Electric Situation

Posted on May 22, 2011 in Hiroko's Blog


I always boasted to my friends in America that trains in Japan are super efficient – not just the huge number of on-time arrivals and departures, the very frequent train services (a Shinkansen bullet train every 5 minutes or so from Tokyo; subways on 2 – 3 minute headways), but also the presence of multi-lingual ubiquitous signs and escalators in all stations providing travelers with great comfort and convenience.  Growing up with this very convenient, user-friendly public transportation system I did not realize how much we owe to the supply of virtually unlimited amounts of electricity to power these amenities.  Now the Fukushima nuclear power plant crisis resulting from the earthquakes and tsunami has made us aware of how our daily lives are made possible and pleasant by electricity.  How many people knew that a hefty amount of the electricity produced in Fukushima was allocated to the metropolitan area of Tokyo and this power made our lives “normal”?   Today every where in Tokyo there are large LCD video displays that inform everyone of the percentage of the maximum available total electrical generating capacity that is being used at that moment. When we arrived at Narita Airport, a display indicated 88% of available electricity generating capacity was being consumed in the Tokyo region at that moment. And it is not yet the steamy summertime when air conditioning is customarily always in use everywhere.  At this time Tokyo electric life seems to be functioning normally with a few exceptions. In the train station many of those very traveler-friendly escalators are not operating. And those brightly lit huge advertising displays in Ginza and other areas have been switched off or reduced. Everywhere – on trains and in buildings – air conditioning has already been severely curtailed.  Most business men are forgoing traditional dark colored neckties. It will be a VERY unpleasant summer for living and working in Tokyo this year. I’m glad that I will be returning to New York before those steamy days arrive.  And I won’t be likely to take for granted the supply of electricity that we have at home.