National

Abe asks ruling party to study daylight saving time for 2020 Tokyo Olympics

Kyodo, Reuters

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday ordered his ruling party to study whether to introduce daylight saving time for the Olympic Games in 2020 as a way to deal with Japan’s intense summer heat.

Following a meeting with Abe, Yoshiro Mori, head of the organizing committee for the games, revealed that the prime minister wants the Liberal Democratic Party to start gathering opinions, given that the public and the business community are divided over the idea of moving clocks forward.

Mori quoted Abe as saying that the government and the LDP have to “carefully determine” whether there is a serious need for the new time system, as it would have a huge impact on people’s lives.

The organizing committee is in favor of using the system and Mori, a former prime minister, requested late last month that Abe adopt it following the unusually high temperatures seen in the nation this summer.

Mori told reporters that in addition to the Tokyo Games, the energy-saving measure is also important for the government’s commitment to protecting the environment.

Olympic officials to been considering a plan to move clocks two hours forward.

Japan, which has not used such a system for more than 60 years, is working to find effective measures to mitigate the physical impact on athletes and spectators from the scorching temperatures expected during the Olympics, which will be held from July 24 to Aug. 9 and followed by the Paralympics from Aug. 25 to Sept. 6.

Toshiaki Endo, the committee’s vice president and an LDP lawmaker who also attended the meeting, told reporters that there is not much time to study such a shift, and that lawmakers should decide on the introduction of the system during an extraordinary Diet session expected to be convened this autumn.

Endo said he wants to start discussions within the ruling party before mid-August, while noting that Japan is among a handful of major industrialized countries that does not operate daylight saving time during the summer.

But Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga maintained a cautious stance, saying in a news conference shortly after the meeting that it was just one of the measures proposed to counter the heat. He had said Monday that the system “would have an impact on people’s lives, and there are only two years before the games.”High temperatures have become a new headache for the nation in the run-up to the Summer Games, as temperatures have topped 40 degrees Celsius repeatedly in some locations in the country this summer, including Saitama Prefecture, near Tokyo, where the mercury hit the nation’s record high of 41.1 C on July 23.

Moving clocks two hours forward would mean male and female marathon runners will effectively start races at what is currently 5 a.m., because the International Olympic Committee had already decided to hold the event from 7 a.m. in an attempt to lessen the likelihood of them competing in sweltering, humid conditions.

But some have pointed out that the daylight saving time switch could cause disruption, and that work to adjust computer systems in less than two years would be a difficult task.

Japan last introduced daylight saving time in 1948 under the instruction of the General Headquarters of the Allied Forces following the end of World War II, but it was abolished within four years amid criticism it made working hours longer.

Pressing the case for a switch to daylight savings, Masa Takaya, Tokyo 2020 spokesman, said in a statement that the step would “also help protect the environment and realize a low-carbon society in Japan.”

Japan is among a handful of major economies that does not use daylight saving time during the summer, which also includes South Korea. But Seoul set the nation’s clocks back an hour in 1988, when it hosted the Summer Olympics.

Japan operated daylight saving time from 1948 to 1952 under the Allied Occupation — a bitter memory experts say colored discussions about the measure as an energy-saving step in the 1970s and early 2000s.

Popular fears were that peer pressure about leaving work during daylight would keep workers at their jobs for longer.

“Things are completely different — companies are now trying to limit working hours,” said Hidetoshi Nakagami, head of the energy think tank Jyunkankyo Research Institute.

“Data does show that working hours did rise then, but you have to consider historical context — productivity was booming.”

Economists said the measure’s impact on behavior could be mixed.

“If people start working two hours early and finish two hours early, consumer spending is expected to rise,” said Toshihiro Nagahama, executive chief economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute.

“But given the labor shortage, the end of working time may not change and people may still work longer hours.”

That was the biggest fear on social media, where the topic was one of Monday’s hottest and worries ranged from having to reprogram computers to losing sleep.

“It’s way too easy to imagine that we’ll start work two hours earlier and finish the same in the dark, meaning long days,” wrote one.

That happened in Seoul, according to the National Archives. People complained that the longer days were hard to adjust to, and the sense that this was done to coordinate with foreign television stations left a bad taste for many. Accordingly, it was scrapped after 1988.