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Companies encourage staff to commute in sneakers

TOKYO >> A growing number of companies in Japan are encouraging their employees to wear sneakers during their commute, as part of efforts to address their lack of physical exercise.

Some offices have put up maps indicating the approximate walking distances to nearby stations, while others are holding competitions among their employees for the number of steps they walk. The government is also supporting so-called sneaker commuting as an effort that is easy to participate in.

In January, Tokyo-based Asahi Soft Drinks Co. started allowing its employees to come to their offices in sneakers.

Mariko Inomata, 27, who works in the sales department, used to take the bus, but now she walks between her home in Tokyo and the office, wearing sneakers for the 25-minute trip each way.

“I walk while listening to music, which makes me feel great. And I can start my job with energy,” Inomata said.

The company has a map at the office indicating walking distances and the time it takes to get to nearby stations, calling for employees to get off one station earlier and walk the extra way.

Asahi Soft Drinks started distributing a pedometer app on employees’ smartphones in March.

It has also embarked on a program through which employees receive points for the number of steps they take and exchange the points for prizes.

According to the Japan Sports Agency, 51.5 percent of adults played sports at least once a week in 2017. Fifty percent of people in their 20s exercise at least once a week, while people in their 30s, 40s and 50s were in the 40 percent range.

At least 80 percent of people aged from 20 to 59 said they felt their exercise was very insufficient or somewhat insufficient.

For that reason, the agency embarked on the “Fun Plus Walk Project” in March in an effort to increase the amount people walk, asking participants to “take 1,000 more steps each day than usual.”

Since 2016, the Tokyo-based Tokyu Corp. has recommended that its employees don sneakers while commuting, under its “Walk Biz” project.

The company’s departments compete for the highest average number of steps taken, monitored by a smartphone app.

Participants averaged about 8,500 steps per day, according to the firm.

“Sometimes I have to wear leather shoes when I meet with customers. If sneaker commuting gains recognition, more people may accept wearing sneakers as one of the working style like ‘cool biz,’” said Takeshi Komatsubara, 31, a Tokyu employee in charge of the project.

Ryoko Mori, a lecturer with the Japan Service Manner Association, which provides education on business etiquette, said wearing sneakers helps maintain employees’ health, but it is not common to don sneakers in business settings.

”It’s essential to consider wearing suitable shoes when having a business talk with customers. … I suggest you wear sneakers while commuting or working in the office,” Mori said.

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