Trail blazers: Runners taking an alternative path in Japan

March 12, 2019

Dashing along shady forest paths, grappling with mountain-trails and persevering in extreme weather, trail-running is not for the faint-hearted. Combining long-distance running, orienteering skills and cross-country terrains, it is a niche sport with a growing scene in Japan. Participants run with supplies along routes of up to (and occasionally over) 100-miles (about 160 km), conquering mountains, crossing streams and discovering inner strength as well as an affinity with nature.

With almost three-quarters of Japan’s territory easily described as mountainous, the possibility for trails is endless, and their intensity and length have made them famous around the world. Whether it’s snacking on home-made onigiri at a rest-stop, feeling the breeze as you run through a bamboo forest or catching your breath with views of Mt. Fuji, the Japanese touch is a highlight for both local and international runners.

Making the most of this terrain, the Shinetsu Five Mountain Race is one of the most popular challenges in the country. Crossing the stunning Shinetsu Plateau and venturing deep into the Myoko region, the breathtaking landscapes are a draw for runners from across the world. Known as the Shinetsu Gogaku, the mountain-range crosses from Niigata Prefecture to Nagano, while the course was carefully designed to protect the environment.

The role of nature in trail running is key—runners must develop an affinity and appreciation for the strength of nature as they attempt the most challenging of trails. To the unfamiliar, finishing a trail could seem akin to conquering it, but the runners seek to align themselves with nature, rather than oppose it. Understanding the landscapes, the peaks and troughs of pathways and the inherent risks of running in nature, the participants are able to appreciate the full force of their surroundings. The trails are designed to protect both runners and the natural habitats, with respect for the latter evident in the spirit of the races as well as their regulations.

The force of nature is not only one to grapple with, but also one to inspire. Japan offers two popular trails which encompass the sacred Mount Fuji—a place of strength and spirituality.
The Fuji Mountain Race finishes at the summit and is known as one of the most severe races in the country due to the changes in altitude and temperature. Held since 1948, the fastest time recorded is just under two-and-a-half hours and only 50% of participants manage to finish at all. Alternatively, the Ultra Trail Mount Fuji circles the heritage site, offering motivating views and shady forest-routes on the 105-mile trail.

Considered the sister race to the Mont-Blanc Ultra Trail held in the Swiss Alps, this race highlights the community aspect which draws many to the tough sport. With a tight-knit national and international scene, trail running’s dedication requires a support system like no other. Be it volunteers at break-stations, co-runners in a team or fellow-participants, the community ensures those flagging are supported throughout.

Offering an opportunity to challenge yourself physically and mentally, the races allow a personal development difficult to find in air-conditioned gyms or on Astro Turf playing fields. The bond with nature as well as fellow participants allows for spiritual growth alongside the physical challenges—proving trail running to be a dark horse in the world of extreme sports.

For more details, contact DMC Japan to discuss ideas, locations and rates.
Contact Us