This article originally featured in the October 2020 issue of Connect.

Finding Motivation Through Technology

Kayla Francis (Tokyo)

It’s no secret that we spend a lot of time on our phones, but isn’t it about time that we put that to good use? With new technology coming out regularly and helping our every need, it’s no surprise that there are a lot of fitness apps out there. It can be very difficult to know which ones to go for. That’s why we’ve asked people around Japan what works for them, so you don’t have to.

Pokemon Go

Michelle Amoroso (Tokyo)

I started playing Pokémon GO when it first came out, for fun. After a while, I realised I was doing a lot more walking around than I usually would and thought, “Great! An exercise app I can stick with!” The game tracks your steps and offers rewards when you move around, such as hatching Pokémon eggs; it also allows you to send virtual gifts, see what your friends are doing, and battle other trainers, as well as interact with a virtual pet. Another key feature for me was a challenge mode to do raids (battle at particular locations or PokéGyms). During the pandemic, these features were especially important to me for keeping connected to other people.

I would wait until fewer people were on the street, then visit local parks; I walked to multiple locations in nearby parks with Pokémon gyms, and the steps added up. While walking, I could open my ‘gifts’ and enjoy a little surprise and cheer up at the sight of my ridiculously cute and cheerful Pokémon ‘pet’ pretending to walk along with me. When I got to the park, I would complete the challenge, then spend some time afterwards doing stretches and other exercises. Frequently, there would be other people also playing Pokémon GO, along with people just visiting the park to exercise. We would be a safe distance away physically, but could nod and smile at each other.

I also would chat with other Pokémon GO players online via other apps, but on the topic of Pokémon GO, where we could discuss our progress with the challenges, relay news and hints, and ask for gifts and trades. Exchanging gifts and trading Pokémon was especially needed during the pandemic, so the people who were able to go out to parks or had PokeStops close to their homes could help out other players who were far from PokeStops or living in areas under lockdown. Players would also use this opportunity to check up on each other in general and share memes.

Pikachu, I thank you—for helping me keep fit!

Michelle is an ALT in West Tokyo, originally from Trinidad and Tobago, an island nation in the Southern Caribbean. She enjoys playing Pokémon in all forms, indoor climbing and archery, and her academic career is in science.

Strava – Keeping Fit with Old Friends

Clare Braganza (Fukushima)

When my schools shut and I was told to ‘work from home’ for a few months—with nothing to do—I found myself re-downloading the Strava app. I hadn’t used it since moving to Japan. Strava is an app for runners and cyclists. You can log your sessions and keep track of your progress via satellite maps, view statistics about inclines and your average pace per km, and even get an analysis of your performance if you start paying (I’m quite happy with the free parts). Seeing your weekly average kilometres shoot up is very gratifying, but what kept me running every other day during those long months was the social aspect. Like Instagram, you can follow your friends and be followed back. When you post a run/cycle, it pops up on their feed. Whilst I’m guzzling water and feeling gross after a difficult run, my phone lights up with “kudos” and encouraging comments from my friends and family back home. Everyone in the U.K. was under lockdown, and all my old friends had taken to Strava. We were miles apart, but as more friends joined every week and we logged our runs, I felt a buzz of excitement. I was alone in my apartment in the middle of the inaka but also a part of something bigger. On days when I was so tempted to just skip my run and watch Netflix, someone’s morning 10K would pop up on my feed. I’d give them “kudos,” and then reach for my trainers.

If you’re like me and can very easily convince yourself that you’ll go running tomorrow instead—for sure . . . —you may need a running app like Strava. It clearly maps your running routes, pace, and weekly average and lets you share your achievements with friends. Suddenly, you’re not running alone anymore, and that might just be the motivation you need.

Clare is a second-year JET in the inaka of Fukushima. When not editing CONNECT’s Wellness section, she spends her days reading fantasy books, writing stories, and hiking up random mountains in northern Japan. You can follow her travels here.

Nike Run Club

Kevin Feeley (Gunma)

Staying in shape during COVID can be tough as, depending on where you are, the local gyms may be closed or at limited occupancy. While normally this may be a detriment, being forced to be creative with my workouts at this time has gotten me back into my old workout habit: running. I’ve had difficulty in the past maintaining this habit because it can be difficult to track the number of miles I’ve completed if I’m not near a track, and I tend to exaggerate how much I’ve actually done, leading to excessive days off. The Nike Run Club app solves these problems for me as it uses GPS tracking—through either your phone or a smartwatch—to keep track of your miles, updating you every half-mile with the time. I’ve personally used the app on my phone and carried it with me while running, and, even without headphones, the speaker is loud enough to update me throughout the workout.

Additionally, there are monthly “challenges” that you can join to help keep you on track. As I’ve been out of the game a while, I started with the easiest challenge of 31 miles in one month or roughly one to two miles per run depending on your frequency. It also has the nifty feature of allowing you to input what shoes you wear while running, so you can keep track of how many miles you’ve put on them and, for more advanced runners, which shoes you run faster in. The app also gives you the option to input your weight so that it can give you a rough estimate of how many calories you’ve burned while running, which can help for those looking to hit a certain calorie count. When you are finished for the day and hit the stop button, a “trainer” will commend you for working hard, which, while corny, actually does feel good in the moment, confirming the sense of accomplishment that comes with completing a workout. It’s really been a blessing for me and pushed me to get outside more and get back into shape.

Kevin Feeley was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the United States and graduated from Amherst College with an English degree in 2019 before joining the JET Program. He wants to go to law school to do public defence work for people who cannot afford an attorney.