It’s a decades-old debate in Japan: whether to save energy by turning the clocks ahead an hour in the summer like the United States and Europe.
But this July, 220 companies in Hokkaido stopped talking about it and tried it out. The firms had their 6,000 employees come to work an hour earlier and try to leave early in a monthlong daylight-saving time experiment.
The result? Workers tended to get out of the office while it was still light and spent the extra time shopping or watching a movie — good news for Hokkaido’s troubled economy.
“I could spend more time with my family in the evening,” Motoi Tsunekawa, a Sapporo municipal official who participated in the first two weeks of the test run, said this week. “It was nice playing with my son.”
The idea behind daylight-saving — known in Japan as “summer time” — is simple: With the sun up later into the evening, people will use less electricity for lights.
The Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Sapporo also estimates changing the clocks would generate an extra 100 billion yen for the economy through increased consumer spending.
The extra business would be welcome in Hokkaido, where the unemployment rate is 6.5 percent, compared with the national average of 5.3 percent.
The history of daylight-saving in Japan, however, is anything but simple.
The time change was imposed in 1948 under the Allied Occupation but was so unpopular that it was repealed when the Occupation ended in 1952. Its association with Japan’s postwar humiliation stirred up bitter opposition for years.
The latest discussion on daylight-saving time began in 1998 as part of the energy-saving measure drafted to meet the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.
Environment Ministry officials have said they want to adopt daylight-saving within 10 years, citing the Protocol deadline under which Japan has committed to a 6 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions.
But little progress has been made.
“Part of the problem was that it’s hard to visualize what actually happens during daylight-saving,” said Takeshi Noguchi, an Environment Ministry official in charge of measures against global warming.
However, Noguchi said concerns that the practice would cause longer working hours have subsided.
“Now, more people are trying to enjoy life outside their work, and environmental awareness is growing,” he said. “Society is gradually getting ready to accept daylight-saving time.”
Hideharu Yamane, an official at the Sapporo chamber, said 70 percent of the participants in the trial said afterward that they supported full introduction of daylight-saving time.
Yamane said Sapporo officials plan to use the results to argue for nationwide implementation.
But he confessed he found one downside of starting one hour earlier in the morning.
“The hours leading up to lunchtime seemed forever,” he said.