NAHA, Okinawa Pref. (Kyodo) Clothing makers in Okinawa are profiting from strong demand for “kariyushi” Okinawan summer shirts, the latest must-have fashion item as the Cool Biz campaign enters its second year.

Similar to Hawaiian aloha shirts, kariyushi are unique to Okinawa. Kariyushi comes from the Okinawan word for “happiness.”

During the subtropical prefecture’s hot summers, kariyushi have long been an acceptable substitute for Western-style business attire.

With the central government’s drive to encourage people to dress lightly and turn down the air conditioning taking hold, “The question is how we can boost kariyushi wear’s share of the Cool Biz market,” Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine said.

Inamine modeled kariyushi at a fashion show for the Cool Biz campaign in Tokyo in May and gave a shirt to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, Environment Minister Yuriko Koike and other Cabinet members.

Since Koizumi started Cool Biz last summer, kariyushi shipments have shot up to 300,000 shirts from only 40,000 in fiscal 1997, said the Okinawa Apparel Sewing Industrial Association.

“Last year, when Prime Minister Koizumi wore a kariyushi (as part of) the campaign, some 600 orders came in for shirts of exactly the same design,” Inamine said.

Strong demand last year for kariyushi gave a boost to Okinawa’s apparel industry, with the number of kariyushi makers jumping to 22 in fiscal 2005, up from only six in fiscal 1997.

“Kariyushi had been limited to open-neck shirts but have been diversified to include button-down versions that fit with Tokyo fashions,” said the association’s managing director, Isao Iraha.

On June 1, the first day of this year’s Cool Biz campaign, the prime minister again donned a kariyushi in the Diet.

The central government is doing its part to promote the traditional Okinawan attire, hoping to take some of the sting out of its decision to keep the bulk of U.S. forces in Okinawa under an agreement with Washington to realign U.S. forces in Japan.

The Cabinet Office touts kariyushi on its Web site, introducing the shirts and giving tips on making them part of one’s wardrobe.

It would be premature, however, to say Tokyo’s button-down bureaucrats have gone tropical. So far, only about 100 staff members at the Okinawa development department in the Cabinet Office can be seen in kariyushi.

Perhaps there is a middle ground between gray flannel and beachwear. “Efforts should be made to develop shirts of more conservative designs,” suggested Chiken Kakazu, the Cabinet office’s senior vice minister.

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