Archive for the ‘Swimming pools’ Category

Pool review: Amusing art near the Shinjuku Sports Center

July 5, 2017


Getting off the subway at Nishi Waseda Station on the Fukutoshin Line last month, I intended to go directly to the Shinjuku Sports Center for a swim.

IMG_7138But as soon as I reached the ticket gate on my way to Exit 3, I was stopped in my tracks by the sight of a large stained glass window that was clearly the work of one of my favorite Japanese artists, Akira Yamaguchi.

Yamaguchi’s art is fantastic – in every sense of that word. He combines traditional Japanese styles and subject matter with intricate renderings of fantasy machines, often in panoramic murals of mind-boggling detail and complexity. His cutaway views of urban infrastructure, like the one in this window, call to mind the work of David Macaulay, even while those views are often framed or divided by drifting clouds in a technique borrowed from Japanese art of centuries past. You could call his work steampunk or Nihonga or both, but Yamaguchi has a surreal imagination and sense of humor that is all his own.

IMG_7137The stained glass window, for example, features a cutaway view of a triple-decker subway train that has a communal bath on its lowest level. That’s the kind of silliness I love about his pictures.

Another little detail worth noting is the woman standing on a platform in front of a sign that identifies the station as 西早稲田, Nishi Waseda.

Continuing out Exit 3 of Nishi Waseda Station, you’ll find a tree-filled park. In the middle of the park stands the Shinjuku Sports Center. The trees make the building difficult to photograph, but the pool is behind these foggy windows:


Admission is 400 yen, and you’ll need a 100 yen coin to use as a deposit for a locker in the rather Spartan locker room. (It has benches and a spin drier, but not much else in the way of amenities.) The locker keys are attached to wristbands you can wear while you swim, but the first locker I put my clothes into turned out to have a broken wristband. So, I moved my stuff to a different locker and headed out to the pool.

The pool is 25 meters long and six lanes wide. One lane appeared to be permanently set aside for walking, and a swimming lesson began in one of the other lanes while I was there, which left the remaining four lanes slightly crowded. There is also a large shallow kiddy pool. Between the two pools, on the side opposite the locker rooms, there is a warming room where you can sit when the lifeguards call a break from swimming, as they seem to do every hour at most public pools in the Tokyo area.

One wall of the pool area is adorned with a large tile mosaic of a rainbow. Part of my mind recognized this as an effort to create a cheerful atmosphere, while another part – which I tried to suppress – found it a bit dasai. This uncharitable thought may have been influenced by the dim lighting at the time of my visit. It was a weekday morning, and most of the light came from outside, muffled by tree branches and foggy glass. It might be brighter inside at night.

But dim lighting or not, I had to admit that the place was immaculately clean and – aside from one broken wrist strap – very well maintained. Also, each of the staff members I briefly dealt with was very pleasant and helpful. This included a guy who came pushing a broom through the locker room as I was getting dressed to leave. When I pointed out the broken wrist strap, he ran out and came back a moment later with a roll of heavy tape that he used to seal the locker shut so no one else would try to use it.

By the time you read this, I am sure it will have been repaired.

Swim like Kermit and feast on bagels in Setagaya

December 8, 2016


If you’re a swimmer who likes bagels, you should pay a visit to the Setagaya Chitose All-Season Swimming Pool in Tokyo. What are quite likely the best bagels in Tokyo are available nearby.


The pool is a little over a kilometer south of Hachimanyama Station on the Keio Line, but on my visit to the pool, I got off one stop away, at Kamikitazawa Station. I wanted to pay a visit to Kepo Bagels, which I had been to several years before while researching a newspaper article on the Tokyo bagel scene.

41-lmk55qxl-_sx310_bo1204203200_A bagel, like a swimmer, approaches perfection by spending time in the water. Good bagels are boiled before they are baked. According to “The Bagel” by Maria Balinska, “Cooking the surface of the dough in water … gelatinizes the starch and creates the distinctive glossy crust.” I remembered Kepo Bagels as having the best crust among the numerous Tokyo bagels I tried. It contrasted very pleasingly with the bread’s chewy interior. I was happy to find that Kepo Bagels were still excellent. (The visit I’m writing about now was last fall, so I’ll have to go again to make sure they’re still good. I’m sure they will be.) Visit for the latest info.

imageedit_5_8067224878Having stowed a couple of bagel sandwiches in my gym bag, I set off for the pool. Even though it was well over a kilometer from Kamikitazawa Station, I was able to find it easily by using the tall chimney of a garbage incineration plant as a navigational guide. Just like Genki Plaza and the Ikebukuro Sports Center, the Chitose pool gets its hot water and electricity from energy created by burning garbage. As a member of the pool staff said when I asked her about it, “Mottainai.” Let’s not be wasteful.

PANM.JPGLike most pools attached to incinerators, the pool is a gorgeous contrast to its power source. It’s part of an architecturally wacky building that also includes a gym and a café. The pool itself is in a wing of the building that hovers over a sunken outdoor atrium. The ceiling over the pool is oddly angled, like the lid on a rectangular yogurt carton that has been partially peeled open. This makes it slightly disorienting if you’re trying to use the ceiling as a guide to swimming in a straight line while doing backstroke.

However, another part of the backstroke view is quite delightful. At the end of the pool opposite the entrance from the locker rooms, there is a spiral water slide on an island surrounded by a ring-shaped river pool. The slide and its little pool are covered by an indoor roof supported by thin pillars that flare into wide discs at the top. These pillars reminded me of the ones used by Frank Lloyd Wright in his design for the Johnson Wax headquarters building in Racine, Wisconsin.


But what they reminded me of even more was lily pads. As they came into my water-blurred field of vision each time I backstroked toward them, I felt like I was getting a frog’s-eye view from the bottom of a pond.

And of course, when all was said and done, I had to go down the slide a time or two. It was a tame ride, but a nice little post-workout reward.

The pool is 25 meters long and six lanes wide. Its 480 yen entry fee includes use of a locker. Other amenities include a warming room, a spa area and a spin dryer.

After my swim, I walked north along Kan-Pachi Dori (Route 311), a major road that leads to Hachimanyama Station. About halfway there, I found bench where I could sit down and eat my bagel sandwiches while watching the traffic go by. All in all, it was a very satisfactory outing.

Pool Review: Swim outdoors at Aqua Field

September 13, 2011

I’ve lived in or near Tokyo for most of my adult life, and until yesterday I never knew that one could swim outdoors in a 50-meter pool just a stone’s throw from Tokyo Tower. This city is full of surprises.

For a swimmer accustomed to doing laps indoors, it a glorious change to set off across a 50-meter pool under bright blue skies while the bubbles your arms create with each forward stroke dance before your eyes like tumbling jewels in the ever-changing sunlight.

That last line may seem a bit overwrought to some readers, but serious swimmers will know what I’m talking about.

At the time of my visit to the Aqua Field pool, near Shiba Koen Station on the Mita subway line, two wide lanes were set aside for lap swimming. The rest of the pool was a vast open area for general frolicking.

The pool, whose adjustable floor was set to a uniform depth of one meter, is fenced in and surrounded by shrubbery. One could easily miss it while walking past in the street, but within the  enclosure there is a tremendous feeling of openness, with views of several tall buildings, including Tokyo Tower, framed against the surrounding sky. There is also a large raised terrace with even better views (including Zojoji temple nearby and the Izumi Garden Tower in the distance), with plenty of tables and chairs where one can relax and dry off in the breeze.

Unfortunately, the Aqua Field pool is near the end of its season. Sept. 15 is the last swimming day. After that, the pool will close for a couple of weeks to undergo a transition into a futsal field, which is how it will remain until next summer. You can see photos of Aqua Field in both its summer Aqua and winter Field forms at the official website here.

I wasn’t able to photograph the pool myself because there were signs everywhere forbidding it. (The photo at the top of this post was taken from a public street outside.) There were also signs everywhere reminding tattooed swimmers to keep their skin art covered up. Unfortunately, these are common prohibitions at public swimming pools here. But one rule that was not on the books was the usual Japanese requirement for everyone to wear a swim cap. Feeling the water flow through my hair was another refreshing change from the usual Japanese pool experience.

The only aspect of Aqua Field that left anything to be desired was the locker room. It was cramped and crowded, and the floors were thoroughly wet even in areas that should have been mostly dry. There was an insufficient supply of benches or seats, meaning there was no dry spot to put anything down. For visitors who are simply changing into shorts and a T-shirt before heading on their way, this is not a huge problem. But if you want to swim before work or on your lunch break, getting changed back into business clothing becomes an elaborate chore. (But that won’t stop me from visiting again next summer — or maybe tomorrow.)

Adult admission to Aqua Field is 400 yen for two hours, plus 200 yen for each additional hour. Hold on to the ticket you get on the way in, since its time will be checked on your way out. To reach Aqua Field, use Exit A3 of Shiba Koen subway station, turn left at the top of the stairs, and walk a short distance down a tree-lined path to find the entrance on your left.


July 6, 2011

As I wrote in a previous post, most Japanese swimming pools do not welcome people with tattoos. The other day I found an ad (above) that shows just how seriously this rule is taken.

The ad, part of a “Summer Leisure Guide” listings page in the current issue of Metro Guide, a free newspaper given out in the Tokyo subway system, promotes four different water parks in Saitama Prefecture, immediately north of Tokyo. The parks apparently consider their tattoo ban so important that they have made a notice of it as large as the map showing all of their locations, thus using up a big chunk of space that might have been used instead to describe the parks’ amenities, special features, or other selling points.

It is quite possible that they think a tattoo ban is a selling point.

It used to be that tattoo bans were explained on the grounds that Japanese people are frightened of tattoos, because tattoos were associated with yakuza gangsters. But the rule kept out a lot of other people — twentysomething blonde girls, for instance — who clearly were not yakuza. I haven’t heard the yakuza argument lately, but I have heard it said people with tattoos tend to be troublemakers. Even putting criminal connations aside, tattoos are generally viewed as low-class in Japan.

The water parks who placed this ad clearly are not aiming just at yakuza, since they went to the trouble of printing “Keep out tattoo!” in English (with no other information in that language) and the illustration makes it clear that even a lady who has a discreet little butterfly on her ankle can expect to be expelled.

It seems to me that the answer to this problem would be to expel anyone who actually causes trouble rather than to exclude all sorts of innocent people on purely aesthetic grounds.

I speak as someone who has no skin in this game. I have no tattoos. I have zero desire to get a tattoo. But I do have freinds and relatives with decorated skin, and I don’t hold that against them.

Moreover, and ironically, some of the most strikingly beautiful tattoo art I have ever seen is the gangsterish Japanese kind.

Pool review: Ariake Sports Center

September 24, 2010

On a recent Sunday morning, before the brutal 2010 Tokyo heat wave broke, I paid a visit to the Ariake Sports Center in Koto Ward, Tokyo. In keeping with its name, it has a weight room and basketball and volleyball courts as well as a pool. But as usual, I went for the pool.

Here’s what I learned on my recent visit:

Cost: Two hours of pool access costs 300 yen for adults, with kids half price. As at many Tokyo pools, you have to buy a paper ticket from a vending machine and show it to an attendant on your way in and your way out.

Main pool: In photos I had found online, the 25-meter, six-lane pool is under a Crystal Palace-style curved glass roof, which looked like it might be able to slide open in nice weather. To my delight, this turned out to be the case, which meant that I was able to swim in sunshine and fresh air, which really does feel better than swimming completely indoors.

Less delightful was the dense crowd, which gave the pool a March-of-the-Penguins atmosphere. There must have been 100 or more people in the water, mostly parents with children. Only two lanes were clearly set aside for lap swimming. Although that was the least crowded part of the pool, there were about 10 people in each lap lane. I swam a few optimistic meters of freestyle, but had to switch to a deliberately slow breaststroke each time, and I was repeatedly forced to halt and tread water when the crowd ahead of me made forward movement impossible. I gave up and climbed out after a mere 100 meters.

It may have been that my timing was bad. On a scorching hot summer Sunday, it is only natural and proper that parents living nearby should take their kids to the pool. I have no objection to that. And it should be noted that an anonymous reviewer on the website swimmersguide was able to write, in an undated entry, “Facility was not crowded, with only a handful of people swimming.”

Around the pool: But all hope was not lost. It turned out that the Ariake Sports Center actually has TWO main pools. One was designed for lap swimming, but the other is purely for play, and even includes a waterslide that does a complete loop on its way down. Although I was disappointed at not being able to have a serious swim, I thought that two trips down the water slide should just about justify the 300 yen I had paid to get in. But the slide was so much fun that I felt I had gotten my money’s worth after just one trip down. (Then I took two more just to be certain.)

The line for the slide was very short, and so were most of the people using it. In fact, kids had to be at least as tall as a line on the wall to be allowed on, and I saw a lifeguard stop one little girl and make her stand against the wall to see if she qualified. She just barely made it, and that was because she seemed to have her hair up in a big lumpy bun under her swim cap. I think the lifeguard made the right call in letting her get away with it.

Photos are prohibited in the pool area, including from a glassed-in observation lounge about two stories above the pool deck, but you can see what may be official pictures of the facility’s interior here, or better yet, here.

And you can also get an idea of what the pools are like from the diagram, part of the facility’s official pamphlet, below:

Lockers and showers: The locker room is rather small, with no special features to speak of other than a spin drier for wet bathing suits and a hair drier for wet hair.

Wheelchair access: There are ramps and elevators, including a long ramp into the main pool.

The building: The Ariake Sports Center consists of two side-by-side buildings, the taller of which contains the basketball courts and the smaller of which contains the pools. The facility has been reviewed by the website tokyoarchitecture, which likens the larger building to a mushroom, and the smokestack of a nearby garbage incinerator to a tree trunk. But there is another and much clearer botanical reference: The end facades of the pool building are shaped like the gingko-leaf logo of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.

Location: The Ariake Sports Center is about a 10-minute walk from either Ariake Tennis-no-Mori Station or Odaiba Keihin Koen Station, both on the Yurikamome Line, and a slightly longer walk from Kokusai Tenjijo Station on the Rinkai Line. See the official access map below.

Pool review: Sumida Ward’s new gym

September 7, 2010


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.

Basic rules at Tokyo pools

September 7, 2010

Tokyo has a lot of excellent public pools, and I plan to review a variety of them on this blog. If you’d like to swim in this city, here are three things you should assume:

1. When entering a Japanese locker room, as when entering a Japanese house, you are expected to take off your shoes.

2. When swimming in a public pool, you will almost certainly be required to wear a swim cap – even if you are bald.

3. Most pools exclude people who have visible tattoos. If this means you, then plan to wear your least revealing swimsuit, and cover up further with a T-shirt or even bandages if necessary.