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Cheerleaders at train stations in Tokyo brighten up gloomy salarymen

Kumi Asazuma, center, and other cheerleaders dance in front of Shimbashi Station in Tokyo's Minato Ward on Dec. 28, 2020. (Mainichi/Ryotaro Ikawa)

TOKYO -- As dejected corporate salarymen commuted to their offices in central Tokyo on the morning of Dec. 28, 2020, three female cheerleaders -- wearing red uniforms, loose socks and face shields -- were dancing with big smiles in front of Shimbashi Station, saying, "We'd like to be the energy that gives you a little courage."

    The "morning cheer" was carried out by members of a club who encourage commuters in front of major stations in Tokyo districts such as Shimbashi, Shinjuku and Ikebukuro. The club's first captain, Aya Hasegawa, 44, started the activity by herself in August 2009, but the team grew and had carried out 1,000 cheerleading events by November 2020.

    After quitting her job due to trouble getting along with colleagues, Hasegawa noticed that almost all salarymen looked gloomy during their commute to work. "They are frowning like I used to do. What can I do to get them energetic?" Hasegawa wondered. That was when she began the morning cheer.

    No one asked Hasegawa to take on her cheerleading task. But she devoted all her energy to her activities, making use of her dance experience. She was sometimes teased about what she was doing, but she didn't care and kept on dancing and chanting, and before long she had attracted likeminded women.

    Following morning cheerleading in August 2010, Hasegawa was approached by freelance anchorperson Kumi Asazuma, 37, who had become independent after leaving a local TV station. Asazuma previously had a hard time finding a job in Tokyo and became depressed. "Please let me join you," requested Asazuma, who used to be a cheerleader at university.

    "At first, I thought the experience would be a plus for me in some way," Asazuma recalls. "As I received warm words from many people, I got a feeling that I really wanted to cheer up people." While staying positive, she began to get work as an anchorperson.

    With the addition of new members, the cheerleading club became livelier. When Hasegawa retired in January 2015, Asazuma succeeded as captain.

    So far, there have been 15 members, among whom eight retired. One of the seven remaining in the group, Kana Shiraishi, who works on idol activities, said of their morning cheerleading, "It's hard to wake up early, but I'm encouraged by people telling me their day went well." Another active member Natsumi Kato, who is a bodyworker, said with a laugh, "My life was down, but now it's up."

    While some commuters still look dubious, others have become fans. "True cheerleading allows the dancers and the audience to draw strength. I hope people will gain the courage to challenge something, even if it's only something small," Asazuma says. Her ultimate goal is that "people who are cheered on then go and return the favor to someone else." Believing that everyone will get energized if the trend spreads, club members keep cheering on the streets of Tokyo and aim in the future to do the same across the country.

    (Japanese original by Ryotaro Ikawa, Tokyo Bureau)

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