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Sunday, June 10, 2007

EARLY RISING

Here comes the sun . . .


Staff writer

Some may shudder at the very thought of it, but more and more people are flinging off their duvets with glee and bounding into action-packed days that start when even larks are still lounging in their nests

The peaceful, wee small hours of the morning might appeal to those wistfully, romantically or energetically inclined, but they are also eyed by business types as a vacuum crying out to be cashed in on.

News photo
News photo
Stretching and controlling their breathing in a sitting pose (top and above), models demonstrate yoga at a Tipness health club studio in central Tokyo, where yoga is one of the most popular lessons working women take before heading to the office. The lively early morning scene in the Marunouchi Cafe (below), one of the venues for "Morning Expo" held between May 21 and June 1, where yoga lessons and lectures on having proper breakfasts were held from 7.30 a.m. — and free coffee and rice balls were offered from 7 a.m. PHOTOS COURTESY OF TIPNESS CO.; YUMI WIJERS-HASEGAWA PHOTO
News photo

Accordingly, between May 21 and June 1, the central Tokyo district of Marunouchi was host to a major event promoting the benefits of rising early and making use of that time of day before the city's hum builds into a roar and its streets start heaving with people and vehicles.

Called "Asa Expo (Morning Expo)," the event staged from 7:30 at four different venues in Chiyoda Ward featured lessons in yoga, gospel singing, feng shui, walking properly and even how to make good herb tea — as well as lectures on the likes of good morning habits and the benefits of having a proper breakfast. To add to the appeal of the event, which ended at 8:30 every day, free rice balls were also offered to fuel participants as they left to join the workday fray.

Organizers said that, like a similar event held in Marunouchi last year, this year's Expo was a great success, with all venues filling up each morning.

"It's hard to explain in words how the early bird catches the worm. But by giving people the opportunity to actually do things, many were amazed to see there was so much 'hidden' time they could use in the morning," said Miho Otaki, PR director of Spice Communications Co., which helped run the event.

Takuya Hiura of the Fancl Group, who was there to promote hatsuga genmai — germinated brown rice with enhanced nutritional value — said that during the event, he also broke the habit of a lifetime by getting up at 5 a.m. every day to commute to Marunouchi.

"I can't get over the fact that after doing so much work here," he said, "it's still 10 a.m. — it's a great feeling." He added, however, that the drawback is that by 3 p.m. he already feels like going out for a drink — despite the fact that his company is hoping to see the market for this rice double from 10 billion yen to 20 billion yen a year in the next three years by promoting their product as a breakfast food.

Similarly perked up by the earliness of the hour, Keisuke Ogata from the marketing division of coffee distributor UCC, said he was there to make people enjoy the "margin of life" — like taking the time to enjoy brewing coffee. That, of course, would promote his company's sales.

"Brewing coffee is an extremely interesting process, as when it is done by the father, grandfather or other people, it tastes completely different," Ogata said.

"We want people to recognize such wonder and enjoy it as quality time. Taking the time to do something that people like creates extra creative energy."

Without an Expo like the one in Marunouchi, though, many people are already carrying out extra morning activities, often helping companies do business.

At health club chain Tipness Co., there are plenty of people taking early-morning lessons.

"Because of the demand, we have lessons that start at 7.15 a.m. at all our branches in major city centers," said Shinichi Kato of Tipness press section. He said that the 7.15 yoga, in particular — which some instructors dub as "moving meditation" — is very popular, especially with working women, along with a pilates lesson that starts at 7.45.

From the physical to the cerebral, early morning students are apparently also on the rise at the nationwide GEOS language-school chain.

Senior GEOS manager Paul Braganza said early morning students at his school have one typical and interesting trait — those who put on their learning caps at 7 a.m., mostly businessmen and women, are more enthusiastic than those at other times of the day.

"As opposed to many evening students who are encouraged to take lessons to pass a test in order to get a promotion, morning students actively want to use the language," he said.

"It takes a seriously motivated person to wake up at the crack of dawn to head out to a lesson with their eyes half open. . . . Morning lesson students are more enthusiastic by nature."

Waxing a tad sociological, he added: "Japan's workforce is accustomed to overtime, drinking parties, and various other activities that can ruin a schedule. So I think morning lesson students, who are predominantly organized and thoughtful individuals, find it easier to chalk a morning lesson into their daily routine than an evening lesson."

Meanwhile, television and radio programmers are also becoming well attuned to early risers.

Satoru Okouchi, a board member and head of production at Japan FM Network, which produces and delivers radio programs to 38 stations in Japan, said there has been a move in the last few years for TV stations to move their early morning news shows forward.

"The types of programs that used to start at 5 a.m. now begin as early as 4. All stations are competing to start their programs as early as possible," he said.

According to Okouchi, this owes a lot to the recent health boom, with morning people believed not only to be healthier, but also more efficient, with go-getters competing about how much work they have accomplished before 10 a.m.

Though slightly later than TV, the airtime of radio programs have also recently been front loaded, Okouchi said — some to as early as 3 a.m.

In April, for example, JFN launched "Day Break," which starts at 3 from Monday and Thursday; while J-Wave, another FM station now airs "Still Shine" from 4. In fact, such very wee small hours have always been regarded as nighttime radio slots — the aural fare of truckers and students cramming for exams — but as Okouchi explained, their reclassification as "morning" programs is in part due to this helping to attract more sponsors as mornings have a fresh and clean image that companies like their products to reflect.

But another reason, Okouchi said, was that the "Day Break" program initially targeted baby boomers and retirees, whose mornings generally start earlier than younger peoples', and so featured veteran DJs playing a lot of Western popular music from the 1960s and '70s.

"But contrary to our expectations," he said, "many of our listeners are also young people in their teens and their 20s.

"So I want to keep playing these tunes that are like jewels that have been loved for years — to both the young and the older generations who have reached the 'day breaks' of their lives after retirement."

For related stories:
When and how you slumber is not as simple as it may seem
In praise of morning's glory

For related reader feedback:
A natural way to spend time



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