Aloha shirts ok as Japan seeks to beat heat

Neckties are out and casual shirts in, even aloha shirts, as Japanese businessmen shed their conservative dress and stodgy image to save electricity.

Japan’s March 11 earthquake and tsunami set off an ongoing nuclear crisis at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, meaning that the eastern part of the country faces a severe power shortage as it heads into the sizzling summer months.

Spearheading efforts to stay cool in the office, the Environment Ministry launched its “Super Cool Biz” campaign on Wednesday, a stepped-up version of summer dress-down movements carried out over the past few years.

“As we are lacking electricity, the Japanese government is asking for a 15 percent reduction in electricity consumption,” said Environment Minister Ryu Matsumoto.

“This is not just about surviving this summer, but is a big turning point for changing the way Japanese live and our lifestyle.”

Workers at the ministry turned to casual attire, coming in tieless and wearing short-sleeved shirts, including brightly-colored Hawaiian-style shirts. Sneakers, blue jeans and t-shirts are all allowed as well.

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which runs the Fukushima Daiichi plant, has said it expects summer electricity demand in eastern Japan to be 55 million kilowatts, with the supply tight.

Electricity use soars in the steamy summers, when temperatures can rise as high as 40 C (104 F).

Public response to the campaign was mixed, with some lauding it for conservation efforts while others said care still had to be taken for appearances.

“I think people should choose what they wear, because you can look sloppy,” said Yasuko Yokoyama, a 48-year-old housewife.

Businesses are adopting their own measures, with some shifting workdays to the weekend, when demand will be lower, setting thermostats higher, and keeping lighting to a minimum.

KDDI, one of Japan’s largest communications firms, will allow employees to leave early and work from home from June 27. It already is cutting down on lighting use and has set thermostats at 28 C (82.4 F)

“Up to now, Japanese had stereotypical habits of working from Monday to Friday, 9 to 5,” said Kou Iizawa, a manager at the company.

“Though we have had this unfortunate incident, it is acting as a catalyst to change our work habits. I hope we will become as progressive as Western countries — and we should enjoy our leisure hours more.”