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Thursday, June 09, 2005

Cool Biz - A "Tie Break"?

Suits and ties are the standard dress code for business in Japan. The crowd of commuters at train stations during rush hour looks like it came out of a factory production line: dark suits (black, grey, blue), white shirts and black shoes. One rarely walks into an office in Tokyo and sees a man without a tie; only at factories or research and engineering departments the dress code is a little less formal.

Using "global warming" as a pretext, the Japanese government launched the "Cool Biz" campaign last week. The Prime Minister, Koizumi, and his Environment Minister, Koike, were both seen walking around - horror! - wearing no jacket and no tie. The idea is that if civil servants loosen up their dress code, the air-conditioners can be set at a higher temperature (28c), thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The PM called businesses to follow the government's lead and leave jackets and ties at home (hence the "Cool Biz" moniker for this initiative).

Koizumi: "follow my lead..."

I say: fat chance! Although I immediately took advantage of this piece of news and used it as an excuse to turn up in a short-sleeved shirt at the office the next day, I am not the typical Japanese businessman. It is a safe bet that the response to Koizumi's call will be marginal and hardly felt in business circles. A 40-year-old businessman was quoted in one newspaper as saying: "I will never take off my tie unless I get arrested". And while discussing this new "government directive" with a colleague at work, he remarked wryly to me: "Koizumi is just too advanced for us". And this guy is barely 30 years old...

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