Sunday, July 27, 2008

Chaos: Japan's time experiment

Intriguing article today in the Globe (and elsewhere) about Japan's experiment with daylight savings time. The idea has a checkered history in Nippon, as it was introduced with the American post-war occupation and eventually abandoned. So far, the five year experiment to resurrect the idea is chugging along uncertainly, restricted to the island of Hokkaido.

Hokkaido is home to many lovely things, include the Olympic city of Sapporo, snow monkeys, and the indigenous Ainu culture, an intriguing society that among other things uses a base 20 counting system. The Ainu are the most prevalent non-majority group in this stunningly homogeneous society.

But anyway, this is the part of the article that blew me away:

One big problem is that people don't turn their clocks an hour ahead, as they do in the West, because daylight saving time is entirely voluntary. Hundreds of companies and government offices in Sapporo and elsewhere on Hokkaido participate in the program, but others ignore "summertime," as it's called here. Some banks follow it, but other institutions, such as public schools, don't.

"Everybody has different ideas about it," said Mitsuhito Araya, 52, director of the Sapporo general planning department.

The West Wing got a great segment out of a county in Indiana which does not observe daylight savings, in contrast to its neighbors. But that's not on the same level -- or same planet -- as the right to determine for yourself which timing system to use. This is so...unusual. It's sometimes a struggle to keep track of time zones, but figuring out which commercial sector thinks it's 4:30, and which think it's 5:30 is bizarre. I can't imagine such an experiment succeeding anywhere.


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