Japan ushered in the new year with various celebratory events Friday night that included fireworks, all-night dancing and concerts while much of the public harbored concerns over possible Y2K-related problems. Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi addressed the nation from the Prime Minister’s Official Residence a little before 1 a.m. today and said there have been no reports of computer-related problems that would seriously affect citizens’ daily lives. All major facilities providing key services, such as electricity, gas, communications and nuclear-related facilities, including reactors, reported no problems stemming from the much-feared Year 2000 computer glitch, he said. “As we see, no major problems have occurred, and this is due to the cooperation of the general public as well as the close exchanges of relevant information between the public and private sectors,” he said. Obuchi added that while there were reports there was difficulty making calls on cellular phones, it was unrelated to the turn of the year and just a result of the huge number of people who tried to make calls at the same time. At Tokyo’s Odaiba Kaihin Koen Park, over 10,000 people amassed about an hour before midnight to count down the seconds to the new year during the city-sponsored event there. Tokyoites found spots where the illuminated Rainbow Bridge could be viewed as some 30 “yakatabune” roofed boats drifted by in Tokyo Bay, their lanterns glowing orange. The event began with “taiko” drum performances by the Tokyo Sukeroku Daiko group. With young couples looking askance, nostalgic groups such as the Dark Ducks and Bonnie Jacks sang a variety of songs tracing the history of Tokyo, including “Oedo Nihonbashi,” “Tokyo March,” “Tokyo Ondo,” and “Tokyo Boogie-woogie.” While city officials were on alert at the metropolitan government office to deal with potential Y2K computer problems, Gov. Shintaro Ishihara stood by at Odaiba with such celebrities as Yomiuri Giants Manager Shigeo Nagashima and award-winning movie director Takeshi Kitano. City officials said the extravaganza was organized on a budget of 1.5 million yen. Across the country, government agencies and private firms stood vigil in preparation for any Y2K-related problems throughout the day, and the usual New Year’s Eve bustle was relatively subdued. More than 2 million civil servants and office workers across the nation were involved in the watch, and they were being watched themselves by the rest of the world; Japan was the first major industrialized nation to enter the new year. In addition to some 1,060,000 government workers and about 960,000 employees of computer-related companies, employees of financial institutions, utilities, railways and airlines were also on the lookout for problems, according to the Cabinet Security Affairs Office. Of the public employees, 806,000 are firefighters, 106,000 are police officers and 96,000 are members of the Self-Defense Forces. Obuchi joined a special Y2K task force set up at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence at around 8:30 p.m. and called on the staffers to stay on alert over the following few hours, saying that time would prove whether sufficient preparations had been made. He spoke on the phone with Japan’s envoy to New Zealand, Jun Kawashima, and was told that such vital services as electricity and gas were apparently working as normal there. Each ministry and agency stood by to report to the task force any incidents that break out at home and abroad. A total of 2,000 central government officials were to be on all-night alert at the ministries and agencies through early today. To prepare for Y2K-related problems, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government set up its first disaster task force in 13 years. The last was set up in November 1986 after the volcano eruption on Izu Oshima Island. The task force, also the first set up by the city for a non-natural disaster, was scheduled to be open through noon today. On the ninth floor of the metropolitan government building, about 90 city officials gathered a few hours before midnight with personnel from the Tokyo Fire Department, Self-Defense Forces and Metropolitan Police Department. Some 24,200 police officers, 26,000 fire department officials and members of the SDF’s Chemical Substances Protection Team were on duty in preparation for possible blackouts, Y2K-related accidents and trouble involving motorcycle gangs, officials said. As for the private sector, automatic teller machines at Japanese financial institutions were stopped to prepare for possible computer glitches. Bank employees worked overtime to print out customer data and other information so that the records could be saved in the event of a computer breakdown. Eight financial institutions, including Tokai Bank, said they plan to resume operations of some of their ATMs today. At Narita airport, departure lobbies were less crowded than on most Fridays. Despite it being peak travel season, the traditional yearend holiday exodus never materialized, reflecting widespread fears of possible Y2K problems. Airport officials estimated 23,000 people would leave Japan from the airport Friday, 7,000 fewer than last year, and 21,000 would leave today, another significant fall from previous years.

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