Tokyo residents urged to exercise ahead of Olympics

The Olympic flag (left) and the logo of the Tokyo 2020 are displayed during the official flag arrival ceremony at the Tokyo's Haneda airport on Aug 24, 2016.
The Olympic flag (left) and the logo of the Tokyo 2020 are displayed during the official flag arrival ceremony at the Tokyo's Haneda airport on Aug 24, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

Mr Masakazu Kouda practised the Japanese martial art of kendo in university, but stopped doing sports after he started working.

"There was just no time. I wake up, go to work and end up sitting at my desk all day until I go home in the evening," the 38-year-old said, pointing to his slight paunch in jest.

But the Web marketer has been spurred to resume regular sports after he joined Japanese digital media solutions firm ZIGExN last year. The company has schemes such as paid fitness hours twice a month and a "diet alliance" where participants can share dietary and exercising tips.

"Being active has helped me feel much more refreshed, and I am now able to concentrate better at work," he told The Straits Times.

Mr Kouda is a success story of a sedentary office worker who has picked up a sporting activity at least once a week - and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG) hopes to convert more of them by 2020.

Tokyo will host the Olympics and Paralympics that year and to fly the Olympic flag high, the TMG has set a target of having at least 70 per cent of its 13.6 million residents exercise at least once a week by then.

Surveys periodically conducted by the Sports Promotion Division under the TMG's Olympic preparation bureau also indicate that Tokyoites are becoming more active. In the latest survey in 2014, 60.5 per cent said they exercise at least once a week - up from 39.2 per cent in 2007.

In comparison, 62 per cent of Singaporeans exercise at least once a week, latest figures from 2014 show. This is a rise from 46 per cent in 2007, but a dip from the 65 per cent recorded in 2012.

Tokyo's figures, however, belie a "difficult problem" in convincing those in their 20s and 30s to set aside time to exercise.

While 75.1 per cent of those above 70 exercise at least once a week, only 43.2 per cent of those in their 20s and 46.7 per cent of 30-somethings do so.

Ms Akiko Komuro, senior director of the Sports Promotion Division, told The Straits Times: "This is a generation that is busy with their careers or other commitments like raising a family, and so have not formed the habit to do sports."

To reach out to them, the division last year launched an annual initiative to promote a robust sports culture at firms and certify those that have one as a Tokyo Sports Promotion Company.

ZIGExN, which has medicine balls in place of chairs in its meeting rooms and holds activities such as futsal, survival games and yoga for its staff, was one of the 13 companies lauded last year. Another 89 were given honourable mentions.

ZIGExN human resource executive Miki Sasayama, 26, and engineer Naoyuki Ohata, 28, both see sports as an excellent way to foster stronger ties among friends and colleagues outside of work. Ms Sasayama said: "There is no excuse not to exercise if friends form the regular habit of doing sports together."

This is one reason why the Sports Promotion Division now organises at least 20 events a year - up from just eight in 2007 - to give Tokyoites more opportunities to take part in sports. These include the Tokyo Marathon, which was established in 2007 and now draws about 36,000 participants yearly, and the Tokyo Walk, which is held five times a year. It is also looking into more ways to bring sports to the people, such as making facilities more accessible.

Said Ms Komuro: "It is very important to try to cultivate (sport) among people.

"With this comes a more positive and fulfilling lifestyle."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 04, 2016, with the headline 'Tokyo residents urged to exercise ahead of Olympics'. Print Edition | Subscribe