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Japan: Night Running as a Sub-Culture

There are a lot of night runners out there. More so then you might imagine, and the popularity seems to be increasing.

One of the huge reasons that brings the runner out after dark is the sake of convenience. It goes to show that night hours are attractive to working people when you hear about the impressive turnout at a recent night race at Osaka Castle.

Kiyoshi in Osaka participated in a Night Run at Osaka Castle:


Now, this competition was going to be held at night on a weekday, so I first thought: “Will people really show up?” However, a total of 560 people participated after hours. Even though it was inside Osaka Castle Park, we were able to have times recorded for 5km and 10km races. I think the people who usually have trouble entering a race on Sunday or had never entered a race before found it quite easy to participate.

Then there is the alluring atmosphere the night brings.  Some people feel at ease in the night environment and the conditions are usually favorable for running.

Carna explains what she likes about it:


Due to the sky being covered by clouds, the lack of moonlight and the town being on energy-reserve, the running  was a bit gloomy. On the other hand, It seemed like I was able to concentrate on my running. Running at night really feels refreshing and you don’t have to worry about getting sunburned!

There is even a distinct night runner fashion that is developing. Lafino tried out a jacket with LED lights, made especially for night runs and walks.

We have noted the attractiveness of night running from recreational aspects, but what of it as a genuine culture that defines people and their relationship to society?

Running is not something people usually associate with night-life or sub-cultures, but the members of the group Midnight Runners Tokyo (MRT) do. They have been hitting the streets of Tokyo at the dead of night on weekends; a time when the idea of running would be unthinkable to many people. They see night running as culture in the making, rather than a sport.

The organizers of the group have some ambitious plans for MRT. GV Japan talked with one organizer, Shogo Otani, about the idea behind the late-night event and where it’s going.

Where did you get the idea for MRT?

There was a feature in Huge Magazine about a group called New York Bridge Runners.  The members of the group run at night, so Huge called them Midnight Runners.  We wondered if we could bring midnight running to Tokyo, so with the start of 2011 we launched MRT.

What is the purpose of MRT?

MRT is intended to be a trend for modern Japan that will lead to a running counterculture. Its attractiveness does not come from its style or looks, but simply from the state of being free, so it will spread a kind of hippie-mentality for the 21st century.  The point is to express the idea of “being free” through running.

How does running through the streets of Tokyo make you feel?

I really feel alive.  I feel that I am alive in Tokyo and I realize the importance and enjoyment of having friends.

How many people would you like to join the event?  Why?

7 billion.   That’s the kind of number we need to shoot for in this day and age.

How many times a year would you like to hold the event?

We are shooting for 2 times a month, or 24 times a year. In the future participants will be able to  get involved with the planning of events.  If we can successfully hold an event, the number of times we do it will increase.The current unofficial goal is to do it every week; the official goal is to do it every month.

How many official members do you have?

We have two coordinators, one webmaster and one copywriter. That’s all. We are currently looking for a photographer and an art director. Once those members have been selected the organization will be fully operational.

What makes MRT more important (worthy of media attention) then Bridge Runners?

Bridge runners is something that defines individuals.  Basically, it was born from a will directed within, therefore people spontaneously came together. MRT is something that defines a culture. Basically, it was born from a will directed to the world.  Hence, 7 billion.  It is concerned with ideas and communication therefore, it’s something different that just street culture.  An intellectual component is necessary.

What is the goal of the event?

The essential idea of MRT is “freedom.”  Through the spreading of this idea, through every connection, the goal is to continually create new culture. It is a goal with no end.
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  • This is a really neat post and concept. I’m a runner and I ran when I was staying in Tokyo. It’s kind of hard to manage everything sometimes, and I feel like there’s often a short hour or so for “conventional” running in the day after the time gets pushed out by work, friends, and the weather. I’ve often felt myself like saying “screw it” and running when the idea hit me and not worrying about the poor conditions or the timing. In a place like Tokyo this would seem significantly more obvious. The idea of wearing LED vests and making a culture around would be an added bonus.

    Only one problem left! The trains! Oh the last train, possibly the worst thing about city life in Tokyo. If I was living on the west side of Tokyo and I wanted to join a group around the main parts, that would be hard now wouldn’t it?

  • Lee Neale

    Hi Jeremy interesting topic. Japans great for night running. I do it often round my neighbourhood. Much less exhaust fumes and chance of getting bowled by passing car.

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