From May 1, the "Cool Biz" campaign, which encourages casual wear during the hot summer months, began its 13th year, having been initiated by Japan's Environment Ministry from 2005.
As Yukan Fuji (May 23) reports, the government has been rather inflexible on one aspect of the campaign, that of recommending that thermostats be set to the arbitrary figure of 28 degrees Celsius (82.4 degrees Fahrenheit). On steaming summer days, growing numbers of uncomfortable people have been arguing, the wearing of lighter garments provides no assurance of comfort unless the A/C settings are changed.
But now more people in the government and private industry have begun to suffer from frayed nerves and they've started openly criticizing the system. Vice minister Masahito Moriyama, who was one of the bureaucrats in charge of Cool Biz at the time of its adoption, appears to be having second thoughts. He was recently quoted as saying, "Cool Biz wasn't decided from a scientific perspective, but conceived as some kind of benchmark when we started it. After that, it just kept going of its own momentum."
"At 28 degrees some people perspire a lot, and this of course requires them to do more laundry," observed Koichi Hagiuda, a vice cabinet secretary, apparently implying that heavier use of washing machines will consume whatever energy is saved by using less air conditioning.
An unnamed official in the Environment Ministry emphasized to Yukan Fuji, "We are not insisting that people set their thermostats to 28 degrees; rather we want the entire room temperature to be a uniform 28 degrees" (whatever that means). He claims that while his own bureau is set to that temperature, "nobody's complaining it's too hot." But he does concede that he hears occasional grumbles to the effect that "Today, the air conditioning doesn't seem to be working very well," or "When the afternoon sun beats down on the west side of the building, it gets pretty stuffy in here."
Shinichi Tanabe, a professor of structural engineering at Waseda University's graduate school of engineering, observed that the temperature of 28 degrees came about through a sanitary law for buildings that was passed in 1970.
"It's believed that the original environmental sanitary standards were meant to cover a temperature range from 17 to 28 degrees," Tanabe explains. "In other words, 28 degrees is the maximum figure stipulated by the law, and not the recommended temperature setting by any means."
Tanabe pointed out that at a certain company's call center, the efficiency of workers at 28 degrees declined by 6% compared to a setting of 25 degrees. The lower efficiency also resulted in more worker overtime.
"I think a setting of around 26 is probably just right," Tanabe remarked.
A survey of businesses found at least some efforts at compliance. A major Tokyo hotel, for example, told Yukan Fuji that it had tried to stick to the 28-degree setting for areas where employees are on the job, but it has been forced to put priority on work efficiency, and may use lower settings.
"Our headquarters, all branches and sales outlets are setting thermostats to under 20 degrees," a source at a major life insurance company told the tabloid. "Our staff are also encouraged to wear lighter clothing and dispense with neckties."
The sales areas of a department store have been varying the temperature settings depending on various factors, but 26 degrees is the usual starting point, with adjustments made according to the time of day and peak temperatures. (Employee areas, however, still adhere to the 28-degree guideline.)
Daikin Industries, a major manufacturer and supplier of air conditioning equipment, says at its own corporate HQ, the temperature in summer is generally set to 28 degrees, but the figure is not etched in stone.
"To ensure that staff can perform their jobs effectively, we might make adjustments to more appropriate temperature and humidity levels," a spokesperson said.
Thirteen years on, people are finally hoping to see the Cool Biz guidelines show a little more compassion, at least when the mercury soars.© Japan Today