When it comes to Olympic sports, Japan has given the world judo and keirin. Everyone knows of the former but the latter one is still something of an unknown quantity to many regarding its origins. It was developed in Fukuoka in November 1948 for the purpose of gambling and so doesn’t seem to be taken too seriously as a sport by most people.
When I first arrived in Japan they really were different times with no smart-phones, social media, wifi and so on. All I had was a small box-style TV with the basic terrestrial channels and a few extras. Of course I couldn’t understand them so usually opted for any live sport for background visuals. I’m sure there was a keirin channel and so I used to watch that a bit in those initial few weeks of settling into life in Japan. It seemed a very strange thing as there were hardly ever any spectators in attendance. I soon realised that it was basically the poor-man’s racing channel and it was all about gambling.
Fast forward half a decade and I saw keirin was an Olympic sport at Beijing 2008 and the subsequent ones in London and Rio after that. It actually first appeared in Sydney 2000 but wasn’t on my radar then. Maybe because Great Britain didn’t win gold in those first two games. They have certainly dominated since then though with amazing gold medal victories from Chris Hoy (2008 and 2012), Victoria Pendleton (2012) and Jason Kenny (2016).
My only other experience of keirin was a quick look around the track in Odawara a couple of years ago when people were gathered there to watch the races from another track in the country. There are nearly 50 velodromes in Japan with ones in Matsudo, Hiratsuka, Utsunomiya, Chiba and Ito being within reasonably close distance of Tokyo. The latter is known as Izu Velodrome and that will be where the track cycling takes place in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Fortunately, I managed to win a cycling Olympic ticket in the recent ballots for Japanese residents. This made me even more keen to check out this far less glamorous side of a sport which is basically all about gambling. The Olympic cycling will be very different and about the riders and countries rather the financial stakes. Ever since I attended the Japan Cup in November 2016 for the big horse race of the Japanese calendar, going to watch keirin in Kawasaki has been in my mind but then I saw there was an event on at Tachikawa Velodrome (3-32-5 Akebonocho, Tachikawa-shi) in late July so thought I could combine it with a couple of other things in the area.
The view from outside the Velodrome (above) is actually not that bad but barely anyone goes to keirin to enjoy the actual cycling. It’s all about the betting and entrance is only 50 yen anyway which you put into the turnstile (there is a change machine nearby). It seems I entered via the rear gate (below) as when I left a couple of hours later I found the front entrance with free buses outside it which ship punters in from Tachikawa Station to fritter away their earnings.
For those who can’t remember, keirin is the track race where the first few laps are controlled by a small moped-type pacer bike called a derny that drops out with a couple of laps to go leaving the riders to race it out till the finish line on their brakeless fixed-gear bicycles. It’s fairly simple and the controlled laps are pretty dull as they’re basically like the formation lap in Formula One. After that though it’s very exciting. Whilst I’m confident in my knowledge of the rules, I’m still not sure how keirin is actually pronounced. The Japanese say “kay-lin” whilst it is pronounced as “keer-un” or “keer-in” in the UK and the States.
Filling in the betting slip was not quite as difficult as I thought thanks to my experience at the horse racing. However, I did need a bit of help completing it all but thankfully the lady on the Information desk could assist me there. I was very grateful to her. You can either bet on the top three positions of the riders or just first and second if you prefer. It’s all about putting the pencil markings in the correct boxes and the numbers 7-8-3 on the smaller ticket (below) refer to my predicted order of the first race I saw.
Once you’ve filled in your slip you then take it to one of the many automated betting machines (below). First, put your money in followed by the slip and then I wasn’t too sure after that but a button lit up so I just hit that and it seemed to work.
Each race consists of ten competitors all wearing different colours and numbers on their jerseys. With absolutely zero knowledge about the riders I based my bets solely on the colours of the jerseys or by choosing three random numbers. I only bet 500 yen each time and, unlike at the horse racing, I did not lose my tickets this time! As for what you do if you win, well I don’t know as I never really got too close to that happening!!
Many people don’t actually watch the races outside and instead opt to view the spectacle on screens in the concourse or in the grandstand.
Free green tea is on hand and the vending machine drinks are just 50 yen each. The food is pretty cheap too and I’m guessing it has been slightly subsidised by the betting company in charge of the Velodrome.
Next stop will be the real thing at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics!
Bonus: Before all of that I met up with my convention friend Robert who said he’d guide me to a park which will feature in a future ‘Interesting Japanese Playground Structures‘ post. About six years ago I wrote about the Faret Tachikawa street Art Project and we passed a few of them en-route to our luxury lunch destination. Robert also pointed out a couple more which I had missed on my previous visits to the area. That black circle (below) is actually there and not drawn by me. However, take a few steps to the side and you can see that it’s just an illusion and is not actually round at all.
Just down the road from there was this chair (below) with a pair of shoes next to it. That shadow is neither of ours so how can it be?!
It’s been a few years since I last had a Swedish lunch at IKEA so it was nice to sample a small selection of things (below) from their menu.
After lunch, we parted ways and I wandered down the strangely named Cinema Street (below) which bizarrely doesn’t seem to have anything on it even slightly related to films. That street eventually took me to Tachikawa Velodrome.
Click here to read ‘A Day At The Races For The Japan Cup’
Click here to read ‘Tokyo Daytripper: A Morning In Odawara City’
Click here to read ‘Tokyo Daytripper: Art Attack In Tachikawa’
Click here to read ‘On The Trail Of Shin Godzilla #6 – Tokyo’