While the kanji for “hot” was chosen as emblematic of 2010, setsuden, or electricity conservation, seems to be the keyword for 2011, or at least for the coming summer.
Offices and factories are turning up thermostats and turning off lights, cutting back on overtime, and shifting work hours. Stations throughout Tokyo have turned off lights and escalators. Beverage vending machines are under attack for eating up too much electricity.
Individuals are being urged to turn off lights, limit the use of air conditioners and turn down the brightness on their TV screens. Arakawa Ward in Tokyo is planning to hold a summer setsuden “mileage” contest in which residents can win setsuden products, such as a strap enabling one to recharge a cell phone with solar power, if they can demonstrate use of 20 percent less electricity than in the same month the year before.
Such appeals seem to be having an effect. In one recent newspaper survey (Asahi, May 7), 86 percent of respondents report taking energy-saving measures at home. They are turning off lights, unplugging appliances when not in use and turning up the setting on air conditioners.
Products expected to get a boost in the setsuden campaign include electric fans, LED light bulbs and capacitors for household use in which electricity stored at night can be used during peak hours of demand.
Toshiba plans to put on sale in July a flat-screen TV, designed for use in Southeast Asian countries having frequent blackouts, which can run for three hours on a rechargeable battery.
Clothing for summer as well is moving beyond Cool Biz to Setsuden Biz. Uniqlo has already started selling special cooling underwear, and lines of polo shirts for the office are also in the works from various makers.
Beyond such products, the energy crisis seems to be leading to a re-examination of the busy, modern-day lifestyle with its emphasis on convenience above all else, and encouraging more time spent with family.
While it remains to be seen how deep or long-lasting such changes might be, perhaps the power shortage will bring some welcome reforms in lifestyle along with all the difficulties it poses for companies and individual citizens alike.