Posted by: David Stewart | June 3, 2011

The real power in Japan

I have been in Japan this week for the first time since the quake and tsunami of 2011, which happened just a couple of months ago.

My first visit to Japan was back in 1989 when I was in my first job as a manager (leading an internationalization and localization project), and have been back a few times on business and once on vacation, the most recent was 2008.

I was actively looking for evidence of something – I don’t know, different as a result of the disasters at Sendai and Fukushima. Some tell-tale sign of structural or psychic damage. I’m coming up empty here.  Of course, I have stuck around the Tokyo area and have not had time to wander around much. People seem to laugh as much as they did – perhaps a tiny bit more, actually. I see paint peeling and weeds growing in unexpected public places, but I started seeing this in 2008 as well, a result of economic issues.

I did spend time with a friend last night who visited the damaged areas around Sendai and helped with the cleanup there. There has been some definite pulling-together of society to help out.

The most noticeable impact is in the use of electrical power. Buildings and trains which are normally ice cold with air conditioning are now warmer and more humid. People are using fans to keep cool, which makes me think summer will not be much fun. Signs are posted in buildings which say that lobby lights are being kept intentionally lower. I have not visited Shinjuku or Ginza at night, there might be some impact there as well.

But it struck me very powerfully how much electricity is woven into life in Japan, probably more so than anyplace I have ever visited.

  • The majority of the populace in Tokyo and surrounds depend on trains and subways for getting around, and these all run on electricity. Longer-haul trains are all on electric rather than diesel-electric as in most places.
  • Even car parking in the city often uses an elevator to move the car into limited storage.
  • Nearly every public door I see in the city is a slide door opened by an electrical motor and triggered by a sensor. More and more often, the sensor is "hands free".
  • The ubiquitous electric toilet, which warms the seat and washes the bottom all consume power
  • Public restrooms use an air stream to dry hands.

The Japanese have built this dependency on Ready Kilowatt and on nuclear power to strengthen their energy independence from other nations. I wonder how this will change in the wake of Fukushima Daiichi.



  1. thanks dave-san I now blog about our meeting in Japan

    hope to see you in SF next time.

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