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Necktie or noose? Japanese corporate culture and the knot fan

A USB-powered necktie fan could have regressive cultural consequences for the Japanese salaryman.

The USB-powered fan necktie, as depicted on the Japanese Web site selling it.

It's no surprise that the first necktie to come with a USB-powered fan built into the knot comes from Japan. Having lived in Tokyo for nearly three years, I can confirm that which you already know: Japan is technology heaven.

It's where old tech hopes to go when it dies so it can be resuscitated by an Atari 2600 fetishist, and it's where new tech hopes to be born. It's one of the few countries in the world where bleeding-edge cell phones shaped like pens and that, in fact, are pens can enjoy a limited if well-lit 15 seconds of fame.

So when I saw the ad for the necktie fan--a steal, no doubt, at 2,980 yen ($24.80 or so)--I was less amazed at the geekiness of it than I was impressed by the cultural implications of the device. Like a pocket protector that monitors your pulse, a necktie fan running off your computer is really only necessary if you're forced to wear a tie while sitting in front of a PC.

In Japan, though, a dark suit with a white shirt paired with a dark necktie is the required uniform for nearly all employed men. Certainly, if you work in an office, suits and ties are mandatory at work, unless you're fortunate enough to be at a hip company--and even then that's no guarantee against the scourge of the snare.

Recently, there have been struggling efforts to get companies to encourage their employees to abandon jackets and ties during the sweltering, muggy summer months. The heat and humidity are lethal. When air conditioners are blasted full strength from every open storefront and inside every office with such force that you often find people bringing sweaters to work to fend off the midday chills, electricity-cost spikes are unavoidable. With those costs rising worldwide, and Japan boasting what can feel like 90 percent of the world's neon on one street corner, the environment and financial benefits of lowering those costs are obvious.

What is not so apparent is the message this novelty tie might send. Is it trying to give the bound salaryman a way to rebel against his employer's antiquated rules? Or is it supporting the corporate Japanese paradigm by encouraging use of a friendlier noose?

What do you think? Comment below in our TalkBack section.