Early-bird Activities More Popular in Japan amid Pandemic

The Yomiuri Shimbun
People take part in a morning stretching session in Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo. Many of the participants were attending the session before going to work.

The novel coronavirus pandemic has brought about drastic changes to modes of work in 2020, including an increase in such flexible working arrangements as staggered schedules and telecommuting.

Among the workers who have more time to themselves as a result, there has been growing interest in “asakatsu,” or morning activities.

“When I’m active in the morning, my head feels clearer and I can get more work done,” said office worker Nanako Aoyama of Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo.

Aoyama, 32 used to get up at 6 a.m. and make a bento boxed lunch before leaving home for work at around 8 a.m. But since she started telecommuting in April she has had more spare time in the morning, which she has been using to exercise and study English.

“I can secure time to do these things as I have no specific plans in the morning. I feel more relaxed now,” Aoyama said.

In a survey conducted by Seiko Holdings Corp. in spring, 46% of respondents said morning hours are important to make the most of their day, up 3 percentage points from the previous year. The percentage of people who said they do activities in the morning was 28%, up 2 percentage points from the previous year.

One morning in late October, seven people were taking part in a pre-work stretching session in Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo.

“Give your sides a firm stretch,” a trainer said, as the participants followed instructions on their yoga mats.

“It feels so good to do exercise in the morning,” said a 23-year-old woman working at a cafe in Nerima Ward, Tokyo.

In August, urban planning company Cocoon Labo Inc. and others began holding sessions in the park from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m before it opens. Reservations for such sessions as English practice and yoga can be made with a mobile app.

“Our programs are popular as there are fewer people in the morning, so participants can avoid being in crowded situations,” one of the organizers said.

Some remote workers have been spending their mornings doing activities online.

Courtesy of Zen Place
A live pilates class is held online.

Zen Place, which operates yoga and Pilates studios nationwide, began streaming morning lessons live from 6 a.m. in September.

“I feel sharp, even on days when I’m working from home,” said a university associate professor who participates in the early morning sessions once or twice a month.

The pandemic has also ushered in changes in the tourism industry, with more flexible operating hours offered to prevent crowded situations from occurring.

In November, the Kyoto Brighton Hotel launched a package that included exclusive trips to Kyoto sites popular for their autumn foliage, such as Anraku-ji and Hogon-in temples, before their official opening times.

“Cherry blossom viewing is another attraction in Kyoto. We’re thinking about holding similar morning events next spring while taking necessary measures to prevent infections,” a hotel employee said.

Chiba University professor Makoto Ichikawa, who is president of the Japanese Society for Time Studies, said: “As telecommuting means people don’t have to spend time commuting to work, more people can now use their morning hours effectively and live at their own pace.”

However, he warned against cutting sleep to do morning activities: “If you’re not a morning person, you don’t have to force yourself,” Ichikawa said. “With working arrangements becoming more flexible due to the pandemic, it will probably be easier to free up time [during the day] even on weekdays.”