A new angle on Japanese current affairs

Seeing the light of day

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The Japanese government is considering the introduction of daylight saving and flexible working hours to cope with rising energy demand in the summer. And while this would appear to be a temporary measure given the energy shortages stemming from the triple disaster, it may be worth adopting over the long term.

The below article I wrote last summer for the TAC’s iNTOUCH magazine lists some of the arguments for and against daylight saving in times more normal.

The government is committing daylight robbery. At least that’s the opinion of some residents and officials in the northern Japanese city of Sapporo. They believe that the state is depriving them of longer, brighter evenings by failing to put the clocks forward by an hour for the duration of the summer.

In the Hokkaido capital during summer, dawn breaks at around 4 a.m., while night falls after 7 p.m.
Contrast this with Toronto, a city on a similar latitude, where the locals can enjoy the evening light that stretches to at least 9 p.m.
Torontonians adjust their clocks to Eastern Daylight Time between the second Sunday in March and the first Sunday in November.
This practice of daylight saving time (DST) is widely followed in most of North America, Europe and Russia, but has never been, or is no longer used in much of the southern hemisphere, Asia and Africa.
Countries and regions have introduced DST for a variety of reasons, but, in most cases, it has been adopted it to make better use of daylight in the evenings. Its implementation has often been controversial, with studies contradicting one another as to its effects on energy use, local economies, public safety and health.
Japan had a short period of daylight saving time, between 1948 and 1951. The measure was seen by many as a symbol of Allied occupation and criticized for its bungling introduction only three days after being passed into law, leading Japan to drop it after regaining its sovereignty in 1952.
But given Hokkaido’s 15 hours of daylight during the summer months, authorities there see their island as an ideal candidate for DST and have experimented with the concept in recent years. The Sapporo Chamber of Commerce and Industry carried out a “summer time” trial from 2004 through 2006. Although clocks were not actually turned back, working hours in government offices were adjusted so people could start and end their days an hour earlier. Many private firms voluntarily followed suit.
According to the chamber, the trial was aimed at encouraging people to make use of two or three hours of daylight that normally they would sleep through while also making Hokkaido an attractive tourist destination by differentiating it from the rest of Japan. The body calculated that an extra hour of summer evening light would augment the region’s economy by about ¥65 billion a year.
This trial continued on a voluntary basis until last year, but has not been implemented this year. The chamber has no plans to reintroduce it. “In the end, it turned into a flextime system, moving away from our original intention of a legally binding daylight saving time,” explains Hitomi Iwama of the chamber’s planning department. “We decided there was little meaning in adopting it again this year if it wasn’t going to be implemented across the region or whole country.”
Iwama says that Hokkaido citizens were split on the issue. “Many people felt the experiment allowed them to use daylight hours more effectively and that it increased their activity options,” he says. “Others said that if there was [DST] legislation solely for Hokkaido, then it would show off the uniqueness of Hokkaido and raise its profile.” Opponents, he adds, claimed some people became ill at the start and end of the DST period.
The chamber, however, continues to push for the nationwide adoption of DST, and it has an ally in the Japan Productivity Center, a foundation established to promote productivity in Japanese industry and boost living standards.
The center’s Shinji Watanabe believes the government would be prudent to consider DST. “First, it would have the effect of saving energy,” he says. “Calculations show that adopting DST nationwide would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of 1.5 million tons of carbon dioxide a year. Secondly, an extra hour of light in the evening would enable people to commute from work or school and go shopping for dinner in the light. This would reduce traffic accidents and crimes such as bag snatching.”
There are other benefits, too, according to Watanabe. “Britain, which has had summer time for more than 90 years, is able to hold evening operas outside in the daylight,” he says.
Professor Kenichi Honma of Hokkaido University, a member of the Japanese Society of Sleep Research, however, says that DST can have an adverse medical effect on people. “Summer time causes moderate sleep deprivation, especially around the time the clocks are put back and forward,” he explains. “This fatigue can cause traffic accidents. It can also trigger mild depression. One-third of respondents to a survey about summer time in Hokkaido said that they suffered sleeping problems.”
Despite efforts by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to introduce DST, the idea was rejected and there seems little political will at the moment to return to the debate, which should please Honma, who likes to take advantage of the light mornings to take a stroll before work.

Written by Andy Sharp

March 25, 2011 at 12:22 pm

Posted in Society

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