National

Comfort for the sole: More salarymen opting to wear sneakers on the job

Kyodo

More Japanese are wearing sneakers to work as companies look to improve the health of their employees.

In a country where rigid dress codes often place an emphasis on conformity, the sneaker trend can be seen as a breath of fresh air.

Numerous kinds of sneakers are hitting the shelves in the men’s section of shoe stores these days, with shoemakers focusing on the development of sneakers that go well with suits to take advantage of the opportunities presented by shifting business norms.

Since the fall of 2016, Tokyu Corp. has allowed about 1,000 employees at its head office in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward to wear sneakers at work, as part of its “healthy management” initiative.

Nearly half of the employees at the railway operator say they are walking more as a result of the decision, including 80 percent of employees age 35 or younger. The hope is that people who get up earlier and walk more — cutting down on the time they spend on trains — will transform themselves into “early birds” and improve their productivity at work.

“(Sneakers) are very comfortable and less tiring,” said a 30-year-old employee.

He walks 15 minutes to work about three times a week in his sneakers. Since his duties require him to go out in search of real estate properties, he walks about 7 km per day.

The Japan Sports Agency has been promoting sneakers for daily commutes and a number of other major companies have also been encouraging their employees to wear sneakers during their commute and to walk more to promote healthy exercise.

Taking a cue from the Cool Biz campaign that promotes a more casual summer dress code, the trend is also catching on with retailers.

The Shinjuku Ward outlet of department store operator Takashimaya Co. has recently expanded its men’s shoes section and increased the variety of sneakers on display.

Sales of sneakers account for 15 percent of all shoe sales in the men’s section, a twofold increase from last November when the store increased the size of its sneaker section.

Most of the customers who bought sneakers were in their 40s and 50s, with the best-selling items priced from around ¥20,000 to ¥25,000, according to the store. Some customers come to buy dress shoes but end up purchasing sneakers on the recommendation of family members, a store employee said.

Comfortable sports shoes are also popular, according to the store.

For people focusing on coordinating such footwear with their suits, the store recommends rubber-soled sneaker styles that resemble dress shoes.