Single Style / Off to the Races Alone

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The horses run past cheering spectators at the Tokyo Racecourse in Fuchu, Tokyo.

The participants in the horse racing introductory seminar were mostly women. Visitors predict race results and relax in the women-only Umajo Spot. Beautiful thoroughbred horses are on display in the paddock. You may want to keep admiring them for a long time.


Eating out alone. Going to a movie alone. Singing karaoke alone. There are more and more places where you can have a good time on your own, but going to a horse racetrack alone might seem intimidating for a lot of women. After all, the sport has an image of being mostly associated with men. To find out if I would feel out of place or if I could enjoy myself there, I recently visited Tokyo Racecourse in Fuchu, Tokyo.

On a sunny Saturday in November, I paid the ¥200 entrance fee and got into the racetrack shortly before noon. I was immediately overwhelmed by how spacious it was.

The racetrack was striking, with its large, grassy lawn and high grandstands. There were no tall buildings or elevated structures nearby to obstruct the view of the blue sky above. It was an extraordinary place. I had heard that it’s the largest of the 10 Japan Racing Association (JRA) tracks in the country.

First, I attended a free introductory seminar. To my surprise, 11 of the 12 participants, including myself, were women. After learning how to buy betting tickets and other things, we were given a tour of the facility. In the paddock, where visitors can get a closer look at the horses just before a race, we were told some tips to decide which horse to bet on. This was the most useful part of the tour for me.

According to the instructor, Mayumi Takeyama, “Energetic horses walk with gusto on the outer part of the paddock. The horses with tight buttocks are in good shape.”

She also told us to pay attention to what the grooms, who lead the horses into the paddock ahead of a race, were wearing. What she meant was that grooms who are confident that their horses will win dress well to prepare for the awards ceremony afterward. It’s a unique way of looking at things, I thought.

After the seminar, I looked around the stands. Most of the people there were men, just as I had expected, but there were also several women here and there at the front, each holding a camera.

One of them, Minami Yokoshima, a 22-year-old company employee from Kasukabe, Saitama Prefecture, said, “I try to capture the liveliness of the running horses and the expressions of my favorite jockeys.” She also says that she sometimes takes photos all day while sitting on a folding chair that she brings.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Minami Yokoshima snaps pictures of horses and jockeys with her camera.

Well-toned muscles. A glossy coat. Absorbing eyes. Just appreciating these features on beautiful thoroughbred horses without even considering winning or losing can be enjoyable.

“Everyone here is so absorbed in the races that I’ve never worried about whether or not I seem out of place,” said Makiko Kotajima, 54, from Kunitachi, Tokyo, who was there alone and has been a horse racing fan for 25 years.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
“It’s interesting to watch people at the racecourse,” says Makiko Kotajima.

She also said, “Just walking around and looking at the big track can be good exercise. I get mental exercise by making predictions. It’s so exciting and helps me relieve stress.”

Once she started talking about the appeal of racing, there was no stopping her. She talked about how fun it is to watch the other spectators. Some pump their fists in victory. Others mumble profanity when they lose. “I want to watch them, too. It’s more interesting than making bets,” she whispered.

The JRA is also making efforts to attract more women to the sport.

The Umajo Spot, which means an area for women who love horse racing, offers free drinks and sells original sweets that vary by track and season.

At first glance, it looks like a stylish cafe, but the people reading horse racing newspapers reminded me that this is a racetrack. Of course!

The area’s concierge, Saya Shioku, 27, said, “About half of the visitors come here alone.”

Yuki Hirono, 31, from Tokyo who came alone, said she comes when she wants to quietly predict race results.

“The horse-shaped macarons here are really cute. I take photos of them to post on social media,” Hirono said.

Michiko Takarada, a 45-year-old care worker from Matsuda, Kanagawa Prefecture, says she comes to the track alone every week.

“Everyone has their own way of enjoying themselves here. Making bets. Cheering for the horses. Having lunch or tea. Taking a break in the relaxation area. Being here alone is so comfortable for me,” she said.

Everyone spends their time as they want, and everyone gets so enthusiastic during the races.

I also bought some betting tickets and entered the stands.

When the fanfare sounded, my heart started beating fast. “Is it because I bet money?” I asked myself.

The gates opened and the crowd roared. Many spectators started watching the large screen showing the race while listening to the live commentary. It took only a moment for the horses to run past the spectators. Like the others around me, I shouted “Go! Go! Go!” to the horse I had bet on.

I won. My winnings were a whopping ¥50. I paid ¥500 for the tickets and got ¥550 because the winning horse was so popular. But the new experience was worth much more than the profit.

Shortly after 3:30 p.m., I left the track alongside the large crowd of people going home after the main race had ended. I didn’t want this extraordinary day to end, but I was happy to have one more place where I could enjoy by myself.

Yomiuri Shimbun photos
Left: Turfy, the mascot character of the Japan Racing Association
Right: Horse-shaped macaroons

Decide on amount in advance

I want to write this as a reminder: Horse racing is gambling. There is a risk of addiction and losing control over the amount of money you spend.

I received tips on how to enjoy horse racing in a healthy way from Kotaro Nishimura, 56, head of the psychiatric ward at the Kurihama Medical and Addiction Center in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, who is an expert on gambling addiction.

Nishimura said, “When going to a racetrack, you should decide in advance how much money you are going to spend, including expenses for transportation, food and drinks. You should not take extra cash or cards with you.”

Nishimura also said: “Be careful with online betting, where you can place bets on your mobile phone. It’s so easy and convenient that there’s an increased risk of spending a lot of money and becoming addicted.”