Tokyo-keiba (horse racing)

Tokyo Travel Blog

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Sunday I decided to join my friends for a day at the races. Horse races that is. About 30 minutes west of Shinjuku in the city of Fuchu there lies the Tokyo horse racetrack. Behold, a grand arena! It's roughly the size of any other sports stadium, except it feels very new and modern. It reminds me of a hotel in Vegas.

Every weekend during the end of the summer and into the fall, thousands of Japanese and non-Japanese come together to enjoy the sport of horse racing, all for a measly 200yen. The arena is a very nice facility, boasting a range of restaurants, shops, a convenience store, and many different places to view the action from.
And mind you, a trip to the turf grounds is a family affair. With a giant kiddy-park situated on the inside of the track and a gratuitous horse mascot named "Turfy" who goes around taking pictures, the Japanese Race Association makes it clear that anyone of all ages can enjoy a day at the races.

The actual betting can be very intimidating. Although there are electronic machines that accept your bets and pay you out (if you're lucky), deciding which horse is going to be your lucky one is, of course, the most difficult part. This is difficult not only if you have never bet on a horse race before and have no idea what's what, but also because everything is done in Japanese. Luckily, my friend Takuma is a seasoned pro when it comes down to business, so I followed his advice. While everything seems all fun and games, we all know that this is serious work.
I could tell this when I saw that everyone was carrying around their red felt-tip pens and newspapers, intensely looking over their choices. Some were sprawled out on mats on the floor (shoes off of course) sitting in silence as they compared information. When all was said and done, we bet on 7-8 races. Since the minimum bet was only 100yen, I would luckily only be down about $8 by the end of the day. Phew.

We had a quick bowl of noodles and a beer, then settled into our game mode. I chose my picks, put the money in the machine, and staked out my spot to watch the action. One thing I learned, horse racing is horse racing, no matter where you are in the world. Spectators fill the seats and stands, silently watching as the flag drops and the horses jet out of their stalls. All is quiet.
Eyes are glued on the mega-tron vision of the horses as they make their way around the corner. In the last five seconds, a chorus of angry voices rises from the crowd, progressively getting louder and more intense until that first horse crosses the finish line. Then you hear cries of joy or profanities as everyone soon realizes the results.

I was one of those angry voices in the crowd. It was the second to last race, the biggest race of the day, and I had bet on a Triple where my three picks would have to finish 1st, 2nd, and 3rd in any order. My first two picks placed 1st and 2nd respectively. All I needed was my last horse to give that extra push, that extra step, that extra nose, to make it. All I needed was for it to place 3rd. Instead, it lost by a nose, literally, coming in 4th, and thus trampling on my chances of walking away with close to $400.
Oh well, horse betting is not for me (this is most definitely a good thing). On a side note, gambling is illegal in Japan, however horse racing has been around for many decades. Supposedly it was a sport that was originally put on by the Imperial family and has long since heralded a prestigious tradition.

All things considered though, I had a great time. Sure, it would've been great had I won that extra money, but I was able to participate in a side of Japanese life that I might not have otherwise taken part of, had it not been for my friends. It was nice to get away from the crowds in the city for a day and join the massive crowd of people who had come to watch the races and partake in the excitement.
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Looks like something out of starwa…
Looks like something out of starw…
vegas right?
vegas right?
photo by: maka77