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Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

In an effort to cut down on energy consumption, Japan has implemented "Cool Biz". Cool biz facilities keep the temperature at around 28 degrees Celsius (approx 82.4 Fahrenheit) in the summer. It often feels hotter than that. In these offices, people don't wear suits. Most government buildings and many public facilities are now cool biz. First of all, 28 degrees is hot, even with a t-shirt. Second, when you travel around buildings requiring various dress codes, this system doesn't really work.

This isn't a new thing, but it appears that it is being implemented with renewed vigor this year. I blogged about this back in 2002. According to the Japanese Wikipedia, they think that it will save about $1B.

I suppose I'm a schmuck for complaining about something so socially and fiscally good, but for some reason this kind of suffering feels very Japanese and annoying. There is something very ceremonial and inefficient about it. Maybe it's just that I'm sweating my ass off in a cool biz zone. Maybe this is a signal to me to figure out a way to save $1B for the Japanese economy and help the environment. Maybe we can start by firing all of the retired bureaucrats that they force companies to hire who get paid a mint and driven around in black limos.


A few weeks ago at SixApart's Tokyo office, I half-jokingly suggested that we make Fridays in August "Yukata Friday" since we already are casual every day. (A Yukata is a light summer kimono, typically worn to festivals and fireworks shows.)

The next Friday, I was surprised when I saw a handful of the staff actually sitting at their desks wearing the colorful kimono, so I went off at lunch and picked up a "jinbei."
I felt pretty silly, but I have to admit, I was pretty cool and comfortable.

Maybe Tokyo should consider a return to a more pre-Meiji style of dress as an alternative to neckties, suits and air conditioning. ;-)

Tokyo really needs to do something about the air conditioning. To entice people inside, shops crank up the aircon and open their doors. If you're on Shinjuku dori on a hot Saturday, you can actually feel the cool air conditioning streaming out of Tiffany's from across a crowded 4 (6?) lane avenue. Ginza is much the same, where people actually bring sweaters to wear while shopping at the big department stores. There need to be fines for this sort of waste.

So they figure they'll save $1b on air-conditioning? I used to work at an office like that. They'll lose a lot more than that as people slow down their work because they're so uncomfortable.
As for shops keeping their doors open, I think some circulation is necessary no matter what, so I suspect letting the air out is "wasteful" on the same level as the light shows that beautify the buildings at night.

I was in Tokyo for bussiness trip these months, yes, I think it is a big problem with using air conditioner, if the office have many computer in it, it will surely much more higher than 28 degrees.

The Yukata day is a great idea, Jim. :) When I worked in Tokyo, they turned the AC off at 5PM, reasoning that everyone went home when the whistle blew. Yeah, right.

We all stayed overtime almost everyday, enduring the stifling heat and humidity well into the night. The only reprieve was the cool izakaya afterwards. I always felt the heat was very inhumane, but did not feel obliged to complain since my coworkers never did.

The Cool Biz initiative was not in effect in '01-'03 when I was there, but it seems like no matter what country I visit, there are always rich folks trying to save money at the expense of the common worker bee.

I think everyone is right on the mark when they say that the productivity losses will seriously offset the savings... I mean, if you had just five million workers who wasted $200 of time per year, there's your billion right there. $200 worth of time on Japanese salary spread over the 6 months of hot weather in Japan is nothing...

The irony about air conditioning is that it actually *creates* heat. (All of the electricity used turns into heat on the outside of the building).... that frigid air flowing out of the front of the building is more than offset by the hot air flowing out the back! In dense cities this actually raises the outside ambient temperature. (Which actually makes air conditioning more expensive for everybody.)

After spending a summer in Taiwan with no air conditioning, I feel your pain - but I still think it's a good policy. Why not just make it 25 degrees?

I hear that your ministry for the environment recommend that you wear waistcoats and thermals in the winter. This is very helpful.

@ clare ... i hear this too, but i want it see ;)


I've long said that the dumbest western custom adopted by the Japanese was to wear 3 piece suits in the summer. Your suggestion is a good one but I doubt it would go over all that well where I work. And yes I agree that there really should be a penalty for retail stores airconditioning the outside world.

boo & cam c.,

There is pretty much no concept of time == money here. Actual efficient work is often the wrong thing to do. Putting in long hours appearing to be busy will get you much farther than getting the job done on time or god forbid, early. To be quite honest I knew people in NYC who were constantly drunk on the job who were more "productive" than most of my co-workers in Tokyo. I think the estimated savings have to be about utility costs not productivity.

An irony of AC is that Japanese women are forever complaining that the workplace/retail environment is *too cold*. Almost all the women where I work have blankets or heavy scarves that they wrap around themselves in the office during the summer. At the same time, lots of the men are on the verge of sweating, half of em fanning themselves as they work.

When I first started coming to Japan (maybe 8 years ago) I tried to "fit in" by wearing a suit and tie, rather than the business casual model of button-down shirt and slacks that I do back in the US.

This was just too much damn trouble. Not only was I sweating like a pig, but carting around multiple suits in my luggage for several weeks of meetings was too bulky. (yeah, yeah, I could pack less, but the heat, and late night izakaya cigarette smoke, necessitated dry cleaning before re-use, so it became easier to pack a suit a day)

I finally decided what worked for me in the US should just work here so I could be comfortable. Besides, the distinct "foreign-ness" of being American is not offset by a coat and tie.

Big shock. Nobody cared one bit. From members of the Cabinet, heads of Ministries, managers in big companies, etc. They just attributed it to me being "American." In fact, many people remarked that they also hated the hot business costume they felt compelled to wear.

I've been at several government agencies in the past week this trip. Almost everyone is in shirts and slacks, and generally seems more comfortable. The 28 degree temperature also seems to be interpreted as a "suggestion" rather than a mandate, so the offices have also been quite comfortable to work in.

I'm really happy about cool-biz so far.

I'm just commenting on everything these days.
anyway, this type of shit is pretty normal in china.
the government requires certian blocks to use no power
for 1 - 2 days every once in awhile. the reason isn't to
cut down on government costs for power (I'm assuming china hasn't privatized it's energy companies yet), it's simply to prevent blackouts becuase China's grid is so taxed by it's explosive growth.
I'm assuming the Japanese picked up on this and figured they could save some money, but taken the amount of money that japan post has saved, you'd think they'd be more concerned with comfort than a a spare billion or so in savings (which is probably a bullshit figure anyway). All that aside, put up some fucking solar bitches. jesus, sanyo is producing it feet on the dollar these days.


Cgoggans, or anyone else, I've heard that the Japanese tend to disfavor foreigners who try to fit in more than those who don't. The idea being that the rules of etiquette are so complex in Japan that it's annoying for residents to endure foreigners who attempt to follow them and screw them up. I was wondering if your experience verifies that.

S -

It's true that some Japanese may see sycophantic neo-japano-phyte foreigners as somewhat tiresome. But those who truly make an effort to understand etiquette will be appreciated. That said, a foreigner without a clue even as to minimal etiquette will piss people off.

There is a point of diminishing returns though, to those who are intimately familiar with the language and culture - Japanese can feel uncomfortable when a foreigner seems "more Japanese" than they are, or speaks very fluent Japanese...


In my experience, it's not so much that they "disfavor" foreigners trying to fit in, its just that in most cases, its your difference that makes you useful. If they (Japanese businesses) wanted to deal with another salaryman, then they would. When they want views from an outsider, they expect you to be yourself.

That being said, as Trevor Hill mentions, you can always get more respect by trying to be polite. Knowing some Japanese always impresses people, but in Tokyo its really not a life or death thing. Its good to know when to take your shoes off, when to put different types of shoes on, how to use chopsticks, where to sit in meetings, etc. Little things like that go a long way...mainly showing everyone that you aren't some stupid western barbarian.

But merely aping the customs and dress is usually correctly perceived as posing, and gets you nowhere. Hell, even the basic idea of bowing upon meeting people is pointless for westerners. Most Japanese I've met are happy to shake your hand, and will even offer theirs up first.

I'm Japanese and I'm poreparing to study abroad. I'm apologize to use wrong English and you don't understand my English.

Next thursday, I will do speech about "cool biz" in my class. So, I search about it and I found this page. In my opinion, it should stop. Because many companies are don't do it, and workers have to wear suits when they go to another office. When I go to convenience store or supermarket, it is very cool and open the door every time. I think, it doesn't make sense!

Has any company thaught about the loss of productivity when people have to work at 28 degrees celcius?

I have also done a business trip to tokyo and there is a big problem with using air conditioners, in my office there were always 27 tot 29 degree

@ Marc: I had this problem, too! In my office there was always 29-32 degrees. A very hot buisness ;-)

After spending a summer in Manila with no air conditioning, I feel your pain - but I still think it's a good policy. Why not just make it 25 degrees?

In the wintertime in Germany now, we´ve about 24 degrees(!!!!!!

I was in Tokyo for bussiness trip these months, yes, I think it is a big problem with using air conditioner, if the office have many computer in it, it will surely much more higher than 28 degrees.

Hello, in germany we had 15-20 degrees without airconditioner :)

Hello.Many Greetings from Croatia.

I hear that your ministry for the environment recommend that you wear waistcoats and thermals in the winter. This is very helpful.

I hear that your ministry for the environment recommend that you wear waistcoats and thermals in the winter. This is very helpful.

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Damn "Cool Biz" from Venture Chronicles by Jeff Nolan
September 1, 2005 3:42 AM

It's not just a Japanese thing either, for some reason I just will never understand the Germans turn off air conditioning in our buildings in Walldorf in the summer. What's the point of having AC if you don't use it Read More