Waiting at the train station
More than 5 million people are estimated to have been stranded at their companies and elsewhere on March 11 in the Tokyo metropolitan area after the Great East Japan Earthquake, the Japanese government reported. The estimate is based on the results of a survey in which about 5,400 residents in the area were asked how they responded to the situation that day. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, November 25, 2011]

The Cabinet Office estimates 3.52 million people were unable to return home in Tokyo; 670,000 in Kanagawa Prefecture; 520,000 in Chiba Prefecture; 330,000 in Saitama Prefecture; and 100,000 in Ibaraki Prefecture. The estimate was reported to a meeting of a panel comprising officials from the Cabinet Office, the Tokyo metropolitan government and a number of companies to discuss measures to help a large number of people who would be stranded if a major epicentral earthquake struck the capital.

Reporting from Tokyo, David Jolly and Ken Belson wrote in New York Times, “The crisis at the nuclear power plant 140 miles north of here is leading to a steady but orderly departure of business executives from Tokyo. Foreigners in particular are among those leaving, as concerns grow about the possibility of a catastrophic release of radiation and governments urge their citizens to consider seeking safety elsewhere in Japan or overseas.” [Source: David Jolly and Ken Belson, New York Times, March 18, 2011]

“Much as in 2003, when the SARS virus slowed business around Asia, a peculiar psychology has taken hold in Tokyo, where businessmen with the wherewithal are weighing whether to decamp to cities south and west of Tokyo -- or wait and see whether the nuclear emergency escalates further. The confusion, in addition to the distraction of relocating employees, is preventing some companies from addressing urgent problems in shattered plants and facilities along the northeastern coast of the main island, Honshu, which was ravaged by the earthquake and tsunami last week.”

“And the oppressive atmosphere of fear has made concentrating on even routine tasks difficult. Meetings are being canceled, salesmen have given up visiting clients and stores are cutting back hours or closing entirely. Getting a table in even the most popular restaurants has suddenly become easier. There are no open signs of panic on the streets of Tokyo. But executives from a growing number of banks, law firms, consultants and other businesses have started to rent space in Osaka or Fukuoka or other cities farther from the badly damaged nuclear reactors. With thousands of Japanese also fleeing the quake-stricken areas in the north, travel on domestic airlines and bullet trains headed away from northern Japan has climbed, and rooms in hotels considered out of harm's way are filling up.”

“In many cases, the Tokyo evacuees are expatriates, often prompted by their governments' embassies, which have recommended that their citizens seek shelter elsewhere as a precaution. The German government, for instance, advised its citizens in Tokyo and areas north either to leave the country or head to the Osaka area. The United States Embassy said it would help fly American citizens in Japan to safer places. Britain, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Australia are among the other countries whose governments have told their nationals to consider leaving Tokyo and to refrain from traveling to Japan's northeast. France has asked Air France to mobilize extra planes for evacuations.”

“Two Czech military planes landed in Prague on Thursday morning after evacuating 106 people from Japan, mostly Czechs but also several nationals of Poland, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Korea, the Associated Press reported. Also onboard were 41 members of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra that had been touring Japan since March 6, as well as 11 children. China has already evacuated more than 3,000 nationals from Japan's north coast to Niigata in the west, Xinhua News agency reported.”

“Japanese authorities have responded to these various moves by urging governments not to sound alarmist. But Japanese companies, too, have started to move some of their employees -- or give them the option of working from home. The reaction is partly in response to the reduction in train service in the Tokyo region caused by rolling blackouts that are meant to conserve energy.”


Five Million Stranded in the Tokyo Area after the Earthquake

Around 5.15 million people had trouble getting home after the earthquake in Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba, Saitama and Ibaraki prefectures, the Japan Meteorological Agency reported.The estimate is based on the results of a survey in which about 5,400 residents in the area were asked how they responded to the situation that day. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, November 25, 2011]

The Cabinet Office estimated 3.52 million people were unable to return home in Tokyo; 670,000 in Kanagawa Prefecture; 520,000 in Chiba Prefecture; 330,000 in Saitama Prefecture; and 100,000 in Ibaraki Prefecture. The estimate was reported to a meeting of a panel comprising officials from the Cabinet Office, the Tokyo metropolitan government and a number of companies to discuss measures to help a large number of people who would be stranded if a major epicentral earthquake struck the capital.

Air Controllers Safely Guided Planes after March Quake

A total of 86 flights heading for Haneda and Narita airports when the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake struck landed safely, mainly at alternative airports, thanks to the dedicated efforts of air controllers. Jiji press reported: All runways at the two major Tokyo airports were closed soon after the magnitude-9 quake occurred at 2:46 p.m. on March 11 last year, forcing most of the 86 flights to change their destinations. But the planes experienced no accidents or other major problems amid the unprecedented situation. All four of Haneda's runways were reopened by 3:55 p.m. the same day, according to the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry. [Source: Jiji Press, April 3, 2012]

But the number of incoming flights the airport could accept was limited, as railway services from the airport were suspended due to the quake and passengers who were there at the time of the disaster were unable to leave, filling the airport's terminal buildings with crowds. Narita Airport remained closed until late at night as passengers and others took shelter on the airport's aprons.

Of the 86 flights, 70 were heading for Narita when the temblor struck, and most of them had designated Haneda as an alternate airport for landing in case of emergencies. The remaining 16 flights were bound for Haneda, and similarly, most of them had been supposed to use Narita as an alternative landing site. But when both Haneda and Narita were shut down after the quake that ravaged northeastern Japan, the 86 planes had to look for different landing sites.

When the earthquake occurred, about 70 air controllers were at the transport ministry's Tokyo Area Control Center in Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture. Fortunately, on March 10, the day before the quake, all of them had participated in an annual training program assuming a closure of Haneda runways. Immediately after the quake, about 30 other air controllers joined the original 70, and they contacted the air control management center in Fukuoka to find out if there were any airports where runways and aprons could be used for landing and parking. Such information was conveyed to air controllers who were contacting the crew of the 86 flights through the integrated en-route control system (IECS).

Using the IECS, the air controllers checked remaining fuel and the number of passengers on the planes. As a result, 14 airplanes, mainly from North America, were allowed to land ahead of others because their captains declared emergencies after finding that their planes would not be able to fly much longer. By 8:48 p.m. on March 11, the 86 flights had landed at 13 airports. Of them, 21 landed at Kansai airport near Osaka, 17 at Centrair airport in Aichi Prefecture, and 14 at New Chitose airport in Hokkaido.

Effects of the Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011 on Cell Phones and Communications

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Almost all communication in northeast Honshu — and in many area outside the earthquake and tsunami zone — was shut down immediately after the earthquake and tsunami and in may cases continued for days even weeks after that. About 1.88 million fixed telephones were knocked out, five times more than in the Kobe Earthquake in 1995. Cell phones were equally useless as 13,000 bases stations were destroyed or damaged enough to make them unusable and cell phone companies limited connections to prevent systems overloads.

The New York Times reported,” With cellphone service largely knocked out, many residents are relying on the small number of surviving pay phones.” Chico Harlan wrote in the Washington Post, Throughout the country, particularly on the east coast, mobile networks were either downed or overloaded. But many people still found ways to access the Internet — and prayers, appeals for help and calls for the missing spread quickly by Twitter. One Sendai resident, for instance, sent dozens of tweets in the hours after the tsunami — first telling of people who were safe and later asking for information about others. “Phones are still dead,” one Twitter user in Sendai wrote. “I’m trying to call my brother, no connection yet.” [Source: Chico Harlan, Washington Post, March 12, 2011]

By early April, 90 percent of cell phone base stations and land line were restored in a disaster-hit areas mainly thanks to the restoration of power and delivery of sufficient fuel supplies.

Effects of the Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011 on Transportation

Tokyo subways emptied, and airports were closed. Many residents set off on epic journeys home, walking for miles across a vast metropolitan area. As late as Saturday morning, 18 hours after the earthquake, thousands of people in dark suits were still trudging home from the central business district.

Singapore Air, United Airlines, American Airlines and other carriers canceled flights due to radiation fears and lack of passengers. Some airlines added extra stops in Japan so pilots wouldn’t have to spend the night in Tokyo, where they worried about radiation exposure. Others such as Lufthansa, temporarily rerouted Tokyo flights southwest to airports in Nagoya and Osaka.

Effects of the Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011 on Trains

After the earthquake and tsunami train service was shut down across central and northern Japan, including Tokyo, and air travel was severely disrupted. A passenger on one train told the New York Times that he and his family were on a train near the Ikebukuro station when the earthquake struck. At 1:30 am he said “we are still not far from where the train stopped...Japan Railway actually closed down the stations and sent out all commuters into the cold night. They announced that they are concerned about structural safety. Continuous aftershocks make me feel like car sickness as my family and I walk on the train tracks.” [Source: New York Times]

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Takehoma Train Station

The tsunami washed away 23 JR stations and causes major damage to 680 places — on a total of 22 kilometers of track — on seven rail routes in Fukushima, Miyagi, Iwate and Aomori prefectures. Portions of the track were washed out or buried under rubble at 18 points. There were also 160 places where the tracks were bent by the tsunami. The damage was most serious on the Kesennuma Line.

As the work week began on the Monday following the disaster residents struggled to get to work as a number of important commuter rail lines ran on limited schedules. Six lines featuring Japan's famous shinkansen, or bullet trains, were not running. Six major department stores also closed for the day because workers were unable to reach the city. The rush hour Tuesday morning was nearly as chaotic as commuters were unsure whether trains and subways would be operating.”

Two weeks after the quake, Henry Fountain wrote in the New York Times, “The Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, which had been posting limited information about road and rail service since the quake, now says all expressways in the region are passable, and that high-speed rail service has been restored on all but two lines that have long stretches with damage to rails or to overhead electric lines. All airports are open to commercial traffic except the one in Sendai, where video cameras recorded a wall of water reaching as high as the jetways. [Source: Henry Fountain, New York Times, March 24, 2011]

The Shinkansen bullet trains automatically came a halt when the first jolts from the earthquake were felt. No trains derailed, no elevated bridges collapsed and no one was hurt. The tracks were badly damaged in some places though. Service through northern Japan was restored by late April.

Effects of the Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011 on Infrastructure

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Immediately after the earthquake and tsunami almost 2 million households were without power in the freezing north, according to Kyodo News Agency, and about 1.4 million were without running water.

Two weeks after the quake, Henry Fountain wrote in the New York Times, “While much attention has been focused on the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, only fragmentary information has become available about damage to other large complexes, like water distribution and sewage treatment plants.” [Source: Henry Fountain, New York Times, March 24, 2011]

Even Japanese government agencies and professional engineering groups appear to have limited knowledge of the scope of the destruction along the northeastern coast of Honshu Island, where the tsunami hit on March 11, and further inland, where the quake damaged buildings and other structures and caused landslides.” “We don’t understand the real situation,” Hiroyuki Yanagawa of the Japan Society of Civil Engineers wrote in an e-mail. “We cannot investigate the area.” The group is based in Tokyo, far from the affected region, where entry has been restricted largely to emergency vehicles.”

The Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism reported damage to about 50 sewage treatment plants. Other agencies reported that gas and water distribution had improved, though there were still many towns with limited or no service. None of the reports outlined the degree of damage to specific facilities.”

“Other assessments have been cobbled together by engineers based on reports from local agencies, photographs and, in some cases, personal observations. Engineers at the University of Tokyo listed 17 bridges that had been washed away by the tsunami; five sewage plants either damaged or destroyed; flooding at one damaged dam; and dozens of landslides and deposits of debris that have closed roads. In one case, they reported tsunami damage along an 18-mile stretch of coastal roads south of Iwaki. A report by an engineer at Tokai University in Shizuoka, south of Tokyo, was more anecdotal, with photographs of roads blocked by landslides or warped as the ground underneath them subsided; rail lines tossed about like strands of spaghetti; collapsed electrical pylons; sewage plants buried in debris; and, in Sendai, huge storage tanks toppled over at a brewery.”

Kit Miyamoto, an earthquake engineer...described coastal rail lines that were swept away by the tsunami, and said the vast majority of the buildings that were destroyed were made of wood. “Almost all concrete and steel structures survived,” he said, though they were often heavily damaged. Dr. Miyamoto said some infrastructure in the area appeared to make the disaster worse. In the city of Rikuzentakata, one of the worst hit, a concrete channel funneled the tsunami surge, increasing its speed, height and destructive power. “Construction like that makes things more dangerous,” he said.

Effects of the Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011 on Electricity

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David Jolly wrote in the New York Times, “Utility experts and economists say it will take many months, possibly into next year, to get anywhere close to restoring full power. The places most affected are not only in the earthquake-ravaged area but also in the economically crucial region closer to Tokyo, which is having to ration power because of the big chunk of the nation’s electrical generating capacity that was knocked out by the quake or washed away by the tsunami. [Source: David Jolly, New York Times, March 28, 2011]

“Besides the dangerously disabled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, three other nuclear plants, six coal-fired plants and 11 oil-fired power plants were initially shut down, according to PFC Energy, an international consulting firm. By some measures, as much as 20 percent of the total generating capacity of the region’s dominant utility, the Tokyo Electric Power Company — or an estimated 11 percent of Japan’s total power — is out of service.”

TEPCO provides service to 45 million people. It had an operating capacity of 37 gigawatts in the weeks after the quake and expects to be back up to about 50 gigawatts by summer, According to PFC Energy TEPCO’s peak summer demand is usually 60 gigawatts, meaning at least a 13.5 percent shortfall. Some economists say privately that the shortfall could turn out to be larger than TEPCO estimates. (Each gigawatt is sufficient to power about 250,000 Japanese households.)

Electricity and Fuel Problems after Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011

In addition to shortages of electricity there were also shortages of fuel as nine oil refineries were damaged, including one in Chiba near Tokyo that burned spectacularly on television, creating shortage of gasoline and heating oil I the Tokyo area. Even in some cities outside the earthquake- and tsunami-zone there were severe shortage of gasoline, In Akita, 280 miles north of Kyoto , people waited in lines as long as a mile for rations of four gallons of gasoline. The lack of gasoline caused other shortages as delivery trucks were not able to bring kepi products such as milk, batteries, water, paper and bread to places they were desperately needed.

In July 2011, the government ordered all large-lot electricity users in the service areas of TEPCO and Tohoku Electric Power Co. — which included much of the Tokyo area and northern Honshu — to limit their consumption to 15 percent below what was consumed at the same time in 2010. The power savings target for the summer of 2011 was initially 25 percent for large-lot electricity users, 20 percent for small-scale commercial users, and 15 to 20 percent for households. Later it was the target was changed to 15 percent for all. One reason this decision was made was because major companies such as steelmakers and other utilities plan to sell excess power ro TEPCO.

Describing a darkened Tokyo in the midst of its electricity-conservation effort, Kavi Chongkittavorn wrote in the Thai newspaper the Nation: “A brief stroll through Shinagawa Station in central Tokyo gives an eerie feeling of what the Japanese people are facing these days. It is as if thousands of pedestrians rushing home, all in dark business suits or dresses, are part of a Tim Burton movie set — with dimly lit walkways and dozens of blacked-out flat TV panels akin to mysterious dark windows protruding from the walls without any images. Some passers-by are dressed warmly as heaters are off at an early hour. Some vending machines at the station are unplugged — something unusual for this electronics-crazed nation, to save energy. So are neon-signs of karaoke studios and nightclubs nearby.” [Source: Kavi Chongkittavorn, The Nation, April 25, 2011]

Power Shortages Caused by the Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011 on Electricity

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bringing electric vehicle
the New York Times reported: “Because of the Fukushima nuclear plants being lost to the national power grid, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, which operates the plants, announced plans for rolling blackouts across the region to conserve electricity -- the first controlled power cutbacks in Japan in 60 years. The first set of blackouts began in four prefectures outside Tokyo after the quake in early March and continued through April. [Source: New York Times]

For the rolling blackouts the Kanto region and some neighboring areas — with a total of 14 million households and roughly 40 million people — was divided into five groups. Electricity was shut of in shifts of three hours between 6:20 am and 10:00pm, with each group having its electricity cut off for one or two shifts a day. When the plan was started there was a lot of confusion over who got power when. Perhaps those hardest hot were commuters trying to get to work who waited in huge lines at train stations where train service was cut back because of the power shortages. Factories and residents also complained they had their electricity cut off without warning.

David Jolly wrote in the New York Times,”Tokyo Electric has been using rolling blackouts of up to three hours in designated zones to balance demand and supply. The cuts have at times been poorly communicated, further disrupting businesses already reeling from logistical problems and damage to factories in the north. “In the short term, it will be very difficult to make up the loss of power from the Daiichi plant,” Masakazu Toyoda, chairman of the Institute of Energy Economics, a research organization affiliated with the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, said. “At the summer peak, the shortfall will be in the 10 percent to 20 percent range.”[Source: David Jolly, New York Times, March 28, 2011]

Tokyo Electric is trying to make up the lost generating capacity by restarting shuttered plants, repairing the damaged ones, tapping hydropower reserves and temporarily operating gas turbines. But summer blackouts are inevitable, with plans for many areas to go without electricity for an hour or two at the hottest part of the day.

In theory, the Tokyo area could import electricity from the south. But a historical rivalry between Tokyo and the city of Osaka led the two areas to develop grids using different frequencies — Osaka’s is 60 cycles and Tokyo’s is 50 cycles — so sharing is inefficient. There are transfer stations, but they have limited capacity. And the hand-off is comparable to two railroads that use different gauge tracks and have to unload cargo from one train and reload it onto another at the place the tracks meet.

“Until all the lost or suspended generating capacity is replaced, economists say, factories will operate at reduced levels, untold numbers of cars and other products will go unbuilt and legions of shoppers will cut back their buying — all taking a big toll on Japan’s economy. The greater Tokyo region represents one-third of the nation’s economic output.”

Electricity Shortages and the Economy

Shortages of electricity could be a real downer on the Japanese economy. Shumpei Takemore, economics professor at Keio University, wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Data on electricity consumption suggests that in our country economic growth of 2 percent translates into a 1 percent increase in electricity consumption. If this statistical regularity holds true, production in eastern Japan will shrink by about 30 percent due to the power shortage.... A shortfall in electricity supply will reduce production and income so that many Japanese households now expect their incomes will drop.” [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, Shumpei Takemori, May 2, 2011]

“Eastern Japan and western Japan use different electricity frequencies, a technical barrier that greatly limits power transfers between the two areas. Hokkaido and eastern Japan use identical frequencies but power exchanges between them are limited due to insufficient interregional grid capacities. But the situation is not totally hopeless: if surplus power in Hokkaido and western Japan cannot be easily transferred to eastern Japan, why not shift power demand in the opposite direction instead? Businesses have already started relocating some manufacturing facilities to the Kansai region.

The Japan Research institute, a subsidiary of Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group Inc., estimated that if electricity use is curtailed by 15 percent compared with a year ago for three months this summer as urged by the government in the eastern and northeastern regions, employees of smaller firms could bear the brunt of personnel retrenchment and more jobs of non-permanent workers could be shed, according to the study. About 180,000 jobs could be curtailed if uncertainty persists about power supply in summer next year and beyond, the research agency said. [Source: Kyodo, May 18, 2011]

Response to Power Shortages Caused by the Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011 on Electricity

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repairing fuel station
“Public conservation of electricity was significant enough, the company said, that the more drastic blackout scenarios were being scaled back. Still, anticipating deep and lengthy power cuts, many people were stocking up on candles, water, instant noodles and batteries for radios. Tokyo, more than most places in Japan, is highly dependent on electric trains and subways for commuting, so when there are blackouts, lots of people cannot get to work or easily organize their days.” [Source: New York Times]

“The simplest way to solve the problem is through conservation,” Mr. Toyoda told the New York Times, “So the question of how to encourage that with the least impact is on the government’s agenda.” Ultimately, the need to conserve energy could force Japanese companies — already among the most efficient in the world — to emerge even leaner and more competitive. [Source: David Jolly, New York Times, March 28, 2011]

Homeowners were given tips on how to deal with rolling blackouts: namely having candles or other light sources on hand, going without TV for a while, keeping the refrigerator cold by keeping the door closed and placing frozen bottles of water inside when the black out occurs. Companies affected by the disaster are worried that once they get their factories up and going again and consumer demand returns to normal they will have to curtail production because uncertainties about their power supply.

The biggest crunch will come up in the summer when air conditioners will be turned to battle the high summer temperatures. According to the Yomiuri Shimbun: “The government intends o impose mandatory curbs on electricity use to avoid massive blackouts this summer and ask major corporate users to cut back their daylight consumption by up to 30 percent year- on-year for about three months, beginning in July...Electricity demands usually peaks during the day between July and September. “

Some suggested shorter work weeks and longer holidays to save energy and proposed moving production bases to western and southern parts of Japan, where electricity was more plentiful. It was even suggested that Japan adopts daylight saving time, something it had previously declined doing on numerous occasions because it might cause confusion. More than 62 percent of Japanese have adopted measures to reduce the use of air conditioning, so was figured only limited improvements could be made there. “Many people are going to have to turn off the air-con altogether,” one energy analyst told the New York Times. The Japanese government has said if citizens and companies don’t pitch in there could unexpected blackouts,

Saving Electricity after the Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011

To conserve energy and use less electricity at peak times Tokyo Disneyland shut down at 6:00pm and Sumitomo Metals required its workers to start working an hour earlier, starting at 8:00am rather than 9:00am. Lights were turned off or removed from railway stations; 7-11 replaced in store and signboard lights with power-saving LED lights at 5,000 convenience stores. Trying to make the best of the situation people ate by candlelight at restaurants and at home.

Companies such as Toshiba encouraged staff to take long two- to three-week summer holidays on a rotating basis and shift production to weekends and night shifts. Toyota, Honda, Nissan and other Japanese carmakers began weekend factory shifts, with workers taking off Thursday and Friday and working on Saturday and Sunday until September.

The baseball season was delayed partly to save electricity and when it started most of the games were switched to the daytime and extra inning games were banned. Some of Tokyo’s famous electronic billboards were switched off and garbage was allowed to pile up so trash truck were cut down their gasoline consumption. Some stores switched off their escalators and elevators. Sompo Japan Insurance Company told 1,500 of its 3,000 employees at its main Tokyo office to work at home during July and August.

During his reelection campaign Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara suggested people should stop playing pachinko to conserve electricity. "No country other than Japan consumes nearly 10 million kilowatts for pachinko parlors and vending machines,” he said. "This is equal to the Fukushima plant's power output, so we should correct such a lifestyle," he added. "I think the government should issue a decree to conserve power. People who play pachinko should be able to get by without it. We can live without vending machines."

Many of the cutbacks didn’t seem to cause too much pain. "Look at the Japanese train stations. There are so many lights, they are brighter than any train stations in other countries," Yukiko Asai, a graduate researcher in economics at Tokyo University told the . "Now half the lights are off, and it's OK."

Extra liquified natural gas arrived from Russia. Qatargas agreed to send Japan 60 extra tanker shipments of LNG. Hitachi helped thermal plants that run on oil, gas and coal boost production by selling utilities midsize gas turbines and other equipment.

Japanese companies tried to take advantage of the situation by offering a variety of power-saving products, Toshiba introduced flat-screen televisions with a built in rechargeable battery that can operate for three hours without electricity. Hitachi pushed the sales of its air conditioners that adjusted its temperature depending on whether people were in the room. Sales of LED light bulbs and other energy-efficient products soared. Many companies and government branches purchased batteries that allowed them to store power during off-peak hours at night that could be used during peak hours in the day.

Among the cooling products that were being pushed were soft gel cooling sheets, gel pillows that have compartments that can be frozen in freezers to supply three to 10 hours of and shirts with water compartments in them. Japanese companies said they would cooperate by changing working hors, encouraging employees to work from home and even allowing workers to wear T-shirts rather than suits in the office. Eighty percent of the members of Keidanran — Japan’s largest business organization’said they panned to cut electricity usage by 25 percent.

Worries about power shortages made small generators have become popular items. Mamoru Kurihara wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Such generators were previously used mainly by people operating businesses such as street stalls, but demand has grown among general consumers since the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Manufacturers have been hard-pressed to keep up with the rising demand. Common models of small generators run on gasoline or canned gas fuels and produce power for up to 20 hours. Makers have focused on models designed to power personal computers and other precision machinery products. Lightweight, portable types priced from 100,000 yen to 200,000 yen have proven popular.”

Energy Usage After the Fukushima Crisis

Museums worried that the 15 percent cuts might damage artworks and artifacts which need steady, reliable temperatures and humidity. Many responded by installing LED devices. The Pola Museum in Hakonemachi in Kanagawa Prefecture funneled a mountain stream onto its glass roof, reducing the temperature in the museum by four degrees C.

Sales of electric fans increased dramatically as people tried to save energy by not using their air conditioners. In may 2011, fan imports rotaled 3.21 million units, a monthly record and a 60 percent increase from the same month a year before.

There were no serious blackouts, brownouts or power shortages in the summer of 2011 despite it being very hot in some places. Power companies have been coping with the electricity shortage by reactivating outdated thermal power plants, but increases in electricity bills are anticipated as the cost of fuel for the thermal plants continues to rise.[Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, September 1, 2011]

Japan Rises to the Challenge of Saving Energy

The Economist reported: “Japan can change. When its people recognise a challenge and agree on a solution, they often act quickly and in unison. After the earthquake and tsunami of March 11th, doubts about the safety of Japan’s nuclear industry were rife. Most reactors were shut down and have not been restarted. Since the country depends on nuclear power for 29 percent of its electricity, the nuclear freeze threatened to cast Japan into darkness.” [Source: The Economist, September 17, 2011]

The nation responded as one, dimming lights and cranking down the air-conditioning despite the humidity. Salarymen shed their jackets and ties; some even worked from home to save fuel. Factories moved shifts to nights and weekends, when demand for power is slacker. News broadcasts gave warning when the grid was nearing overload and urged people to turn off their gizmos. Peak electricity usage fell by nearly a fifth in the Tokyo region, compared with last year. Amazingly, Japan made it through the summer without blackouts.

Ending the Energy Restrictions

In September 2011, the Japanese government' decided to lift the mandatory curb on electricity usage in areas served by Tokyo Electric Power Co. and Tohoku Electric Power Co. Still there were concerns the utilities, many of whose nuclear power reactors remain idle, would be unable to meet expected power demand this winter and beyond. The mandatory restriction were lifted on electricity usage for large-lot consumers by 15 percent from last summer's peak-period levels.

The government decided to end the measure because in addition to the mandatory power-saving efforts by office buildings and large industrial plants, an increasing number of households and small businesses, who have been asked to voluntarily cut consumption, have kept the power demand lower than expected.

In July, electricity consumption volumes in TEPCO's service areas were about 20 percent lower than July last year, and the figure was 22 percent lower for the month of August. There have been only a few days in which consumption rose to 85 percent of power supply capacity.

Many affected companies view the power-saving measures as exceptional actions due to the March 11 disaster. With progress to reactivate nuclear power reactors remaining slow after they were idled for regular inspections, an official of Mitsubishi Chemical Corp. said, "Though our production has not been negatively affected in this summer, it would be troublesome if the [power shortage] situation continued every year."

If the idled nuclear reactors are not brought back online soon, the supply capacity of utilities will be lower than predicted peak demands for this winter and next summer. The shortages are estimated at 0.7 percent, or 1.13 million kilowatts, for the coming winter, and 9.2 percent, or 16.56 million kilowatts, for next summer.If the nation's energy supply tightens further, the industrial sector may become hollowed out, as an increasing number of companies are forced to relocate their production bases overseas.

Image Sources: 1) U.S. Navy except train station (Akira Kouchiyama)

Text Sources: New York Times, Yomiuri Shimbun, Daily Yomiuri, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Kyodo News, National Geographic, The Guardian. Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, and various books and other publications.

Last updated April 2012

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