Swimming is, it is often stated, perhaps the best form of exercise, and as a nation that takes its health particularly seriously, it is perhaps no surprise to find that there are swimming pools for public use all over Japan. So, whether it is to improve stamina, help with muscle building, or to lose a few pounds, why not check out your local pool?
Below are a few things you should know about public swimming pools in Japan.
In some countries it is acceptable to quickly stick your head under the shower before diving into the pool – in some countries even this nod to hygiene is not required – but in Japanese public baths, much like in the hot spa onsen, it is expected that you wash thoroughly before you enter the pool. Soap and shampoo are not necessarily required, but a good scrub under the shower head is the least that is expected. Another thing to remember is the removal of your shoes before entering the changing rooms which, considering how many bare feet there are, is not such a daft idea.
Whether male or female, anyone swimming at a public pools is required to wear a swimming cap. And while some of the more follicly challenged amongst us gentlemen may feel it an absurd undertaking when we have more hair on our chests than on our heads, pool culture in Japan demands that we must follow the lead of our more hirsute companions. Swimming caps (often cloth as opposed to the nylon sort worn by professional swimmers) can be found in most sports stores. If you do not have a cap your local pool may be able to provide you with one for your visit.
Many public pools in Japan have two main sections; one for swimming, with aisles for slow, medium and fast swimmers; and one for walking. That’s right, walking. One of the most common uses for public pools in Japan is resistance walking. This form of exercise – walking lengths of the pool – is of particular benefit to those requiring physiotherapy exercise (athletes with lower body injuries especially) as well as the elderly. It is the latter that are most common in Japan’s public pools, particularly during week days.
Perhaps out of courteousness for those elderly patrons, Japanese public pools are generally not a place where you can take the children for a splash around, playing Marco Polo and cannonballing (in fact diving of any kind is somewhat dangerous as there is likely to be no deep end thanks to the perambulatory nature of half of the pool). While there are exceptions to this, particularly at weekends and on hot summer days, compared to pools back home swimming is a relatively kid free zone. For those of you who take your swimming seriously, this may be a welcome respite from the horseplay you find in many swimming pools, however it is something of a shame when you consider that swimming is not mandatory in Japanese schools, and many children grow up either afraid of the water or unable to swim.
One of the great things about swimming is the peace and solitude of being fully submerged under water. In fact it can often feel as if you are all alone in the pool. If you do not pay close attention in Japanese public pools, this may indeed be the case. Every hour (usually on the hour or at five minutes to), the pool is entirely cleared while staff perform safety inspections and the life guards are changed. This change is signaled by music being played overhead, at which time everyone vacates the water at a leisurely pace. At some places swimmers will wait out the inspection in poolside saunas, while at others an overhead announcer will lead everyone in group stretching exercises.
Most swimming pools will request that women do not wear make up in the pool, but jewelry too is likely forbidden. Another big no-no in the pool are tattoos, though if you are aware of Japanese culture this will come as no surprise. If you do have tattoos, it is probably best to cover up with a rash vest, waterproof bandage, or the most concealing bathing suit you can find.
There are many public pools all over Tokyo. Here are a few you can try:
Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium in Sendagaya is heated for use throughout the year. The 25-meter pool has six lanes. The 50-meter pool has 8 lanes, 30 meters of which has a depth greater than 2 meters
Sumida City Gymnasium near Kinshicho station has a 25m pool with seven lanes as well as a 50cm pool for infant bathing.
Katsushika City Sogo Sports Center has a 25m pool as well as a 15m pool for beginners and is accessible from Aoto Station on the Keisei Line.
If you are looking to spash about, Edogawa-ku Sports Land has a 50m pool split into sections for walking, swimming lengths as well as just having fun. The nearest station is Shin Koiwa.
Ariake Sports Center has two main swimming areas, one of which has a fun slide. You can get there after a 10 minute walk from either Ariake Tennis-no-Mori Station or Odaiba Keihin Koen Station, both on the Yurikamome Line
Setagaya pool 10 minute walk from Hachimanyama Station on the Keio Line, has a 25m pool, a pool for children, a Jacuzzi , and a walking pool and slide. It can get busy with children on weekends.
Kinuta Koen pool has a full 50m pool for which cards can be purchased at the counter. It can get busy on weekends, but if that doesn’t put you off head to Setagaya-ku.
Sogo Taiyuan Swimming Pool in Gotanda is 25m, but as part of a school, it is advisable to call to confirm public usage times.
For a fuller listing of swimming pools open to the public, check out the extensive list on swimia.com the details for which have been provided by the general public.
By Mark Guthrie
Image: flickr.com "140222-N-BX824-087" by U.S. Pacific Fleet (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) – Modified