Pool review: Sumida Ward’s new gym


In April of this year, a lavish new public athletic facility opened in Sumida Ward, Tokyo. It includes exercise machines, aerobics studios, martial arts areas, several wood-floored courts for basketball or volleyball, two open-air playing fields on its roof, a café, a shop and a one-room museum about local sports heroes. It also has a pool.

I went for the pool.

Here’s what I learned on my recent visit:

Cost: Two hours of pool access costs 500 yen. That may sound simple, but it gets complicated. First, you have to buy a paper ticket from a vending machine. Then you show the ticket to the attendant at the front desk, and mention that you plan to swim. The attendant will give you a plastic card and a plastic token. Holding all this stuff, you must try to get through the automated ticket wicket by scanning the paper ticket’s QR code over a small glass window. Once you are inside the locker room – remember to take off your shoes – you can use the plastic card to claim a locker. Then, once you have gotten into your swimsuit – and your cap – you take the plastic token downstairs to the pool and give it to the attendant there. Finally, on your way out, you’ll need to use the paper ticket to get through the wicket again. Got it?

Main pool: The water in this 25-meter, seven-lane pool was crystal clear on the day of my visit, but this is a fact that I may not bother to mention in most of my future pool reviews. In Tokyo, you can assume that the water will be clean. It is not rare to put your head under at one end of a pool and be able to see the opposite wall as clearly as if the pool were empty. Leave your Secchi disc at home.

The water was about chest-deep on the day of my visit, but the pool had a floor made of plastic planks, so the depth may be adjustable. (So don’t dive in.)

There were three clocks visible from inside the pool, but all of them were on the same wall on the same side of the pool, which made it less easy to glance at them than if they had been arranged around the pool.

The crowd was light enough during my visit (at noon on a weekday) that I often had my lane to myself, so I was able to get some backstroke in.

Backstroke navigation: There are backstroke flags, but the ceiling above the pool is white and almost featureless, which makes it a little hard to tell exactly where the wall is. (I know you’re supposed to count how many strokes it takes you to get from the flags to the wall, I have never found this method satisfactory. I’ve occasionally had lumps on my head to reinforce this dissatisfaction.)

Around the pool: There is a small Jacuzzi and a large wading pool. There is tiered seating for spectators behind glass.

Lockers and showers: The locker room is so large that I actually got lost in it, and took the wrong exit. I had to turn back when I realized that I was on my way to the weight room in my bathing suit. Soap and shampoo are provided in the shower area, which is decorated in shiny black tile and includes a furo bath large enough to hold five or six people. There is also a spin drier to put your swimsuit in so it won’t soak your bag on the way home; this seems to be a pretty standard feature at Tokyo pools these days.

Wheelchair access: There appear to be plenty of ramps and elevators, including a long ramp into the main pool. The locker room includes a spacious wheelchair stall.

The building: Two features of the building caught my eye. The first was that efforts are apparently being made to cover the building in an eye-pleasing and eco-friendly “green curtain” of the type that is described here and shown here and advocated by Azby Brown. The exterior of the building is essentially a giant trellis, and green plants are growing on it in various places. The building is less than a year old now, but presumably the green coverage will expand over time.

The other feature I approve of is that the café operates as a beer garden in the summer.

Location: The Sumida-ku Sogo Taiikukan (Sumida Ward General Gym) occupies the northeast corner of Kinshi Koen park, a short walk from Kinshicho Station on the JR Sobu Line and the Hanzomon subway line. See the official access map here.

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