Summertime Blues for Civil Servants

SalarymanOne 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.

Summer timeIn 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;

WTF were you thinking?“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!
Daylight Saving Time Map of the World

What do you think? Leave us a comment on whether you think Japan needs DST or not.

10 thoughts on “Summertime Blues for Civil Servants”

  1. I’m surprised that Japan hasn’t jumped on the DST bandwagon, with all the talk about cool biz, cool Earth 50, etc. since it does save a certain amount of energy.

    That extra hour of sunlight would indeed be a cruel joke to salarymen stuck watching 8:00 sunsets from the window of their skyscraper office buildings. But not everyone in Japan is a white collar worker so I think that most people would benefit from DST.

    Looking at the distribution map, though, gives me a good clue as to why they haven’t adopted it yet. With the exception of Russia none of Japan’s neighbors are currently using DST, so Japan probably doesn’t want to be the odd one out.

  2. Especially in Tokyo (and the rest of eastern Japan, I imagine), it’s quite ridiculous how early the sun rises. If I remember correctly, it starts getting light out a little after 4am (!) in the summer. It’s definitely a strange feeling when, wandering around after all-night boozing in Shibuya, the sky begins to go from black to blue and the trains aren’t even running yet. (Ahh, nostalgia).

    That said, I doubt DST in Japan would save energy, considering it would lengthen the aircon’ed hours of the day (which I’m guessing exceeds energy consumption as a result of lighting).

  3. yeah good point Daniel. Bone, why exactly does DST save us money?
    Does anyone know someone working for the Keidanren. I was about to take the mickey out of them until I realised that I do the same thing – I decided to come to work early so I could go home early. I still come to work at about 7:30AM in the morning but I don’t think I’ve gone home before anyone else more than about twice in the last year. Something wrong there… Let’s be honest though, it’s not really DST unless the TV programs all start an hour earlier, right!

  4. Two weeks after summer solstice, and in Osaka dawn was 04:09AM, dusk was 07:41PM. It would have been even earlier in Tokyo.

    What is the point of having three to four hours of sunlight before you even wake up? It’s just baking the roof and making the aircon work overtime (in Japan the aircons have to do サービス残業 as well.)

  5. This article has some interesting information and provides some insight into japanese work culture, but I am afraid that it dismisses the most obvious explanations. Most of the population in Japan is actually pretty southern when compared to USA or Europe. Tokyo is about the same latitude as Memphis TN, or Gibraltar and sees considerably smaller seasonal change in length of daylight than New York or London.

    Also note the agricultural regions typically do not prefer DST time-shifts since animals use the sun and not clocks to regulate behavior. Full time farmers work when conditions are best and not by a schedule, and part time farmers probably appreciate the early sunrise in order to do some work before going to their day jobs. Japan’s strong farm lobby may also have played a role in avoiding summer-time.

    But again, this was an interesting article in that it brought up a topic that most people wouldn’t think twice about.

  6. the more I think about this issue the more I think the people who are protesting against it have their heads in the sand. Have you heard some of their arguments (you get heaps if you do a simple google search for summer time (easier to click here than type it yourself or you might end up searching for fish)).
    The most common argument seems to be that people will continue to hold their meetings late at night so you can’t go home early – do none of them realise that you actually change the time on the clock and so people don’t realise that they are going home an hour early? Would some of these people go to america or somewhere that uses it and experience it before the complain!!??

  7. DST will never work in Japan. Although things are changing slowly, salarymen are still expected to stay after work and go drinking. And drinking in Japan can’t be done when it’s light outside, so implementing DST would bankrupt the bars, and drive the divorce rate up as all those sober salarymen went home and acted like a “wet leaf” at home.

  8. Drinking when it’s light outside is one of the best parts of summer. Just ask anyone in the northern climes. One of my best memories of a summer trip to Canada was drinking outside at 12:30 A.M. and still being able to see the end of the sunset. I can just imagine how much more blissful that would be on top of a beer garden.

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