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Sunday, June 10, 2007
SPREADING THE 'EARLY-BIRD' WORD
In praise of morning's glory
By YOKO HANI
Hima Furuta sits across the table from me in a cafe in the Marunouchi business district of central Tokyo. It's only 10 a.m., and although he looks fresh and full of life, he's almost finished his main work for the day.
That recent morning, as usual, Furuta had got up at 4, and by 6 he was already working in the Chiyoda Ward venues for an "Asa Expo (Morning Expo)" event running there.
Furuta, 31, was one of the organizers of "Asa Expo," which ran from May 21 to June 1 and centered on a wide range of workshops, including classical, gospel and traditional Japanese music, talks on such themes as "morning and the brain" and "breakfast and beauty" and classes in yoga and walking.
The keyword here was obviously "morning" — with all the events taking place from 7:30 to 8:30, the golden time for Marunouchi office types before they become snowed under by their unrelenting daily workloads.
Furuta is one of the people who came up with the idea for the Expo — and he's well known among colleagues as a "morning maestro."
"I've always been a morning type of person," said Furuta, who not only runs a branding-strategy consultancy for companies and municipalities, but also wears another hat as an artist who plays piano and composes music.
"I can work far more efficiently in the morning. I like to compose music and to be able to think in the morning hours when nobody interrupts me. Normally I get up at 4 and work till around 9."
Freely referring to himself as a "morning master," Furuta explained that his love of the dawn hours "deepened a few years ago in Yatsugatake."
In autumn in 2005, he said, he held a concert high up there in Nagano Prefecture, and when he got up early one morning and went out in the fresh air, he just felt it was "so, so good!"
"Everybody there agreed that the morning in Yatsugatake is special, and is one of the most beautiful mornings in Japan. So I started thinking about promoting the area centered on the concept of 'morning.' "
Furuta's other job — as a consultant — fitted well with this. Also, the communities around Yatsugatake were keen to find something new to keep attracting holidaymakers, skiers and hikers and revitalize their rural area.
"Often, countryside towns and villages try to stimulate their economy and tourism by promoting local products such as, well, peaches, chestnuts or fish. But the project members and I had the idea to promote Yatsugatake in a different way — as the place where you can experience 'Japan's No.1 morning.' "
From that acorn of a notion, a whole forest of initiatives stemmed, such as morning concerts, morning exercise sessions and morning lectures. Then they added services such as nice breakfasts of freshly baked bread, fresh local vegetables and dairy products to reward early-risers after their exertions.
From all this there emerged the idea of "morning maestros" — people who love the early morning, of course, and could be instructors for an ever-expanding range of activities. These may include yoga or dance experts, cooks and musicians like Furuta. In fact anybody can be a maestro by simply attending a two-day seminar in Yatsugatake, and demonstrating what they can contribute to "Japan's No.1 morning."
Since the project was launched last year in Yatsugatake, about 10 people have become "morning maestros" after taking the seminar, Furuta said.
Not content with celebrating the lovely early mornings in the mountains, though, Furuta next brought his project right into the heart of Tokyo.
"About 240,000 people come to the Marunouchi area for work every morning," he explained. "Many of them may have an unpleasant start to the day on crowded commuter trains, and I wanted to change their morning lives by offering something interesting and fun near their places of work. If they get up early and take earlier trains to make the events, they may feel less stressed. And if they have something fun and useful in the morning, they may be able to start the day with a happy feeling."
In fact, the contents of the program of "Morning Expo" — yoga, lectures and concerts — are nothing new except that they are held before working hours, he said.
"People say they know about 'the early bird catches the worm,' and it is refreshing to have morning activities. But it is not easy to actually enjoy the morning by getting up early if you don't have some motivation, something fun in prospect. This Expo aims to offer a peg for them to start enjoying the morning hours."
Clearly Furuta is tapping into a demand, because according to the organizers a total of about 2,000 people attended events staged during the 11-day "Asa Expo" — a response he believes may be the beginning of a whole change of lifestyle and their work-life balance for many deskbound office workers in Marunouchi.
"If they develop a morning lifestyle and take earlier trains, they may be able to concentrate on work better when they have more energy, which should work positively in the office," Furuta said. "And if they can work efficiently, they can finish the day's work early to enjoy the time after work — such as by hanging around with friends.
"Also, if you go to bed a bit earlier to get up early the next morning, you can contribute to reducing energy consumption at night. We are not saying that morning life should be promoted for environmental reasons, but as a result we can contribute ecologically as well. And that's nice, isn't it?"
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