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Japan's 'Super Cool Biz' launches to save energy

TOKYO--The Japanese government wants the country's suit-loving businessmen to be bold this summer. Ditch the stuffy jacket and tie. And for the good of the country, go light and casual.

Japan's “Super Cool Biz” campaign kicked off Wednesday with a government-sponsored fashion show featuring outfits appropriate for the office yet cool enough to endure the sweltering heat.

This summer may be especially brutal. Looming for Japan is a potential power crunch, the result of the March 11 tsunami crippling the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.

To prevent blackouts, the government is asking companies and government offices to cut electricity usage by 15 percent. It wants companies to limit air conditioning and set room temperatures at a warm 28 degrees Celsius (82 degrees Fahrenheit).

The idea isn't new. “Cool Biz” was introduced in 2005 by the environment minister at the time, Yuriko Koike. The campaign was part efforts to fight global warming.

But with Japan dealing with an ongoing nuclear crisis and the aftermath of a magnitude-9.0 earthquake and tsunami, officials decided they needed to take Cool Biz one step further this year.

“When we started Cool Biz in 2005, people said it was undignified and sloppy,” Koike said at the fashion show. “But this is now the sixth year, and people have grown accustomed to it.”

She urged the audience to challenge themselves to save energy in the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

So what's different with Super Cool Biz?

First, the dress code. Polo shirts, Aloha shirts and sneakers are acceptable now under the environment ministry's relaxed guidelines. Jeans and sandals are OK too under certain circumstances.

Officials also hope to spur energy-saving creativity with the campaign, both in and out of the office. To deal with the heat, the ministry suggests using gel sheets or consuming foods that cool the body.

Japan's tropical southern islands of Okinawa may offer some inspiration.

On the catwalk at Wednesday's fashion show, models donned “Kariyushi” shirts, Okinawa's version of the Aloha shirt. Worn untucked, they are light and feature colorful prints of traditional island designs.

Kariyushi shirts are commonly worn by Okinawans in the summer, even in formal settings like business and political meetings. In 2000, the Kariyushi shirt jumped onto the global stage when heads of state, including former President Bill Clinton, wore them during the Group of Eight summit in Okinawa.

For society to truly embrace the Kariyushi shirt and Super Cool Biz, leadership must come from the top, said Keiichi Inamine, a former governor of Okinawa who attended the fashion show.

“It's important for people with standing in society to wear it,” he said, referring to the hierarchical nature of Japanese society.

The country's leaders, however, may have had other things on their minds Wednesday.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan wore a traditional dark suit in parliament as he faced fire from opposition lawmakers calling for his resignation. Opposition leader Sadakazu Tanigaki also wore a suit, though to be fair, it was an unusually chilly day for June.

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Japan's 'Super Cool Biz' launches to save energy
A model presents casual office wear during a “Super Cool Biz” fashion show in Tokyo on Wednesday, June 1. (AP)

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