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Getting a Grip on Tokyo

A stimulating bouldering adventure

Tokyo is a place where I feel constantly immersed in historic and cultural stimuli, add to this the typical stresses of a megalopolis like Tokyo, and I tend to become a bit overwhelmed and in need of a healthy escape. I’m all in for new experiences and a friend suggested a bouldering gym. Nobo Rock bouldering gym is a great place for a good workout, stress relief, burning off the kids pent up energy or interaction with the locals. Nobo Rock has several locations but I chose the Shibuya branch because its conveniently located for a day trip.

Know Before You Go

I preregistered on Nobo Rock’s website, which is translated into English, before my visit to the shop. This streamlined the process and makes for a less stressful experience for non-Japanese speakers. This way I could stop by any day without worrying if English speaking staff were working. On the website I found a convenient “flow of use” section that explained what to expect for my visit. There was no reservation needed and everything else I needed to know was explained upon arrival. When I arrived I was warmly greeted by the staff and because I preregistered, all I had to do was show them the registration number, pay the extremely reasonable fees, change into some loose fitting clothing I brought. Next I was fitted for the climbing shoes, which the gym provides, along with a bag of chalk. Both free to use the first visit!

Getting a Leg Up on The Nobo Rock System

After check-in we headed to the beginner’s room for an explanation of the rules and system. When I walked into the room the walls were covered in crazy multicolored shapes. Visually it’s quite impressive! The last time I went climbing was about 20 years ago and it involved a harness system with spotters and a high risk of injury, I was immediately reassured by the staff, that because the walls are relatively short, there is no problem for beginners and only a few common sense safety rules to remember: One person per wall, nobody on the mat when someone else is climbing that wall and climb down using the holds instead of jumping from the wall.

The gym has three rooms based on level of difficulty. All three rooms are completely isolated from each other, which I appreciated because I felt a little self conscious about my lack of bouldering skills. In the beginner rooms, the walls are divided by letters A through E and have differing slopes, angles and course difficulties. There are several color-coded “Challenges” starting with Yellow, the easiest and moving to Green, more challenging. For each Challenge the objective is to traverse the wall from Start to Goal using only the holds designated for that challenge, which are all the same color. The staff member physically demonstrated the system so it was very easy to understand. Then I had a go at a few of the courses while she watched. As a novice I was a bit intimidated, and actually I have a slight fear of heights, but attempting the easy courses first I quickly became acclimated, my confidence increased rapidly and I soon got my footing.

The learning curve is low because the system is extremely intuitive allowing the climber to gradually learn new skills. The easiest course is set up so you can place your feet anywhere. This allowed me to focus on hand placement and becoming generally comfortable with the climbing experience, which makes the gym great for children as well as adults.

Exercises in Problem Solving

As I moved up to the intermediate courses I immediately became aware of my lack of flexibility and saw the physical benefits of climbing, but what really struck me was the intellectual benefits. Traversing the wall is like a game or puzzle, where each person approaches the same challenge in their own unique way. Its an exercise in problem solving where each climber maps out their plan of attack. Watching the more experienced climbers I realized bouldering is less about strength or powering through, and more about creatively moving my body and cleverly using my mind, to discover the best approach to reach the goal. Its as much a cognitive exercise as physical.There were climbers of all ages and skill levels and some people were just there to watch. I had many aha moments where I was quite impressed observing the techniques and skills of many of the climbers. As my muscles became fatigued I started to become aware of my strengths and weaknesses and the skills I needed to learn in order to increase my efficiency in reaching the goals. It was humbling but satisfying to discover different patterns and solutions for how I could scale the Challenges and I soon realized how bouldering could quickly become addictive.

The atmosphere in the gym is quite relaxing and quiet and the climbers were very welcoming and supportive of each other. I noticed a collaborative spirit where people were instructing each other or discussing possible alternatives to solve different Challenges. The gym has endless possibilities for new challenges, skill building and stimulation. I believe the skills I learned could easily be transferable to many real life scenarios. I originally thought a trip to Nobo Rock would be great for a bit of fun and exercise, but I was pleasantly surprised to be equally intellectually stimulated. It encouraged me to re-imagine different approaches to problem solving. Nobo Rock would be a great outing for friends, family or even team building with work associates and escape the usual “tourist trail”. If you're looking for a new challenge and a bit of adventure, stop by Nobo Rock. I’ll be a bit sore the next couple of days but I won’t forget my visit.

Mark James Hill

Originally hailing from Massachusetts in the United States, I came here as a musician and became and actor and model in Japanese TV, movies, commercials and games for nearly two decades. You may know me as Nikolai the villain in Resident Evil 3. I enjoy writing about a number of topics from travel to self help to philosophy. My main passion is documentary photography mainly focusing on Japanese lifestyle photos and especially the bohemian area of Koenji in Tokyo known for music, fashion and sub-culture (Tokyo_Tableaux). You’ll often see me roaming Tokyo’s streets for hours or listening to peoples stories.

Access

Bienquad bldg B1 9-9-1, Sakuragaokacho, Sibuya-ku, Tokyo
NOBOROCK is located approximately 5 minutes by foot from the West Exit of Shibuya Station.