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Staff writer Chest out, stomach in! Forget that chic Private Label suit, the 20-cm platform boots, cowgirl hat or bleached hair. If you want to truly express yourself, take pride in how you regulate your gait. That was the message sent out at the ’99 International Walking Contest held last Sunday at the Hakubi Culture Center in Tokyo’s Otsuka district, where participants pilloried problematic postures and plodding pins. “No matter how cool your brand name clothes are or how much makeup you slap on your face, if your posture and walking style are bad, that’s totally uncool,” said Toru Endo of Hakubi Walking Academy, organizer of the contest and one of several Tokyo institutions offering specialist walking courses. Since its inauguration three years ago, around 800 women have participated in the Education Ministry-backed contest, each vying for the title of international “Walking Queen” and a 200,000 yen cash prize. Not bad for taking a stroll across a stage, you might think, but the 110 participants in this year’s contest were certainly no hams. One participant in her 20s admitted footing a bill of some 500,000 yen this year just to satisfy her preoccupation with posture perfection. “Maybe that will be thought excessive, but some people spend double that going to beauty salons,” she said. “Correct walking not only has health benefits but is something I can take with me throughout my life.” Research has long proved the health pluses of proper walking and posture, such as more effective functioning of internal organs and improved circulation, Endo said, adding awareness of this by Japanese is woefully low. “Young Japanese are terrible. They have no idea if they’re walking correctly or not,” he said. “They’re lazy and simply choose the most comfortable posture when they walk.” Participant Kayoko Kawakami, formerly a flight attendant, questioned young Japanese women’s obsession with “high boots,” which, Endo said, can cause a deformation of the legs due to wearers’ constant fight to maintain equilibrium at high altitude. “They wear these boots at a time when their bodies are at the most important stages of development,” she said. “I hate to think of the consequences when they reach their 30s and 40s.” Participant Gao Xiuhua said that whereas such fashions are also evident in her home country, China, people are more aware of the importance of correct walking. “We’re taught from an early age, and pay attention to the way we walk until adulthood,” said Gao, a member of a traditional dance troupe. This year’s Walking Queen was 24-year-old Yukimi Yoshino, who works for a Ginza-based boutique and admits her awareness came only recently. “I have always had to worry about clothing for work, but since I started walking classes, I have realized not only the health benefits but also the image enhancement that comes with walking with style.”

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