Palace joggers a cottage industry

by Shinichi Tokuda

Kyodo News

The 5 km-long run around the Imperial Palace in the heart of Tokyo is known to many after-work joggers in the metropolitan area as a “sanctuary” because there are no traffic signals and the area is safe.

Recently, facilities for joggers to change their work clothes to running gear and shower before they head home are mushrooming around the Imperial Palace to cater to their increasing numbers.

At Runners Station Kojimachi right above Kojimachi Station on the Yurakucho Line, some 600 meters west of the palace moat, runners can use lockers in dressing rooms and shower rooms at a cost of ¥700.

If runners become members, they can maintain their own lockers for shoes. In winter evenings, men and women stand in line after work at the front desk.

The Kojimachi facility was created by Runners Station last November, after an initial facility in Jimbocho, also near the Imperial Palace, opened in October 2007.

“With the recent boom, users have kept increasing. At first, they numbered 3,000 a month, but now the number has increased to about 13,000 at both facilities,” said Miyuki Asakawa, the company’s managing director.

Competitors are increasing in the vicinity. The exclusive fitness club Esforta, which operates chiefly in the metropolitan area, has also been inviting new jogger members who can use lockers and showers at its facilities in Ichigaya in Shinjuku Ward and Suidobashi in Chiyoda Ward, close to the Imperial Palace, since last April.

Tokyo FM Broadcasting Co. opened the shower-equipped Joglis in the basement of the radio station’s head office beside the palace last November. A runner can use it for ¥900 a visit, or for ¥500 if they pay the monthly membership fee of ¥2,000. Portable music players that play a program made for the runners can be used fee of charge.

Asakawa of Runners Station claimed her firm was the front-runner of the recent trend, saying, “Among runners around the Imperial Palace, Runners Station has established itself as the place to enjoy such facilities.”

In fact, Asakawa was one of the many who were attracted to running around the palace after work. Previously, she kept her belongings in a neighborhood bathhouse.

The idea of opening Runners Station came to her as joggers sharply increased after the first Tokyo marathon in 2007 was set, she said.

Bluetag Inc. opened the Aoyama Running Bar 708 in Minami-Aoyama last November, targeting young women working at companies nearby.

“We would like them to use it casually like their favorite bar,” said Kenichi Imaya, president of the company, whose primary business is to support top amateur players for their travel expenses.

“Many people joined the running boom but later dropped out because they did not know the fundamental principle (of jogging),” he said.

In a tieup with sporting goods manufacturer Mizuno Co., Bluetag is helping runners choose their shoes and asking veteran joggers to aid beginners. “We’d like beginners to acquire grounded knowledge and continue running,” Imaya added.