Even the busiest, self-loathing businessman needs a break from the monotony of Tokyo life. In the midst of a unseasonably warm spring, with no public vacations on the horizon, many of us are feeling the drag. Sometimes we just want to scream and laugh, and push ourselves into murky ponds full of amoeba.
But there is a simple solution. And it’s fun for the whole family!
Fuiirudo asurechikkusu (field athletics) are obstacle courses located throughout rural parts of Japan. Typically constructed from a combination of wood and rope, they are hailed as a “unique type of exercise.” But in reality, they actually resemble something akin to “Most Extreme Elimination Challenge” or “Wipe Out”—a way of preparing prospective game showers for rigorous competition or concussion. The obstacles themselves might seem quite impossible and dangerous, with everything from high ropes balancing acts to running across sinking platforms.
While most courses out there are freestanding in some random forest—thus hit-and-miss—one in northern Chiba claims supremacy as “the largest obstacle course in Japan.” The course, located within the bucolic Shimizu Park, boasts over 100 obstacles in three separate courses: the “Challenge course,” “Adventure course,” and “Water course.” Attempting to successfully complete all courses takes about three hours, depending on the number of park attendees and whether it’s a weekend, during which it tends to get crowded.
Upon arrival at the park, you’re struck senseless by the sheer number of children—though the occasional brave parent and unconventional couple breaks up the lines of youngsters. But fear not! The park welcomes kids of all ages, which seems to be the case with most activities in Japan. After paying the park fee (¥1,000) and getting your wristband, you head to the newly renovated preparation area to procure some obnoxiously tight shoes (¥500). This is an absolute must, unless you want to ruin your own. (Also, park management is very particular about the type of shoes you wear: no Crocs, sports sandals, and the like.) Belongings may be stored in a locker. Next, you make a beeline for the recommended Water Course, which involves 20 obstacles, most of which are suspended over a frigid lake. As an adult—especially in the company of friends—this course offers the most opportunities to embarrass yourself, especially with the aid of a waterproof camera or GoPro.
For the next hour, you’ll be swinging, jumping across unstable rafts, and finding yourself in awkward positions with ropes. Looking around, it’s hard to believe that any of these obstacles would legally fly in the west, yet the course does meet basic safety requirements. Regardless, bumps and bruises are known to occur—for kids and adults alike—as many of the challenges require talent that you may likely not possess, including precise balance and upper body strength. While a normal person might want to avoid falling in a lake, some of us have no choice. Blessed with undeveloped arm muscles, I found myself submerged—count ’em: four times—after failing to hold onto my rope. Unlike the kids, who accidentally fell in the lake on purpose, I fell in because I’m weak. And my friends loved it. And although I loved it too, I nevertheless rescind my applications to all Japanese game shows.
For those visitors who prefer to support or watch their fellow comrades from the sidelines, there’s a “chicken option” for many of the water obstacles. Whatever your choice, the water course alone may be sufficient depending on your energy level. The other two courses in the park are better suited for children, as they tend to be much easier to surmount. That said, the ropes and wooden challenges continue, and this course still has a few tricks up its sleeves, including a short water section on the Adventure course. Visitors will find themselves channeling innate skills from their childhood. I mean, when was the last time you truly hung upside down?
“Post-workout” showers and coin laundry machines are available for the slightly indulgent. There’s also the typical vendor food and drink fare on site. Note, however, that no alcohol is allowed in the park, and intoxicated individuals will be refused entry. (Always best to depart without the aid of a gurney.)
Whether or not you discover your inner Tarzan, or wake up the next day with skinned palms—gloves come in handy—bruised arms, or an aching abdomen, Shimizu Park is clean, legal fun … with a slice of humble pie on the side.