June 1 marked the start of the Environment Ministry’s Super Cool Biz campaign, with full-page newspaper ads and photos of ministry workers smiling rather self-consciously at their desks wearing polo shirts and colorful Okinawa kariyushi shirts.
Cool Biz campaigns of previous years, since 2005, had promoted short-sleeved shirts with no necktie or suit jacket for the office, but now, faced with the need to conserve electricity, the new official Super Cool Biz encourages polo shirts, Hawaiian shirts, running shoes and even nice-looking T-shirts, jeans and sandals.
Although it has been a boon for the apparel industry, it remains to be seen how far companies and employees will adopt the Super Cool Biz style of dress.
Already though, the new national mood can be seen in women buying more subdued colors than usual for the summer and more practical low- or flat-heeled shoes; cute trinkets to hang from bags incorporating LED flashlights or emergency whistles are also popular.
There is also a comeback for retro summer items like uchiwa hand fans and old-fashioned suteteko underwear (lightweight knee-length drawers for men).
The Super Cool Biz campaign, however, is about more than dressing to stay cool, as is made clear in the Environmental Ministry’s full-page newspaper ad.
Under a picture of, for some reason, cute stuffed bears working in a typical office setting, are 10 suggestions for lifestyle and work-style changes to conserve power and reduce carbon emissions.
Along with setting air conditioners at 28 degrees Celsius or switching off computers not in use are calls for shifting work hours to the morning and taking more summer vacation than usual.
In fact many companies are instituting some sort of summertime work hours. The Tokyo metropolitan government, for example, plans to have its workers start at 7:30, 8 or 9 a.m. rather than at 8:30, 9 or 9:30.
Some are giving, say, Monday and Tuesday off, while others are experimenting with morning hours in the office and afternoons, working from home or making arrangements that include work at home.
It will be interesting to see if these lifestyle changes will last beyond the current crisis for a looser and more flexible office environment and an improved work-life balance.
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