It’s Cool Biz time of year in Japan again. In fact, 1 June now marks the start of the more concentrated Super Cool Biz season. For those who have somehow missed it, the Cool Biz campaign was launched by the Japanese Ministry of the Environment back in 2005 to encourage Japan’s workers to ditch their jackets and neck ties, dress more casually and keep the air-conditioning at 28 degrees and no lower. It was a simple idea to make a dent in Japan’s sizeable CO2 output.
After the Tohoku earthquake in 2011, when the nuclear power stations went offline and power companies sent panic through the population with the prospect of power shortages, the government launched Super Cool Biz which took the campaign a step further, giving public workers licence to wear polo shirts and even trainers to the office and start their working day earlier, anything to stop them from using air conditioning. This year, to rein in the sartorial chaos, they’ve put their foot down and said no to the sandals, jeans and T-shirts that have been allowed for the past two years.
In spite of the initially unnerving sight of politicians trying to do their bit by wearing open necks and short sleeves, Cool Biz is now as much a part of the Japanese summer as Gari-Gari Kun ice lollies. The fabric of society hasn’t collapsed – even if it’s done nothing for tie sales – and it’s encouraged a range of extraordinary products from odour-eating materials to spray-on tights, which although undeniably cooler than nylons, also give the wearer the unfortunate effect of prosthetic legs. CO2 emissions were down – at least until the events of 2011 when the closure of all but two nuclear power plants pushed Japan back to fossil fuels.
Keeping the public interested in the campaign is a challenge. Cool Biz now runs from 1 May to 31 October, which covers half the year. The big publicity blitz is saved for the core Super Cool Biz period, which runs during the hottest summer months until the end of September.
This year, the Ministry of Environment found a new angle: women. The launch was a proper fashion scrum, marked by jostling photographers, a catwalk show and music booming in the background. “The focus isn’t just on clothes,” a ministry spokesman was quoted as saying. “It’s about managing sweat, odours and heat.” Rather personal you might think, but the ministry isn’t holding back. For its dedicated Super Cool Biz website the ministry has hired the services of busy fashion stylist Naoko Toida and is offering up tips on everything from hairstyles to antiperspirant make-up, to UV-shielding parasols and drinking refreshing vegetable smoothies. Not surprisingly, retailers haven’t been slow to get in on the act with the likes of Uniqlo and Shiseido all promoting their Cool Biz-appropriate products.
Since air conditioning accounts for more than half of electricity consumed in Japanese homes during the summer, the government is promoting what it’s calling Cool Share, suggesting that people switch off air conditioning at home to hang out with others in shared cool spaces – such as a local shop or library.
The Super Cool Biz campaign got a kickstart today when the prime minister Shinzo Abe and his cabinet wore open-necked shirts to this morning’s cabinet meeting. Photographers’ lenses were primed.
Fiona Wilson is Asia bureau chief for Monocle.