Japanese Told To Beat The Heat With Hawaiian Shirts

Koji Nakamura, who works in the Environment Ministry, says he thinks he could have  been fired for wearing such a shirt last year. This year, he has become  the ministry's poster boy for the Super Cool Biz energy-saving campaign because of his flamboyant style. i i

hide captionKoji Nakamura, who works in the Environment Ministry, says he thinks he could have been fired for wearing such a shirt last year. This year, he has become the ministry's poster boy for the Super Cool Biz energy-saving campaign because of his flamboyant style.

Louisa Lim/NPR
Koji Nakamura, who works in the Environment Ministry, says he thinks he could have  been fired for wearing such a shirt last year. This year, he has become  the ministry's poster boy for the Super Cool Biz energy-saving campaign because of his flamboyant style.

Koji Nakamura, who works in the Environment Ministry, says he thinks he could have been fired for wearing such a shirt last year. This year, he has become the ministry's poster boy for the Super Cool Biz energy-saving campaign because of his flamboyant style.

Louisa Lim/NPR

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 is the Environment Ministry bureaucrat charged with implementing  Super Cool Biz. Wearing a polo shirt to work is no less than a sartorial  revolution in buttoned-up Japan. i i

hide captionMasahiro Sato is the Environment Ministry bureaucrat charged with implementing Super Cool Biz. Wearing a polo shirt to work is no less than a sartorial revolution in buttoned-up Japan.

Louisa Lim/NPR
Masahiro Sato is the Environment Ministry bureaucrat charged with implementing  Super Cool Biz. Wearing a polo shirt to work is no less than a sartorial  revolution in buttoned-up Japan.

Masahiro Sato is the Environment Ministry bureaucrat charged with implementing Super Cool Biz. Wearing a polo shirt to work is no less than a sartorial revolution in buttoned-up Japan.

Louisa Lim/NPR

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?

  • Salesman Ryusaku Noguchi says the campaign is helping sales of Hawaiian shirts this year. "I'd love to wear that to work," he says.
    Hide caption
    Salesman Ryusaku Noguchi says the campaign is helping sales of Hawaiian shirts this year. "I'd love to wear that to work," he says.
  • Leader of the Social Democrat Party Mizuho Fukushima says she's in favor of the Super Cool Biz campaign.
    Hide caption
    Leader of the Social Democrat Party Mizuho Fukushima says she's in favor of the Super Cool Biz campaign.
  • "I would wear this if my company let me," says recruitment consultant Tomoyoki Chikawa.
    Hide caption
    "I would wear this if my company let me," says recruitment consultant Tomoyoki Chikawa.
  • "If a first-time customer saw me wearing this, they probably wouldn't trust me," says office worker Shimamoto Takafume.
    Hide caption
    "If a first-time customer saw me wearing this, they probably wouldn't trust me," says office worker Shimamoto Takafume.

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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.

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