From the Bear Den: Time for a Change

Dawn on the longest day: 3:20am!

Before I begin this rant I need to make it clear that I enjoy living in Japan. No, no, scrub that! I love living in Japan. If I didn’t I would move. But like all expats before me, all who are still here and all who will come there is going to be something that bugs us all about Japan. Some idiosyncrasy, some cultural difference, or some bureaucratic process that just doesn’t make any sense.

In 2005 when I decided to return to Japan after my initial three years in Yokohama, I had to go through the reasons I left and make peace with many of the little “cultural shock” annoyances. The one annoyance I didn’t really address — and moving to Hokkaido only made it worse — was time.

What am I talking about? Quite frankly it’s the +9 GMT time zone that Japan has given itself. It is the wrong time zone. I don’t care what the longitude says the timezone should be, it’s the sun shining in my bedroom window that says what the time should be.

This year the longest day falls on 21 June. On that day the sun rises at 03:56, dawn begins at 03:20. Towards the end of summer these events begin one hour later. I don’t have the figures but I would think that the majority of Sapporoeans are still in bed until 6am (or later) and they have lost two and a half hours of light. I have crunched the math, based on Civil Twilight and a 6 a.m alarm, in Sapporo we lose two weeks, 0ne day, 14 hours, and 21 minutes of daylight.

You might think I am arguing in favour of summer time, but I am arguing for more than that. Japan should be +10GMT  (+11GMT in the summer). I am arguing for a whole big shift. This would put dusk at around 10pm Imagine all that time after work for tennis, golf, walking the dog, sitting in beer gardens, going to the park, or if you live near the coast, going for an afterwork surf/swim. With a 10pm dusk you don’t even have to be that close to the coast.

The bonus would not just be for summer. In winter it would give us more daylight for skiing or snowboarding letting us get home just as the light began to fade (for the normal 5pm finishes).

Right now there is a small Russian island just north of Sapporo called Sakhalin. The time there is two hours in front of Japan. It’s on the same longitude! Over to Japan’s west lies Korea, and the time there is exactly the same as Japan. For them, dawn today was just after 7am, and on the longest day, dawn is around 4:40am (still a silly time for dawn, but an hour and a half behind Sapporo).

Some have argued that extra daylight will just turn into extra work time. I say don’t let it. Let the change begin with more sunshine and more time in the park.

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Chris Donnelly

It feels like a long time since I moved to Japan. My first tour was back in 2001-04, when I lived in Yokohama and briefly in Obihiro. In 2006 I returned to Japan, this time heading north to Hokkaido where I have set roots in Sapporo. You can find me on twitter @kuma or visit my personal blog: .