It is a scientifically proven fact that regular exercise improves your immune system, stimulates the formation of new brain cells, reduces the likelihood of depression, conditions your heart and circulatory system, and endows you with general strength and stamina. Recently scientific journals have even discussed the possibility that regular exercise may slow down the progression of aging and prevalence to cancer, by altering levels of certain hormones, including sex hormones, and growth factors which can feed tumors and infections.
So clearly exercise has a role to play in the health program of any dedicated career person.
Working in a Japanese office doesn’t really lend itself to doing regular exercise. Firstly you’ve got that long train commute which requires you to rise early and return late. For the average person, this is two hours out of their day. Then there are the “socializing commitments", which usually involves drinking, which could be twice a week or more: once with work colleagues, then again on the weekends with your friends. Even if you consciously try to limit your alcohol intake, it’s hard not to feel a bit below par the next day.
For most people in a big city, the best time to get exercise is right after work, when you have some discretionary time, usually at a gym located near the office. This means that you do not have to go home to get your gym bag first. By doing this, you have a chance of still feeling sufficiently energetic to do it and you don’t have the temptation of getting home, having a quick juice and snack, checking your email, catching the 9 o’clock TV news on the edge of the sofa… and hey, before you know it, it’s time for dinner and bed.
Luckily, Japanese cities are well serviced by gyms and they are very reasonably priced. Tipness is one of the better known fitness chains and has sites all over Japan. Joining costs between JPY 5,000 and JPY 14,000 per month depending on your usage plan. They’re this cheap because they count on most members being enthusiastic for a few months then getting lazy – but people keep subscribing because their conscience tells them they should be exercising. Interestingly, the economics of English schools work much the same way. If Tipness isn’t convenient, then try another national chain called Central. You can find both on the web.
Personally, I find gyms boring and instead I prefer to exercise in the early mornings in the park. I live relatively close to Yoyogi Park (near Shibuya) and I get there by bicycle around 06:45-07:00am, when the only traffic is old people walking their dogs. I do stretches for about 45 minutes then jog around the perimeter a couple of times. It’s a great one hour-plus workout and I get to know the other regulars yet see enough scenery to make things interesting.
Everyone’s body is different, so the exercises that work for you may put someone else’s back out, especially if you’re in a sedentary (desk-bound) job! If this is the case, then lots of stretches and aerobics are probably more productive than strenuous work-outs. The Japanese have a term for lower back muscle spasms that might occur after over-exercise when you’re not used to it, known as “Gikkurigoshi”. This can be so painful that you can’t walk and need pain killers and a session with an acupuncturist.
Since no work means no money, to prevent the likelihood of having such a spasm, it’s best to do some warming up first. Do low impact aerobic exercises, and make sure that you build up to your performance goals slowly, over a period of weeks. It’s best not to push yourself from the get go!
Several low-impact, high-results exercise methods which have become popular recently are Yoga and Pilates. Yoga is very popular with the women in our office, and a number of them go to classes 2-3 times a week. I’m told that yoga poses can be just as strenuous as traditional western-style work-outs and probably much better for your body overall. Pilates is what some would call a western-style Yoga (using machines or mat callisthenic-style stretches) that has become popular in Japan over the last 2-3 years. Because Pilates provides quicker body toning results, career-minded women have really taken to the concept and the number of people practicing it is rising dramatically.
There are of course a number of forms of exercise which are unique to Japan, and these are Judo, Kendo, and Aikido. I have a number of talented employees who found their way to Japan as a competitor or student one of these sports, and once they got here they loved the place so much they decided to stay.
Becoming expert in any of these sports requires tremendous dedication and a passion for a greater ideal. As such, I find that martial arts practitioners make great employees and are very focused in what they do. At the same time, managers have to be flexible enough to give them time off for practice at the Dojo (often daily) and at competitions. The good news is that many Japanese companies find the martial arts a worthy pursuit and are willing to let their staff members pursue excellence in their field.