Pity the proponents of daylight-saving time. Late last month, the third bill drafted to revive the energy-saving practice was put on the Diet’s back burner, delayed by filibustering over postal privatization.
Politicians supporting daylight-saving have pledged to submit the bill in the next Diet session, according to Kazuo Motoishi, managing director of the Japan Productivity Center for Socio-Economic Development.
However, the bill’s leading supporters were also opponents of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s postal privatization and may lose their seats in the Sept. 11 general election, Motoishi said.
Occupation authorities imposed daylight-saving time on Japan on May 1, 1948, as a means to combat coal and power shortages, explaining the regime was being installed to “promote the health and welfare of the Japanese people, conserve valuable resources and to cultivate an appreciation of time among the Japanese.”
But lack of prior debate and the execution of daylight-saving time just three days after the bill was passed generated deep hatred of the concept.
“Daylight-saving time suddenly became equated with the humiliation of defeat; it was seen as something the GHQ forced on the people,” said Takeo Hiranuma, head of a nonpartisan group of 130 politicians and academics in favor of adopting “summer time.”
“It’s one of the reasons the movement keeps losing steam, despite the need to conserve energy.”
Bad memories of the Occupation still haunt Web sites critical of daylight-saving time, with messages like “Daylight-saving time is fascist!” “It is a pain to change the clock, and it’s hard on people’s biological clocks.” “People will lose sleep, and be made to work more overtime.”
The Diet unceremoniously passed a bill to dump the unpopular system in October 1951, less than a month after the San Francisco Peace Treaty was signed. (A government poll in 1951 showed 53 percent of the Japanese wanted to scrap daylight-saving time, as opposed to 30 percent who wanted to keep it.)
The system was abolished in April 1952, as soon as the GHQ packed up and departed from Tokyo’s Yurakucho district.
The idea behind daylight-saving time is to move clocks forward by an hour in the summer to prolong sunny evenings and conserve energy spent on light.
But now, environmentalists and business leaders are suddenly pushing daylight-saving time as as a means for reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
“Rather than raise environmental taxes, we should adopt daylight-saving time,” Hiroshi Okuda, chairman of the Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren), Japan’s biggest business lobby, said earlier this year.
The proponents come armed with statistics.
The change would increase the amount of usable sunlight per day, cutting crude oil use by 930,000 kiloliters and greenhouse gas emissions by 40 tons, according to the Japan Productivity Center.
It further estimates that 100,000 new jobs and 970 billion yen in additional economic benefits would be generated by shopping and leisure as people take advantage of the brighter evenings.
The figures are hard either to prove or disprove. But the tide is changing, said Hiranuma, because a number of labor unions are now voicing support.
The Japan Council of Metalworkers’ Unions found that labor hours fell during daylight-saving time under the Occupation.
Daylight-saving time “could be key to establishing a more balanced lifestyle among the people and increasing awareness of energy conservation,” the union declared in a motion passed last December endorsing the change. The motion was endorsed with the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo).
Although success in the Diet has eluded supporters of daylight-saving time for decades, victory may finally arrive in piecemeal fashion.
In June, hundreds of companies and government offices launched a 42-day daylight-saving experiment in Hokkaido as part of a campaign to turn it into a national practice. Some 15,000 employees came to and left work an hour earlier than usual.
Daylight-saving time may generate an extra 100 billion yen for the local economy if its conducted for six months, said Koichi Ito, a spokesman for the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Sapporo, which organized the drive. It hopes to extend the movement in Hokkaido from April through September.
More than 70 countries have adopted daylight-saving time. Of the 29 OECD countries, only Japan, South Korea and Iceland don’t have it.