Super cool biz and signs of a setsuden summer

May 24th, 2011 by Sandra Barron

For most people in Tokyo, life two months past the March 11 quake and tsunami is back to usual. But it’s not as if nothing at all has happened. In addition to paying keener attention to minor rattles (will it get stronger? was that just the tail end of a much bigger quake elsewhere?) and keeping go-bags at the ready, the signs are small, but they are there. Signs in store windows, from convenience stores to fashion outlets, carry the ubiquitous cheer “Gambarou Nippon.” Company mascots, from Lee Jeans’ Buddy Lee to KFC’s Colonel, are joining in the rallying cry. Waiters at the hip Good Morning Cafe wear subtle red buttons with the same message.

Many are wondering if the coming summer will really bring the promised  electricity cut-backs. Setsuden (energy-saving) measures are at once an attempt to stave off power reductions and a taste of what they would entail. What’s cooler than Cool Biz? Super Cool Biz.  This year’s incarnation of the power-saving and sweat-inducing measures runs two months longer than last year and relaxes the standard business dress code even more. Where last year the most that  a hot-under-the-collar salary man could get away with was ditching the coat and tie, this year he can lose the collar altogether. T-shirts, jeans and Hawaiian shirts will be permitted under the Ministry of Environment’s new guidelines. (Only nice jeans, though. Standards specify “no rips or holes.”)

For direct power saving, there are compromise measures everywhere. Vending machines are on, but their backlights are off. In some places, the machines are shut off at certain hours. Bank and post-office ATM’s also have reduced hours. At the Kitasando train station, the bottom tier of three levels of escalators is turned off and blocked with tape. In many places with banks of elevators or rows of escalators, only a portion of them are running. At Shinagawa Station, the escalators are turned off from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Darkened aisles at grocery stores with unlit refrigerated vegetable shelves are common. The moving sidewalks at Ebisu Garden Place seem to be operating part time, but not the AC.

At electronics giant Bic Camera, the signs of a setsuden summer are on the sales floor and in the air. Popular products include engergy-efficient LED lightbulbs, power-saving refrigerators and smart air conditioners. The store itself is making energy-saving moves: TVs in the chaotic showrooms are sometimes turned off. Perhaps more stunningly, at least to anyone who’s ever been deafened by the incessant store jingle blasted over the PA, the music has been turned down to normal background levels. On a recent trip to this noisy temple of electronic consumption, it was actually possible to hear the quiet whir of a thicket of kilowatt-friendly electric fans.

Seen signs of setsuden? Tweet them @ japan_pulse.

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