‘Cool Biz’ dress code spreads through halls of promotion

The “Cool Biz” casual dress code campaign launched by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on June 1 has spread to the bureaucracy, Diet and Supreme Court, but whether the intended effect — of setting air conditioners at higher levels in cities to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and thus help curb global warming — will even be measurable is no given.

“Everybody is getting familiar with ‘Cool Biz.’ You feel relaxed without neckties, don’t you?” Koizumi asked reporters on June 30. “When the fall comes, I will put on a tie,” he said.

“Cool Biz” has received a bigger response than the “Energy-Saving Look” campaign of 1979 did, when then Prime Minister Masayoshi Ohira encouraged people to wear short-sleeved shirts and take ties off in the office to cut down on air-conditioning during the world’s second oil crisis.

Throughout the government, officials are showing up for work in lightly colored dress shirts.

In a meeting of high court judges at the Supreme Court in June, Chief Justice Akira Machida appeared without a tie.

The Industry Club of Japan, a salon of the business community in Tokyo’s Marunouchi district, has allowed members and guests to dispense with ties until the end of September.

Even Katsuaki Watanabe, the new president of Toyota Motor Corp., has met the press in “Cool Biz” style.

An unnamed spokesman for Mitsukoshi department store, which opened ‘Cool Biz’ corners throughout the country May 17, claimed, “All politicians and business leaders have come to us to buy ‘Cool Biz’ costumes.”

Sales of shirts at its main store in Tokyo’s Nihonbashi district in May rose 30 percent from the year before, and sales in June were up 40 percent. “Sales of men’s clothing had continued to be below year-earlier levels every June, but their sales in June were the same as last year. That is a really a good performance,” the representative said.

Aoyama Trading Co., a discount clothing chain for men, said sales of shirts in June rose about 20 percent over the previous year, returning its shops to profitability for the first time in three months.

An unnamed sales promotion manager at Tomiya Apparel Co., a shirt manufacturer whose most popular products are button-down shirts, said sales have surged.

“Shirts that had remained in stock due to a cool summer two years ago have sold out. Usually there are orders for 30,000 shirts a year, but this year, we have received orders for 300,000 shirts,” the manager said.

Plants both at home and abroad are in full operation, he said.

Industry analysts said the trend toward a tieless environment has long been evident in the information technology and other industries.

“I would like to drastically change business fashion in 2008 when ‘Cool Biz’ becomes natural,” said Environment Minister Yuriko Koike at a lecture in Tokyo on June 30.

2008 will kick off the period in which signatories to the Kyoto Protocol will be obliged to achieve their targets for greenhouse gas reduction.

Toshiro Kojima, director general of the Global Environment Bureau at the Environment Ministry, is another shameless promoter of the campaign. “If this momentum continues next summer, ‘Cool Biz’ will firmly be established in Japan,” Kojima said.

The ministry has begun consultations with the clothing industry on shirt designs and materials selection toward next summer.

“At exhibitions to be held in winter, we would also sell ‘Cool Biz,’ ” said Kentaro Doi, chief of the ministry’s People’s Life Measure Section.

But Mika Obayashi, vice director of the Environment Energy Policy Research Institute, a government affiliate, said: “What is important is a compatibility between energy saving and a comfortable living environment.

“Fundamentally, what is needed are measures to strengthen the standards for insulation at offices and houses. Taking off ties and raising the temperatures of air conditioners are not essential measures,” she said.

“I don’t think emissions of carbon dioxide will decrease. On the contrary, they may increase. There are people who have taken off only ties, but they don’t look cool. It will be only a temporary boom,” Obayashi said.