The Cool Biz Look Sweeps Japan. Sort Of.

The Cool Biz Look Sweeps JapanThe Japanese government has officially launched the Cool Biz initiative, designed to promote more casual business attire and save energy during the summer months. While you would expect to hear cheers from Salarymen around the country, the reaction to the new program has been decidedly mixed.

First of all, there’s the all important question of what to wear. The standard uniform of Japanese business has become an integral part of the identity of the Salaryman.

There have been reports of businessmen arriving at their offices in suits hoping to get fashion tips from others in their office, only to find that their peers are taking the same approach. It seems no one wants to be the first to jump on the Cool Biz bandwagon.

Fortunately Environment Minister Yuriko Koike anticipated this problem and has a solution: fashion shows for businessmen. Of course, this plan assumes that the same men who don’t want to give up their traditional business attire will suddenly start attending fashion shows.

Somehow Koike has managed to rope a number of high profile executives into modeling a variety of well ventilated suit alternatives. She hopes that the mere sight of executives from Sanyo and Toyota strutting down the runway in bamboo mesh shirts will bring on the Cool Biz revolution. “This isn’t simply a fashion show,” she said. “I hope this will be part of a change to a new kind of lifestyle.”

Just in case the fashion show approach doesn’t work, Koike has a backup plan. She’s enlisting the help of the Salarymen’s spouses. “I’d like wives to ask their husbands when they’re wearing a necktie, ‘Why don’t you think more about the Earth?'”

Meanwhile, a Japanese think tank is playing up the economic advantages of the new program, noting that Biz Cool could add up to 100 billion yen to the economy as businessmen replace their summer wardrobes.

So it’s good for the environment AND the economy? What’s not to like?

Apparently plenty, if you’re a traditionalist. Japan Today published a full page of Salarymen’s excuses for not participating in the voluntary program. Among other things, they are concerned that they’ll have a harder time drawing a line between time off and work time.

Still, there’s some indication that a few businessmen are giving Cool Biz a fair chance — and hedging their bets in the process. As one businessman noted, “I thought I should keep a tie in my jacket pocket for a while, just in case of emergencies.”

There’s some indication that even PM Koizumi is backing off the program a bit. Last week he told reporters “Don’t take it too seriously. I’m just saying you should relax with no tie. I’d like everyone to think for themselves what they ought to wear, because (the rule) is not obligatory.”

Given the fact that most office buildings will have the thermostat set to 28 Celsius (82 Fahrenheit) I’m guessing that quite a few Salarymen are going to reconsider Cool Biz later this summer.

Stay tuned to Planet Tokyo for further updates.