Here in Japan, we don’t need reminding of the overwhelming number of challenges the country is now facing. But we still see them every day.
Ginza, an upscale district in Tokyo that was once giddy with rich Japanese consumers—and more recently crowds of Chinese tourists—feels dark and quiet when the sun goes down, with rows of taxis left hoping for potential customers. Those of us opting to take the subway walk through dim corridors and board warmer trains, having been asked to open windows rather than rely on air-conditioning. Indeed, residents in Japan are headed for a hot summer with a little more exercise (many escalators in Tokyo are halted at certain times of day to conserve energy).
Prime Minister Naoto Kan’ administration has made a start on developing a plan for reconstruction efforts following the March 11 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, including establishing the Reconstruction Design Council, which is led by Makoto Iokibe, president of the National Defense Academy of Japan. But while the Council and other groups develop a grand recovery and reconstruction plan for the disaster-stricken region, people in the rest of Japan have started to face their own responsibilities in helping to revive Japan—including living with less electricity, and perhaps higher taxes.
According to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) expects a shortage of about 15 million kW at the peak of summer, based on last year’s high of 60 million kW.
On the demand side, the government is reminding corporations and households to proactively try to keep power usage down this summer. As part of these efforts, it has created a check list of 10 power-saving actions for small households, showing how much electricity each action can save. For example, the list suggests that people ‘aim to keep room temperature at 26 degrees Celsius/78.8 degrees Fahrenheit (saves 130W)’ and that they use ‘curtains and shades (saves 600W),’ and also ‘try to cook rice for the entire day rather than using the rice cooker for every meal (saves 25W).’ If the typical household follows all 10 suggestions, the government reckons households will consume 15 percent less electricity than the average on a typical July afternoon.
Such suggestions on the need to save electricity are also being communicated through TV news and commercials, while the government has also asked citizens to contact them with any new, creative power-saving ideas.
At the industrial level, Japanese workers can expect ‘Cool Biz,’ a campaign encouraging workers to dress casually that began as an effort to fight global warming, to be more aggressively enforced this summer. Employers may also contemplate longer summer vacation periods and shorter work shifts. Organizations planning large events and gatherings will also refrain from any unnecessary use of power.
Some Japanese netizens are trying to draw something positive from all this, suggesting that Japan could become a model Great Power-Saving Nation. Indeed, in the face of a bleak future, many of us have learned to look to try and see a bright side, and are starting to satisfy ourselves with less, rather than thinking of things that will generate more.
Hopefully this new way of looking at life doesn’t compromise Japan’s ability to prosper further, but instead can help it emerge from this difficult period stronger and smarter.