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New Japan, Old Japan / Old-time company sports days bring IT-era employees together

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Yellow team members enthusiastically cheer on runners during a relay race at Onward Holdings Co.’s sports day on Oct. 17 at Makuhari Messe in Chiba.

By Ryuzo Suzuki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior PhotographerCompany sports day events, once held at many Japanese businesses, became less common as economic stagnation, emphasis on corporate efficiency, and greater priority on private life took hold. However, some companies have recently revived such events in the belief they can deepen communication among employees, which has weakened amid growing reliance on information technology and fragmentation of duties.

Onward Holdings Co., whose corporate portfolio includes major apparel firm Onward Kashiyama Co., last year revived its sports day event after an 18-year hiatus. It held the event again on Oct. 17 this year at Makuhari Messe in Chiba. The company said it aims to energize and promote unity among its various group entities, while passing along the firm’s DNA and improving solidarity among employees.

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Blue team members give their all during a tug-of-war match.

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Red team members bobble a giant ball over their heads.

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Green team cheerleaders cheer on participants.

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Onward Holdings Co. sports day participants march in the opening ceremony.

About 2,000 staff working in the Kanto region and their families participated in the event, which brought together employees of all ages and job categories, including salespeople, designers and shop assistants. Participants separated into four teams — blue, red, yellow and green — and worked up a good sweat by competing in tug-of-war competitions, relay races and other contests.

Misaki Kokufu, a 25-year-old product planner at Onward Kashiyama, was a cheerleader for the green team. She participated in the event for the first time last year.

“It’s difficult to broaden your network after you start working. But I was able to connect with people in other divisions through preparing for the event, which was fun,” she said, expressing her hope to be part of the next sports day.

Onward Quality Center employee Yukari Sato, 45, is one of the employees who had participated in the group’s sports day events years ago.

“Not only can we deepen our communication, we can get to know new aspects of people we already know,” she said of the event’s meaning.

According to Cerespo Co., an event-planning firm based in Tokyo’s Toshima Ward that organizes sports days and other corporate events, 177 companies placed orders for sports day event support during fiscal 2016, a 20-percent increase over the previous year. The firm says orders have increased three- to four-fold compared to a decade ago, and expects orders this fiscal year to be about the same as the previous year’s total.

(New Japan, Old Japan is a series exclusive to The Japan News)

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