National

Japan Inc. taking steps to get workers to sit less

Kyodo

More and more Japanese companies are taking aim at sedentary working patterns, amid rising awareness of the health benefits of standing up and stretching.

At the headquarters of e-commerce giant Rakuten Inc. in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward, employees have desks that allow them to work either standing or sitting. The desks can be adjusted for height.

Rakuten introduced the desks when it moved its headquarters from Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward to suburban Setagaya Ward in 2015.

This was partly to take account of Rakuten’s growing number of non-Japanese employees, for whom standard desks were a little on the low side.

Engineers are among those who often opt to work standing up at Rakuten. Other employees also appreciate the benefits of working on their feet when they want to, saying it improves communication and stimulates new ideas and fresh perspectives.

Electric cable maker Fujikura Ltd. has installed exercise bars at the office so workers can literally hang out when they want to.

“When we get stuck in a business meeting, we say, ‘Let’s have a stretch,’ ” an employee in the personnel section said.

Workers seem to like the mini-workouts.

“It feels good when I hang from the bar, and it changes things,” said a 25-year-old female worker.

Since 2009, the Tokyo-based company has taken a range of steps to promote the health of its workers, including issuing pedometers. Such initiatives are paying off, as the number of workers diagnosed with metabolic syndrome has decreased.

NTT Software Corp., an affiliate of Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp., renovated its office and removed a number of dividing walls, creating a 110-meter-long aisle through the main work area.

The company says this encourages employees to walk around and talk to their colleagues as they can easily see where they are.

One worker said: “Walking has become a habit and I’ve come to exercise more on my days off.”

Furniture maker Itoki Corp. believes that behind the trend away from sitting for long periods is the recognition that however comfortable the chair, people still suffer if they sit for too long.

“Even if we improve the design of chairs, we still can’t reduce the number of people complaining of stiff shoulders or backache,” an Itoki official said.

Now Itoki is proposing what it calls “workcise,” in which workers are urged to stretch while at the office to promote their health.

Koichiro Oka, professor of health behavior science at Waseda University, warns against sitting for extended periods at the office computer.

“If you think it is all right not to move much on weekdays because you exercise at the weekend, you’d be wrong,” he said. “A lack of exercise during the week can lead to such health problems as heart disease and diabetes.”

The government is playing its part in promoting health awareness among businesses. In January, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and Tokyo Stock Exchange Inc. picked 25 listed companies as their “health and productivity selection” for 2016, honoring efforts they made to improve worker health from a strategic business management point of view.

Among them were convenience store operator Lawson Inc., cosmetics manufacturer Kao Corp., tire giant Bridgestone Corp. and Japan Airlines Co.