IMPERIAL PALACE JOG

Running circles round the Emperor

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Some people run it, some cycle it, some simply walk it. Any way you do it, the route around the Imperial Palace has become Tokyo’s best-known track.

“It is one of the few places in Tokyo that is unobstructed. You don’t really have to cross traffic,” says Jason Kendy, director of marketing and communications at Merrill Lynch, and organizer and MC of the annual FIT (Financial Industry in Tokyo) for Charity run around the palace.

The neat, 5.3-km circuit around the palace also makes it an ideal training ground for anything from casual fitness to marathons.

“We trained for the Chicago Marathon by running around it five times [in one go].” says Chloe Vine, a participant in the 2006 Marathon des Sables, a 6-day endurance race across the Sahara.

The track has not always enjoyed such popularity as a jogging venue. While it has long been a tourist haven, as recently as 5 years ago, the only people seen running the route were a few expat traders on their lunch breaks, said Merrill Lynch’s Kendy.

Kendy used to run around the palace when he worked in the nearby Kasumigaseki Building and lived in Kojimachi. He credits the noticeable hike in the number of runners — including Japanese runners — to a growing interest in getting fit with a regular exercise regime.

Lewis Fellas, a hedge fund trader and former Tokyo resident, simply says, “A lot more people like to run now.”

Some joggers came across the route by chance — including Fellas, who, when he moved to Tokyo, looked at a map and simply pinpointed the largest patch of green. When banker Rob Spencer decided to get in shape, with its central location close to Tokyo’s business centers, the palace was the obvious place to go. Though his fitness may have improved, “it still sucks when a chain-smoking 80-year-old runs past you,” jokes Spencer.

Like Spencer, Rob Mann, who does marketing for Meat & Livestock Australia, says that when he joined the Tokyo Goannas Rugby Club in 2003, “we all decided we needed to get in shape and then started jogging every Thursday. At one stage we had 15 people running.”

For the fair-weather jogger, there are plenty of charity runs around the palace. Among them are the upcoming Run for the Cure, and the Make a Wish, Terry Fox, FIT for Charity and YMCA runs.

Wakako Takatsuki discovered the palace loop a year ago when she was invited by her company, Cathay Pacific, to participate in last September’s YMCA run, which they were sponsoring. Initially reluctant, she says the run “gave me a feeling of achievement, and that’s how I got into running.”

Now Takatsuki runs twice a week, leaving her belongings at the nearby sento (public bath) while she circles the palace with friends.

It may come as a surprise to some avid joggers to hear that there is a sento in the area. Those who, unlike Merrill Lynch employees, don’t enjoy the benefits of company shower facilities, have to jog home for a shower, or, if they live further afield, grin and bear a sweaty train ride back.

Some even undertake a surreptitious change by the lockers under the Marunouchi buildings for want of any other — known — option. But there are other options, and the list is growing. Bain Douche, the long-standing sento in question, is conveniently located close to Hanzomon Station (see sidebar). Fortunately for the female of the species, it serves both sexes. Sadly others — namely, Komparu-yu in Ginza and Tokyo Onsen in Tokyo Station (which is only open in the mornings) — cater exclusively to men.

The alternative to a public bath for the early morning runner in search of a shower is to join a fitness club. While this may seem like a big step at first glance, clubs like Liv Fitness offer memberships from a mere ¥3,500 a month. The Imperial Hotel has a pricier gym within strolling distance of the palace grounds. Non-hotel guests can hose down for ¥5,250 a visit. The ASICS Running Club also has its own in-house shower facilities for men and women.

If it’s simply a locker you are after, never fear: there is no shortage. Bain Douche has its own lockers, as does the ASICS club, and coin lockers can be found in most of the subway stations in the area.

With lockers and showers aplenty around the palace, there is no excuse not to get fit and see Tokyo at the same time.

Or is there? For all its benefits, some don’t like exercising in the heart of the city but, “don’t know where else to go,” as banker Jean-Paul Churchouse points out. He also mentions that there is a long list of rules; for instance, palace staff berate you for running across the gravel.

Some runners also lament the pollution. Kendy commented on the exhaust from the bustling roads nearby. “But you get that in any city,” he says.

Young is not so sure.

“I’ve heard it’s the equivalent of smoking a pack of cigarettes,” she says. “But at least you feel cleaner running when you see green.”

And when you know a shower is just a hop, skip and a jog away.

A quick jog to where the showers are

There are a number of options for runners looking for places to clean up after their session around the Imperial Palace.

Bain Douche 1-5-4 Kojimachi, Chiyoda-ku
This sento is a 1-minute walk from Hanzomon Station on the Hanzomon Line; entry ¥400; open Mon-Sat., 3-11.30 p.m.; (03) 3263 4944; www.1010.or.jp

Komaru-yu 8-7-5 Ginza, Chuo-ku
A men’s only sento; entry ¥430. open daily, 2-11 p.m.; (03) 3212 2681; www.002.upp.so-net.ne.jp

Tokyo Onsen Tokyo Station
A men’s only sento; open daily 6 a.m.-11 p.m; (03) 3212 2681; www.sauna.or.jp

Imperial Hotel Gym 1-1-1 Uchisaiwai-cho, Chiyoda-ku
A 3-minute walk from Hibiya Station on the Hibiya Line or a 3-minute walk from Uchisaiwaicho Station on the Mita Line; ¥5,250 per visit; open daily 6 a.m.-10 p.m.; (03)3504-1111; www.imperialhotel.co.jp.

Liv Fitness Kokusai Building, 3-1-1 Marunouchi
A 2-minute walk from Yurakucho Station on the Yurakucho and JR lines; membership Y3,500 a month; open Mon-Fri., 7.30 a.m.-10 a.m. and Mon., Wed. & Fri., 11 a.m.-10.30 p.m. (men only); Tues. & Thu., 2 p.m.-10.30 p.m. (women only); (03) 3287-8888; www.liv-sports.co.jp

Coin Lockers
Lockers are available at Kudanshita, Hanzomon, Otemachi, Nagatacho, Tokyo, Kasumigaseki, Hibiya and Kojimachi stations on various lines. For more information on the location of each station’s lockers, visit www.tokyometro.jp/rosen/

ASICS Running Club 1-2F DK, 8-3-4 Ginza, Chuo-ku
ASICS has in-house showers. The club also hosts a Women’s Night Run on Wednesdays and Fridays and a running clinic for ¥1,500 catering for different levels, speeds and distances on Saturdays and Sundays; a 3-minute walk from JR Shinbashi Station or a 6-minute walk from Ginza Station, various lines. For more information call (03) 3572 8301 visit www.asics.co.jp