High Time for Summer Time
Japan should rethink daylight-savings
Jun 21, 2012 | Issue: 952 | 4 Comments | 4,074 views

Shane Busato

When I woke this morning, my bedroom was bathed in warm sunlight. It was not yet six in the morning and the sun was already peeking over the neighboring buildings and coming in through the windows.
“What a waste,” I thought as I crawled out of my futon.

Japan is not what I would call a morning country. Coffee shops and sports clubs don’t open until 7 or 8am at the earliest. Many of the better bakeries are still closed at 9:30am, and few restaurants bother to serve the most important meal of the day, breakfast. Contrast that with the US where you can work out at the gym from five in the morning and then promptly nullify the benefits of all that iron-pumping by gorging yourself on blueberry pancakes and bacon by six.

And yet, as the nation’s salarymen cover their heads with their pillows and try to sleep off their hangovers, the sun has been shining for two, three, and as many as four hours. This morning in Kyushu, for instance, the sun rose at 5:10am. In Tokyo, daybreak was at 4:27am. And, in Sapporo, dawn cracked at a remarkable 3:59am (around the summer solstice, sunrise comes as early as 3:30am): which begs the question: why doesn’t Japan have two time zones?

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First thing’s first: Japan needs to re-adopt daylight-saving time (DST).

Re-adopt, you ask?

During the American occupation, Japan did observe DST for a spell, but abandoned it in 1951 when MacArthur left. For the average Japanese in those post-war years the extra hour of daylight in the evening equated to little more than an extra hour of labor.

But that was then and this is now.

With all fifty-four of the nation’s nuclear power plants idled indefinitely, Japan faces the daunting task of not only producing enough electricity, but also bringing consumption down during the summer months—precisely at the time when energy demand usually peaks. Failure to do so may lead to a repeat of the disruptive blackouts that plagued Japan last summer when the nation still had eleven nuclear reactors online. Daylight-saving time, specifically “double summer time,” may provide the answer.

High Time for Summer Time
Aonghas Crowe is an author, blogger and translator; find him online at www.aonghascrowe.com

While the energy-saving benefits of DST remain a contentious issue in the West, an interesting study conducted at the Toyohashi University of Technology by Wee-Kean Fong (Energy Savings Potential of the Summer Time Concept in Different Regions of Japan From the Perspective of Household Lighting; 2007) has shown that the implementation of a “split summer time”—whereby the southwestern half of the country moves its clocks an hour forward in April and the northeastern half of Japan, two—that is, double summer time—could provide considerable savings in energy consumption.

Were double summertime adopted, the Sapparo sun would rise at 5:59am and set at 9:05pm, providing plenty of sunlight when it is most needed. The benefits of DST, however, wouldn’t end there. According to the October 28, 2010 issue of The Economist, “adopting DST would mean a new dawn for the Japanese economy . . . boost[ing] domestic consumption, as people leave work for bars, restaurants, shopping and golf. Summer time is credited with reducing traffic accidents and crime; boosting energy efficiency as people use less lighting and heating; and even improving health as people are radiated with vitamin D.” The economic benefit, the article continues, could add as much as ¥1.2 trillion (USD $15 billion) to Japan’s GDP and generate 100,000 jobs.

Coming from America’s northwest where the sun sets as late as nine in the evening during the summer, I don’t need to be sold on the benefits of daylight-saving time. Summers, thanks to a simple biannual adjustment of the clock, have always been a time for late evening barbecues with family, twilight concerts in the parks, and relaxed meals at outdoor cafes with friends. The challenge, however, lies in convincing the average Japanese that, in addition to the conservation benefits of extra sunlight in the evening, DST could mean a better quality of life, not just more work.

Until then, all that beautiful sunlight will continue to go to be squandered. Mottai nai!

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  • http://metropolis.co.jp/community/members/jamesch/ Charltzy

    I’d never even thought of the benefits of DST before, brilliant idea! I’m on board 100%.

    Talking of electricity saving, what happened to the shops turning off some of the indoor lights and some unnecessary outdoor ones? My local Big A did that for a few weeks after 3/11, but quickly went back to normal.
    I feel like I get an equal tan indoors and out sometimes, the lights are so bright!
    I also don’t need scores of miniature TV’s lining the aisles telling me how to cook pasta, turn them off!

    Here’s hoping for some kind of government campaign like “Coolbiz” but for lights.

  • hurvj

    I disagree. The adjustments that the body must make to compensate for daylight savings is significant. Many studies have suggested that such adjustments can lead to depression and other ailments. I’d hate to see this happen to Japan, a country already plagued by high rates of depression and suicide. Not a good idea.

  • 618RH

    I kind of disagree because it can effect your lifestyle.

  • gnirol

    Heavens! I can’t travel at all any more. Virtually everywhere outside the country is at least one time zone away. I wouldn’t want to be depressed arriving in Sydney for vacation, or Vladivostok. (Y’all go there for vacations?) If people get depressed (and I don’t think they do in the fall) when they get the extra hour of sleep if they want it (no one forces you), it is because of the anticipation and worry (which also no one forces them to do) of losing an hour’s sleep and having to change clocks. They don’t have to lose an hour if they go to bed say at 2am on Saturday night instead of pushing it to 3am, doing email or playing a video game, or 10pm instead of 11pm if they’ve been up since 6am Saturday morning. Is it really that difficult a thing to do? Those studies, I guess, assume that people never stay up even an hour later for a party nor go to bed an hour earlier to go fishing the next morning. Is that true? Those that do are much more prone to depression and suicide? I know sleep experts want us to go to sleep at precisely the same time every day and wake up at the same time, but don’t at least a few Americans and Europeans cheat, well, by an hour, or two, or four now and then and somehow avoid committing suicide the next day? There may be good reasons not to introduce DST in Japan or to do away with it in the rest of the world, but this one would seem to assume that people don’t adjust the amount of sleep they get to accommodate many other activities that are important to them and do so many more times a year than twice.