“Cool Biz” is a summer tradition in Japan that was first started in 2005. The goal was to keep air conditioners turned down, and that meant allowing Japan’s salarymen and other office workers to shed some layers off their business suits that are strictly required during the rest of the year. Jackets and ties are shed, and short sleeve shirts with an open collar are encouraged.
When it first began, Cool Biz was something ran from the beginning of June to the end of August. However last year, a few things changed. After the disasters and resulting meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, going into the summer there was already concerns of energy shortages and even blackouts in downtown Tokyo. The central government’s environment ministry took the Cool Biz campaign to a new level. 2011’s “Super Cool Biz” began on May 1st and ran until September 30th, and dress codes were relaxed even further. There was even official support for kariyushi, Okinawa’s equivalent to lightweight Hawaiian shirts, to be worn in offices, along with light-colored slacks. I hope you understand now that the “cool” in Cool Biz is meant to be the temperature, and not at all used in the sense of being fashionable.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura announced last week that Cool Biz will officially start again this year on May 1st. The goal this year will be again to keep thermostats set at 28 degrees Celsius (82 degrees Fahrenheit), while workers at government and other public office buildings have to accept even higher temperatures! This is all done in the name of energy conservation, and this year even more so.
Only four days after the May 1st start of Cool Biz, May 5th (that’s this Saturday), is when the very last nuclear reactor in Japan will finally of offline for maintenance and inspections. The government has already estimated that there will be energy shortages as high as 20% this year during July and August, the hottest months of summer. In regard to the often talked about nuclear reactors in Oi, Fukui prefecture, and the government’s desire to have them restarted, there is still strong opposition to that idea and its become very clear that there won’t be any reactivation before the temperatures begin to significantly rise.
The government hasn’t given specifics yet on how “Super” this year’s Cool Biz will be, but it’s expected there will be further relaxing of dress code suggestions, as well as considerations on the office work life, modifications to work times and shifts, in an effort to reduce demand on the electrical grid during peak times. It’s become clear however that Cool Biz has become the summer norm. Many business men can be seen wearing short sleeve shirts, and are just waiting for the signal to lose the tie. Clothing retailers like Uniqlo already have their Cool Biz clothing lines ready, and business attire specialist Aoki Holdings are promoting a new summer suit that’s supposed to keep the wearer cooler. But the question still remains if this will be enough to survive the heat of Japan’s first summer without nuclear power in decades.