Rakuten’s bicycle commuting program at full speed in Tokyo

Tokyo’s rail network is a modern marvel of engineering and city planning, probably the world’s largest and most efficient. Thanks in part to the dependability of this network and perhaps traditional Japanese corporate culture, bicycle commuting is still relatively uncommon in the nation’s capital.

However, at least one company is now bucking the trend in the world’s most populous city. Rakuten, a company known for its willingness to depart from the traditions of corporate Japan, currently has more than 150 employees opted in to its outside-the-box bike commuting program.

“When we moved our headquarters to Rakuten Crimson House in 2015, one of our key motivations was improving the quality of work and life for our employees,” explained Yuichiro Teruya, a member of Rakuten’s Global HR who oversees the program. “Our location in Futakotamagawa in western Tokyo sits along the Tama River where there are more dedicated cycling routes, so we knew cycling could be an option. The scenery is also beautiful and, yes, you might even spot some of Tokyo’s wildlife, which you would never see downtown.”

After a short pilot program in the summer of 2015, bicycle commuting was made available to all employees living within 15 km of Rakuten Crimson House. The company provides employees with free bicycle parking as well as a small transportation stipend, to cover days when cyclists are unable to bike to work due to weather. The program is a rarity in Japan, where the majority of businesses do not allow employees to commute via bicycle. Feedback has been extremely positive and buzz for the service is growing, both internally and externally.

“We’ve learned that people have different reasons for bicycle commuting,” Teruya added. “Some people do it for the exercise and some to enjoy nature. Surprisingly, for some participants, cycling to work is actually faster than taking the train. So, we’re really glad to see that the program is having a positive impact on our employees’ health and well-being and of course, the environment. We’ve even seen a boost to our recruitment efforts as we’ve had a few people tell us that one of top reasons they joined Rakuten was so they could cycle to work each day.”

While Rakuten doesn’t have a specific target for how many cycle commuters it will allow, parking capacity could eventually impose an upper limit. But from Rakuten’s perspective, if this threshold is reached it would be a clear sign of the program’s success and would be a happy problem to solve.

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