Japan Adventure Travel: Running, Trail-Running, Cycling & Mountain-Biking (MTB)
Running is a popular past-time and sport in Japan. A busy calendar of running events takes place each year including marathons, half-marathons, shorter races and in recent years, the increasingly popular sport of trail-running. On this page you will find the following:
For more travel adventures experiences and destinations, see our main ‘Japan Travel Adventure’ page. We hope this information is helpful in planning your next adventure in Japan.
1 / RUNNING & CYCLING IN JAPAN
Japan is an excellent destination for runners and cyclist. It has an expansive and well-maintained road system making it comfortable and easy to run or cycle almost anywhere in the country, while regions like Central Japan are blessed with endless trails through forests, mountains and along rivers that entice you away from the cities and towns. For most of the year, weather conditions are well-suited for running and cycling with the following points worth noting:
— Japan experiences a hot and humid summer with the most extreme temperatures typically occurring from mid-July through to the end of August. Over recent years, more and more areas are experiencing temperatures touching 40°C while also battling high humidity. When running or cycling in those months, make sure to keep an eye on the forecast and avoid running in the middle of the day.
— regions such as Central and North Japan experience a longer winter than the western and southern regions. From mid-November and as late as the mid-March, roads and trails can be affected by snow and ice. January and February typically bring the coldest temperatures and heaviest snow. Day-time temperatures can be 0°C or lower with many areas including forests and mountains totally cut-off by snow. If you are running or cycling during those months, even in the cities, make sure you are dressed for cold conditions and watch for ice.
Japan is a tremendously safe country and drivers are usually courteous, allowing runners and cyclists space to enjoy both activities in comfort. While very safe, make sure to exercise the usual precautions and when running and cycling in large cities, make sure to carry your phone or a GPS-device as it is easy to lose your way if it’s your first-time there.
Running enjoys popularity in Japan with several of the larger marathons enjoying large local and international participation and watched by many of television. Over recent years, trail-running and other off-road races have quickly gained popularity with a busy calendar of events taking place across the country. The trail-running community is known to be very open and friendly and welcomes anyone to join in, especially international visitors – a great way to enjoy some of Japan’s most spectacular natural landscapes.
Cycling is growing in popularity as a recreational sport in Japan with an increasing number of professional and semi-professional races popping-up each year. For visitors heading to our home region of Central Japan, you can enjoy excellent mountain-bike trails being developed in many of the regions ski resorts including Hakuba, Madarao and Nozawa Onsen. This trend looks set to continue over coming years as the resorts develop their brands as all-year-round destinations.
2 / THE 5 MOST POPULAR MARATHONS IN JAPAN
There are far too many marathons in Japan to list on this page. Taking place throughout the year in all areas of the country, from the largest city to smallest towns, you’ll always find an event to join. As for 2021, these were the five most popular marathons in Japan in terms of the number of runners:
Tokyo Marathon / March
Taking place every March, it’s no surprise the Tokyo Marathon is the largest and most prestigious event in the country. Over 30,000 runners take part in the marathon with the race attracting elite runners from all over the world. Just in case your keen to give it a crack, the men’s record is 2:03:58 while the women’s is 2:17:45.
Osaka Marathon / November or December
The Osaka Marathon is the second most popular event taking place at the end of November or early-December. The race starts and finishes nearby the city’s famous castle and also attracts plenty of local participants and professional runners from around the world.
Yokohama Marathon / October
The Yokohama Marathon takes place in Japan’s second most populous city in October each year. Being located next to Tokyo, the marathon also attracts plenty of participants with an expressed purpose to promote health, well-being and the profile of the city.
Naha Marathon / December
Taking place in December each year, the Naha Marathon is held in the largest city on the main island of Okinawa. As such, it is notably different event to the three marathons above which take place in Japan’s three largest cities. Naha is a small city and the marathon route takes runners down the southern tip of the island before returning to the city.
Shonan International Marathon / February
The Shonan International Marathon is held in Kanagawa in February. The route takes runners along the coast with just under 20,000 participant signing-up for the full marathon. Although it has only been held for ten years, the event is quickly gaining popularity.
3 / BEST MARATHONS IN CENTRAL JAPAN
Our home region of Nagano and Central Japan hosts multiple marathons through the year along with plenty of half-marathons and 10km runs. There are the most popular marathons on offer:
Nagoya City Marathon / March
Taking place in Central Japan’s most populous city, the Nagoya City Marathon is the largest marathon in the region. The city hosts the ‘Nagoya Women’s Marathon’ as a separate event at the same time as part of a larger ‘Marathon Festival’ that celebrates the city and region.
Nagano Marathon / April
The Nagano Marathon takes places in February Host of the 1998 Winter Olympic Games, and celebrates the city and region’s role as host of the 1998 Winter Olympic Games. The race starts and ends at host venues during the Games and follows a route that takes runs past the Aqua Wing, through the city centre onto Big Hat, M-Wave, White Ring and finishing at the former-Olympic Stadium at the southern end of the city.
Taking place in early-spring, participants and spectators relish the warming weather after the region’s long winter, an event that typically coincides with the bloom of the cherry blossoms in Nagano.
Matsumoto Marathon / October
The Matsumoto Marathon takes place in the famous castle town in October of each year. The race starts in the city nearby the castle before taking runners into the surrounding countryside and finishing at Shinshu Sky Park (the official website is only in Japanese).
Karuizawa Marathon / October
The Karuizawa Marathon takes place in the popular mountain resort town every October. The route takes runners through a beautiful alpine landscape which in October is at its most spectacular with the colourful leaves of autumn.
Kanazawa Marathon / October
The Kanazawa Marathon takes place each October. A beautiful and historic city on the north coast of Central Japan, it’s a popular choice for runners who want to combine the event with a couple of days of sightseeing not to mentioned the city’s fantastic seafood once the race is done.
4 / TRAIL-RUNNING EVENTS IN CENTRAL JAPAN
For runners who want to get-off the beaten path, out of the cities and into the beautiful landscapes of Central Japan, trail-running is an increasingly popular sport with more and more events on offer each year. The trail-running community is particularly open and welcoming making the events fun to join for both Japanese and international visitors. Our home region of Central Japan is blessed with countless trails through the forests and mountains, meaning runners are spoiled for choice. Ski resort areas including Shiga Kogen, Hakuba, Nozawa Onsen, Madarao and Myoko Kogen are particularly good for trail-runners with plenty of terrain to cover and gondolas operating in the summer to ferry you into the higher areas and allowing you to run back down.
Our recommendation of the best trail-running in the region is Shiga Kogen Highlands. Nestled within the expansive Joshinetsu Kogen National Park – Japan’s fourth largest national park – Shiga Kogen is a tranquil alpine landscapes of mixed forests, open grasslands, ponds, lakes and multiple peaks rising to over 2000 metres. Running season is from mid-June until late-October when the area should be mostly clear of snow. In that time Shiga hosts two fantastic trail-running events.
Shiga Kogen Mountain Triail Run / July
The Shiga Kogen Mountain Trail Run is held in mid-July and incudes two races: a longer 40km course and short 14.8km course. An even shorter 1 to 3km children’s race also takes place on the same day. Registration for the races is open from mid to late-February until mid-June (or until capacity is reached). Events are capped at: 40km / 600 participants; 14.8km / 300 participants; and kids 1-3km / 200 participants.
Shiga Kogen Extreme Trail Run / October
Taking place around Mount Yokote or ‘Yokoteyama’, the Shiga Kogen Extreme Trail Run is an increasingly popular event held in mid-October. Entrants to the event can participate in the full 54km course or shorter 32km and 8km events. Children are also welcome to join in with a leisurely 1 to 3km course. Registration for the races is open from mid-July until late-September (or until capacity is reached). Events are capped at: 54km / 400 participants; 32km / 300 participants; 8km / 200 participants; and kids 1-3km / 200 participants.
5 / CYCLING IN CENTRAL JAPAN
Japanese roads are typically kept in excellent condition making them enjoyable to ride on. Drivers are typically courteous and allow cyclists plenty of room. Of course to get the most out of it, getting away from the cities and into the open landscapes of Central Japan affords travellers some of best outdoor experiences in the country. While in the region, we recommend cycling in:
Located around 70-minutes drive from central Nagano City, Shiga Kogen lies within the broader Joshinetsu Kogen National Park – a vast landscape totaling around 150,000 hectares, typified by mountain peaks, alpine valleys, and excellent roads. Using the express bus service from Nagano Station to Shiga Kogen, visitors have easy access to an expansive area that can be explored by bicycle along the regions many roads. Of those roads, the Shiga Kusatsu Kogen Route is one of the most spectacular, leading cyclists and motorists through the national park past the volcanic Mount Shirane and onto the famous hot spring town of Kusatsu Onsen. Alternatively, cyclists can follow the beautiful and winding back road to Nozawa Onsen – particularly spectacular during the autumn colours of late-September to November.
The popular mountain resort town of Karuizawa is located around 1000 metres above sea level and as such, enjoys a cool, alpine climate throughout the year. The town is popular with Tokyoites, the more wealth of whom have holiday homes in the town known for its fine-dining, shopping and cafes. Let’s call it a ‘Little Tokyo’ in the mountains, Karuizawa lies on the edge of Joshinetsu Kogen National Park and within cycling distance of the brooding Mount Asama. Visitors arriving in Karuizawa using the Hokuriku Shinkansen from Tokyo can arrange rental bicycles at Karuizawa Station – a convenient and enjoyable way to explore the town and even venture into the national park should you have the energy.
Located between Matsumoto and the Hakuba Valley, and in the shadow of the North Japan Alps, Azumino is a tranquil rural enclave best-known for its abundant farmlands and mountain vistas. Fed by the pristine rivers running out of the Alps, the farms of Azumino produce some of Japan’s best vegetables and fruit – most famously, apples, ‘soba’ (buckwheat noodles), and ‘wasabi’ – while the area is also known for its increasing number of galleries, museums, wineries and restaurants. It’s a terrific area to explore by bicycle, staring from Hotaka Station on the local Oito Line – only 30-minutes by train from Matsumoto Station. Three rental shops are located directly in front of the Hotaka Sation, with rates ranging from around JPY200 to JPY500 per hour, depending on the type of bike you wish to rent. For more information, see our ‘Wasabi-Picking & Cycling in Azumino’ page.
Hakusan National Park
Hakusan is an expansive national park lying to the south of Kanazawa and west of Takayama. The park covers around 47,000 hectares centred around Mount Haku – one of Japan’s three sacred mountains. One of the highlights of Hakusan National Park is the famous ‘Hakusan White Road’ a winding 33km route that crosses the northern area of the park. Inaccessible during winter due to heavy snow, the route is open to the public from June until mid-November. Hakusan National Park is equally well-known for its fantastic hiking and mountaineering through summer and autumn, with trails suitable for visitors of all levels of fitness.
6 / MOUNTAIN-BIKING (MTB) IN CENTRAL JAPAN
Often abbreviated simply to ‘MTB’, mountain-biking is something of a natural fit for Central Japan. Blessed with multiple national parks and the most ski resorts of any region of Japan, Central Japan is ready-made for MTB with many resorts developing and extending their trails each green season. There are the best areas to head to if you’re after some excellent mountain-biking while here:
Located 60-minutes to the west of Nagano City, Hakuba Valley is home to the most popular ski resorts in Nagano. Of the ten resorts in the valley, Hakuba Iwatake has a great set-up for mountain-bikers with extensive trails and rental bikes available at the gondola station. There’s a wide range of courses including the 6.9km ‘Beginners Downhill Course’, 4.1km expert ‘Cross Country Course, and 3.7km intermediate ‘Downhill Course’, along with several others. MTB can be enjoyed at the resort from late-April to mid-November, 09:00 to 16:00 daily.
Another popular ski resort, Madarao lies to the north-east of Nagano City and is easily accessible using local buses or a taxi from nearby Iiyama Station. Famous for its powder bowls and tree zones in winter, the resort has been actively developing its trails for MTB in the green season and is quickly turning into an MTB hot-spot. Rental bikes are available through several guesthouses at the resort with the friendly-owners always happy to explain the trails to you along with some handy tips of how to get the most out for your time there.
Lying across the valley from Madarao, Nozawa Onsen is one of the most highly-rated ski resorts in Central Japan and another turning its attention to MTB. Rental bikes are available at various outlets throughout the town and with the resort’s new high-speed gondola up-and-running, MTBs have access to the upper parts of the resort from where they can belt back down along the trails into the town before re-boarding the gondola and doing it all again. Also blessed with numerous natural hot springs, Nozawa offers plenty of action along its trails followed by the ultimate relaxation afterward soaking in one of its many ‘onsen’. Highly recommended.
7 / BOOK WITH US! NAGANO’S NO.1 TOUR & CHARTER OPERATOR
Based in Nagano and operating all year round, we are Nagano’s No.1 tour and charter operator. We have the local knowledge of where to go, when to go and what to do when you’re there to make sure you get the most out of your adventure in Central Japan! As a registered travel agent we can arrange adventure experiences and tours, transport, accommodation and inclusive packages. So no matter what you’re looking for, we’ve got you covered including getting you to the best outdoor destinations and events in the region.
For guests wanting to access these destinations in the comfort of their own transport, we can arrange a private tour or charter customised to fit your needs, starting and ending at any destination in the region. Our drivers and vehicles are fully certified, allowing us to transport you to and from your preferred destinations in combination with any activity that suits your schedule. All vehicles are fitted with a protective screen – separating the driver from passenger and luggage area – and our drivers wear protective masks, allowing you to move between your destinations in comfort and safety.
We can arrange both private tours with an English-speaking guide or a private charter, including a private vehicle and driver but without a guide. We’d love to be part of your adventure in Central Japan and help you discover even more!
Why choose us?
Awarded a 2019 TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Award for our 1-Day Snow Monkeys, Zenko-ji Temple & Sake Tour – recognised as one of the Top 10 Experiences in Japan – we have the local knowledge and experience to help you get the most out of your time in Nagano and Central Japan.
Got a question about visiting Nagano and Central Japan? Contact us and let’s get planning together!