Namban Rengo: Tokyo's International Running Club

We spoke with Bob Poulson of Namban Rengo and (finally) learned what the club name means. Read on to learn about one of Tokyo’s most well-known running clubs.

From running groups to triathlon teams and cycling clubs, we introduce groups of like-minded people who gather to train and compete around Japan. 

Group picture of runners at a stadium

How does Namban Rengo stay involved in the running community in Japan?

We participate in a few ekidens each year, and there are several races each year for which members organize trips. Some people do long runs and trail runs for training on weekends and invite others to join them. We also have several annual events, including a run/BBQ, a post-Tokyo marathon party and a year-end party.

Give us your elevator speech about Namban Rengo

Namban Rengo began about 30 years ago when I and a few other foreigners I met at races started training together. We ran our first ekiden (road relay) 28 years ago, so we call that the official start of the club. “Nambanjin” means “southern barbarian,” and is the old word for gaikokujin/gaijin – what the Japanese called the first Dutch traders. “Rengo” means group, so we translate it as the Barbarian Horde. I’m the Chairman of the Horde. It’s now a large club, 225 members in Tokyo and another 100 overseas. We meet once a week, on Wednesday night, for a training session on a track. We usually have about 80 people at those sessions.
Group of runners nearby a Japanese temple

What is Namban Rengo looking forward to this year?

There are very few races in Japan in the summer, so it’s a time for training and sweating to get in shape for the fall races. (Except for our 15-20 triathletes, who do have summer races.) Most races in Japan require entry far in advance, so many members are already planning their schedule and entering fall races, mainly 10Ks, half marathons and marathons.

Group of runners stretching on a track
Namban Rengo meets at Oda Field in Yoyogi Park every Wednesday at 1900.

Learn more at namban.org or visit the Namban Facebook.

Who should come out to Namban Rengo?

We welcome anyone who wants to run with us, including visitors from overseas. There is no fee to run, but if you want to be on our mail list, the cost is ¥2,000 per year. Most of our runners are “serious”, in that they want to get or stay in good shape, and participate in races. Some people don’t race, which is fine, and we have plenty of “not very fast” (I don’t like the word “slow”) runners. The club is not just for joggers, however, we expect that people will try to push themselves at the training sessions.

Despite the name, we are not strictly a “foreigners’ running club”, as about 40 percent of our members are Japanese. English ability is not required. About 30-40 percent are women. Our members hail from many different countries.

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