TOKYO/BRUSSELS -- The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his ruling Liberal Democratic Party are considering introducing daylight saving time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, but critics say that the proposal to advance clocks by an hour or two during summer would cause more trouble than the intended benefit of avoiding peak heat hours for athletic competitions.
Prime Minister Abe says that the public is "highly supportive" of daylight savings. However, experts cite three negative aspects of introducing a new time system, and the European Union (EU), in fact, is considering the option of abolishing its own daylight saving system.
The biggest hurdle in Japan to putting daylight saving time in place is the cost and workload required to adjust computer systems. Professor Tetsutaro Uehara of Ritsumeikan University, a specialist in information systems, estimates that it would take about four years and hundreds of billions of yen to do just that.
"Japan is a country with advanced information technology systems, and computers with timing functions are used everywhere. Many are programmed with Japan time based on the international standard time," pointed out Uehara. "Software would have to be rewritten to introduce summer time. Such work would take about four years and cost hundreds of billions of yen. It is crazy to attempt to put it in place by the 2020 Games," said the bewildered professor.
Secondly, manipulating the clock could cause serious health effects from sleep loss or longer work hours, worry medical doctors and labor specialists.
The average sleeping hours of Japanese people are already shorter than international average. Statistics from 2010 show that the Japanese sleep just 434 minutes per day on average, undercutting Americans and Europeans by more than 30 minutes. "Daylight saving time causes more traffic accidents and heart failures, and its disadvantages are clear," said Kazuo Mishima, a doctor who is a board member of the Japanese Society of Sleep Research.
Back in 2012, the group published a report saying that daylight saving time would result in more trouble than benefits in Japan because of its health impact.
Actually, summer time was once introduced in Japan in 1948, and clocks were advanced by an hour. But the system lasted for only three years because total work hours ended up becoming one hour longer and workers complained that they were being exploited.
Kazuhiro Sannai, a lawyer with the Labour Lawyers Association of Japan, criticized the government, saying, "It's just out of the question to introduce summer time without a mechanism to cap already long overtime hours."
The third issue is raised by Masanori Tsujita, a specialist of modern and contemporary history, who sees something more sinister in the government's attempt: resurrection of the wartime program of all-out mobilization.
"The true nature of (the Tokyo Games) as a national event that sucks in all people forcibly is evident in the move (to introduce daylight saving time)," Tsujita tweeted in an apparent disgust. In an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun, he said, "The idea to change the entire time system essentially represents the thinking of someone in power," he said.
A classic case of this type of thinking, according to Tsujita, was the decision by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Aug. 15, 2015 to move the reclusive country's standard time back half an hour. The stated reason behind the move to introduce "Pyongyang time" was the country's opposition to Japan's colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 through 1945. Pyongyang time was shifted back 30 minutes in May this year.
Tsujita added that setting memorial days and new time zones is a method of flaunting one's power. "Summer time will entrap even people without an interest in sports into the Olympics," he emphasized. "It's really 'all-out mobilization' in the sense that no one would be allowed to remain uninterested about the games on the sidelines."
-- EU discussing abolishing daylight saving time
In contrast with Japan, the EU, which already has daylight saving time in place, is reviewing the system, because some people want it abolished due to its negative health impact.
In February this year, the European Parliament adopted a resolution seeking a thorough assessment of the impact of daylight savings and revision of the arrangement if necessary.
Under the legally backed EU daylight saving arrangement, the clock is advanced one hour on the last Sunday of March, and returned to the standard time on the last Sunday of October. Proponents say summer time reduces energy consumption during the night and has other positive effects.
However, the EU initiated a review after a request to do so from Finland, a small country of some 5.5 million people. More than 70,000 signatures of opponents of daylight saving time were submitted to the parliament, which supported the drive.
People against the time arrangement say the switch affects the biological clock in the human body, triggering negative health impacts such as shorter sleeping time or physical and mental health problems.
A research team of the University of Turku in Finland reported in 2016 that their examination of 10 years' worth of data in the northern European country showed that the incidence of strokes was 8 percent higher in the first two days of daylight savings than during the standard time period, and the figure was 20 percent higher among those aged 65 or older.
And the EU is not alone in reviewing the time arrangement. Russia had daylight saving time but ended it in March 2011 because there were more emergency dispatches and deaths from cardiac infarctions.
(Japanese original by Satoko Nakagawa, General Digital News Center, and Kosuke Hatta, Brussels Bureau)