Japan needs proper debate on daylight saving time

opinion August 21, 2018 01:00

By The Yomiuri Shimbun
Asia News Network

The organising committee of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games has called on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to introduce daylight saving time on such grounds as it would be a measure to better deal with the fierce summer heat during outdoor events.



Abe instructed the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to study it, saying: “The general public is highly interested in this. I want the party to take the lead in advancing the discussion.”

Introducing daylight saving time would have a great impact on people’s lives and economic activities. Winning broad public understanding is vital.

Within the LDP, such an idea has been advanced as implementing it on an experimental basis, starting in 2019, to have it ready for the Tokyo Games. But this idea could be considered rash. Should it be introduced as a measure for the Olympic Games, changing the competition times would serve the same purpose.

A national debate on not only the significance of daylight saving time, but also its inconvenient aspects should be deepened.

Daylight saving time is a system in which standard time is advanced by about one hour, making use of the long hours of daylight in summer. As daily work would end while there was still light, leisure hours would be increased, bringing hopes of economic benefits. Business firms turning off air-conditioning earlier than usual would contribute to energy saving. Proponents emphasise these merits.

The system has already been introduced in more than 60 countries, including countries in Europe and North America. In Japan, the system was adopted for four years in the postwar period. As public discontent grew over an increase in working hours, for instance, the practice was discontinued. However, the idea of adopting it has often appeared and then disappeared in the years that followed.

This is because voices pointing out the controversial aspects of daylight saving time have never ceased.

In order to compensate for the time difference, companies would be forced to make large-scale system changes. Public transport networks, such as railways and air transport operators, would have to make significant efforts to alter their timetables.

A railway operating company has questioned the idea, saying, “Even if the schedule of the first train of the day is advanced, moving the time of the last train forward is likely to invite complaints, thus making the adoption difficult.” Railway operators are also worried about a lack of time for maintenance checks at night.

Also among ordinary companies, there are concerns that their workers, unable to get rid of such a view that they should continue working while there is light, may consequentially work more overtime. Wouldn’t such a development run counter to “work style reform?”

If the practice were indeed implemented as an experiment, starting in 2019, this would coincide with the systemic renewal that will accompany the scheduled change in the name of an era next spring. Burdens on the parts of companies and employees are likely to become heavier.

Daylight saving time, in the first place, is a system suited for countries in high latitudes with hours of sunlight extremely long in summer. It is considered uncertain as to how much merit Japan, a country in the mid-latitudes, would enjoy by adopting this system.

Even among European countries, where daylight saving time has been established for many years, there has emerged a momentum for reviewing it. The European Union has begun discussions on whether the practice should be kept in place or be abandoned on the grounds of adverse impacts on people’s sleep and health, saying, for instance, that the system is feared to disrupt people’s internal clocks, which can lead to weakened physical conditions. Such overseas trends should also be considered.