In Japan, this will drive you up the wall

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Photo by Tetsuo Nakahara
Photo by Tetsuo Nakahara

In Japan, this will drive you up the wall

by: Tetsuo Nakahara | .
Stripes Japan | .
published: January 28, 2017

As a kid, I used to dream about how cool it would be to crawl up the walls of skyscrapers like Spiderman. Well, I recently had chance to experience something like it while scaling the walls at a bouldering gym.

Bouldering has become a popular sport not only in the U.S. but also in Japan. In the past five years, new bouldering gyms have popped up throughout Japan, especially in the Tokyo area. Easy to access and relatively inexpensive, bouldering gyms are a way for many people to get a fun casual workout.  

According to Takayo Murakami, manager at Climbing Gym NOSE in Sagamihara City near Camp Zama, Japan, bouldering is a form of rock climbing that can be easily enjoyed without using a harness and rope. It is done relatively close to the ground so you can fall or jump off safely.

Bouldering also can be done outside on a rocks or boulders, but it’s usually practiced in a gym where safety mattresses or padded flooring break your fall. Free climbing, on the other hand, requires a harness and rope to climb higher walls or rocks outdoors.

“Bouldering started as a way to practice for free climbing,” Murakami said. “However, it became popular because it doesn’t require rope work and people can try it casually. So it just became a fun way to get a good physical workout.”

I was sold on the idea. So I gave bouldering a try for the first time at NOSE. And let me tell you: It is a lot harder than it looks. My muscles, especially the muscles in my forearms, got such a workout that they were aching in less than an hour.

The climbing walls have a variety of protruding attachments called “holds” that climbers use to make their accents. Each hold has coded markings; whichever set of markings the climber chooses to follow determines the difficulty of the course. The holds have different shapes and sizes, and I really had hard time trying to get a grip on some of them.

“Many people make the mistake of trying to grip the hold. But you’re actually supposed to use your hand and fingers more like a hook to clasp on to it,” said Murakami, adding that it takes some getting used to. “The key is figuring out how to transfer your core balance as you move from one hold to the next. Bouldering is more about body-balance work than just using muscle power.”

Murakami also mentioned that bouldering is not only physical exercise. It also requires a lot of strategizing about which holds to choose and how to plot your climb. You have to study the holds on the wall and visualize how you will maneuver your body along the climb.

Climbing at a bouldering gym is pretty handy. You don’t have to prepare anything except comfortable clothing. Most gyms have rental climbing shoes, changing rooms and showers. Walls vary from gym to gym but most usually have separate areas for beginners and advanced climbers. For safety reasons, only one person can be on a wall at a time.

“I have been bouldering for 10 years,” said Kazuhiro Harigaya. The Machida City resident is a regular at NOSE. “I like the freedom of bouldering. Although there are guided courses on the wall, you can always create your own to try something new for a challenge.

“I also like seeing 70-year-old climbers and small kids enjoying climbing in the gym together,” she added. “This is something that anyone can enjoy.”

Harigaya said she also likes bouldering in the great outdoors. But most outdoor bouldering fields in Japan are on private property and it isn’t easy finding out where they are. When doing so, she added, it is always important to be considerate by not littering or having too many people.   

By the end of my visit to Climbing Gym NOSE my muscles may have been sore after a couple courses on the wall. But my “spidey sense” was telling me that I just might have to return for another wall-crawling adventure like Spiderman.

nakahara.tetsuo@stripes.com

Need more options for climbing – outdoors as well as indoors? Here’s a fledgling website with rocking climbing gyms and sites throughout Japan, Okinawa and beyond. Its reviews make it invaluable to climbers, even if only to provide a ledge in cyberspace on which to cling – and contribute.
www.rockclimbing.com/routes/Asia/Japan

Walls to crawl near you

YOKOSUKA

Zigzag
Address: 1 F, Honbashi Building, 2-11 Yasuuracho, Yokosuka
Hours: Weekdays, 1-11 p.m.; Weekends, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
Cost: Membership 1,080 yen; Weekdays 1,620 yen; Weekends 1,940 yen
Website: blog.livedoor.jp/b_g_zigzag
 
ZAMA

Climbing Gym NOSE
Address: 1521-1 Kawajiri, Midori-ku, Sagamihara
Hours: Weekdays 1-10:30 p.m.; Weekends, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
Cost: Membership, 540 yen; Weekdays, 1,620 yen; Weekends 1,940 yen
Website: www.nose2.org/1-0hasimoto.html

ATSUGI

J-Wall
Address: 1708-1 Shimotsuchidana, Fujisawa
Hours: Weekdays, 1-10 p.m.; Saturdays, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sundays, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
Cost: Membership, 2,060 yen; all-day use, 2,160 yen
Website: www.d2.dion.ne.jp/~jwall/index.html

YOKOTA

2172 Bouldering Park
Address: 2172 Fussa, Fussa
Hours: Weekdays, 1-10 p.m.; Saturdays, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sundays, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.  
Cost: Membership: 2,060 yen; all-day use, 2,160 yen
Website: 2172bp.jimdo.com
 
SASEBO

Climbing Wall
Address: 4 F, Kenhokushinkoukyoku Temanchousha, 1-27 Tenmacho, Sasebo
Hours: Daily, 9 a.m.-9 p.m.
Cost: Free
Website: www.pref.nagasaki.jp/nsfinder/northtraining/index.html#A03

OKINAWA

Boulbaka
Address: 882 Ameku, Naha
Hours: Weekdays, 1-10:30 p.m.; Weekends, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
Cost: Weekdays, 1,500 yen; Weekends, 2,000 yen; hourly, 500 yen
Website: www.boulbaka.com/index.html

Coral Rock Gym
Address: 369-2, Yomitan-son Nakagami-gun
Hours: Weekdays, 2-10 p.m.; Saturdays, 1-8 p.m.; Sundays, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; Closed Mondays and second Tuesday of the month
Cost: Membership, 1,000 yen; Daily, 1,000 yen; 2 hours 1,500 yen
Website: https://www.facebook.com/coralgym

Yamaaccha
Address: 1-2-5 Yamazato, Okinawa-shi
Hours: Tue – Fri / 3 p.m. – 10 p.m., Sat and Sun / 1 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Price: Membership: 500 yen, 1 hour / 500 yen, 1 day / 1500 yen
Website: ameblo.jp/yama-accha

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