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Why Japanese Running Culture Is Insanely Cool

Lono Brazil III, a fashion model, DJ, and running crew leader, on the bustling beauty of a city that’s falling in love with running.

There’s a lot of buzz right now surrounding the 2020 Olympics that will be in Tokyo. People are making efforts to be healthier, running and otherwise. It’s kind of like a secret until you get here. But Japan has a really cool running scene—there’s a huge running community here.

The Games are definitely encouraging people to go out there and sweat.

Running’s changed. It’s no longer just a hobby, an activity—something to suffer through to shed a few pounds. Spurred by a few visionaries in cities around the globe, our sport has become a culture. A lifestyle. A gathering place that celebrates diversity and strength. In this series, in partnership with Jaybird, we speak with some of those visionaries to find out why the best way to tap into the rhythm of a city is on two feet. Here, in their own words, is what it’s like to run in their world.

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When I grew up to be a creative professional, I never quite fit in with the traditional running scene. And as a runner, I never quite fit in with the traditional creative scene.

It wasn’t until I joined the Bridgerunners in 2012(considered the original running crew) and Black Roses (founded by running crew pioneer Knox Robinson) in New York City that I found my place. My two worlds—running and creativity—joined.

When I moved back to Tokyo in 2016, where I grew up, I found a similar type of running group in the Athletic Far East Club (AFE). We run on Wednesdays, but running is almost an afterthought, a second priority to catching up and socializing with friends. Training happens but on your own agenda and your own schedule. You see runners who you’d never expect to be runners.

In the music industry, or in fashion or art, people tend to stay away from the traditional side of athletics. And then, in the healthy and active world, you don’t usually see creatives. But with groups like AFE, you meet people like you. My group gets me inspired. You can be a musician or whatever, and that’s the best part. It only takes a body for you to get out and go running. And when you have a community with a common interest, that’s where the bonding happens.

“It only takes a body for you to get out running.”

THE SIGHTS
Here in Tokyo, we don’t end the work day until about 7 p.m. So we don’t get together for a run until 9 p.m. AFE meets every Wednesday night at a bathhouse in the center of the city. That’s a very Japanese thing to do, the bathhouses. I usually don’t like to run where everybody else runs, like the Imperial Palace. But on Wednesdays, we run straight to Shibuya Crossing, a tourist hotspot in the heart of Tokyo.

We run through the people and the lights in the middle of the city because it’s not a training run. It’s social. As Tokyo becomes a more popular tourist destination, we welcome visitors. And who wouldn’t like to run through Shibuya Crossing? Normally you’d just take a picture, but running through it is a totally different experience.

And in following Japanese culture, after our three-mile run, we rinse off in the public bathhouse, which is like a spa. It’s a very old-school thing to do.

THE SOUNDS
Running through Tokyo is surprisingly more peaceful than you’d think. Yes, it’s hectic, but a different kind of hectic. In Tokyo, you can still hear yourself think. It’s not as crazy as it seems.

While there are times I like to get away from it all and not listen to music when I run, there are plenty of times I do. The music I play will set the tempo for the run.

And that’s how I develop playlists. I’ve designed one in partnership with Jaybird that has a mix of music so you have something that matches the type of running you’re going to do.

THE TASTES
After a Wednesday night run, we always get a drink. When it’s nice out we get some beers and hang out in a parking lot near the bathhouse. I usually go for the Japanese beer. But another favorite—you can find it at convenient stores—is a green tea mixed with sake, kind of like a cocktail. It’s refreshing.

And if we’re not outside drinking, we usually head to a Chinese restaurant nearby for shrimp fried rice or fried dumplings.

THE STYLE
Running itself is an outlet, to get things off your mind. You go running and you get your body flowing. For me, and for many of my teammates who are in the creative industry, it’s also a way to express yourself. We do this through what we wear.

And yes, you want performance gear, but it’s also important to be comfortable when you run, too. When I put together my running outfit I look at a certain color palate, and I may choose to include an item that’s not running specific. Sometimes I’ll wear items, like a hat, from my shop, Union Tokyo—it’s the Tokyo branch of the L.A. Streetwear Boutique. The clothing isn’t designed with running in mind, but it stands out and shows who I am.

Being able to put together a cool running outfit and go out and run is a good way to express yourself outside of your day job.

THE SPIRIT
There’s a lot of buzz right now surrounding the 2020 Olympics that will be in Tokyo. People are making efforts to be healthier, running and otherwise. It’s kind of like a secret until you get here. But Japan has a really cool running scene—there’s a huge running community here. The Games are definitely encouraging people to go out there and sweat.

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