Environment Ministry officials don Hawaiian shirts, known as Aloha shirts, on June 1 as a move to promote the “super cool biz” look, part of efforts to save power. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)Porters at the Shinagawa Prince Hotel in Tokyo wear aloha shirts with their trademark caps. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
as part of the power-saving campaigns following the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, with air conditioners turned up to save energy, the comfortable Hawaiian shirt seems to be a natural fit for Japan’s “super cool biz” campaign.
however, outside of the Ministry of the Environment, which is allowing employees to wear aloha shirts, along with polo shirts, there remains a deep-rooted aversion to government employees dressed in Hawaiian shirts, commonly referred to as “aloha shirts” in Japan.
That’s ironic, because the aloha shirt has its origin in clothing manufactured by Japanese immigrants, said Ryoichi Kobayashi, president of Toyo Enterprise co., and holder of the “aloha shirt” registered trademark in Japan.
“The traditional ‘yuzen’ dyers in Kyoto printed patterns on fabrics and exported them to Hawaii through Japanese immigrants,” he said. “The shirt was thus born out of Japanese technology.”
Starting in the early 1960s, both the public and private sectors in Hawaii, all the way up to the state governor, fielded campaigns to push for the aloha shirt to achieve the status of “formal wear” in Hawaii and to make its manufacturing a state industry.
Aloha shirts thus have close ties with Japan, but when postwar Japan began to “reimport” them from the United States, wearing one was seen as embodying the war conquerer’s nation.
In 1948, “Kikyo” (Repatriation), Jiro Osaragi’s novel that was printed as a serial in the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper, a character says: “The same people that competed to wear state-designated uniforms are now changing into aloha shirts. … they are a perfect example of a stateless people.”
Osaragi was far from the only intellectual of the time who deplored the abandoning of their nationality by war-defeated Japanese.
according to sociologist Koji Nanba, author of “Yankee Shinka-ron” (Treatise on the evolution of delinquents), “The Season of the Sun” (1956) is among the earliest films that featured aloha shirts. the film’s popularity helped to spread the image across Japan of aloha shirts being the shirt of choice of young male delinquents, Nanba said.
In the 1973 film “Battles without Honor and Humanity: Deadly Fight in Hiroshima,” set in 1950, a junior gangster played by Sonny Chiba wears super-gaudy aloha shirts and defies the establishment.
“We were born to enjoy delicious meals and sleep with beautiful girls, weren’t we?” he said.
In the second half of the 1970s, aloha shirts became popular among motorcycle gangs, which were experiencing a boom.
“There was no wonder that motorcycle gangs got to wear them, because they descended from the genealogy of delinquents’ fashion,” Nanba said. “Dressing light is dangerous for motorcycle riders because of what would happen if they crashed, but they were probably showing off the frenzy in which they were spinning around.”
This summer, the Ministry of the Environment, touting “super cool biz” to save on power, allowed its own employees to work in polo shirts, patternless T-shirts or aloha shirts. one local government took it a step further and allowed its employees to work in “ultra cool biz,” including half pants.
In the meantime, other local governments continued with their ban on aloha shirts. It’s as if the aloha shirt will remain a symbol of defiance.
“The first wearers of aloha shirts are crucial, and this was the case with public servants in Hawaii,” Kobayashi said. “If the top brass wear them proudly, the rest will follow their example.”
George Tokoro, a Japanese actor and TV personality, said he has about 100 aloha shirts, but thinks it’s “out of the question” for them to be acceptable super cool biz wear.
“Power saving or whatever, public officials’ blurbs to do the ‘right thing’ are always out of tune,” he said. “Think about the heat and humidity of summer in Japan. Aloha shirts made of rayon are too stifling to wear. they don’t understand anything. the air in Hawaii is dry. Wind goes through them, and that’s why it’s so refreshing to wear one.”
Tokoro added that aloha shirts have gaudy colors and patterns, and “the shirt ends up wearing you, not the other way around.”
“An aloha shirt is definitely not for the company worker type who drives around in a hybrid electric car and takes his children to drive-in restaurants,” Tokoro said. “An aloha shirt only looks perfect on a guy who has the air of a tinkerer who is always working on his clunker of a car.”
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