It’s 7:20 pm, you’re at work, and about to call it a day as you gaze out the window and catch the last snippet of another sunset while lamenting another perfect summer’s day spent in the confines of your office or classroom. Sound familiar? Crying out for just one more hour of daylight or wishing you could somehow find the time of day to enjoy the outdoors? It is possible, and no, I’m not talking about throwing a “Sick Day,” we’re talking DST (Daylight Saving Time, or summertime for those of you who are still in the dark).
These days close to a billion people worldwide in 70 countries take to turning their clocks forward in early April and then back again in October in a carefully orchestrated time-slide. With Japan being the only industrialized nation currently not on the bandwagon, we don our shades (Men in Black style) to seek out both the pros and cons of DST and a reason why Japan has resisted its introduction for so long.
“Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” The idea of economizing daylight was first conceived in the 1770’s in a letter to a French journal by Benjamin Franklin. His letter was aimed at both criticizing people’s inertia and laziness (maybe he meant “Late to bed, late to rise, sick, poor and stupid”) and as a suggestion towards conserving energy (or candle wax in those times). However, it was not until the early 20th century that DST was established, first in Germany, in the April of 1916, then spreading to other European nations with America finally following suit in 1918. The energy saving benefits were further recognized by Britain during WWII where clocks were forwarded by two hours.
In 1948 even Japan trialed DST in a post war effort to curb energy consumption, however it was done away with in 1952 following strong opposition from farmers. This apparently had something to do with upsetting the cows in Hokkaido (who, by the way, don’t wear watches). Others even cited DST as deterring kids from doing their homework (how dare they play outside!). In real-world Japan, though, DST is fast becoming a hot topic and may be realized sooner than you think. Lawmakers in April of this year prepared a Summer Time Bill draft, which will be voted upon in the Diet in its current session. If passed, we might be soaking up an extended evening twilight as soon as 2007.
As an Australian from Queensland, the so called “Sunshine State,” where we can enjoy up to 300 sunny days per year,” you would think the only reason to save daylight would be so that we could export the surplus to our sun-deprived counterparts. DST is however a highly neighbors issue in Australia (as it is in many places around the world). With each state left to decide whether to opt into DST or not, families in border townships often operate in and out of two different time zones causing obvious dilemmas.
For most, DST means an extra hour of fun in the sun. For me, it’s like discovering money in your jeans pocket when doing the laundry or finding that six-pack that you thought you drank hiding in the back of the fridge. Both a nice and unexpected bonus! But seriously, the pros and cons of DST are certainly debatable and often times ambiguous.
Here are the “PROS,” Firstly, DTS is good for energy conservation (roughly 1% according to the US Dept. of Transport). Secondly, there is a notable reduction in violent crime according to the U.S Law Enforcement Assistance Administration data showed violent crime down 10-13% (most criminals prefer a veil of darkness). Although difficult to measure, an improvement in the quality of life can be attributed to DST with people being able to spend more time with family and pursuing leisure activities. Finally, there is an improvement of health (a better serving of vitamin D).
Now the “CONS,” First of all, traffic accidents are said to increase when DST is introduced due to DST induced early morning driver fatigue. Next, there are the problems of logistical dilemmas for interstate/international companies trying to do business on precise time schedules. Besides farmers, those most against DST cite reasons such as health detriments associated with a lack of sleep. Others doubt whether the economic benefit of DST is significant enough to justify the biannual time-slide.
Will Japan ever see the light? Recently, a Japanese man enlightened me to the notion that “real men” come home after dark. He suggested that men should be ashamed to come home during daylight hours and went on to add that introducing DST in Japan would only serve to prolong working hours or cause men to sleep in their cars with the air-conditioner on until the sun goes down (so much for energy conservation). I wonder if Japan will ever get to see that extra elusive hour? In a society where the “all work and no play” consensus prevails, strong opposition from the rural sector, and a rather passive electorate, we may still be waiting a rather long time.
On a more serious note, however, Japan does need to curb its energy consumption as part of the Kyoto Protocol. This said, the Summer Time Bill is likely to require much deliberation by Japanese leaders. So, if you can’t wait for the Diet to pass the bill then you could always go solo and change your own clock to DST. It might catch on. Then again, why not just wake up an hour earlier.
By Phillip Jacobson
Australian, 4 years in Fukuoka
Owner of Eikaiwa Honpo in Hakata
Illustrations by Shirley Waisman
Originally published in Fukuoka Now magazine (fn79, Jul. 2005)