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Say 'Aloha' to Super Cool Biz

26 Comments
By Jeff W Richards

If Tokyo’s humid, sweltering weather doesn’t get you this year, some sartorial eyesores just might. Cool Biz is wading into even more relaxed and unfamiliar territory—with the adoption of the aloha shirt as the salaryman’s new uniform.

One of the pre-eminent signs of summer over the last few years (apart from rising hemlines and dripping sweat beads) has been the disappearance of dark suit jackets and ties from the public wardrobe of salaried employees—men or otherwise.

The introduction of Cool Biz by the Japanese Ministry of the Environment (MOE) in 2005 under then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was aimed at reducing CO2 emissions and electricity consumption through reducing office air conditioning use. Government building thermostats were mandatorily set at a balmy 28 degrees, and all companies were encouraged to follow suit. Short-sleeve shirts and no ties became the rage, and haberdashers fell over themselves trying to create new, cooler business attire, clothes that would “breathe” and absorb moisture in office atmospheres that could easily become sweatshops.

While it was welcome, it did cause a little confusion. Many workers carried their suit jackets in hand with ties squirreled away in pockets—just in case. It might be considered impolite to attend meetings without the ubiquitous accoutrements, regardless of odor.

Cool Biz did work, with energy savings increasing (however minimally) year on year, though the big losers were the makers of those damnable neckties. Manufacturers and shops say that summer sales have dropped 36% since 2005. They’ve even asked the minister to end the campaign.

Far from acquiescing, the MOE has now gone even further—with Super Cool Biz and the aloha shirt. The old guard might see impending Armaggedon, but I am in full support. The effect of such low-tech measures will ultimately trump the effort — and energy consumption — of creating new fabrics. There is no confirmation, however, on whether the muumuu is to be endorsed for women (or men who just might feel more comfortable in one).

Mike Gervais, founder of Tokyo energy specialist Viterum Consulting, suggests businesses could install awnings outside windows to block the sun. Or, “try to use more natural light in the office rather than closing the blinds and turning on those ultra-bright fluorescents,” he suggests. Though how these two ideas go together is beyond me. Aloha shirts still seem the best option. And the laziest one, which suits me.

Unabashed, Mike continues. “Plants in the office would also provide a modicum of cooling through evaporation,” he adds, riffing on the “tropical” theme. I was impressed with the word “modicum.” His techno-babble went on, featuring terms such as “IR/UV blocking film” and “fiber optic window coatings.” He also mentioned “absorption chillers,” which made me dream of ice-cold beers with no condensation on the bottle. “They use solar heat to drive the refrigeration process,” he went on. “The hotter it is outside, the more the cooling system works—without adding to the heat island effect.” I was still thinking of beer.

I don’t hold with these fancy solutions, especially when there’s one as groovy as Hawaiian shirts. In fact, the venerable aloha shirt even has tenuous roots in Japanese culture. The first official ones were crafted by a Chinese entrepreneur in Waikiki—out of leftover kimono material. How fitting.

Let’s face it: Super Cool Biz won’t save too much energy, but what better to way to brighten our suffering? On one thing, Mike and I completely agree: “Even if we ignore the energy conservation aspect, Japanese businesses really need to lose the formality and aim for a more human connection with clients.” Amen.

So, if you’re going to help conserve energy this summer, go big or go home. Bring on the floral, bring on the surf. Bring on the sunset vistas and palm trees. Bring on Matisse, Reyn Spooner, Wal-Mart or Don Quixote—in vintage silk, cool rayon, leisure suit terry, itchy polyester or simple cotton cloth. Bring on the loud, the garish, or the just plain ugly. Just don’t bring on the boring. We all need to do our part to loosen up—and chill out Tokyo.

This commentary originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).

© Japan Today

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

26 Comments
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Why cant the dress tastefully. An Aloha shirt is fine if you are free but a bit tacky at work. Have a look at the southern europeans.They can lead the way

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The problem with the Japanese people that are wearing the Aloha shirts at work is that they dont know how to wear it to make it look good. Wearing an Aloha shirt is not just like wearing any other shirt. To look good in an aloha shirt, you gotta have some type of fashion sense, which I have to say that most Japanese dont have. Aloha shirt in the work place is great for keeping cool, but the key to it is to not only to keep yourself cool, but to also look good at the same time.

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also, some of the southeast asian countries have a wonderful option they have been donning for years. have a look at the "business attire" there. a sort of aloha shirt but rather plain in pattern with nice tucks here and there. now that is serious stuff the powers that be should be considering.

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why dont they wear like jimbei style top? it matches the Japanese physique more than an aloha shirt

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The Aloha shirt is considered business attire for pretty much everyone in Hawaii (except lawyers, wouldn't you know), from bank presidents to salesmen. But there are certain (unwritten) rules--placket-front (tucked in), reverse prints, which have more muted colors, are preferable, and cotton and silk are definitely preferred over polyester... here, of course, it'll probably turn into an anything-goes fashion free-for-all.

Women don't wear muumuu much anymore, not even on Aloha Friday.

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Just wear a polo shirt or a nice light colored linen short sleeved shirt. I agree totally with 'Super Cool Biz' but there is no need to look 'Super Uncool' wearing a hideous aloha shirt.

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Jimbei and plastic toilet slippers will do it

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This way sheep. This way. Oh, and is it okay to wear short-sleeves, yet?

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sillygirl: You might be referring to "Batik" style clothing.

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Look to the Philippines for an answer. They have dress wear for their hot summer. Same goes for much of S.E. Asia. Doesn't take Hawaiian shirts to dress in cool fashion. Just a little time online to research what people in hot climates are already doing.

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jforce. Sheep indeed.

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Ordinarily I'd enjoy the skin exposure, but I'm kind of shocked to see there are so many Japanese women with "tramp stamp" tattoos, which really look cheap and tacky. Why imitate westerners when traditional Japanese tattooing is so much more esthetically appealing?

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In California, we call it a "Hawaiian shirt;" can anybody from Hawaii confirm which is correct?

At any rate, as it will doubtlessly be paired with a white T-shirt and black socks, I'd suggest sticking with the polo.

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Aloha shirts, Bermuda shorts - and slamming down a sneaky few icy-cold beers in your lunch-break - is the sensible answer to surviving this unprecedented summer.

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Laguna--in Hawaii we still call 'em aloha shirts... I guess 'cuz we already know they're Hawaiian... :-)

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Just make them wear polo shirts !!!! JEEZ

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I haven't seen one aloha shirt in any office yet, though I see plenty of those orange clown shoes on young salarymen.

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@shirokuma2011 wrote:

Women don't wear muumuu much anymore, not even on Aloha Friday.

... which is good news. Those awful* dresses were introduced by prudish missionaries to get Hawaiian women, who tended to expose more skin than the Christians wanted to see, to cover the skin and hide the shape of their bodies. Chuck'm all into the volcano, I say. (Oh, and the dresses, too.)

*They're awful when cut 'properly.' Indeed some do look good but when that's the case, then they aren't 'real' muumuus.

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though I see plenty of those orange clown shoes on young salarymen.

Serrano -- thanks for the laugh. So true.

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In California, we call it a "Hawaiian shirt;" can anybody from Hawaii confirm which is correct?

In Hawaii, they call it "Aloha Shirt."

At any rate, as it will doubtlessly be paired with a white T-shirt and black socks, I'd suggest sticking with the polo.

That's true. But, if they could get people to wear board shorts with the Aloha shirts, then they could finally call it "cool biz."

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Pictures please!

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I don't know which part of Cali @Laguna is from (i suspect socal), but it is called aloha shirts in norcal for sure.

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Aloha, Mr. Hand!

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I'm with the necktie companies; a little formality is a good thing. I like looking and feeling professional when I'm at work, and seeing co-workers in short sleeves and bare feet isn't helping.

The fact that the excessive heat in the summer, rather than being balanced with extra-cold temperatures in the winter, in fact tends to remain all year round (my office is at 24-26 even in January!) is just salt in the wounds.

Setting the temperature a degree or two higher is great. Opening windows and using fans is great too. But 28 degrees is far too hot an environment to work efficiently in no matter what you're wearing.

It even causes the average person to consume more energy -- with reasonable indoor temperatures in the pre-Cool Biz years, I could wear pants and outer clothing multiple times, but now they're all soaked in sweat even indoors and I have to a lot more laundry.

Here's a way to save on air conditioning costs: how about making sure employees all go home at a reasonable hour and then turning off the cooling when they leave?

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"seeing co-workers in short sleeves... isn't helping"

Hey, when it gets hot, most people don't want to wear long sleeve shirts. And anyway short sleeve shirts look neater than long sleeve shirts with the damn sleeves rolled up.

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I don't recall having seen many businessmen wearing aloha shirts at the office these past few summers.

But today at a large and well-respected Japanese company I visited, the men were wearing white shirts and no jackets or ties. When they were obliged to meet patrons, they put on their ties and jackets. Is this what is in store?

Summer here is gruesome enough as it is, even with the frail comfort of steady air conditioning. If we are obliged to keep temperatures high, we will need to slow down - considerably - and set up large fans everywhere. It will be reminescent of summers here in the 1960s - but hotter we are told due to the density of construction, fewer trees and the network of ubiquitous asphalt avenues.

Three years ago when it hit 43 degrees C or something similarly hellish in Kumagaya, for the first time in my life I felt fear going outdoors at dusk after a day in the shade and air conditioning. We will need to seriously prepare to avoid heatstroke this summer.

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