By on May 19, 2011

Japan has hit on the world’s most effective energy conservation program. It is three words long: “Conserve, or else.” With 32 of Japan’s 54 nuclear reactors down in the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, Japan must get through the hot summer without a total breakdown of the infrastructure. It looks like they will do it by sheer willpower.

It is impossible to live in Japan without daily reminders to save. Real-time graphs of current power usage have become as common to the Japanese weather report as the pollen forecast to America. Screens in subways and huge (powered) displays in public places remind me and my Japanese cohorts of how much power we are using and how little remains until lights out.

There is even an Android app that runs on my keitai and that warns me that the current usage rate hovers at 79.2 percent. And that while the temperature outside stands at very comfortable 72 degree F. If we hit the ominous red line on top of my Android, Tokyo will go dark. As my contribution to the cause, if the weather and conservation of power demand it, reports from Tokyo will be typed in shorts, with a bare chest, and the webcam disabled.

Japanese carmakers today announced their part in the great national power conservation. Automakers and their suppliers will re-arrange the calendar. Thursdays and Fridays will be off days. Saturday and Sunday it will be back to work. This long discussed plan was finally announced today during a press conference of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association JAMA. The plan will be in effect from July through September, explained Toshiyuki Shiga, chairman of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association and chief operating officer of Nissan Motor Co.

Shiga dressed for the occasion. He wore “cool biz,” which is when Japanese salarymen lose their necktie during the day, something they used to do only after hours in a bar, when they have the tie wound around their heads, in banzai-fashion.

AP erroneously reported that Shiga wore “super cool biz.” He didn’t go THAT far – yet.

“Soon we’ll have ‘super cool biz’  and the  businessmen come to the office in aloha shirts and flip flops.” When a dressed down Reuters cameraman told me that on Tuesday on the bus to Iwaki, I thought he was cracking a joke. But Japantoday tells me it’s official. Nothing is sacred anymore: The situation is so dire that coat and tie become a victim.

Just because JAMA announced the rearranged work week doesn’t mean that it will automatically be in effect.

A careful source at Nissan tells me that his company is “discussing the measure with all stakeholders.”

In the cool biz, Toyota is ahead of Nissan. “TMC has all intentions to cooperate fully with the proposed measures,” says Toyota spokesman Dion Corbett. His company is working on “prompt implementation.” After talks with labor representatives have been concluded, Toyota expects to announce a final plan beginning of next week.

Toyota has experience with such a plan. In July and August 1987, Toyota had worked on weekends and shut down on two days during the week as a cost saving measure. At the time, weekend utility rates were lower in Toyota City, and the company capitalized on this during July and August of that year.

In the meantime, companies and private citizens save wherever they can. In offices, the thermostats of the A/C are set to 82 degrees Fahrenheit. Privately, A/C usage is becoming anti-social, morally even more reprehensible than dropping a plastic bottle into the recycled paper bin. Who knows, with all the conservation, maybe they won’t need all those power plants after all. Wouldn’t that be cool?

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20 Comments on “Super Cool Biz: Japan’s Automakers Re-Arrange Calendar, Lose Neckties To Conserve Power...”

  • avatar

    «Wouldn’t that be cool?»

    Yeah. I’m sure it is cool when your kids and wife have the weekend off, but you have to work it.
    It must also be cool to spend summer nights in bed with the A/C off (we live in Miami).

    Who knew living without electric power could be so fun?

    To top it off, with 22 nuclear plants out of commission, “the country will have little option but to use much more gas, oil and coal for power generation. Japan is already the world’s largest coal importer by volume,” as the WSJ said.

    Hey, the largest coal importer in the world is now burning even more coal, and oil!

    What a gas! Maybe they won’t need all those power nuclear plants after all! Go coal burning, go!

    • 0 avatar

      “It must also be cool to spend summer nights in bed with the A/C off (we live in Miami).”
      Makes me wonder how can those indigenous Americans survive there in the past, say, 2,000 years.

      How about those Egyptians, Babylonians and Indians? Have we really advanced forward or backward?

  • avatar
    Mr Carpenter

    Eggs. Baskets.

    Don’t put all of the first in a single of the second.

    Also, as mentioned by the honorable ancestors, “don’t build houses below this line”….

    But we Americans can’t point too many fingers. How many times have idiots rebuilt in the flood plains of the Mississippi river basin, and how many times has New Orleans been rebuilt under sea level?

    Not very bright…

  • avatar

    The apparent willingness of the Japanese to pull together in a crisis is truly awe inspiring. While I understand that it is part and parcel of a natioanl character that includes downsides (like xenophobia), it would be good if the peoples of western nations could similarly come together in times of difficulty instead of using such times as an opportunity to blame each other for the problem in order to gain a political advantage.

  • avatar

    This would never fly in America. People would gripe and complain about switched workdays due to power shortages and then speed home in their 12 mpg Yukatahoburbalade, crank the A/C down to 65 degrees, and turn on every light bulb and HDTV in the house because they feel it’s their “God-given right” to do so.

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      Go spend a couple weeks in Japan then tell me if you really want to live that way.

      In fact, just go live there. You can, you know.

      • 0 avatar

        I spend half of my time in Japan, the other half in China …

      • 0 avatar

        I agree. I would despise having my community come up with some conservation measures during a crisis. If there ever was a natural crisis, I hope to be living in New Orleans. At least my constitutional liberty wouldn’t be trampled on.

      • 0 avatar

        M1: “Go spend a couple weeks in Japan then tell me if you really want to live that way.”

        What do you mean by “live that way?”

        Do you mean work split weekend shifts? ‘Cos I’ve done it right here in the good ol’ US of A…because it was more advantageous to my employer’s profitability, not because it was the right thing to do for my country.

        Or do you mean conserve power? I’ve done that here, too…once again, because the company I was working for found that to be more advantageous to its profitability. I also do it at my own home because it’s the fiscally and patriotically responsible thing to do.

        Or perhaps you mean drive a smaller, more fuel efficient vehicle, which is something I’ve also been doing ever since I first started driving…because I find it more economically advantageous for my own pocketbook and because I believe OPEC, middle eastern terrorists, and oil speculators on Wall Street hate it when I don’t feel a need to daily drive a 15 mpg truck just because I might need its open bed to haul some potting soil or garbage at the weekend.

        That said, I’d love to visit Japan, maybe even live there for a while. I have some friends who lived there until a couple of years ago and loved it. But America is my home, and meager is my pay, so both by choice and by necessity, here is where I’ll likely stay.

  • avatar


    I disagree. People tend to pull together after a shared trauma. If we (Americans) had been hit by a a quake-tsunami-nuclear meltdown we’d probably be behaving similarly.

    • 0 avatar

      I hope for the sake of our country you are right, carloss. But the often selfish behavior of my fellow countrymen in the face of ever-higher fuel prices and ever-increasing scarcity of oil supply on the market isn’t encouraging. This country hasn’t had a real shared sacrifice experience like the Japanese are currently experiencing since World War II, what with its rationing, war bonds, and recycling of needed materials.

      • 0 avatar
        DC Bruce

        Oh, puhleez!

        A little history is in order here. After the “oil crisis of the 1970s and early 1980s, petroleum consumption in the U.S. actually declined — not a decline in the rate of increase, but an absolute decline. Same with other forms of energy, including electricity. In fact, a number of electric power companies were caught as new facilities came online (as the result of planning based on straight-line extrapolation of growth curves) but there was no demand for their power. This activity was not the result of Jimmy Carter giving a speech on TV while dressed in a cardigan, exhorting people to conserve. Rather, it was the result of higher prices for all forms of energy. So, people used less.

        People respond to price signals, not to TV images of their president in a cardigan lecturing about their moral duty to conserve, etc.

        It is depressing how frequently this lesson is forgotten.

        With respect to Japan, they will have to make some fundamental decisions: will they continue to rely on nuclear power for electricity, given that they have no domestic fuel supplies (coal, oil)? Or will they allow substantially higher prices to reduce electricity demand to an equilibrium that works with their newly-reduced supply? The latter decision has major implications, not just for the comfort of the Japanese people, but for Japanese manufacturing industry.

        In the short term, exhortations to conserve, billboards, etc., will work; but this is not a substitute for a long-term solution.

      • 0 avatar

        DC Bruce:

        There is a difference in responding to price signals and being proactive in the face of clearly demonstrated (though long in coming) consequences for a country due to over-dependence on oil (or any one resource, for that matter).

        I’ll not get into a lengthy internet debate because that’s pointless and none of the B&B want to slog through it with us. Suffice it to say I’m of the opinion that Japanese attitudes about responsible curbing of energy consumption and waste (both before and after the tsunami/earthquake/meltdown disaster trifecta) and what Americans did in the face of the “oil crises” of the ’70s are vastly different things. The former is proactive, the latter, reactive. What we did in World War II was proactive such that we made those sacrifices for the good of the country. What we did in the oil shocks was reactive such that people made those sacrifices for the good of their own pocketbooks.

      • 0 avatar

        I think you misunderstand. There is no finger-wagging. There are no huge “Save Power!” billboards. There are simple displays that say “Ok, folks, this is the power we have, and this is what we use at the moment.” Everybody knows that when the yellow graph in the picture above left goes above the red line, it will be lights out. The result: Everybody saves. There are no rolling blackouts. Not needed.

        Now this is a very disciplined country. No jaywalking. On an escalator, everybody stands on the left, walks on the right. No talking on the cellphone on the subway. Everybody stands in line. No looting, no stealing.

      • 0 avatar
        M 1

        Bertel, what you say is true, but this is the result of an upbringing that literally amounts to brainwashing. I have American friends who live there and they used to tell me about “going off-script.” I didn’t really understand it until my company opened an office there, which required me to start visiting regularly.

        Now I understand “going off-script.” Even something as mundane as ordering a Coke without ice will create near-panic, and that is no exaggeration. Some Westerners do this as a kind of idle entertainment. They have almost no coping skills. “Going off script” is an excellent description, as it happens.

        You’re right, this works really well in a crisis situation… but who really wants to live that way? People seem to want to romanticize certain behaviors which have very troubling roots…

      • 0 avatar

        I think people will tend to pull together in a crisis, regardless of the culture.

        Here in Canada, we just had a small town destroyed by fire on the weekend. Not on the same scale as the tsunami, but the town of Slave Lake was essentially destroyed overnight. According to the authorities there have been “no reports of resistance or criminal activity (looting) in Slave Lake”*

        I think in a genuine emergency, people just do what needs to be done.

        As for things like standing on one side of escalators while walking on the other, I think that’s a function of population density – you see this in London, I suspect because it works well with the number of people on the escalator. Plenty of jaywalking there, so there are ~some~ cultural differences…

    • 0 avatar

      My experience with hurricanes (south FL native) is that community spirit and the resulting conservation of needed supplies is good for the first week then all bets are off. People go right back to bitchin’ and fightin’ over whatever resources remain. Then the looters and scammers show up.

      I’ve often wondered how much gas would be saved if all companies allowed people to work flex hours (or even flex days) to eliminate traffic jams. I’ve heard of large employers in small communities (IBM in Fishkill NY for example) that have staggered in/out times just to keep the local roads from become total grid lock weekdays from at 8AM & 5PM.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Bertel: I wondered why you didn’t go back to Beijing, but then I read this:

    “China Limits Manufacturers’ Power Use As Yangtze Runs Low, Tone of Officials Turns Shrill; Factories Feel the Pinch” By James T. Areddy in The Wall Street Journal on May 18, 2011 at page A13:

    Chinese authorities are hitting manufacturers with restrictions on electricity use that they say will continue in coming months, as low river levels and high coal prices threaten the country’s worst seasonal power shortages in several years.

  • avatar


    Who really wants to live that way? All the Japanese people want to live that way. Way to denigrate their culture. A culture that has been successful for thousands of years, since way before we showed up and tried to “enlighten” them.

    Just because it doesnt work for you doesnt mean it doesnt work.

    (I am in Japan right now, and I like it)

  • avatar

    It would be very cool if I could work in shorts and a T-shirt to minimize A/C usage!

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