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Tozai Line Offering Free Food to Early Commuters to Ease Congestion

The early bird gets the noodle.

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With the looming shadow of the Olympics casting the fear of an even more crowded Tokyo over the city’s inhabitants, Tokyo Metro has turned to its customers’ stomachs to ease the rush-hour strain.

From Jan 21 until February 1, commuters who ride the Tozai Line anywhere between Toyo-Katsutadai in Chiba Prefecture and Monzennakacho in Tokyo before rush hour (7:50-8:50 a.m.) will get vouchers for free food at station soba noodle restaurants.

Depending on the number of people who participate in the campaign, the reward will vary from a kakiage tempura if 2000 people commute early, to kake soba (hot soba) if 2,500 people join, to kakiage soba (hot soba with tempura) if 3000 people join in.

Notice the “before rush hour” — this is still Japan after all and there’s no way we’ll start work any later.

Alongside buckwheat-based rewards, almost 1000 businesses have agreed to let their employees start and finish work earlier during the period. Some are even allowing them to *gasp* work from home — a groundbreaking strategy which is also being considered for the two weeks of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Fun fact: Tozai Line trains run at 199% capacity

The Tozai Line is Tokyo’s most congested train line. During rush hour, trains operate at 199% (not a typo) capacity, carrying around 480,000 people into the city centre. That’s more than a quarter of Tokyo’s 1.6 million daily passengers. This is technically considered safe but still puts us (un)comfortably into I-can’t-feel-my-arms-territory.

The campaign comes as part of the snazzily named “Jisa Biz” (時差BiZ) or “Time Difference Biz” project run by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.

“Jisa Biz” activities have been organized intermittently since July 2017. They aim to reduce rush hour congestion and generally cheer people up by shifting the working day forward. This way, people get at least a bit of sunlight to enjoy, too.

Too good to be true?

Still like similar initiatives designed by the government, actually benefiting from the campaign might prove more trouble than it’s worth.

In order to get your free station sustenance, you first have to register your IC card and email address on the campaign page. Next be sure to go through the ticket gates before a certain time each morning (depending on the station). You must do this for every day of the two-week campaign. Based on how many people joined, a coupon will then be sent to your email address which you can only use at the Tozai-affiliated Metro An restaurant of which there are three in Tokyo and only one in Chiba. Easy!

The Twitter take

Reaction on Japanese twitter has been mostly focused on the… model of train running that particular morning. Perhaps that’s just the kind of person who tweets about their morning commute?

Nevertheless, at least one expat illustrator was pleased with their adjusted working hours:

Twitter user @Ikkun seemed to take the campaign more as a challenge than encouragement, and was rightly proud of being first in line for the Urayasu train:

“I made it to first in line for the first Jisa Biz train from Urayasu Station,” he tweeted.

As my waistline can attest, I’m never one to turn down free food. Tokyo Metro is betting that its tens of thousands of commuters feel the same. Let’s just hope soba-swollen bellies don’t cause even more congestion the week after.

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