Cool Biz: Okinawan shirts and bikinis


Prime Minister Koizumi would be proud of me. I am completely embracing the Cool Biz campaign by going to work in a bikini top and shorts. And I think Mr. Koizumi would agree after seeing my workplace, which doesn’t even have air conditioning. I would support the campaign even more if in addition to the Okinawa-style shirts recommended by the Cool Biz campaign, they had Okinawa-style bikinis for sale.

Of course, this is just because I work on the beach. The Moooo! Bar is an Indonesian-style hut where I serve tropical drinks such as frozen margaritas and pina coladas. (Yes, it’s a cow-themed bar, but that’s another story.) The bar itself (“hontai”) was built in Indonesia, then disassembled and sent to us on Shiraishi Island in the Seto Inland Sea. The bar is extended with bamboo posts and has palm fronds on the roof. Some customers say it reminds them of Thailand. Others say Mexico. No one says it reminds them of Indonesia.

Every year we have to take the Moooo! Bar down at the end of the summer because of typhoons and then rebuild it in the spring. Since the Moooo! Bar must be rebuilt every summer, we also must replace the palm leaves on the roof. The fronds, which we cut from trees on the island, are a point of contention with the locals. No, not for environmental reasons. The reason is much more basic: color. Now, before we go any further, tell me, what were you imagining up until now: a hut with green fronds on the roof, or one with brown fronds?

A few weeks ago, I went into the local supermarket and the owner said: “Oh, Amy, I see you’ve got the Moooo! Bar up again this year. It looks very nice. But just one thing,” he said. “I thought it was a shame the leaves have turned brown already.”

“The leaves naturally turn brown after a couple weeks,” I said.

“Yes, of course,” he said. “But I still thought it was a shame about the color.”

In the meantime, San-chan’s restaurant next door to the Moooo! Bar also started using palm fronds to decorate their deck. We all agreed that it would look nice if we both decorated with palm leaves, then added a stairway to connect their restaurant and my bar. They waited until a few days before the official summer season before cutting their palm leaves.

“We cut some extra leaves for you Amy,” San-chan said. “You can put these green ones on top of the others you already have on the roof.” I didn’t end up using the extra fronds, though, as I already had plenty on the roof.

Once the summer season started, one of the Moooo! Bar customers said, “It’s a shame the palm leaves have turned brown.”

Once again, I offered my scientific explanation that the leaves naturally turn brown after a couple weeks. I also added that perhaps the palm trees are not native to Japan, so have some flaws.

“But San-chan’s has green leaves,” she said, pointing to the restaurant next door.

“Yes, he just cut his a few days ago.”

“Nihonjin wa . . .” she started, using the broad “we,” as Japanese do when they start explaining their culture. I always carry a portable invisible podium to whip out when people launch into these explanations.

“We Japanese like the color blue.” (Blue means green in Japanese. Don’t ask). “Blue is a summer color and makes us feel cool. It would be better if the palm leaves were still blue.” This was taking the Cool Biz idea a little too far.

“For Japanese people, brown leaves remind us of winter.”

I paused and thought about this. I thought about bamboo forests and palm trees, deep green in color and — of course! Green means the leaves are still alive! Horrified, I realized I was asking people to drink under a morgue of dead palm fronds.

Maybe it’s not so bad, though. O-bon is just around the corner.