A few years ago, then-Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro came up with a money and energy saving scheme for the government and business. In the summer, instead of running air conditioners at full blast in their offices, salaryworkers should wear shortsleeved shirts and do without ties.
Because a tie with a shortsleeved shirt is the height of dorkiness.
Mr. Koizumi dubbed this concept "Cool Biz." Beyond a few placards (with frosty blue lettering) in the men's business attire departments at places like Jusco and Uniqlo, I'm not sure how well it's caught on around the rest of Japan, but Friday my boss came into my classroom and said, "Joel, I have an idea..."
Usually when your boss prefaces a statement with those words, it's time to batten down the hatches and mizzen mast the poopdeck and all that nautical folderol sailors use when sailing into a gale. Not that my boss is menacing; actually, he's a fair, straight-shooting guy with a sense of humor. And his idea was that for July and August, our school will adopt the cool biz dress code.
"That's a WONDERFUL idea," I told him. "WOO HOO!"
I was already wearing my tie, but I quickly imitated him and undid it and stored it in a drawer.
"We still must wear dress shirts," he cautioned.
"That's great!" I said.
So cool biz it is until the heat and humidity subside somewhat in September. I really don't think our students will mind in the least. And we can save on a/c costs, too. I was able to leave mine off all during lunch and for almost two whole class periods before the air became stifling again. Usually I run it all day long in the summer, and have to empty the collected condensation out of these tall plastic ashcans at least twice.
I think this came about as the result of a joke I made about how hot it is going out to Bentenjima. I was telling my boss' wife about our new trial student there and we got onto the topic of Japanese summer. Every Wednesday, I take a 6 or 7 minute train ride out to Bentenjima, a small oceanside suburb and walk about the same distance through a concrete sauna to reach a large oven where I teach.
Actually, it's a community center and office building. But to get there, I have to cross a bridge over the sea outlet for Lake Hamana. The view is impressive, with a towering highway bridge off in the distance and the Pacific beyond, a red torii (shrine gate) riding above the waves closer at hand, then fishing boats along a canal. To the north, the JR train and shinkansen bridges and beyond that, Lake Hamana proper, then steaming rice fields and houses all the way to the mountains that look like torn bits of blue-gray construction paper pasted against the sky.
On a June or July afternoon, the air is milky and dense, heavy with moisture. Despite cloudless conditions, visibility towards the mountains is low. They fade into super-heated mists.
By the time I'm sitting in classroom, I'm drenched with sweat. The walk back to the station is easier, but the damage has already been done. I'm Stinky-sensei for the rest of the day.
I usually wait until I'm in the community center to tuck in my shirt and put on my tie, but the heat catches up with me there. That extra minute or so is enough to bring out even more sweat.
But maybe this cool biz idea will help. It certainly can't hurt!