One of the things I have always loved about Japan were the warm summer evenings. Sitting on the bank of the Kamogawa in Kyoto at 10pm, at 30 degrees in short and t-shirt, sipping on a cold Heartland, and deciding who was going to wade into the middle of the river to do sumo against the other blokes was one of my favourite pastimes. That was when I was a student, and unfortunately those days have gone.
One thing I often wondered about however, has not changed – why doesn’t Japan have daylight saving time (DST), or “summer time”? It was basically dark as we waded out into the Kamo river, but at the same time back home, it would still have been light, allowing another hour at the end of the day, by skipping one hour at the start of summer. Japan has never embraced daylight saving, and the Government had introduced a farcical experiment which is likely to convince themselves to shelf the ideal for another political cycle.
The first appreciators of daylight saving were in fact the Romans, who used water clocks to tell the time. They divided daylight hours into 12 hours lots regardless of season, so with summer days being longer, each hour became longer, and the evening hours were lighter. Got that?
Daylight saving, in the sense we know it today was initially introduced in England in an effort to save coal back in WW1, in 1916. And it was found to have pleasant side effects such as benefits for retailers, sports people, people who enjoy outdoor fun, and those with a healthy work and life balance. It has also been said to reduce not only electricity costs, but also improve health, and crime rates. Nobody doubts that a certain amount of sun is healthy for the body.
In a twist of irony, it was war which brought the idea first to Japan. After WW2, GHQ floated the idea of introducing daylight saving in Japan. The idea was put to the Japanese Government who in 1948 willingly implemented summertime (サンマータイム), which began in April 1949. It lasted 4 years, and was abolished in April 1952. The main reason sited was that life in the late 1940’s in Japan was so tough for the regular Japanese, that they in fact didn’t want the days to last any longer. They wanted them to finish as quickly as possible. Another result was that for civil servants, they were made to start work 1 hour earlier, which merely meant that they had to be there for one hour longer every day! Their schedules then also clashed with the regular salarymen, which made the trains and buses even more crowded, which was awful in the midst of summer.
Despite this history and its lessons, the Nippon Keidanren (日本経済団体連合会, the Japan Business Federation), has announced it is to implement summer time for 200 of its office staff, in August for one month, to determine the effects and whether it should be implemented more widely. People are applauding this right up to the PM’s office. However, back a few levels down the chain to reality, and the 200 staff guinea pigs for the test are extremely upset. Faced with the task of starting work at 830am, and finishing at 4pm, they have been told that they will have more time to go to the pool, or the movies, and that it is a great chance to reconsider their balance between work and play. To which the participants replied;
“That is absolute bollocks. We will get to work an hours early, which just means another hour of overtime later in the day. We have lots of evening meetings, and seminars etc. It is crazy to think that civil servants can go home at 4pm.”
This is Japan. A land where people don’t really play sport, don’t have such a reliance on the outdoors, where women brandish umbrellas to keep the sun out. And where people definitely do not finish work before 4pm. I think the Keidanren needs to take a hard look at what they are really trying to achieve with this little exercise.
On another note however, Japan is not alone in its choice not to implement DST, and even not alone amongst countries who have decided to give it a test drive, and decide they didn’t like it. However, countries close to the equator do not need daylight saving time, as they have pretty constant sun light all year round. But, as a developed country that is not at all close to the equator, they are pretty much a loner nation, as far as summertime is concerned!
What do you think? Leave us a comment on whether you think Japan needs DST or not.