Ten years ago, if you mentioned the word “trail running” in Japan, you probably would have received a blank stare. And if you tried to explain that people actually run up in the mountains, you would most likely have been called “crazy” or something similar.
But today, there are trail running races, tours and clinics almost every weekend in Japan. With more than 400 races a year, and many new ones regularly popping up, trail running has become accessible to everyone (not just the crazy ones!) and has quickly grown in popularity.
Trail running is a great way to explore the beautiful nature of a country while getting away from the usual tourist spots. It’s a deeply moving way to experience the culture and genuine hospitality of rural Japan while meeting some like-minded people.
Here are three popular races of varying distances and difficulty. All have website and race registration information in Japanese and English and even special slots allocated for international racers coming from overseas. We’ve also included a few trail running tours, seminars and clubs that are another fun way to get to know other trail runners and join the trail running community in Japan.
For those who are looking for an easy, fun summer trail to run without technically leaving Tokyo, we’ve even included a short trail guide to the Mitake area. Keep in mind summer trail running in Japan can be hot and humid even up in the mountains, so remember to bring lots of water with you—and jump in lots of water to cool off!
Southern Kyushu is well known for beautiful hot springs but also is a hidden gem when it comes to trail running Deep within the Kirishima National Park lies peaceful, uncrowded trails, beautiful old-growth forests and, as you come out of the mountains and on to the hilltops, expansive jaw-dropping scenery that will stun even the most seasoned trail runner The Kirishima Ebino-Kogen Extreme Trail is a fantastic summer race good for experienced runners, but welcomes trail running beginners with its generous time limits for both the short and long courses Of course you’ll want to combine this race with a side trip to the area’s famous onsen hot springs for a perfect Kyushu trail running vacation!
- July 21-22 (July 21: Race check-in and pre-race party; July 22: Race start)
- Ebino (Miyazaki) and Kirishima/Yusui (Kagoshima)
- Long course: 63 km (Elevation gain: 3,059m/ Time limit: 14 hours); Short course: 37 km (Elevation gain: 1,900m/Time limit: 8 hours); Kids course: 3 km (primary school students and younger)
- Registration: From Feb 21 (overseas/ international registration)
The Shinetsu Five Mountains Trail (SFMT), also referred to as the “Shinetsu Gogaku” in Japanese, is now in its 10th edition and is one of the country’s most popular and iconic long distance trail races.
Race producer Hiroki Ishikawa is a famous and well-respected trail runner who has played a pioneering role in establishing the sport of trail running in Japan. Hiroki is in charge of producing every inch of the race course and with over 90% single and double track trail and forest roads, he has been adamant in making it a trail runner’s ultimate dream course! The SFMT is considered by many to be one of Japan’s best trail courses and sells out within minutes every single year. Starting last year, a long-awaited 100-mile category was added, making it one of the precious few “100 milers” in Japan.
- Sept 15-16 (Sept 15: 100 miles; Sept 16: 110 km )
- Myoko (Niigata), Shinano, Iizuna, Iiyama (Nagano)
- 100 miles (Elevation gain: 6,500m/Time limit: 32 hours); 110 km (Elevation gain: 4,670m/Time limit: 22 hours)
- Registration: June 6 (domestic and overseas/ international registration)
As the name suggests, this is not just a race, but a journey as well. A very long and tough but incredibly rewarding journey from sea to sky: 72 kilometers up and across the Izu Peninsula.
The race has a dramatic start at the ocean, complete with the sound of waves crashing in the background. From there, it’s a patient and lung-testing upward grind. If you can make it past the cut-off points, you’ll then find yourself atop a high ridgeline looking way down at the ocean below. At this point, you’ll be tired but proud and satisfied knowing you’ve climbed more than 1,000 meters up sea level. The ridgeline trail is stunning with grand views of Mt Fuji and the ocean. This race is the final championship for the Asia Trail Master series.
- Dec 8-9 (Dec 8: Race check-in and briefing; Dec 9: Race start)
- Nishi-Izu, Shizuoka
- 72 km (Elevation gain: 4,408m/Time limit: 14 hours)
- Registration: June 10 (domestic and overseas/ international registration)
While there are many other races in Japan, the above three races welcome international entries and have websites and registration available in English.
Tokyo Trail Running
Mitake, located in the Okutama area in northern Tokyo, is an easily accessible area providing fun summer trail running. Here are a few courses suitable for beginners to intermediate trail runners.
Mt. Mitake to Tsuru Tsuru Onsen Hot Springs
- 8 km (approx.)
- 3-5 hours
- Difficulty: Easy
Get o at JR Mitake Station (Ome Line) and take the bus from across the street (beside the Seven Eleven convenience store) to the bottom of the Mitake Tozan Railway (cable car) Station. From there you can walk—or take the cable car up to Mt Mitake(御岳山)to save you from a very steep climb. Stop by the visitor center to pick up maps, then make your way to the sacred Mitake Shrine. From there, loop around the lovely “Rock Garden” trail and/or head east towards Mt Hinodeyama. Follow the trail signs towards Tsuru Tsuru Onsen. “Tsuru tsuru” means “silky smooth” and is how your skin will feel after taking a dip in this great onsen.
Mt. Takamizu to Mitake
- 11 km. (approx.)
- 3-5 hours
- Difficulty: Easy-Intermediate
Get off at the JR Ikusabata Station (Ome Line) and head north along the road. Follow the trail signs until you reach the trailhead for Mt. Takamizu, which heads steadily upward. At Mt. Takamizu, you’ll see an old shrine called Takamizu Fudouson. From there, it’s just another half-hour climb to the top of Mt. Iwatakeishi at an elevation of 793 meters. Take the trail heading south towards Mt. Sougaku and back down to the JR Mitake Station. After reaching Mitake Station, cross the road for the foot bath just behind the convenience store down to the river—a fantastic place to take a quick dip after a hot summer trail run!
Tours, Seminars & Clubs
Races are exciting and fun but if you’re looking for something a bit more relaxing—or if you want to brush up on your trail running footwork and running endurance—join a trail running tour or seminar. Trail running clubs and groups are also a great way to meet new people and join the trail running community in Japan.
Fun Fun Trail Run
These trail running tours are open to women and men. Bilingual staff (Japanese/English) make it easy for anyone to join.
- July 7: Escape the summer heat with a trail run in Karuizawa, Nagano (22 km., intermediate)
- July 29: Waterfall jump trail run in Okutama, Tokyo (10 km., beginner/intermediate)
- Aug 11-13: Mt Fuji area 3-day trail running camp at Kawaguchiko, Yamanashi (10-15 km./day, beginner/intermediate)
- Sep 9: Wine & Grapes Galore Trail Run in Katsunuma, Yamanashi (14 km., beginner/ intermediate)
Cinderella Trail Run
Check out these women-only trail running clinics:
- Aug 4-5: Coach Midori Hoshino
- Sept 29-30: Coach Corrine Williams
- Nov 3-4: Coach Chiyuki Mochizuki