Obviously the March 11th earthquake had very few benefits but in the aftermath of the event there are a few lessons to be learned. Several of the nuclear power plants which provide Tokyo’s electricity were knocked out and the city has been trying to conserve energy ever since.
The neon lights of Shibuya, Shinjuku and Ginza are iconic and a typical Tokyo image for many people whether they have been here or not. On top of that the city is full of vending machines, escalators, flashing advertisments on screens and so on. Lighting in shops, stations and on trains was always very bright and air-con/heating is blasted out to the max in the Summer/Winter. However, that has changed quite a bit in order to avoid more blackouts. Lighting has been reduced in shops and subway stations, trains have been dimmed down and the advertisment billboards have been switched off which is no doubt costing the city millions in lost revenue from the big companies.
You can’t really blame Japanese people for such excessive use of electricity as thats just the way its always been for them and if you grow up in such convenient and comfortable conditions you don’t know differently. Its these things which often fascinate and amaze visitors to Tokyo who see a country that has seemingly thought of everything to make life that little bit more comfortable. The changes may be drastic for Tokyoites but compared to other world cities it still seems brighter. The playing field certainly seems more level now which shows the amount of lighting was very high before.
Now I dont wanna sound like a gaijin telling Tokyo what it should do but most of the population maybe do need to come to a new understanding about lighting and energy conservation. For example, those ever-efficient Germans conserve electricity by rarely using lighting during daytime office hours. I’m no tree-hugging environmentalist but I am aware of conserving energy which goes back to my cub-scout days when I earned my Conservation badge. Prior to getting it I just thought conservation was only about nature and I had no idea that it was also related to electricity. No doubt my Dad will be thinking now that I learned very little given the number of times I left my light on in my bedroom when I wasn’t in there!
With the hot and humid Summer conditions soon approaching it will be interesting to see how this affects a city which excessively uses air-conditioners. Ex-Prime Minister Junichi Koizumi introduced ‘cool-biz’ a few years back (a policy to get the Japanese salarymen to take off their suit jacket and ties and dress down during the Summer) and JR reduced its temperatures by one degree but incredibly some people complained about this and it reverted back to its original level the following year. Whilst people in Tokyo are getting used to reduced lighting on subways, in restaurants, and on the streets it will be a much bigger step to take this Summer.