Play the Day Away at Oi Racecourse! A Beginner’s Guide to Japanese Horse Racing!
You've done all the Japan classics, but have you tried their horse races? You might not think of it as a tourist attraction, but it's an opportunity to see some majestic horses at their best, eat some great food, and admire some different sights. In this edition of our "Area of Japan" series, one of our Taiwanese editors steps outside of their comfort zone to uncover the unique world of Japanese horse racing at Tokyo's Oi Racecourse. From how to bet, to where to sit, and access information, read this article and then test your luck on the racetrack the next time you're in Japan!
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*This article was written in collaboration with Oi Racecourse in Tokyo.
Is Gambling Legal in Japan?
On paper, Japan opposes gambling on the grounds that it goes against public order and morality. However, certain forms of gambling that contribute money to the national government or local municipalities are permitted. These include the government-controlled gambling sports of horse racing, boat racing, keirin bicycle racing, and motor racing, along with the public lottery system (toto, lotto, Takara-kuji lottery). Put simply, watching and betting on horses at a licensed racecourse is all perfectly legal.
Japanese Horse Racing Today
In Japan, horse racing is divided into “central” and “regional.” Central horse racing is overseen by the Japan Racing Association (JRA), which owns racecourses all over the country and organizes races on weekends and national holidays, but not at night. Regional horse races are organized by regional municipalities, and, unlike central, hold night races.
There are also several other differences, like racetrack type and required certifications of jockeys and trainers. However, if, like us, you just want to try it out for a bit of fun, you can enjoy Japanese horse racing without worrying too much about the details either way.
To the Oi Racecourse!
The Oi Racecourse, also known as Tokyo City Keiba (TCK), is located in Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward. Easily accessible and holding races all day until dark, we figured the Oi Racecourse would be the best entrypoint into this exciting yet murky world.
How to Get to Oi Racecourse
• Tokyo Monorail: Get off at Oikeibajo-Mae Station and walk straight for about 2 minutes. This will take you to the Oi Racecourse North Gate. Keep going until you arrive at a large crossing, then go left until you reach the Main Entrance.
• Keikyu Main Line: 12-minute walk from Tachiaigawa Station to the Oi Racecourse Main Entrance.
By Free Shuttle Bus:
• Oimachi Station ⇔ TCK (Tokyu Bus): Departs from JR Oimachi Station, east side of the Central Ticket Gates, Bus Stop #7
*The best way to view horse races here is from reserved seats, which can be purchased at the Main Entrance or the G-FRONT reserved seat ticket counter.
Oi Racecourse Entrance Fee
Oi Racecourse costs 100 yen to enter, and is free for children under 15 years old. Those with reserved seat tickets don’t have to pay the entrance fee.
*People under 20 are not permitted inside Oi Racecourse alone.
Map provided by Tokyo City Keiba Facility Map:
2. Service Counter
3. Umatase! Bronze Statue
4. Haiseiko Horse Statue
5. Big Screens Showing Real Time Races
6. Twinkle Stage
7. Winners Podium
The Oi Racecourse Course
Oi Racecourse has a flat dirt course where horses run clockwise. However, horses will also run counterclockwise during the last race of each event. Here are all the races held at Oi Racecourse:
- Inner: 1,500 m, 1,600 m
- Outer: 1,000 m, 1,200 m, 1,400 m, 1,700 m, 1,800 m, 2,000 m, 2,400 m, 2,600 m
- Outer: 1,650 m
How to Bet on Japanese Horse Races
If you’re completely new to betting on horses like me, then you might start feeling lost at this point. For some direction, head to the betting ticket counter and check out the monitors, which display the most popular horses in descending order to help punters bet. Or, go to the paddock and view the upcoming horses with your very own eyes, paying attention to their condition, mood, and gait. Many punters, both professional and amatuer alike, gather here to judge the horses and determine their positions before the race. You may even see one led by a stable hand up close - they’re so adorable!
However, being a total novice, even looking at the animals didn’t tell me much. They were all well-groomed, muscular, and raring to go. In the end, I bet on the horse that looked the nicest, and another with a cute name (lol). Our Japanese guide told us that some also bet on horses with their birthday numbers, or numbers they think are lucky. But if it’s your first time at the track, it’s best to prioritize having fun and not worrying too much about winning or losing, so just do whatever suits you best!
Types of Horse Racing Bets in Japan
Once you’ve picked your horse, you’ll need to acquire and fill in a betting card at the ticket counter. There are four types of card, and we used the navy blue-colored card in the top left in the picture above. With this card, you can buy all nine types of betting tickets: Win, Place, Bracket Quinella, Quinella, Quinella Place, Bracket Exacta, Exacta, Trio, and Trifecta. Here are the ones we recommend for beginners:
Win: You bet that your horse finishes first.
Place: You bet that your horse finishes in the top three. (However, if there are fewer than seven horses in the race, your horse must finish in the top two to win).
Quinella: You bet on two horses to finish in the top two. It doesn’t matter which finishes first or second.
Exacta: You bet on two horses to finish in the top two. You only win if the horses finish in the order you specified.
How to Fill Out a Betting Card
1. In the Location (場名) section, fill in the spot under Oi (大井)
2. In the Race Number (レース番号) section, write the number of the race you want to bet in. Be very careful not to make a mistake here.
3. The Type (式別) section is for the type of bet. Only one wager is allowed on each side of a single card. If you want to make two bets, use the other side of the card or get another card.
4. In the First (1着・1頭目) section, fill in the number of the horse you think will come first. Each row is for one prediction, and you can make up to four predictions on one side of a navy-blue card.
5. The Amount (金額) and Denomination (単位) sections are for entering the sum you wish to bet. The smallest amount possible is 100 yen. So, if you want to bet 100 yen, fill in the “1” spot under Amount and “百円” (100 yen) under Denomination.
For example, if you want to bet 100 yen each on horses #2 and #11 to “Win” in the 11th race at the Oi Racecourse, this is how your card should appear:
After filling out the betting card, go to the ticket machine to insert your money and the betting card. Once you’ve confirmed that the information is correct, the machine will issue you a betting ticket. Even if you win, you won’t be able to claim your money without this ticket, so guard it carefully!
The more complex the bet (like a trifecta, where you have to predict which horses come in first, second, and third), the more money you can win. Naturally, the easier the bet, the less you’ll win. Just looking to have some fun, I opted for Win and Place bets, which I would recommend for beginners. Winning, no matter what little money, is so much fun!
Race Watching Areas at the Oi Racecourse
In addition to general outdoor seating that can be used without an additional fee, Oi Racecourse has three buildings with indoor seats: G-FRONT (building on the left), L-WING (building on the right), and Grandstand No. 4 (*Sales suspended except for the Diamond Turn).
All indoor seats are reserved and require an additional fee. They must be booked online or purchased early on the event day at the reserved seat counter. Prices range from 1,000 yen to 6,000 yen, which will get you an indoor seat with a monitor (some are shared with the person next to you), allowing you to fritter away the day comfortably and relaxed. Prime Boxes and Prime Rooms are also available at even higher prices for those that want a private setting.
While indoor seats are comfy and protected from the elements, outdoor public seating offers the excitement of experiencing the race up close alongside the fever of the crowd. There are lots of passionate punters and horse-lovers all around, some with telephoto lenses taking professional photos. Even if you don't bet, the racetrack atmosphere is a fantastic experience in itself.
Despite this, the weather was a little unpredictable on the day we went to the Oi Racecourse, so we decided to grab indoor seats. Unfortunately, the main race of the day was the big-prize “Kuroshio-hai” that drew in a lot of spectators, so reserved seats were almost sold out before the doors opened.
Luckily, we managed to get the last remaining “G-FRONT Prime Seats” (3,000 yen/person), which are on the third floor and offer a stunning panoramic view of the course. Each Prime Seat has a personal ticket terminal for cashless betting, and you can watch the race both on the screen or the actual racecourse. You can also check the records of each horse, and place bets from the comfort of your seat without having to fill out a betting card.
However, the system is only available in Japanese, so if you don’t know the language, you likely won’t be able to fully enjoy these seats. We suggest either the Star Seat on the 3rd floor of the L-WING or the Sky Seat on the 4th floor, both offering fantastic views of the finish line.
You Won! How to Collect Your Winnings
I bet 100 yen each on horses #2 and #8 to “Place” in the 3rd race, and horse #8 came in second! Once the information that I had won appeared on the screen, I went to the ticket machine and inserted my betting ticket into the “winning” (的中券入口) slot. The machine automatically calculated my winnings, and once I pressed “payout” (精算), it paid out 150 yen!
*A winning ticket is valid for up to 60 days.
Here is a record of my winnings: I bet a total of nine times and spent 900 yen. Five of my bets were successful and amounted to 1,280 yen in winnings. Not exactly a windfall, but at least I enjoyed myself and, in the end, I didn't lose any money. I’d call that a success!
Don’t Miss the Great Food at the Oi Racecourse
While the Oi Racecourse doesn’t allow outside food and beverages, don't worry! There are plenty of restaurants offering all kinds of classic Japanese dishes like karaage fried chicken, kushiyaki skewers, takoyaki, curry rice, udon noodles, and even shaved ice and sweets. We went with the gourmet hot dog and a “kaisendon” seafood rice bowl, which we relished from the comfort of our reserved seats while watching the races.
To be honest, before venturing to the Oi Racecourse, my lack of knowledge and experience made me anxious. However, my fears were totally unfounded! The racetrack and facilities were clean and well-maintained, the rules were easy to understand, and the crowd were friendly. Loud cheers are discouraged due to COVID-19, but we could still catch the stifled sounds of excitement from those around us when they won, and soft sighs when they lost - it was a truly special experience! As long as you don’t get carried away with gambling and only spend what you can afford, then you’re guaranteed lots of fun at Japanese horse races - all while enjoying a deeper Japan hidden from most tourists!
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.