True confessions of a bijogā (beautiful jogger)

by Kaori Shoji

Special To The Japan Times

This is the story of a 39-year-old female runner who works in advertising and runs six times a week.

Actually I was flattered when asked to recount my story, because in Japan, no one wants to hear from an obasan (おばさん, middle-aged woman), least of all from an obasan who runs three laps around the Kōkyo (皇居, Imperial Palace) before work every morning. That’s 15 km right there. Nanka hendeshō (何か変でしょう, kind of strange, isn’t it)?

I’m nothing special. Of the 33,000 people who ran the Tokyo Marathon this year, close to 30 percent were women, so I’m at the tip of a very large iceberg. Still, I’ve run enough to say that bijogā (美ジョガー, beautiful joggers) aka female runners — who keep at it year after year, are a rarity. The whole thing is just too kitsui (きつい, hard), too demanding on women’s mentaru (メンタル, mental health) and it wipes out your love life like a bulldozer on a field of flowers.

Kore wa jimanbanashi jyanaikedo (これは自慢話じゃないけど, not that I’m boasting), I used to be a moteonna (モテ女, popular girl). Until I started running seriously, I had a string of boyfriends who filled different slots for different needs: one for bar crawling, one for restaurant hopping, one for sex and so on. Then one day, I discovered I was gaining weight. I panicked, and asked a girlfriend who was a member of my kaisha (会社, company) running club if I could tag along on a practice session. The venue was the Imperial Palace, and I was told that one shūkai (周回, lap)” was 5 km. I was annoyingly slow: 41 minutes. But when it was over, I felt fantastic, empowered and totally in control. That was it for me. Hamacchatta (はまっちゃった, I was hooked)!

One lap quickly went to two, then three. Six months later I ran my first hāfu (ハーフ, half) marathon at a taikai (大会, race) and the next year, I got a coveted ticket into the Tokyo Marathon. My taimu (タイム, time) wasn’t spectacular — 3 hours and 58 minutes. But officially, I was a sub-4 runner, and the Kōkyo was like my niwasaki (庭先, personal garden). I knew every single centimeter of pavement. Male runners said hello and tipped their caps. TV crews came up to interview me as I was did my pre-running stretches.

I’m now dark, lean and hard as an oak tree. Since wearing nothing but a sports bra for quite some time, I’ve shed the desire for sexy lingerie and nice dresses. I’ve lost my boyfriends — some to tenkin (転勤, transfers), others to marriage. And here I am, an ara-fō (アラフォー, around 40 years old) woman with no social life to speak of. Oh, men will give me their sonkei (尊敬, respect). A few have even asked me to coach them, and help them lose a few kilos. But that’s become the extent of my relationship with men. Hashiru joshiwa motenai (走る女子はもてない, Women who run can’t get dates). It’s one of the whispers going on around the Kōkyo and it’s true. In my time, I’ve seen dozens of wakai ko (若いコ, young women), dressed to the nines in their bijogā wear, with sweat-proof makeup and perfect matsueku (マツエク, extended eyelashes) do one lap, once a week before fading out. I don’t blame them. They got what they wanted out of running, and then they left.

I’ve stuck around without really knowing why. I still get a great tasseikan (達成感, sense of achievement) when I run, and have friends to go drinking with after practice. But we say goodbye at 10 p.m. because we all have to get up early in the morning to go running.

I miss the sense of being a vulnerable, fragile creature who needs protecting, and who doesn’t mind being bossed around a bit by the dominating Japanese male. I miss the feel of heels on my feet, an Hermes bag slung over my arm. I miss the days when I carried a single, tiny handkerchief instead of a spōtsu taoru (スポーツタオル, sports towel) to deal with the takiase (滝汗, sweat like a waterfall) dribbling down my face and neck in the summertime.

When I’m not running or working, all I want to do is to lie on my sofa, eat and watch TV. And let me warn you: runners usually live in obeya (汚部屋, squalid or cluttered living spaces) because we don’t have the time or energy to do the kaji (家事, household chores). Personally, I find it difficult just to keep up with the sentakumono (洗濯物, laundry) which is 80 percent running gear anyway. And I’m the worst conversation partner, because all I talk about are time, distance and the next race. Even my own mother has stopped calling me.

Chotto kanashiikamo (ちょっと悲しいかも, it’s a little sad, maybe). But you’ll have to excuse me. It’s time to go running.

  • goseki

    走る一緒にいかなくちゃ!

  • blondein_tokyo

    Could this be any more sexist? Seriously, a woman who runs can’t get a boyfriend because she’s no longer weak, submissive, and in need of male protection? This just reinforces my determination to never try dating a Japanese man ever again, if they think the only value of a woman lies in how many Hermes bags she owns, how weak she is, and how little she seems to sweat.

    • Henry

      Are you really dumb enough to judge all Japanese men based on the story of one person? Seems you are the sexist one. This article says more about how she judges herself, rather than how men judge her.

      Sure a lot of Japanese men have ridiculous values. So do a lot of Japanese women. So do a lot of men and women all over the world.

      • blondein_tokyo

        How is it sexist to call out sexism? You might be able to say “You should give Japanese guys a chance; they aren’t all like that.” But calling me sexist for calling out sexism makes no sense.

      • Henry

        Listening to one person’s anecdotal account of how ‘men’ judge her is not grounds to call sexism. She is judging herself. Perhaps some men judge her that way too. However, to assume that *all* Japanese men are like that is sexist on your, and her, behalf.

        Quite simply – yes, there are a lot of dumb Japanese men who just value some unrealistically innocent childwoman. There are also a lot of Japanese men who have more sensible taste. Figure out for yourself which is which.

      • blondein_tokyo

        The Japan Times just carried a series of articles about how women are discriminated against in Japan, and several women’s groups were quoted saying that Japan has a long way to go for men and women to be considered equals in society. What more evidence do you require? It is a fact that sexism exists. It exists everywhere, in every country, all over the world. Logic then dictates that it must exist in Japan, too.

        It is not unreasonable, then, to say that it is very likely that this woman has experienced sexism in the form she claims to have. And it IS sexist to hold double standards for men and women, or to shame women for not being the preferred body type.

        And once again- it isn’t sexist to call out sexist behavior. As I said, you might be able to call me out on generalizing, but that’s about it. But I have to say this: I’ve lived in Japan for 22 years, and have been married to and dating Japanese men for the entire time. And from my rather vast experience, I don’t think it’s much of an exaggeration to say that many Japanese men prefer women who are petite over those who look strong. Body shaming is ubiquitous here. Ads in magazines and on trains and TV commentators often comment on what the “ideal” is for women, and criticize or shame anyone who doesn’t measure up. And that preferred body type? It is NOT “strong, able-bodied, muscled” but “weak, slim, small.”

        Japan is a country where fitting in is important at all costs. Someone who sticks out and is different has a hard time fitting in. This woman is saying, loudly and clearly, that her new, fit body type isn’t accepted by the majority of men. That claim isn’t unreasonable, difficult to confirm, or sexist.

        Get off your high horse. If anyone here is sexist, it’s you, simply for trying to deny that sexism and body shaming are real things that Japanese women experience.