Why Japan doesn’t have Daylight Savings Time

Sunrise, Mt. Fuji
Originally uploaded by kristi-san.

So, this post is a bit late, but did you know that Japan doesn’t observe daylight savings time? I was baffled when I discovered this but never really received a satisfactory explanation for its absence, other than the fact that it “used to have it”. So, I decided to do a little digging to figure this thing out.

Today, more than 70 countries have adopted daylight savings time. Of the 29 OECD countries, only Japan, South Korea and Iceland don’t observe the convention. In Japan, daylight savings time (sanma taimu) was introduced after World War II by the U.S. Occupation authorities imposed DST on May 1, 1948, as a means to combat coal and power shortages, explaining the regime was being installed to “promote the health and welfare of the Japanese people, conserve valuable resources and to cultivate an appreciation of time among the Japanese.” (The Japan Times, Aug. 10, 2005)

Only three years later, in October 1951, the Diet passed a bill to dump the unpopular system, less than a month after the San Francisco Peace Treaty was signed. It was abolished in April 1952, as soon as the GHQ packed up and departed from Tokyo’s Yurakucho district. A government poll in 1951 showed 53 percent of the Japanese wanted to scrap daylight savings time, as opposed to 30 percent who wanted to keep it. There seem to be several different reasons for this opposition.

  • Some say that lack of prior debate and the execution of daylight savings time just three days after the bill was passed generated deep hatred of the concept. Daylight savings time suddenly became equated with the humiliation of defeat; it was seen as something the GHQ forced on the people, and this continues to hinder the movement. Bad memories of the Occupation still haunt Web sites critical of daylight savings, with messages like “Daylight-saving time is fascist!” “It is a pain to change the clock, and it’s hard on people’s biological clocks.” “People will lose sleep, and be made to work more overtime.”
  • This fear of over-work seems to be another explanation. Several business sectors have expressed concerns that the measure could result in workers voluntarily working longer hours. The truth of it seems to be suspect. One article in The Japan Times claims that many people opted to work after their regular workday had ended during the Occupation. But another article cites that the Japan Council of Metalworkers’ Unions found that labor hours fell during daylight savings time.
  • According to Japan scholar John Dower, daylight savings time was opposed on the grounds that it simply extended the difficulty of “daily” life. Dower describes a condition of exhaustion and despondency in Japan immediately after the war, causing people to prefer an earlier darkening so they could escape into sleep or drink. In today’s prosperous and seemingly happier Japan though, it seems like it shouldn’t be very relevant.
  • Another reason seems to be that the Ministry of Education was concerned that lighter evenings would entice school children from their homework. (Um…)

Anyway, there are some very sound reasons to introduce daylight savings to Japan, although it’s hard to “prove” them. Experts say the change would increase the amount of usable sunlight per day, cutting crude oil use by 930,000 kiloliters and greenhouse gas emissions by 40 tons. The Japan Productivity Center further estimates that 100,000 new jobs and 970 billion yen in additional economic benefits would be generated by shopping and leisure as people take advantage of the brighter evenings.

It seems like change is in the wind though. On April 22, 2005, a group of lawmakers on Friday approved a package of draft bills to introduce daylight-saving time nationwide, with an eye to submitting them to the Diet next month, members of the group said.The change would be implemented in 2007 and would be reviewed three years later, the draft bills say. Some municipalities, such as the Sapporo Municipal Government, have experimented with daylight-saving time. In June 2005, hundreds of companies and government offices launched a 42-day daylight-saving experiment in Hokkaido as part of a campaign to turn it into a national practice. Some 15,000 employees came to and left work an hour earlier than usual. Doesn’t seem like anything has really happened since, at least that I could find.

Kinda random, but somehow, it seems very fitting for Japan.