Tag Archives: Cool Biz

Doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city

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We had all suspected it, but the official confirmation that the rainy season had ended seemed to give summer an unrequired impetus. Barely into July and already with the mercury regularly nudging 30 before breakfast time, this is perhaps no sensible climate for an auburn-haired English rose.

This is my first Japanese summer, as I arrived in late August last year, still in enough time to know the feeling of being covered in sweat from waking until falling fitfully asleep again, but thankfully having ducked the worst.

This year has also been compounded by the events of March. Aside from the nuclear power plant damaged by the quake and tsunami at Fukushima Daiichi, a large number of others have been taken offline for checks. To avoid the real possibility of unplanned power cuts, everyone is trying to save energy where possible. Lights are off or dimmed, factories are planning weekend shifts and the train companies preparing for reduced services. But the biggest cause for concern and topic of conversation is air conditioning.

As part of what has been designated ‘cool biz’ companies (including the one I work for) have agreed to set their AC to 28 degrees. At first I thought this would be far too warm, however when it is 32 outside, 28 feels rather pleasant! I have heard about other companies turning it off completely though, and it is here where my patience wears a little thin.

As a person who cares about the planet, I confess to feeling a little uneasy about running the AC for long periods. Pushing out all that warm air makes the city warmer, so it creates a greater need for cooling and so on and so on. This week has seen embattled Prime Minister Kan call for Japan to begin weening itself off nuclear power completely and it is to be hoped that new technologies can over time advance more sustainable methods to bridge the gap.

And yet, and yet…

This is not an ideal world. There is no avoiding that Japan has a hot and humid climate at this time of the year. I have already heard of one person who, when feeling unwell, was told by his doctor to forget the power saving and get the AC on. Of course,  precious power resources shouldn’t be used wastefully but it seems that asking people to economise to such an extent can only lead to more headlines like this in the future.

My fear is that this summer, people are going to be putting their lives on the line to save the power companies revenue streams [As, although they may lose in the short term on electricity bills, they won’t have to invest in new plants just yet]. Meanwhile, governments and utilities can swerve the essential decisions on where we go from here for another couple of decades. That really should be enough to make anyone’s blood boil!

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Sweat

You can reach a point where you almost stop noticing or caring that you are bathed in sweat and have been ever since you reluctantly got dressed into ‘smart business wear’ at 11 o’clock that morning. From the last possible moment before you leave the house, when the air conditioning absolutely must, no question, be switched off, until the blissful one when the train doors glide open, it is simply a given that you will be drenched by every movement made. This is life at 37 degrees and humidity of 70%.

In such unaccustomed conditions, it is remarkable how little fuss the Northern European body makes towards its owner. You find yourself less troubled by thirst than you would be on a warm day at the beach back home, despite an over 10 degree temperature advantage. If not occupied with other pursuits, the mind may wander towards ice-cold showers or busy itself trying to recall the last time your fingers were so cold you had to blow on them for warmth, but since it is no good trying, as it is impossible to recall in this heat, physically it is stunning how quickly you adjust. So far, no fainting, heat stroke or anything so exotic has transpired.

Of course, one advantage we have over a warm day in England is utterly sensational air conditioning. Every home is equipped and the trains are like motorised refrigerators, similar to the ones that transport milk up the motorways, if equipped for passenger use. Workplaces used to be kept so cool that in 2005 the government introduced the concept of ‘Cool Biz’, to encourage Japanese businesspeople to remove a tie, jacket or jumper and turn the thermostat up a couple of notches, in the name of saving polar bears.

Yet you come to rely on this Frigidaire approach to living that the second it is threatened it brings home how reliant you have become on modern life and its advances. Arriving at work last month to discover that the air con was out-of-order and likely to remain so for some time, I was at first nonplussed but not overly alarmed. Seven hours later, with all essential moisture and a few 1,000 unessential-but-enjoyable toxins sweated out, leaving me feeling about as fragrant as an old sock and with a glow that was less ‘dewy’ and more ‘traffic-light red’, I was ready to call for an immediate canonisation, international festival day and lifelong pension rights for the descendants of the creator of air cooling devices. Oh so true that you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone, as sang Joni Mitchell!

Another difference between my old hemisphere and the new one is that where most of you are a warm day wouldn’t necessarily linger once the sun had gone down. As soon as it was safely over the yardarm you could expect a cooling breeze to put in an appearance. Here there is no such soothing guarantee. The nights are as warm, often until long past 10 o’clock. It is a beautiful thing to wander home from the train after a late finish, sans coat or pullover, feeling the warm breeze over the arms, as wispy white clouds roll overhead like longboats heading out to sea. The cicadas sing so loud they can be heard over the music playing on your MP3 player and it seems incredible to hear the tales from the old hands of winter days where you awake to the sight of your own breath in the uninsulated bedrooms’ frozen atmosphere. Could they ever be true? It seems fantastic, more so to believe that they will be real in just a couple of months’ time. I hope that when they do arrive, I will be able to remember this feeling of blood boiling, in order to keep the extremities provisioned.

Thankfully, since I wrote this the temperature has dropped to an almost-chilly 22 degrees. Although Japan is now more like Widnes than Ouagadougou, I thought I would post it to remind me when my toes are dropping off in the cold

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