Japanese Gym Etiquette

Japanese gyms, and the major chain gyms in particular, tend to have a few rules that may be different from what you are used to at home. Some are common sense and universal to gyms around the world (things like re-rack your weights and wipe your sweat from machines/benches after use) while others are a bit unusual and unique to Japan.

The following is general advice. Every gym is different, so just observe what others are doing or actually ask someone if you’re not sure.

Bring I.D.

Before you even step foot on the floor of the gym, the front desk staff will usually want to see some I.D. This generally means your passport if you are a non-resident (Technically, you should be carrying your passport with you at all times while you are in Japan). Don’t expect to just walk in and start training.

“Indoor Shoes”

You may know that you are expected to take your shoes off when you enter someone’s house in Japan. The same basically applies to gyms – you will usually be required to take off your dirty “outdoor” shoes and change into some clean “indoor” shoes when entering the gym. By “indoor” shoes, I mean completely clean shoes that you only wear inside.

Some gyms may provide rental shoes, some hardcore gyms may even let you train in socks or bare feet, but it’s probably best to bring a separate pair of clean gym shoes with you.

Don’t “cause a scene”:

This is limited to the major chain gyms – which, with the exception of Gold’s, are more like fitness resorts full of people who have no idea what they’re doing.

Don’t do any of the following things that will generally attract attention: Make loud grunting noises, drop weights, deadlift (I was actually told off for doing this at one chain gym called “Renaissance”), etc.

No Tattoos

In Japan, tattoos are associated with organized crime group members.

As a general rule, most of the big chain gyms will not let you train there if you have tattoos. (You will also have trouble going to any hot springs and swimming pools, etc.)  If you’re covered in tats, your best bet is a small hardcore/powerlifting gym.

That said, the rule can really be interpreted as “no visible tattoos”. Even if you have a full arm sleeve, you could probably get away with wearing some kind of long-sleeve Under Armour shirt provided you shower and get changed at home.

I’ve heard conflicting reports about Gold’s Gym, so it probably depends on the individual location and staff working at the time.

If you’re able to cover up your tattoos, then it’s best to just do that without even letting the staff know you have any.

Waiting your turn

In most gyms, the standard rules apply – wait your turn to use the equipment, or ask whoever is using it whether you can work in with them. However, in some gyms – particularly municipal gyms – they may have a reservation system where you write your name down, or take a card/magnet, in order to “reserve” a particular piece of equipment.

Bring your own water

A lot of gyms don’t have water fountains. Instead they may have vending machines on site, or maybe nothing. Bring your own bottle of water with you or at least some spare change.

No talking on your phone

This is generally frowned upon. Texting or listening to music with headphones seems to be ok.


Does you gym have any stupid rules? Does it accept tattoos? Leave a comment and let us know!