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Summer time and the dress code is easy in Japan's offices

Models showing off summer office wear at the Super Cool Biz fashion show in Tokyo last Friday. This is the first summer that Japan is not using nuclear power for energy. (PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE)

Publication Date : 03-06-2014


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As temperatures soar across Japan, the government yesterday kicked off a "Super Cool Biz" campaign to get workers to dress casually so that thermostats can be set at an energy-saving, environment-friendly 28 deg C.

Corporate and government workers are encouraged to shed jackets, ties and business shoes for polo shirts, chino pants, sneakers and even Hawaiian shirts. The campaign came just as Japanese employees started their first day of work in summer amid a heatwave, with temperatures reaching above 30 deg C across the country, with some cities hitting more than 34 deg C.

The meteorological agency yesterday urged the people to drink more water and take precautions against heatstroke, which claimed the lives of three people over the weekend and landed hundreds more in hospital.

Super Cool Biz, which runs during the hottest months of June to September, started in the aftermath of an energy crunch in the wake of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that knocked out the Fukushima nuclear power plant and led to the shutdown of several other plants amid safety fears.

It is an extreme version of the Cool Biz campaign begun 10 years ago by the Environment Ministry to allow government workers to ditch ties and jackets. It still runs, but only in May and October and with a stricter dress code.

The Environment Ministry is also calling for firms to start the workday earlier, when temperatures are cooler and to get their workers to take their annual leave during this period.

Office worker Mitsuru Shinozaki remembers a time when companies were considered enlightened if they allowed their workers to wear a suit without a tie in the hottest month of August.

"Considering the humidity and high temperatures in Japan during summer, Cool Biz is a must," said the 53-year-old. He wears a shirt made of light material during the hottest months and is glad he does not have to wear a jacket during the period.

According to the Environment Ministry, more than 90 per cent of Japanese workplaces have adopted the initiative.

The campaign has taken on added significance this year as this is the first time since 1966 that Japan is going into summer, when energy usage is at its peak, without any boost in energy supplies from nuclear power.

Some 30 per cent of the country's energy needs came from nuclear energy before the 2011 disaster. All its nuclear reactors have gone offline in stages, the last two in September last year, so that they can undergo stricter safety tests.

The country is relying more on fossil fuels, which currently provide 90 per cent of the energy needs.

With all the major thermal plants already operating at full capacity, the margin of reserves that serves as a cushion against blackouts is at a low of 3 per cent in some areas, compared with the 10 per cent in pre-disaster times.

In fashion-conscious Japan, fashion retailers and designers have helped the campaign to dress down by coming up with light clothing that is appealing.

Legislator Yuriko Koike, who was environment minister when she introduced the Cool Biz campaign in 2005, had said in 2011 at the start of the Super Cool Biz campaign that the response then was that people looked "sloppy".

The Cool Biz campaign is so much a part of Japanese society today that even the famous comic book salaryman Kosaku Shima is dressed down during summer in his latest books.

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