Japan wants to adopt daylight savings for Tokyo 2020 but at what cost?

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(File) Girls wearing the yukata, or casual summer kimono, run as they cross the road at a shopping district in Tokyo, Japan, July 20, 2018. Source: Reuters

THE deadly heatwave in Japan has prompted its government to mull implementing daylight savings time (DST) for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as a way to help athletes and spectators better cope with the scorching weather.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said his party will consider the time adjustment proposed by former prime minister Yoshiro Mori before it is brought to Cabinet for the final decision-making.

“I heard that the idea of introducing ‘summertime’ is popular with the public,” Abe reportedly told Mori, as quoted by Nikkei Asian Review.

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In Japan, “summertime” is similar to daylight savings practised in other parts of the world, particularly the US, which moves the clock forward to optimise the hours of daylight.

The proposal for Japan is to move the country’s official clock forward by two hours between June and August in 2019 and 2020 so that events can take place during cooler hours.

However, the government isn’t taking the matter lightly. Officials have warned that the move would have a significant impact on the daily lives of the people.

We dig a little deeper to find out more.

Athletes at risk

As mentioned above, the catalyst that led to Japan discussing the possibility of reintroducing the DST, a system it has not used for more than six decades, is the ongoing heatwave.

With temperatures reaching a record-high of 41.1 degrees Celcius last month and killing at least 120 people, officials in the country are concerned about its impact on athletes participating in Tokyo 2020.

The games are to be held in late July and early August in 2020, which are the country’s hottest and most humid months.

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A man sprays water at the construction site of the New National Stadium, the main stadium of Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, in Tokyo, Japan August 6, 2018. Source: Reuters

By moving the clock forward, the events could be held when the temperatures are cooler.

“I told him (Abe) that daylight savings is necessary not only for the Olympics, but it is also important from an international perspective in order to protect earth’s current environment,” Mori said after a meeting with Abe on the Olympics, as quoted by Reuters.

“I also told him that internationally, Japan should be a pioneer and the government should be moved forward on this issue. And the prime minister responded ‘Indeed.’”

Economic impact

An opinion poll published by national broadcaster NHK on Tuesday showed over half (51 percent) of respondents in favour of daylight savings time. Only 12 percent opposed the idea.

Like South Korea, Japan is one of a handful of major economies which does not use daylight saving time in the summer. However, South Korea did make an exception when it hosted the Summer Olympics in Seoul in 1987.

Popularity aside, it seems moving the clocks forward will have a significant effect on the economy.

Toshihiro Nagahama, an economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute, told the Nikkei Asian Review that moving the clock forward by one hour for seven months of the year could lead to nearly JPY500 billion (US$4.49 billion) in additional household spending.

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The economist also estimated that a rise in temperature of one degree over the July to September period would increase household spending by some JPY320 billion (US$2.8 billion).

While it may cushion the impact of the proposed consumption tax hike in October 2019, businesses are likely to see additional costs in things such as system upgrades.

Other observers though, are doubtful on the projected higher consumer spending, citing the labour shortage and the country’s notorious working conditions that did not allow workers to leave office early.

In fact, it was this very reason why Japan stopped the DST decades ago and rejected subsequent calls for its reintroduction.

Daylight savings can mess with your health

According to a CNN article in March, moving the clocks forward even by an hour can “significantly raise the risk of health-related issues”.

Citing the findings of a study by the American Academy of Neurology in 2016, the publication noted that the overall rate for stroke was 8 percent higher in the two days after DST. Cancer victims, it added, were 25 percent more likely to get a stroke during this time, while the same is true for people older than 65 years, who are 20 percent more likely to suffer a stroke.

In a different study done in 2012 at the University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB), Associate Professor Martin Young said, “The Monday and Tuesday after moving the clocks ahead one hour in March is associated with a 10 percent increase in the risk of having a heart attack.”

Christopher Barnes, an expert on sleep deprivation and the Associate Professor of Management at the University of Washington, told CNN that human beings in general “aren’t built for 25-hour days”.

“There are 70 countries that practice daylight saving time, so you have millions of people suffering from sleep deprivation,” Barnes adds. “We work and live in a culture that tries to cram in so much activity. Because of this, everything else suffers. I always tell my students that sleep makes everything better: your work, your life, your health and your relationships.”

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