The Land Of The Rising Eyebrow

THE NEW CASUAL DRESS CODE at IBM is no hit in Corporate Japan, where traditional business suits are expected. When Vice-President Tatsuyuki Saeki of IBM Japan appeared before the press in a sweater and slacks recently, commentators raised eyebrows. After Saeki approved relaxed sartorial rules for his personal-computer division in January, fellow IBM Japan units didn't following suit.

Ditto other companies. Casual wear, once anathema at Big Blue, is still a heresy among the Japanese, to whom appearance (tatemae) is paramount. "In the U.S., the blue-suit image was a drag on us," says an IBM Asia spokesman. "But here, no one ridicules the blue suit. You'd be laughing at the entire nation." Even plumbers don ties to commute, then switch to work clothes.

While at game-software companies and research centers, dressing down is accepted. But even their techies are expected to spiff up when they're out and about. A newscaster once tweaked a visiting Bill Gates by pulling up the billionaire's pants leg on camera to reveal threadbare socks and scuffed shoes.

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