Many running shoes use the expertise and designs of European and American brands, but that leaves out some of the greatest running shoe innovations.
Many Japanese running shoe brands have just as much in the way of effectiveness, durability, and style that experienced or professional runners can appreciate.
If you want a pair of running shoes with some features that you wouldn’t expect or just a level of precision that you might not find with other common American and European brands, you can always find international options.
This list includes some of the best Japanese running shoe brands to give you an idea of what Japanese footwear brands can provide for you.
ASICS official website
ASICS is perhaps one of the more well-known Japanese brands, as it has a huge amount of sales and presence in North America and Europe alongside the company’s home.
The brand is relatively new compared to many staple running shoe brands, essentially starting in 1949 to produce basketball shoes before moving into all kinds of outdoor fitness products under the ASICS name in 1977.
This name is an acronym for a Latin phrase, “Anima Sana In Corpore Sano”, which essentially means “a sound mind in a sound body”. Their research has always gone towards creating strong products to embody this ideology. They pride themselves on their massive research facilities that allow high-quality testing of all their products with their running shoes.
Some of the things you’ll find among various ASICS shoes include great shock absorption and Wet Grip Rubber outsoles, letting runners move cleanly in all kinds of rainy and rough environments. The designs focus on comfort, and the brand’s designs prevent overpronation and helping you maintain your balance on the move.
The prices for ASICS running shoes can vary, but products on their own site can range quite high from $150 to $220. If you want older models and slightly more budget options, though, you can find all sorts of standard ASICS shoes for well under $100.
Mizuno official website
The history of Mizuno starts significantly earlier than many other brands, being established in 1907 and originally specializing in baseball products ranging from clothing to catching mitts.
However, they quickly expanded into producing gear for all kinds of sports, from golf to soccer, and in 1983 they started using this knowledge of pro sports gear to make a line of RunBird shoes.
This venture started a more recent history where Mizuno also expanded into general running shoes featuring extremely lightweight outsoles and breathable materials. They use synthetic materials, but for the most part, are fairly breathable and effective in both slower jogging and high-intensity sprints.
The past two decades have seen the development of all sorts of unique designs. For example, the Infinity Wave structure uses a lighter mid-sole sponge to improve their cushioning and stability, making for surprisingly durable and long-lasting products with remarkably unique and flexible designs.
Mizuno running shoes are surprisingly affordable because the fully synthetic materials make them quite easy to produce. Top-tier products like the Mizuno Wave Rider or Mizuno Men’s Wave Inspire 7 Running Shoe can hit a pleasant range of around $80, though newer models and older models will often have higher and lower price points.
3. Onitsuka Tiger
Onitsuka Tiger official website
In a sense, Onitsuka Tiger isn’t separate from ASICS. Its origins come from the same company and founder, but from the merging of multiple sporting goods companies under the same name.
However, Onitsuka Tiger is still a brand within this larger company, and while it isn’t fully identical to general ASICS shoes, it still embodies many of the same traits.
These are primarily synthetic running shoes but can be used much less specifically as athletic running shoes and more as stylish casual shoes. They’re still as flexible and sturdy as before but with signature faux-leather and more creative visuals to help distinguish them, making them slightly less powerful and durable but still extremely lightweight and effective for casual runners.
One of the more interesting factors of its design is, thanks to the lightened focus on athletics, it has more accessible designs and sizes.
(Onitsuka Tiger Unisex Ultimate 81 – image onitsukatiger.com)
An example of this is the Onitsuka Tiger Unisex Ultimate 81, a casual running shoe that manages to fit men’s and women’s sizes. This trait is rare among more purpose-driven running shoe brands, and while it’s not as effective, it might be a better option if you’re not as interested in a traditional athletic running shoe.
Their stylish nature can make them relatively more expensive, hitting highs of $200, but more general unisex shoes like one mentioned earlier can often land under $100, making them fairly solid choices if you want something a little less typical from the average high-tier running shoe.
4. Is One Running Shoe Brand Better than the Others?
Generally speaking, it’s hard to argue that any of these three brands are superior to each other. Japan has a quite limited number of competitors in the athletic running shoe market, so there are extremely few Japanese running shoe brands doing fully unique things.
Since the brands listed above often partner with American brands like Nike, you’ll rarely find shoes that are athletic rather than stylish from smaller and independent sellers.
However, it could most easily be said that ASICS is the strongest brand, being both the largest name and highest focus on athletics.
There are certainly some athletic, stylish, and comfortable traits of the other two brands, but if you want a Japanese running shoe brand that will support you in more competitive and challenging runs, you’re going to want ASICS to make sure you have just as much strength as you have style.