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Japanese Working Hard to Relieve Stress

September 8, 1991

TOKYO (AP) _ Once a week, Kuniyoshi Sato stops by the Brain Mind Gym for what amounts to a high-tech mental massage. It is designed to help him do what comes least naturally to the Japanese working stiff: relax.

In a sedately lit back room with television monitors showing pastoral scenes, the 31-year-old pharmacist drops into one of the comfortable reclining chairs that line the walls.

For an hour, he listens to New Age music piped through headphones, while wearing special goggles that shoot light patterns through his lightly closed eyelids.

It is supposed to be soothing, just like the tea and orange juice served by ubiquitous attendants. Among others receiving treatment with Sato one evening were a graphic designer, a real estate agent and four bank executives.

″I feel some stress at work, so I come here to relax,″ Sato explained. ″My work’s very detailed and has a lot of tension. I can’t make any mistakes.″

He is among the growing number of people who seek help in easing the extreme anxiety that comes with working and living in Japan.

Other companies offer services similar to those at the Brain Mind Gym. A specialized library offers books and videos on tension, and shops serve herb tea said to calm nerves.

According to the Nihon Keizai, the leading economic newspaper, almost 90 percent of nearly 2,000 corporate ″salarymen″ surveyed by the government said they often felt fatigued. The survey found they were committed to their jobs and most took half or less of their allowed vacation.

Typically, the Japanese work week extends far beyond the 40-hour, five-day Western standard. Even when ″salarymen″ leave their offices for Tokyo’s myriad bars and restaurants, it is often to conduct business over drinks and dinner.

Many Japanese commute for several hours each day to and from tiny, cramped homes on impossibly cramped trains, adding more stress. Huge traffic jams make weekend getaways nerve-wracking.

Working out at health clubs, drinking with friends and the more disciplined practices of zen and yoga are long-popular ways to relieve stress, but many alternatives are appearing.

The Brain Mind Gym in the trendy Roppongi district opened three years ago, and spokesman Takehiro Ohta said it now has nearly 800 members. Eight more outlets operate in the Tokyo area and in Osaka.

About 70 percent of the customers are men in their late 20s or early 30s seeking to relieve work-related stress or just to nap, Ohta said.

He said middle-aged executives are less willing to accept the New Wave treatment, developed by Denis Gorges, a biomedical researcher in Cleveland. ″But once they come and try it, there are many who really appreciate it,″ Ohta said.

″Many such executives have no place to relax because even when they go out drinking, it is business,″ the gym spokesman said.

Where else can the Japanese go for stress relief?

-The Brain Lounge PSY, a bar that opened a year ago in the nearby port of Yokohama, helps customers unwind with music, incense and big-screen video scenes of soothing sea and sky. About 100 people patronize the bar daily, primarily corporate employees of both sexes in the 20s to 40s.

-The library established a year ago by a supermarket founder in Osaka, specializes in books on stress-related illnesses and ″image videos″ that supposedly reduce fatigue. Staff member Hiroshi Mandai said the library receives a few dozen visits or calls a day, generally from housewives and young ″salarymen.″

At least one government study has shown Japanese women feel more stress than men, perhaps because many have regular jobs and also get stuck with the housework.

Hanako, a popular magazine for young women, recently offered a 30-page primer on how to relax: where to go, what to eat, what to do.

Among the suggestions were visits to chiropractors, acupuncturists, herbal tea shops, even a gallery that displays products and books devoted to inducing sleep.

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