Marunouchi is the district located right next to Tokyo Station where you will see a lot of business people in suits and ties on weekdays.
But on this particular day, workers got out from behind their desks and changed into T-shirts, shorts and sneakers to turn the normally buttoned-down area into an unlikely locale for athletics.
On Friday evening, they formed 10-man teams and competed in the first-ever Square Mile Relay Tokyo.
In the amateur fun relay race, 55 participating teams took part, with each runner running a mile — 1.6 km — before comparing the overall times at the specially installed circuit course in the Naka-Dori streets.
After the inaugural event at Guildhall Yard in London in 2007, the Square Mile Relay has expanded to other financial districts around the world, such as New York, Dubai, Hong Kong, and Sydney. Tokyo is the eighth city to host it.
The Tokyo edition was held on “Premium Friday” — a campaign for workers to leave the workplace early on the last Friday of each month, which has been encouraged by the government and business organizations starting this year.
Premium Friday is essentially meant to encourage spending, but Daichi Suzuki, the commissioner of the Japan Sports Agency, an external bureau of the education ministry, insisted that people can also take advantage of the few extra hours by saving some time for athletic activities.
“The number of those who are in their 20s, 30s and 40s who play sports is low,” said Suzuki, who participated as a guest runner. “But if there are events like this around the nation, it could encourage more employees to take part in sports activities.”
Some of the participants looked like serious joggers, yet most were genuinely enjoying the rare opportunity to run through streets of the business district while being cheered on by their colleagues.
“Everything was pretty well-organized, so it’s a good race,” said MasterCard employee Christopher Tang, from Singapore. “We are happy to join (the race) again.”
Eri Oki, of the Shizuoka City government, joked that she went too fast from the beginning and ran out of gas toward the end, but that she still wanted to come back for another race.
“You can even have some interaction with people from outside your group, and I thought that it’s a really great event,” said Oki, adding that she began running this year.
Oki’s co-worker, Nanami Suzuki, said that she participates in marathon races often, but running in a team competition this time, she was “inspired to do even better” than running on her own.
“There was a lot of cheering from the side of the course, and I had so much fun,” Suzuki said.
Dai Matsumoto, of Adidas Japan, said he and his teammates decided to take it easy during the competition, but that they ran with a lot more energy than they expected once they actually hit the streets.
“I thought it was a great event, where so many different companies assembled and got excited through running,” said Matsumoto, whose team captured first place in the mixed competition.
There was a post-race party with complementary food and drinks for the participants, and they were able to enjoy networking opportunities as well.
Matsumoto added that he thinks it’s a good idea to use the time generated through the Premium Friday campaign for sports.
“You try to shorten your work time in order to leave the office early, and play some sports like this to get into your Friday night,” he said. “It’ll get you into your weekend more comfortably.”
James Hassett, executive director of Square Mile Sport, thinks that the event in Tokyo was “a huge success.”
“We had an amazing amount of companies, having them in Marunouchi, in this business district, and created a really fun and exciting event, which is promoting teamwork and team building and a really healthy lifestyle. That’s what we try to do,” Hassett said. “I think it was very successful.”
San Francisco will host the next Square Mile Relay competition on Aug. 3.