12:01am

Thu June 9, 2011
Asia

Japanese Told To Beat The Heat With Hawaiian Shirts

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 11:46 am

At Japan's Environment Ministry, the atmosphere is almost preppy; it's full of fresh-faced young people in polo shirts, Crocs and even the odd Hawaiian shirt. This is the birthplace of Super Cool Biz, an energy-saving dress code designed to help ease power shortages following Japan's nuclear crisis, which could just lead to a revolution in Japanese office wear.

Elsewhere in the building, only half of the elevators are working. The corridors are murkily dark, with overhead lights switched off to save electricity. The air conditioning is off and the windows are open — both unusual in Japanese offices.

Japan is struggling with power shortages following the nuclear crisis that has crippled the Fukushima nuclear plant and led to another nuclear plant also being closed down. To save electricity, several measures are being put in place, including making government employees in Tokyo start work an hour earlier.

Shedding Layers For Summer

Masahiro Sato, the father of Super Cool Biz, goes through the rules of this sartorial revolution intended to lighten up traditional office wear for the summer months: no neckties, no jackets, yes to polo shirts, yes to Hawaiian shirts, yes to sandals — but no flip-flops. This, it's hoped, will be the new summer dress code of Japan's salarymen, designed to help the country through this year's power crunch.

"We're limiting air conditioners to 82 degrees to save energy," Sato says. "So we have to loosen up clothing guidelines, so people can be more comfy. As a target, we're looking at saving 10 percent of office electricity expenditure."

Koji Nakamura appears to be the office poster-boy for Super Cool Biz in the Environment Ministry. He's wearing what he calls a "fake Hawaiian" shirt, with brown diamonds, panels of peacock and royal blue, and white-and-black hatching. Grinning, he also points out his bright pink socks.

Before Super Cool Biz, such office attire might have gotten him fired, he guesses, though he points out that the question is academic, since he would never have dared wear such flamboyant clothing to work.

At a swanky department store in Ginza, salesman Ryusaku Noguchi says there has been a "Super Cool Biz effect" on Hawaiian shirts, or "Aloha" shirts as they're called in Japan.

He's hugely enthusiastic about the whole campaign. "I'd love to wear that to work," he says of a particularly bright pink-and-white flowered shirt. "I'd prefer it to this," he says, tugging at his necktie.

Will It Catch On?

So, would you wear a flowery Hawaiian shirt to work to save energy and help Japan's recovery from the disaster? Standing outside the House of Representatives at the Japanese equivalent of Congress, consultant Katsuji Kasashima seems horrified at the question.

He flinches in distaste at the pink-and-white flowered shirt. "I'd just take off my jacket and tie," he says, flashing the label of his fancy Italian suit. "We Japanese are better than you people at dealing with heat."

"It's all propaganda," says Internet worker Nao Isamori, ignoring the pink and white flowers altogether. "There's not enough electricity, and this just distracts us from the real issues," he says.

Office worker Shimamoto Takafume says he'd probably have to change into a suit if he was dealing with clients. "If a first-time customer walked in and saw me wearing that, they probably wouldn't trust me," he admits.

So, for all its common sense, Super Cool Biz could face an uphill struggle, especially among the more conservative industries. Its earlier, less ambitious precursor, Cool Biz, was adopted by fewer than half of Japan's office workers.

This year, Super Cool Biz was launched at a glitzy fashion show depicting a world where salarymen go to work in skintight black pedal pushers. And if that could happen, who knows? Maybe the ministry's next energy-saving target could be Japan's ubiquitous heated toilet seats.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And let's travel next to Japan, which has been struggling with power shortages since the earthquake and tsunami that crippled the Fukushima nuclear plant. To save electricity, the government is doing things like making employees in Tokyo start work and hour early. Another ambitious government scheme might just lead to a revolution in Japanese office wear, as NPR's Louisa Lim found out on a recent visit to Tokyo.

(Soundbite of beeping)

Unidentified Woman: (Japanese language spoken)

LOUISA LIM: Here in Japan's Environment Ministry, the elevators are still talking, but only half of them are working. The corridors are murkily dark, with overhead lights switched off to save electricity. The air conditioning is off, the windows open, both unusual in Japanese offices.

The atmosphere in the office is almost preppy. It's full of fresh-faced young people in polo shirts, Crocs and even the odd Hawaiian shirt. Welcome to the birthplace of Super Cool Biz.

Mr. MASAHIRO SATO (Deputy Director, Quality-of-Life Policy Bureau, Ministry of Environment): No necktie, okay. No jacket, okay.

LIM: Masahiro Sato is the father of Super Cool Biz. Hes talking me through the rules of this sartorial revolution: no neckties, no jackets, yes to polo shirts, yes to Hawaiian shirts, yes to sandals, but no flip-flops. This, its hoped, will be the new summer dress code of Japans salary men, designed to help the country through this years power crunch.

Masahiro Sato lays out the thinking.

Mr. SATO: (Through Translator) Were limiting air conditioners to 82 degrees to save energy. So we have to loosen up clothing guidelines so people can be more comfy. As a target, were looking at saving 10 percent of our office electricity expenditure.

LIM: So Koji Nakamura has got the best shirt in the office. Its kind of brown, with squares, and black and blue and turquoise. Hes just pointed out his socks, as well. Hes wearing bright pink socks. So before Super Cool Biz, for example, if you wore this shirt to work last year, what would people have said?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KOJI NAKAMURA (Salary man): Maybe Ill get fired.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LIM: So hes saying that before now, if you worn a Hawaiian shirt to work, in a government ministry, you might even have got fired. In fact, nobody even knows, because it just wasnt the done thing to do.

(Soundbite of conversations)

LIM: Im now come to a swanky department store in Ginza and I want to see whether this Super Cool Biz campaign is really making a dent on the sales of Hawaiian shirts. Ive just been talking to a very nice salesman. And he tells me that it is making a difference.

Mr. RYUSAKU NOGUCHI (Clothing Salesman): (Japanese language spoken)

LIM: More people have been looking at Hawaiian shirts this year, says Ryusaku Noguchi. Hes in charge of the special offers on Aloha shirts, as theyre called here. Hes hugely enthusiastic. Id love to wear that to work, he says, as I wave a particularly bright pink-and-white flowered Hawaiian shirt at him. Id prefer it to this, he says, tugging at his necktie.

LIM: So Im just wondering how the famously buttoned-up Japanese will respond to the Aloha shirt challenge. So Ive come to the equivalent of Japans Congress. Im just standing outside the House of Representatives, and I want to know what people here think about the whole Super Cool Biz campaign.

Mr. KATSUJI KASASHIMA (Consultant): (Japanese language spoken)

LIM: Consultant Katsuji Kasashima seems horrified at the pink-and-white flowered shirt, and flinches in distaste. Id just take off my jacket and tie, he says, flashing the label of his fancy Italian suit. We Japanese are better than you people at dealing with heat.

Mr. NAO ISAMORI (Internet Worker): (Japanese language spoken)

LIM: Its all propaganda says internet worker, Nao Isamori, ignoring the pink and white flowers altogether. Theres not enough electricity and this just distracts us from the real issues.

Unidentified Woman: (Japanese language spoken)

LIM: So for all its common sense, Super Cool Biz could face an uphill struggle. It was launched at a glitzy fashion show depicting a world where salary men go to work in skintight black pedal-pushers. '

(Soundbite of applause)

LIM: And if that could happen, who knows, maybe the ministrys next energy-saving target could be Japans ubiquitous heated toilet seats.

Louisa Lim, NPR News.

INSKEEP: And go to NPR.org to see Japans salary men and the pink-and-white flowery Aloha shirt.

(Soundbite of Hawaiian music)

INSKEEP: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.