Emergency stairs of tall buildings in Japan becoming 'scenic route' to fitness

PHOTO: The Japan News/ANN

More and more people are recreationally climbing the emergency staircases of high-rise buildings and towers, both for the views they can enjoy from the lofty structures and the exercise the climbs provide.

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, Yamaguchi Prefecture, which looks down on the Kanmon Strait, an event called "Nekketsu! Tower Kaidan Nobori" (Burning passion! Tower staircase climb) was held in which participants climbed 650 stairs.

The event was first held in 2000, in the hope of giving local residents a chance to enjoy the tower.

Climbers use the emergency staircase, which is usually off-limits, to climb from the fourth floor to the observatory on the 28th floor.

On the latest occasion, 80 people participated, young and old, men and women alike.

Although the elevator would take them up in about 70 seconds, they were able to enjoy the view of the mountains and the ocean while taking the stairs.

The event seems to be well received, with participants leaving comments such as "It felt great to enjoy a different view from the windows of the staircase."

A similar event called "Kaidan Nobori Challenge!" (Staircase climbing challenge) in which participants climb 451 steps of an emergency stairway, is held every year on Health-Sports Day in October at Goryokaku Tower in Hakodate, Hokkaido. This year, 608 people participated.

Comments left by participants included "The event became a memorable part of our time in Hakodate."

In Niigata, the Toki Messe convention centre emphasizes the health aspects of its "Trail Runners Building Climb Cup." Niigata typically experiences harsh weather in winter, so people tend to stay indoors and do not get enough exercise.

This event was launched two years ago to simulate the experience of climbing a mountain by going up a building.

Participants start in the atrium on the second floor, go through a hall and then climb around 800 stairs to the observatory on the 31st floor.

There are two divisions: the one-kilometer division, in which participants do 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 the opening of emergency staircases for tower climbs.

Beginning with its opening in 1958, the tower had opened its emergency staircase to allow visitors to use them when the elevators were crowded.

Currently, with walking and exercising for health becoming more popular, the tower opens its staircase routinely during the day on Saturdays, Sundays and national holidays.

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

However, people should be careful before participating in such events. "Climbing up and down stairs puts a heavier toll on the body than exercise on a flat surface," cautioned Tatsuo Doi, a health fitness instructor.

Doi said people who do not usually exercise put a big strain on their hearts and also risk damaging the muscles and joints in their legs and loins when they climb long flights of stairs.

"Participants should start getting some exercise, such as walking, a few weeks before such events," Doi said.

"And if they get tired while they're 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."