Poet Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902) left the following haiku: “To get cool/ People wear all sorts of unshapely clothes.”
It describes the way people dressed down in summer during the Meiji Era (1868-1912) when air conditioning did not exist. I get a mental picture of men and women of all ages dressed very casually and cooling themselves on verandas and on the street. Some men may only have worn loincloths and women only their underskirts. But even such casual wear must have been socially acceptable.
The term “rokugatsu burei” (literally, June discourtesy) refers to the way people would overlook others dressed in somewhat slovenly clothes on hot days. I hear it even appears in “The Tale of Heike,” which dates to the 13th century. Back then, they were talking about June of the lunar calendar. It has already been eight years since the term “cool biz” was coined to influence the behavior of people in June of the new calendar, the time of year when people switch to summer clothes.
In the first year after the launch of cool biz, men simply took off their neckties. People made fun of those tieless businessmen, saying they looked as though they had stayed out all night. At long last, they have come to look more natural. Last year, driven by the need to really slash electricity use, “super cool biz” was introduced. This year, cool biz fashion has evolved even further.
For those who are hesitant to go so far as to wear shorts to work, cropped pants are said to be popular. With the addition of newly developed materials that are cool to the touch and ones that absorb sweat and dry quickly, consumers now have a much wider choice.
In Japan’s hot and humid summer, Western-style work clothes are apparently both a new and an old problem.
“Meiji Taisho-shi” (A history of Meiji and Taisho eras), published during the early Showa Era (1926-1989) by The Asahi Shimbun, pondered the sweaty days of summer and stated: “It would be good if Japan were a continental country located at more than 40 degrees north.” It added that the Japanese had not worked out the right work clothes to wear during the hottest time of year. Even now, in the Heisei Era that started in 1989, the search for comfortable work clothes continues.
Each workplace should set the scope of “rokugatsu burei” as broadly as possible, within reasonable limits. No matter how casual or out of shape the clothes, getting more people to dress down could change things for the better. It would be a shame to forget an old phrase that has relevance today.
--The Asahi Shimbun, June 5
* * *
Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.
- « Prev
- Next »