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Saturday, Aug. 9, 2008

JAPAN LITE

Putting Cool Biz to the test


Here we are in the middle of Kuuru Bizu. Cool what? you say. There is nothing cool about the hot and humid summer in Japan. Perhaps they meant "cool busy" as in busy trying to find someplace cool to hang out.

Cool Biz is the government's campaign to turn down the air conditioning in offices to save energy and the environment, although the environment seems to be a bit heartless in caring about us. Cool Biz also aims to get business men to cast off jackets and neck ties in order to cool the body temperature by two degrees.

If taking off a jacket and tie can cool the body by two degrees, think of how much cooler it would be with nothing on at all. Don't laugh — you don't see tribes in Borneo or the Amazon wearing suits do you? And what about socks? Socks alone must be responsible for two degrees (one degree on each foot), and underwear would have to account for another degree. So as often as I can, I opt for a bikini. When even that gets too hot, I jump in the sea, or go for a boat ride.

With the hot summer approaching, in June I invested in an 8-meter Japanese fishing boat. It's a modern version of those fishing boats with the "eyes" painted on the prow. Although I am now the proud mother of not just one boat, but three (two Japanese boats and one hafu), this is my first boat with a diesel engine. If you own a boat with a diesel motor in Japan, you can get discounted diesel fuel tickets. Now that's cool.

After purchasing the boat, I went to the mainland with a Japanese friend who had to get his diesel tickets renewed for the year. Getting the discount fuel tickets was a fairly painless exercise. For me that is. The guy on the other side of the counter, however, was mercifully sweating out the Cool Biz campaign. The office was a bit warm, but not hot. I found it rather comfortable myself.

My friend didn't feel it was necessary to accompany me during the application process since I can speak Japanese and read kanji.

The man behind the counter listened to my request for the diesel tickets and he started the application process immediately. There would be a long explanation on the rules of the tickets, which covered four pages, each neatly laid out on the counter. He would go through them with me point by point.

But as soon as he started the explanation, a strange thing happened. The guy started beading. Tiny beads of sweat started forming on his brow.

His explanation was so well executed, you could tell he had recited it many times before. I followed each point with a "Hai." And an occasional "Wakarimashita.''

When he moved on to page two, page one stuck to his sticky arm. It hovered there a moment, suspended, before floating loftily back down onto the counter.

On page two, he continued, highlighting certain kanji such as "nontransferable " with red pen. Occasionally, I clarified something I didn't quite understand but this seemed to increase the beading, which had now spread to the rest of his face. So I just said, "Hai, hai. Wakarimashita.''

On to page three. Again page two stuck to his sticky arm, hovered a moment, then floated loftily back down onto the counter. The guy really ought to have been selling his sweat to postage stamp makers.

On to page four, which he started while page three was still hovering, stuck to his arm. Page four had a chart and explained how to log in your mileage and the amount of diesel used each time. Every now and then, between increased beading, the guy would throw in an inappropriate English word, such as "week" when he meant "day," just for good measure. I smiled and said, "Hai, hai. Wakarimashita.''

Suddenly my Japanese friend sidled up to me. By now, the guy's nose had beaded up and a drop of sweat was perilously hanging on the end of his nose about to drop onto the papers. There was so much sweat on his arms, that when he rested them on the table, several papers at a time would stick to them. Each paper released itself at a different time, each landing in a different spot on the counter.

When everything was finally finished and we walked out of the office with the diesel tickets, my Japanese friend laughed and said, "Boy, that guy was nervous! That was probably the first time he had ever had to deal with a gaijin.''

I guess Cool Biz hadn't accounted for the presence of gaijin, known to add another two degrees.



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