Well known for their strict office attire of a suit, dress shirt, and tie, Japan’s salarymen and office workers are urged by the government to dress more lightly to cut down on air conditioning usage and electricity costs. After the recent earthquake and tsunami, Environmental Minister Ryu Matsumoto kicked off the “Super Cool Biz” campaign, which included a fashion show, to help ease energy demands on the country’s power plants. The recent disasters left the nuclear plant at Fukushima in an inoperative state, putting stress on the rest of the country’s energy sources. If energy consumption is not decreased, officials say power shortages are likely to occur. Matsumoto estimates that energy consumption must be reduced by 15% to avoid power blackouts.
Super Cool Biz calls on company heads and their employees to change their choice of attire when going to work, especially in the summertime. Clothes can be more comfortable to wear, but, at the same time, appropriate to wear in an office setting. Also, companies are encouraged to set room temperatures at 28 degrees Celsius (82 degrees Fahrenheit).
The idea of ditching the suit, dress shirt, and tie to save the environment is not a new concept. The original “Cool Biz” campaign was started in 2005, after the Kyoto Protocol was established. Yuriko Koike, Japan’s environmental minister at the time, suggested salarymen to avoid wearing jackets and ties to work. This would reduce the need for air conditioners and the energy savings would contribute towards the 6% reduction in greenhouse gasses the Kyoto Protocol requires.
Adding the word “Super” to the original Cool Biz campaign, the government wishes attain a higher goal with the current Super Cool Biz campaign when it comes to energy savings, by furthermore relaxing the dress code for office workers.
A fashion show organized by an environmental group and sponsored by the government was held at a department store in Tokyo to show sample outfits. Not only did models display summertime attire suitable for the office, but government officials also took part in the fashion show. Current Environmental Minister Matsumoto and three of the previous environmental ministers, Yuriko Koike, Tetsuo Saito, and Sakihito Ozawa, wore “Kariyushi” shirts. These shirts can be called Okinawa’s version of Hawaiian shirts. Since Okinawa typically has warmer weather than other areas in Japan, Kariyushi clothing is made of fabric that is more comfortable to wear in warmer weather. They feature special printed designs such as floral patterns, shisaa temple guardians, or even traditional Okinawan arts.
The campaign promotes other creative ways to beat the heat, whether at the office or not. Matsumoto suggests eating foods and drinking beverages that have cooling effects on the body. As an old proverb says, “In summer, eat foods that are sour to cool the body.” Also, a common drink available at restaurants in Japan is roasted barley water, served hot. Despite being served hot, it is favored in Japan because barley has been widely known to lower internal body heat.
Additionally, Matsumoto suggests using cooling pads, similar to the ones used for headaches, fevers, and sore muscles and joints. Also, employees should try to reduce their overtime hours and try working from home, if possible. And if given the opportunity for a vacation during the summer, employees should not hesitate and use that time to relax.
Despite the environmental benefits of the Super Cool Biz campaign, there is some opposition, especially among those more conservative. Afraid of looking different than the majority of their co-workers, some people that have supported the campaign would bring a tie or a pair of dress pants to change into once they arrive at work. Also, officials at Iwate feel that seeing office workers wearing jeans to work would make visitors feel “uncomfortable”.
However, as Matsumoto states, Super Cool Biz is more that just preventing potential power shortages this coming summer, but also a change in traditional lifestyles for the benefit of the environment. Says Matsumoto, “This is a big movement in which Japan is not only trying to survive this summer but to change its own lifestyle for the future.”
Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/eerkmans/3409565410/