Friday, June 28, 2013

My Japanese Gym

I've always liked working out at a gym. I started the habit back in Montreal, then continued in Korea for the whole year I was there. Surprisingly, I never joined a gym in Japan- due to various reasons, such as moving around too much, and well, being too far in the countryside. It's something I've been missing for nearly four years, and although I run around my neighbourhood, I don't feel like it's enough and I should be exercising with different equipments.

Gyms are different everywhere in the world. I liked my gym in Canada even though it was populated with tanned, beefy types, and my Korean gym was absolutely hilarious- filled with pushy elderly people, and a year working out there probably gave me enough material to write a book. I eventually grew to love that dirty, dingy gym with its obsolete fleet (fat-slapping machines, treadmills without an incline), and naked ladies in the sauna eating snacks (no kidding).

My Japanese gym is a different story. It's the extreme opposite of my Korean gym, and a few notches beyond my Canadian one- and not necessarily in a good way. The mere process of registering took nearly an hour and a half, and required more paperwork than when I first got my apartment. I filled out about six different forms, read endless pages of rules, and was instructed on how to proceed, from the arrival to the locker room etiquette and locker code procedure, to the machine use and towel organization. Every detail was explained thoroughly in the form of thick binders and lengthy speeches, and I tried not to crack up when I saw the example member card featuring a giraffe. While I do appreciate explanations on how to use the facilities, I don't think the illustrated manga-like booklet about manners was necessary. I left with a heavy plastic bag filled with brochures and booklets, and a spinning head.

To be honest, all the rules and paperwork made me quite nervous, and I'm now terrified to use the gym by myself for the first time. Too many rules means I'll definitely commit a faux-pas, and I'll be known forever as the foreigner who walked into the gym with the wrong pair of shoes. The process is all very Japanese, and while the organization and social order is one of the things I like best about Japan, too many rules have the opposite effect on me. It makes me feel inadequate and childish, and I just want to enjoy the gym and not have to be self-conscious or conspicuous.

I never used to feel so much pressure about following social conventions, especially when I first moved to Japan. Yet, after living here for a number of years, I graduated from my passerby status, and I somehow feel like I have to tone down the 'foreign-ness', and blend in a little more- which is, and will always be an impossible task. It's silly how a simple gym registration is making me so anxious and bringing up other issues.

Wish me luck for my first workout session. I received a free pass to give away, so I begged my boyfriend to come along for the first time and show me how to behave in a Japanese gym, so it can ease the pressure a bit.

Has anyone experienced something similar in Japan? Or is it just my gym?

The paperwork is more exhausting than the actual gym.

Rules are easier to follow when they're cute.


Christine said...

Wow, some serious rules and paperwork! I would run away from that gym...actually I don't like gyms. I signed up for one year at Fitness One for Women and I went only twice. I have zero motivation and I get bored easily. I need to be surrounded with people I know so I will workout, lol.

Kudos to you for going through this. Let us know how it goes.

Vivian said...

Hi Christine!! Haha, I think I'll have to give it a try... For me, staying motivated is difficult too, but if the gym is on my way home then I'll go for sure. I easily feel guilty from skipping workouts and from eating sweets, so that will help, no kidding!! I'll update soon :)


philly said...

You'll be fine, Vivian. If all non-Japanese quake and bolt because of the (perceived) mountains of rules perhaps some secret-agenda of keeping the non-Japanese out is too easily achieved. Taking your boyfriend with you the first time is a great idea. If you do break a rule accidentally, well, that's what dulcet repetitions of gomenasai is for. Just in case, practise your perfect Japanese apology. Now get in there and show them how we Canucks do it.

snowfish1121 said...

At our city's public gym, a little old lady once went into the shower stall where my friend was naked and showering, and spent like ten minutes telling her very aggressively that she had left her towel in the wrong place...

Now I'm a member of a gym like yours, and find that they do NOT like to use the air con! I don't understand it... it's full of sweaty people working out! My boyfriend nearly passed out in the "slow yoga" class once because it was sooooo hot in there.

I mainly use the pool, which is pretty chilled out as long as you aren't there at the same time as the aqua aerobics class chock full of gossiping grannies.

Oh, and also, my boyfriend says they have women who go around cleaning in the men's onsen and locker room, which kind of freaks him out when he's, ya know, buck nekkid. No men in the ladies area, though...

Vivian said...

Philly: Well said!! I should be strong and not show my foreigner fear, and just go! It's ridiculous this caused me so much anxiety. I'm really excited about it though! Thanks for your comment :)

Vivian said...

Snowfish: I laughed out loud while reading your stories about the ladies cleaning the men's onsen!!! And the towel incident. Seems like gyms in Japan are populated by pushy elderly people and gossiping grannies, I'll have to deal with it. Maybe I'll go at nighttime so they're less of them. It's funny how young people don't really go to the gym as much here. I'll keep you posted about the zircon situation at mine!!

Trevor Linden said...

That's an interesting observation. In general, there's always a period of adaptation for any foreigner in a local setting. The instructions look quite cute though. I'm sure you'll enjoy your gym and find your own rhythm there quite soon.

Club16 Trevor Linden Fitness

Samir Hammoudi said...

Ahahaah i experienced exactly the same at Gold Gym in Harajuku! I just don't understand why everything takes 2h in Japan... last time I took a new mobile phone, took me 1h30. Registered for internet, took me 2h with dozen of paper to fill! It's so annoying sometimes I just give up and leave,

Without talking about rules in gym. I don't think it's the same rule for everyone because making noise is forbidden in the gym and a foreigner did a small noise, he had been immediately noticed. Japanese guys made some noise, no reaction from the staff... like we say in french, "2 poids 2 mesures".

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