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Japan

Emergency-Stair Climbing, Japan's Improbable Fitness Craze

Enoshima Tower in Kamakura, Japan
Enoshima Tower in Kamakura, Japan
Miki Yabuki

TOKYO — A growing number of Japanese are climbing the emergency staircases of high-rise buildings and towers recreationally, both for the views they can enjoy from the lofty structures and for the heart-pumping exercise.

Climbing events held at such structures offer access to stairways that are normally closed to the public. On Nov. 14, at the Kaikyo Yume Tower in Shimonoseki that overlooks the Kanmon Straits, participants in one event climbed 650 stairs. It was first held in 2000 in the hopes of giving local residents a chance to enjoy the tower. Climbers use the emergency staircase to ascend from the fourth floor to the observatory on the 28th floor.

Eighty people — young and old, men and women alike — participated in the latest event. Although the elevator could have taken them up the 24 stories in about 70 seconds, they were able to enjoy the view of the mountains and the ocean while taking the stairs.

A similar event in which participants climb 451 steps is held every October at the Goryokaku Tower in Hakodate, Hokkaido, where 608 people climbed this year.

And in Niigata, the Toki Messe convention center emphasizes the health aspects of its "Trail Runners Building Climb Cup." Niigata typically experiences harsh weather in winter, so people tend to stay indoors, often not getting enough exercise. This event was launched two years ago to simulate the experience of mountain climbing.

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Tokyo's Kaikyo Yume Tower — Photo: Li04ig27

It begins in the second-floor atrium, then up about 800 stairs to the observatory on the 31st floor. There are two divisions: the one-kilometer division, in which participants complete the course once, and the two-kilometer division, in which climbers are ranked based on the total time of two runs. The fastest participants complete the course in under five minutes.

Tokyo Tower in Minato Ward, Tokyo, is said to have pioneered this climbing practice. During its opening in 1958, tower officials allowed visitors to use emergency stairs when the elevators were crowded. Now the tower routinely opens the passages on Saturdays, Sundays and national holidays so that staircase-fitness enthusiasts can go up and down at will.

"The fact that these events allow participants to get exercise while enjoying an unusual experience seems to have struck a chord with the public," says Ken Sawada of the Tokyo Tower Comprehensive Media Department.

But they aren't for everyone. "Climbing up and down stairs puts a heavier toll on the body than exercise on a flat surface," cautions fitness instructor Tatsuo Doi. People unaccustomed to exercise risk straining their hearts, muscles and joints when climbing long flights of stairs.

"People should start getting some exercise, such as walking, a few weeks before such events," Doi says. "And if they get tired while climbing, they should rest where they are, do some light steps in place and stretch. Since the climb down puts a greater strain on the joints, people should take twice as much time going down as they do climbing up."

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