It was the tail end of another long, hot Tokyo summer, and salarymen across the city were looking at their wardrobes with dread.

Every year from May to September, Japan’s famously conservative corporate workers and government employees set aside their stiff, dark suits for more casual attire. Out go the neckties and starched shirts; in come short-sleeved polos and linen shirts, even the occasional Hawaiian. Then, as the calendar approaches October, formality returns, if not drastically cooler temperatures.

The metamorphosis is part of a Japanese initiative known as Cool Biz, a glass-half-full description of what could just as easily be called "Hot Office.” Starting May 1, workplaces set their thermostats at 28 degrees Celsius, or above 82 degrees Fahrenheit, to save energy — a sweaty proposition in humid Tokyo.