Suits aren't cool enough for
You see them every summer morning, in the packed commuter trains and
offices of Central Tokyo: men dressed in wool and polyester, sweating in the 90F heat.
These are the salarymen, the
warriors of the Japanese economy, for whom summer is a season more to be
endured than enjoyed.
From June to September, a fug
of humidity falls across Japan, tormenting office workers dressed in
a uniform more appropriate for winter. But a salaryman in a T-shirt would
be like a samurai without his
sword, and there has been no serious challenge to Japan's business dress
code for 150 years.
This week the Japanese Government embarks on an ambitious scheme to
reinvent the appearance of the Japanese businessman. It is being pioneered
by fashion designers, famous department stores and captains of industry,
and led by Junichiro Koizumi, the Prime Minister, himself.
The idea behind the initiative - christened with the English words
"Cool Biz" - is simple and serious. Japan is lamentably behind in reaching
its targets for reduction of ozone-depleting gases, despite hosting the
1997 Kyoto Conference at which they were set. The stated goal is to reduce
1990 levels by 6 per cent by the year 2012. But in 2003, emissions were up
by 8 per cent on the base year.
Much of these come from the air-conditioning units, which thrum in
Japanese offices during the hot months. So Mr Koizumi has ordered that
from June 1 government offices should set the thermostats on their air
conditioners for 28C (82.4F) - a little more than Tokyo's average August
temperature and intolerable in a suit and tie. The air conditioning will
rarely come on, so the Government has launched Cool Biz to persuade
salarymen to take off their ties, unbutton their shirts and cast off their
"Japanese men are so hard to change," says Hiroko Koshino, a
distinguished fashion designer who has devised a range of cool men's
clothes at the Government's request. "It's a very, very challenging task."
Except at the most youthful of fashion and dot-com companies, casual
Fridays never really caught on in Japan. Tsutomu Hata, a former Prime
Minister is notorious for his ill-advised energy-saving office wear,
created by simply chopping off the arms of conventional suits at the
elbow. The garments looked as if a jealous lover had run amok, and are widely held to have set back
the cause of dressing down in Japan.
The biggest obstacle is the strict hierarchy still operating in
Japanese offices - for most salarymen it is unthinkable to indulge any
innovation which has not previously been adopted by the