Japan: Japan working class ditches suits & dons summer casuals for ‘cool biz’ in hot office

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TOKYO: It was the tail end of another long, hot Tokyo summer, and salarymen across the city were looking at their wardrobes with dread. Every year from May to September, Japan‘s famously conservative corporate workers and government employees set aside their stiff, dark suits for more casual attire. Out go the neckties and starched shirts; in come short-sleeved polos and linen shirts, even the occasional Hawaiian.Then, as the calendar approaches October, formality returns, if not drastically cooler temperatures. The metamorphosis is part of a Japanese initiative known as “Cool Biz“, a glass-half-full description of what could just as easily be called “Hot Office”.
Starting May 1, workplaces set their thermostats at 28C to save energy – a sweaty proposition in humid Tokyo. Uncomfortable though they may be, Japanese offices offer a model for how countries around the world can reduce greenhouse gas emissions that have contributed to record-breaking heat waves and extreme weather events. This August was the hottest ever recorded in Japan, according to its meteorological agency, and daily highs in Tokyo remained above 32 into the latter part of September.
Cool Biz is one of a number of simple, cost-effective energy savings initiatives in Japan, a resource-poor country that relies on fuel imports for nearly 90% of its energy needs. The measures have helped keep Japan’s per capita energy consumption to roughly half that of the US, according to statistics from the Energy Institute, based in London. Unlike Japanese workers, Americans have been hostile to the idea of thermal discomfort. During the oil shock of the 1970s, President Jimmy Carter became a national punching bag for daring to ask people to turn down the thermostat and put on an extra layer. In the summer, many American offices are still kept so cold that workers resort to space heaters and sweaters.
In Japan, Cool Biz became especially popular with women, who tended to wear lighter clothes and often complained about the cold temperatures needed to make business suits comfortable for their male colleagues. Today, over 86% of workplaces participate in the Cool Biz programme, according to an environment ministry survey. Its success was achieved without any rule-making or financial incentives, said Yusuke Inoue, the director of the ministry’s zero-carbon lifestyle promotion office. Instead, the government encouraged politicians and business leaders to strip off their jackets and ties, modeling behaviour that quickly became ubiquitous. As people turned to lighter clothes, they no longer wanted the thermostat set so low, Inoue said.

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