8:27! Okay no shame in being passed by them! Some of the runners have different ways of coping with the rain, I spot a few raincoats, and a couple of runners jogging with umbrellas! I also met two joggers who were running clockwise (at least one of them was clearly not a local, any tourist doing a Google search for running routes in Japan will likely find the Imperial Palace loop as a recommend running spot :))

20171021_105932I also discover that my trip to Tokyo station was unnecessary. The Japanese are a very honest society. Apparently there is a designated patch of trees and benches where everyone leaves their bags and water bottles.

 

HeronThe views along the route are beautiful, a pair of swans swims in the moat,  a heron flies past and lands near one of the bridges. I could get used to this!bridge

The Imperial Palace is a popular tourist attraction, so of course on a Saturday morning, even in the rain there are people coming to tour the gardens. A volunteer holding a sign in English and Japanese asks the tourists to wait on the other side of the sidewalk for the pedestrian signal so they don’t block our path.

Pedestrians

The next time I pass the water stop, I take a cup. It’s a cup of Gatorade or something similar and as I finish it I realize I have a problem. I am now clutching an empty cup and don’t know what to do with it. I can’t just throw it on the ground, there is absolutely no litter around Tokyo! But of course, the race volunteers have already thought of this, a little further down the path is another volunteer who takes my empty cup and adds it to his growing collection.

I complete my last lap and cross the finish line! I am wet and I am tired but this was a lot more fun than just going out for a jog on my own. One of the volunteers at the finish line asks if he can take my picture. I assume they want the picture because they don’t usually have Canadians in their races. I am invited to join the post race celebrations at Tony Romas (Yes apparently they have Tony Romas in Tokyo) Unfortunately I have plans, so I skip Tony Romas and check the race results the next morning on the website. Lucky for me they printed my name in English so I can see how I did.

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The time is about what I expected. Not the fastest race I have run, but good enough. So I was very surprised to see my picture is on the race site and to discover my time was fast enough to set the women’s course record!! Okay, only 35 people registered, and only 18 people finished the race, but I’ll take it! I always remember my mom’s advice when it came to running races “Every race is won because someone else didn’t come” so enjoy your victories big and small! My mom was in the 50+ and 60+ category when it wasn’t as common as it is now for older women to run, so she was frequently the first and only woman in her age group 🙂

CourseRecord

So maybe my bib number was a sign!  Perhaps a return trip is needed next year to defend my title! I hope they are able to ship my official finishers mug all the way to Canada! Arigato to all the runners, and volunteers at the race!

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Riding the roller coasters at Mt Fuji!

We recently visited Mt Fuji area in Japan. This post shares some of our experience and some tips you may find useful if you plan to travel there yourself to hike or to ride the roller coasters.

Mt Fuji, a symbol of Japan and for many climing to the top is a life long dream.

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It’s only a couple of hours out of Tokyo, what a great spot to do some hiking. Then my youngest son discovered Fuji Q highland amusement park, home of some world record roller coasters and the destination became a must.

Getting to Mt Fuji

I found this very confusing when I did my research. We had a JR Rail pass, but there are no JR rail stations in the Mt Fuji area. It was hard to tell which stations listed on Hyperdia were in the Mt Fuji area. So if you are as confused as I were, here’s what we learned!

Bus

You can catch a bus to Mt Fuji from Shinjuku station in Tokyo. This bus stops in the towns where most people will stay when visiting the area and goes all the way to 5th station during hiking season.

Train

If you are searching for travel plans on Hyperdia, search for trains going to Fujisan or Kawaguchiko station.

The last stretch of the trip is not accessible by JR Rail. So you have to take the Chuo line JR Rail to Otsuki station (covered by JR Rail pass) and then take the Fujikyoko line through to the Fuji area.  We actually managed to catch a train that went straight from Tokyo to Fuji Q Highland station near our hotel. We used our rail passes as far as Otsuki and stayed on the same train. When we got off the train at Fuji Q Highland, we paid the difference in fare for the portion past Otsuki at the ticket office.

Climbing Fuji

You can only climb to the peak of Mt Fuji in the summer, typically July & August. Most hikers start from 5th station. Ideally you want to see the sunrise from the peak, so hikers will start climbing the day before. Reserve a spot in one of the huts for a few hours sleep and then get up early in the morning to make their way to the peak. There is one path for those travelling up, and another path for those travelling down.

We found some great resources and information about climbing Fuji at japan-guide.com

I spoke to a few people who have done the climb before our trip. Reviews were mixed. one said they climbed in pouring rain and were miserable. Another regretted staying in a hut, because it was crowded and uncomfortable so they got no sleep and wished they had hiked straight through. Another went with his wife, mother, daughter, and son. The mother turned around early not feeling well. The mother was exhausted by the time they reached the huts and refused to hike to their designated hut, so they had to pay extra to get her a spot in the first hut. The sone and father did make it to the top for sunrise. The son was suitably blown away by being able to look down at the clouds from the peak. It’s important to remember you can get altitude sickness. Also, it’s not always easy to pass others on the trail, so you the climb may take longer than you think, since you could be limited by the speed of other hikers.

We were certainly interested in climbing Fuji, but it was not a lifelong dream, so we decided we would start from 5th station early in the morning. Climb for 3 hours and then decide whether to push for the summit or turn around.

Even our conservative plans were thwarted when a typhoon moved in the day we planned our climb.

Screenshot_20160822-123617Spending a day hiking in the pouring rain surrounded by clouds, not knowing if the trails would be closed or there would be a risk of mudslides, we had to settle for looking at Fuji from a distance. If you go, I hope you have better luck with the weather. If you do want to climb, make sure you spend a few nights in the area so you have more than one day available for the climb in the event of inclement weather.  Here’s the lovely view we had of Mt Fuji the day we had planned our climb. Somewhere in those clouds is Mt Fuji, it was there yesterday!

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Fuji Q Highlands – roller coasters!

So we went all the way to Mt Fuji and didn’t do any hiking, so what did we do? We made the most of it and hit Fuji Q amusement park for some serious roller coasters!

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We had already decided to treat ourselves to two nights at the Fuji Q Highlands resort. We figured staying at a hotel with western restaurants and a western style buffest breakfast would work well before and after a long day of hiking. In addition, my youngest son was also eager to try the world record roller coasters at Fuji Q. Staying at the hotel meant easy access to the park. We had to book two hotel rooms to accomodate two large teenagers plus two parents. So we booked one room with a view of the amusement park, and one room with a view of Mt Fuji.  By the time we paid for two rooms it was pretty expensive, but we were only there for 2 nights and it worked out. There are certainly cheaper places to stay and cheaper places to eat walking distance from our hotel.

Tickets and Admission

You can pay to enter the park without paying for rides. Our hotel room came with free admission to the park. You can purchase a one day pass to do as many rides as you want for 5700 yen (adults) 5200 yen (teenagers) 4300 yen (kids under 12).  Since we did not have a full day to explore, we paid for individual rides.

We only arrived in Fuji Q at 3 PM, so we decided it made more sense to pay for the individual rides. The roller coasters are 1000 yen each (though you can purchase a fast pass ticket for double the price, so 2000 yen to get a fast pass tickets for the roller coasters. Fast pass users have a different entrance.

If you are purchasing tickets as you go, you purchase the tickets at the very top of the line just before you board the coaster. There is a ticket machine at the top of the entrance ramp. You are in Japan, so of course the ticket machines are cash only.

Line ups for rides

Fuji Q is notorious for long line ups. We heard horror stories of 3-4 hour waits! Japan’s train system may be the model of efficiency but Fuji Q could learn a lot about how to design rides for faster loading from Universal Studios and Disney! The roller coaster car arrives, everyone gets out, takes everything out of their lockers, leaves the platform, and then the next group of people enters, crosses to the lockers, puts everything away, gets into the roller coaster, and can finally get on their way. Luckily there are some entertaining videos to watch while you wait in the queue. A series of odd videos plus a group of five characters we dubbed the Fuji Q power rangers teaching you what NOT to do in the park (we aren’t sure which of the Fuji Q power rangers was demonstrating the do not go on the rides naked rule).

Snippet of the Fuji Q Safety videos

 

We scoped out the park to get the lay of the land and to see what the wait times were like for the rides. Most roller coasters had sign indicating a 1 hour 30 minute wait. The park is open until 10 or 11 PM but many of the rides closed at 9 PM. We left, found supper, and returned after supper when we figured those who came to the park from Tokyo would be headed home for the day. The plan worked, the lines were noticeable shorter. Our shortest line was 30 minutes (Fujiyama, King of the coasters), our longest line was 60 minutes (Dodonpa), Takashiba was about 45 minutes. Unfortunately Eejanaka the 4th dimension roller coaster was closed by the time we finished the other 3 rides.

The roller coasters

My husband and my youngest hit Takashiba first. This roller coaster holds the world record for the steepest drop, 121 degrees!

Next up was Fujiyama, King of the coasters. It used to hold the record for world’s longest coaster but that title has since been claimed by another Japanese coaster Steel dragon in Nagashima. As of 2016, Fujiyama is the 4th longest roller coaster in the world. The ride lasts an impressive 3 minutes 36 seconds. That is a long time to be on a roller coaster. We all loved it!

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Next up was Dodonpa which accelerates to 172 kph (111 mph) in 1.8 seconds. That works out to a g-force of 4.2G which makes it the fastest launch acceleration of any roller coaster in the world. This ride will literally take your breath away!

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Sadly Eejanaika was closed by the time we finished the other three coasters. Eejanaika is a four dimension roller coaster and holds the record for the highest number of spins of any roller coaster in the world. We made one more attempt to ride it before we left to continue on our journey, but by 9 AM there was already a 60+ minute wait for the ride, and we didn’t have enough time. by 9:15 when we decided to bail the line was already 90+ minutes. The famous Fuji Q lineups were back!

FYI, they have lockers at the top of the ramp as well for purses, hats, eyeglasses and jewellry, even watches had to come off!  This resulted in a blurry view of the ride for my eldest son who didn’t realie he needed his contact lenses to ride a roller coaster. You are not allowed to have anything in your pockets either, even if the pockets have zippers. There are also umbrella boxes to hold umbrellas since they won’t fit in the locker. Though it’s unlikely you would need the umbrella boxes since the signs say if it is raining, snowing, windy, or there is an earthquake the roller coasters will be closed. Glad to know they don’t run the roller coasters in an earthquake!

What do you do during a typhoon at Fuji?

During the typhoon it rained pretty steadily. Not great hiking weather and the roller coasters don’t run in the rain… so we found two ways to pass the time

bowling

Fuji Q has a bowling alley. The bowling was what you would expect, but the unexpected bonus was some very fitting videos featuring the Fuji Q power rangers when you got a strike, a spare or a gutter ball.

water rides at Fuji Q highland

Hey it’s raining, you rae going to get wet anyway, maybe we should just do the water rides! As is traditional at all major theme parks with water rides, you can purchase a poncho. At the entrance to the ride you purchase a ticket for 100 yen. You exchange the ticket for a poncho. Oddly enough they refused to exchange the ticket for a poncho until we were going to board the ride, so my plan to pick up a poncho while we walked around the park did not work out.  

The previous day, the lines for the water rides were anywhere from 60-90 minutes. Well during the typhoon the lines were non-existant! So we took advantage of the inclement weather to get wet!

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There are lots of signs in English in the amusement park, but there are times when the translation is less than perfect.  This was one of our favorite signs in the park:

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So in sumamry. Fuji Q highlands has some fabulous rides and some impressive lines, arrive early or stay late to avoid the worst of the lines!

Mt Fuji is stunning, but if you have plans to do hiking, give yourself mroe than one day in case the weather does not co-operate!

Hapy travelling!