October 16, 2013

Another Case For Bicycle Commuting in Japan

From late yesterday to early this morning Typhoon 26 (Wipha) lashed the Kanto region of Japan, its fury peaking in Tokyo around 6am bringing heavy rain and strong winds. Japanese media have reported Wipha to be the most powerful typhoon to pass so close to Tokyo in 10 years. All schools in our area are closed for the day, but us hard working Japanese salary men are still required to go to work.

As a result of the continuing winds, and flooding in some areas, Tokyo's normally ruthlessly efficient rail system has been severely disrupted, with numerous lines closed completely. In anticipation of transport chaos companies expect employees to be late for work today, in the face of mother natures fury it can't be helped. Many employees, relying on yesterday's forecasts, chose to take this morning off work, others decided to take the entire day off today.


I'm a bicycle commuter, in a company that bans bicycle commuting, I'm unaffected by transport delays.

I chose to wake up this morning, look out the window, heed the weather reports and decide a course of action based on that information. My options being, take the morning off and go back to bed, take the train and possibly arrive at work late, requiring that I work late to make up the lost time, or cycle to work business as usual.

Based on the information on hand this morning I cycled to work in dry conditions, but with strong winds. I left home at my usual time, and arrived as I normally do, 20 minutes before the start of business. I encountered a lot of debris on the road, mostly leaves and small branches, and a countless number of broken umbrellas. I arrived to an almost empty office, although it is slowly filling as people file in late.

So as a disobedient employee who chooses to flaunt company rules to cycle to work, I end up being among the most productive employees in the company today. My entire team has taken the day off so I'll be shouldering their load today too, but I wouldn't even be here had I obeyed company policy and taken the train to work.

It is not unusual for Japanese companies to ban employees from cycling to work. Some claim their insurance does not cover bicycle commuters, or protest there is no bicycle parking nearby, or that they have no facilities for bicycle commuters. Others simply close the matter with "Its dangerous, therefore forbidden". None of their claims hold water in my case as I have private insurance that covers cycling to work and I've also arranged bicycle parking near the office. As for "facilities for bicycle commuters" what other facilities do we need?

My company hasn't confronted me about cycling to work, not yet. We have an unofficial "don't ask, don't tell" policy, but I am adamant that outside of business hours the company has no right to dictate employees behaviour.

I didn't hear any Japanese companies complain about eager to please employees cycling to work after the March 11, 2011 earthquake disrupted transport in Tokyo for weeks, in fact they must have been secretly overjoyed. Yet despite this once transport returned to normal so did the intolerance of cycling to work.

Companies stand to gain so much by allowing employees to cycle to work.  Bicycle commuters arrive at work in a much healthier mental and physical state, more alert and ready to get down to business than those that have been battered and beaten by a long train commute.

But what do Japanese companies care for the health of employees? Long work hours are not only common, they're expected, resulting in employees eating calorie packed meals late at night which leads to obesity. But even more astonishing is that in this day and age many companies conveniently provide employees with smoking lounges!

Smoking yourself to death on company time is acceptable, cycling to improve your health on your own time is systematically forbidden. Its illogical, some would say criminal.

Sadly big Japanese companies are opposed to change and altering their thinking on this issue is an act of futility. Unless Japan's employees stand up for their rights those rights will continue to be abused by Japanese companies, and haven't they been abused enough already?

Ride safe, stick it to the Man, and smoke 'em if you got 'em.

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