Without a doubt, Tokyo is a big city, and it’s hard for any one person to see all of it. Even long-time residents probably aren’t familiar with every nook and cranny of the metropolis. So if you sometimes find yourself wishing you could get a closer look at its various neighborhoods, Yamathon, an event that takes you to all the way around the Yamanote Line, might be a great way to spend a Saturday!

Not only will you get an up-close-and-personal look at the Yamanote Line’s 29 stations, but by participating in Yamathon, you’ll also be contributing to a great cause!

Like many countries, Japan has its fair share of marathons. We’re not exactly sure when running long distances without a lion chasing you became a thing, but they’re pretty popular. We definitely admire and respect all you runners, but we’re also not too sure we’ll be joining you anytime soon.

But even if you’re a couch potato like some of us, Yamathon, which takes place on May 30th, might be one event to get you out there with running shoes and sweat pants. The event, which starts at the Tokyo Tokia Building, about three minutes from Tokyo Station Marunouchi South Exit, basically follows the Yamanote Line around Tokyo.

▼ The Yamanote Line is the green line in the map below.

TokyoYamanoteAreaLinesWikipedia (RailRider)

In case you’re not familiar with Tokyo’s rail lines, the Yamanote Line is perhaps the most famous in the city. It runs in a circle around the heart of the city, with stops in most of the major neighborhoods. If you’re on a quest to “see Tokyo,” following this line might not take you everywhere but it is definitely a great start!

▼ Here are the participants from 2014.

[tweet https://twitter.com/TheYamathon/status/587602480231555072 align=center]

Unlike a traditional marathon, Yamathon takes a different approach to running long distances. In fact, the event doesn’t even have a “proper” course–instead participants are challenged with going to and getting their photos taken at every station on the line. Teams can take whatever route they want and whole families are welcome!


We talked with a few of the organizers of the event and NADIA, a charity group the Yamathon works with, to get a better idea of what it’s all about.

First, Joe, the fundraising events director, explained what happens to the registration money, which is 10,000 yen (about US$83) per team.

“[S]ince the beginning we wanted to give 100 percent of registration back to charity. … [A]nd we have stayed true to our principles of giving 100 percent and bringing in great companies to sponsor and help pay for the costs of paying for the venue, etc. In doing this they help empower our teams to be able to give 100 percent back. And now we have not only a physical and navigational challenge, but also a day out for families, whether taking part, volunteering, or cheering them at the finish line.”

Yep, every single yen you pay to participate goes to charity! That’s a pretty sweet deal, if you ask us, especially since teams can be three or four people, making the cost per individual quite reasonable.


This year, the money will be going to NADIA, a volunteer organization working in the Tohoku area to support people affected by the 2011 tsunami. They are active in a number of ways, including building playgrounds, sending children affected by the tsunami to Italy, the Morgan House Project, which provided permanent housing for seven mentally and physically handicapped adults, and the Rikuzentakata Community Center.


So, now that you’re ready to join Yamathon, you might be wondering just how long this event is, but it turns out that question is a bit difficult to answer. As the Yamathon website explains:

“Those who are navigational geniuses may complete the event in 38 kilometers. Others who follow the train line may take 44 kilometers. It really depends on which route you take. We encourage shortcuts, as long you take a picture outside all 29 stations!”

In fact, Joe added a personal anecdote about the event, telling us, “The Yamanote Line isn’t a full circle, especially in places like Osaki and Shinagawa. [Editor’s note: In other words, it follows a somewhat wonky, not perfectly circular path.] I remember our team walking through Gate City mall to try and get a lead on the team which we’d been right behind for half the event.” Joe explained that if you precisely follow the train line, you’ll end up walking a few extra kilometers. Jennifer, another organizer, added that people sometimes even get lost close to the finish line, so your map skills are as important as your stamina. It almost sounds more like an action movie than a marathon! Maybe we can get John McClane to join our team.


In fact, there doesn’t really seem to be a wrong way to complete the event as long as you get your photo at all of the stations. You can bring your family or dogs with you! Maybe even snag an impostor movie star?

“[E]very year some families take part in the whole event. … I highly doubt they walked all the way, but it’s great to see families being imaginative. We have had families enter before and the children have walked part of the way and we encourage that. We’ve had dogs completing the event with their owners, [and] we’ve had people walk the whole way round barefoot. A team once picked up a ‘Japanese Jack Sparrow’ in full costume at Akihabara and even he joined the team for a few stations.”

While the course you follow is ultimately up to you, the organizers do go out of their way to get police clearance, and teams are expected to stay on the sidewalk. This is to ensure that everyone who participates finishes safely–a reasonable guideline if you ask us.


Finally, you may be wondering how long the event would take you to complete. If you’re going at a gentle walking pace, the organizers suggest that it will take about twelve hours to complete the course. Of course, if you decide to run or find a few great shortcuts, it would obviously be much shorter.

If you’re interested in participating, be sure to head over to the Yamathon website to sign up. You have until Friday May 22 to register for the May 30th event. Plenty of time to find some team members and buy some good walking shoes!

▼ And maybe some costumes.

[tweet https://twitter.com/TheYamathon/status/591074372821110784 align=center]

On the 30th, registration is from 7:15 to 7:45 and the event starts at 8 a.m. From then, you’ll have twelve hours to finish, though the venue won’t close until 10:30 p.m. Of course, if you find yourself too tired to continue, you can quit whenever you like, though you’ll want to call in, so no one sends search parties after you!

If you want to be involved but aren’t too sure about spending 12 hours walking around Tokyo, you can also volunteer with the event!

▼ You can even get a free massage.

[tweet https://twitter.com/TheYamathon/status/591478035754274816 align=center]

To volunteer, send Jennifer, one of the organizers, an email at jennifer@ivgjapan.org.

Now, head over to the Yamathon website to learn more and sign up!

A big thanks to Joe, Jennifer, Patrick, and Ron for talking with us about the event!

References: YamathonNADIA, Twitter (Yamathon)
Images: Yamathon