FUKUSHIMA – A group in a small Fukushima Prefecture town is doing its best to rebrand a tiresome winter chore into a fun and healthy outdoor activity.
In the town of Nishiaizu, where about half of the 6,000 residents are 65 or older, snow shoveling is being promoted as an enjoyable way for young people to burn off calories and lend a helping hand to the elderly.
While removing snow from roofs and streets is commonly seen as hard labor, the group based out of the snowy town is encouraging people to see it in a positive light and enjoy its benefits through a workout called “Joce-Xercise” — a combination of josetsu (snow removal) and “exercise.”
“I wanted to change the negative perception that snowy regions are just full of inconveniences,” said Takayuki Suzuki, 40, who works for the town of Bandai but was loaned out to Nishiaizu for two years up to March 2015.
Suzuki founded the Japan Joce-Xercise Association in 2015 with local officials and business representatives to promote snow shoveling among young volunteers in mountainous Nishiaizu, which borders Niigata Prefecture.
So far, about 400 people have taken part in the program, according to the association.
The association focuses on the elements of the workout, advising people to take their time, warm up beforehand and cool down afterward. It also stresses the positives of shoveling snow, including health benefits and as a way to help others.
It also gives tips on how to shovel snow without getting injured. The association advises people to remove snow little by little and to seek the help of others when possible.
The association has been expanding its activities and now provides a smartphone app that tells users how many calories they have burned while shoveling.
Branches of the organization have also been set up in other snowy areas — Iwate Prefecture in 2018 and Niigata Prefecture earlier this year.
“We hope to expand our networks further and attract people to not only Nishiaizu but to all snowy regions,” Suzuki said.