Since about May of last year, I've taken up running as a hobby. Usually I try to stay active by playing basketball or futsal with people from work, but pandemic restrictions have put an end to that. It's been about a year since I started, and I really am enjoying it, so I wanted to write a blog post about why.
It all comes back to that famous middle school formula: $$\pi r^2$$. When you first start running, you get out of the house, do a loop around the neighborhood, and come back panting. You get a little bit of that runner's high, but mainly it just feels like work. But as the months go by, you start to be able to run longer and longer distances. That's when you realize that it's not the distance that matters, but the area of the circle.
Without giving away too much personal information, I live in the city of Nishinomiya now, which has at its center Nishinomiya station. On google maps, I can hover above that station, and search "points of interest". From Nishinomiya station there is Nishinomiya Shrine about half a kilometer away, so the beginner can enjoy taking a loop around a beautiful shrine. About one kilometer away is Shukugawa park, a park with a nice long river and a long line of cherry blossom trees. As you start to get your legs you can take a visit.
Five kilometers is about the shortest distance you can run without feeling like a total failure. Turning south from Shukugawa park, you can make it to Omaehama park, which has a small beach and a nice view of the ocean. Round trip from the station should be just the right distance. If you go north, you'll find yourself turning around at Hirota shrine, which is a wide and open shrine with a great view as you approach. If you go east and run along the train line, you will arrive at Koshien station, where you can see Japan's most famous baseball stadium and its iconic ivy. The round trip is about 5.5 kilometers.
After a few months of running, I discovered that my wallet wasn't in my pocket. I had to double back the entire route to look for it, and that's how I ran my first 10K of the season (the wallet was at home the entire time). From Nishinomiya station, if you're willing to gain some elevation, in under 10K you can make it all the way up to Kabutoyama Forest Park (and the nearby Kwansei Gakuin University) which has a spectacular view of the city. If you go south west, there is a small (artificial?) island which has a free footbath you can use, which makes for a great stopping point. Of course that's not the right attitude if you care about how fast you're running, but that's missing the point. The real fun of running in Japan is all the places you can discover.
Japan has one of the best train systems in the entire world. So if you really want to expand you range, taking the train home will instantly double the distance you can travel. If you run east, you can make it to Amagasaki Castle, and you know you made a good decision about a hobby when an ancient castle is the destination. Running to Takarazuka city along the Muko river was also a great experience. If you go west until Ashiya and then go north along the river, you can find my favorite hiking course. At the entrace, there is a small waterfall (look for Taki no Chaya on the map) which is right before the paved roads end.
The most I have done in this pandemic stretch is just over 20K. I've already had to leave out a lot of great destinations, and with the radius now expanded to 20K it almost becomes an impossible task. Recently I find myself stuck looking at google maps instead of sleeping because I want to plan long distance runs. Due to the pandemic, I try to wear a mask whenever there are other people anywhere nearby, which means there are a few destinations I haven't yet made it to because I know the streets are going to be crowded the whole way. But I'm optimistic about the coming year, and hope to report on some future adventures.