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Eastern Japan edgy as power demand soars


Back in the early 1970s, electronic signposts in Tokyo and other major cities used to display levels of carbon dioxide and other air pollutants along with the temperature.

Now in addition to the weather, the media post radiation levels, and people have been scratching their heads to come to grips with unfamiliar terms such as microsieverts and Cesium-137.

Another bit of data now being posted online is electric power demand. Last Wednesday, June 22, was Tokyo’s first manatsu-bi (midsummer day). The temperature exceeded 32 degrees Celcius in central Tokyo. The Northern Kanto region, however, recorded a moshobi (day of extreme heat), with Tatebayashi City in Gunma Prefecture posting a high of 36 C.

To see how the embattled Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) was doing, I went to the Internet — where the Sankei Shimbun, J-Cast News and Tepco, among others, display regular updates of power demand. At 3 p.m., for instance, I saw demand was up to 86 percent of the maximum generating capacity of 4,730 megawatts per hour.

The previous week, when Tokyo’s temperature hovered around 22 C, the same sites indicated power demand was at 78 percent of capacity. On the surface, it would appear a rise of 10 C pushed the demand 8 percent higher. The problem is, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to weigh all the variables affecting day-to-day and hour-to-hour supply and demand.

That said, as much as Tepco has been lambasted for everything from substandard reactor design to bumbling crisis management, the utility has still managed — after a few stumbles back in March — to keep Tokyo and its environs supplied with power. Considering the discomfort and inconvenience that would transpire over the coming three months without air conditioning and refrigeration, this is the time we should be cheering “Gambaro, Toden (give it your best shot, Tepco).”

Which brings us to “Cool Biz,” adopted in 2005. LDP Diet member and former journalist Yuriko Koike, Minister of the Environment in the cabinet of Junichiro Koizumi, is credited with proposing the campaign, which calls for such energy conservation measures as setting of thermostats at 28 C from June 1 to Sept. 30, during which time white-collar workers could waive neckties in favor of open collars and lightweight garb. From this year, the government has extended Cool Biz from May 1 to Oct. 31.

Now that energy conservation is not an option but a necessity, the media has been full of articles about how to show up at work in comfortable garments that won’t compromise one’s dignity. Sunday Mainichi (July 3) ran a humorous article titled “Cool biz attire that I absolutely don’t want my husband to wear.” The piece was chock-full of comments that show Japanese take a pretty conservative approach to male attire, hot weather notwithstanding.

A bartender told the magazine that when men shed their jackets, belts become extremely conspicuous. Old belts with holes that have become warped from long usage make the wearer appear “grubby.”

One fashion consultant said that mixing old items of apparel with new ones looks tacky, so a man should make his Cool Biz fashion debut decked out in a completely new wardrobe.

“Lively pastel colors are recommended for their appeal to women,” a female stylist advised readers. “Pick the color that best matches his skin complexion.”

But wait a second: Why would a wife want to deck out her hubby in garb that “appeals to women”? Go figure.

Nikkan Gendai (June 21) reported that at least one company — sportswear manufacturer Mizuno — was perfectly happy for its employees to come to the office in sandals and short pants, as long as they demonstrated brand loyalty by wearing their employer’s products.

Osamu Seki, a lecturer in psychology at Meiji University, told the tabloid that wearing business suits can be tied to worker efficiency, and informal garb may lead to careless mistakes on the job. He also voiced worries that exposure of too much skin by female employees might spur more complaints of sexual harassment, if not in the workplace then “after five,” when staff leave the office for a drink.

Finding ways to make it through the summer appears likely to spawn a whole new science. Nikkei Business (June 13) reported that when things in the office start to swelter, the unpleasantness can be reduced by taking steps to improve indoor air quality through use of aroma dispensers. (Mint is said to be particularly effective.) A section head at office supplies manufacturer Kokuyo cited studies that dispersing aroma can reduce the PPD (Predicted Percentage of Dissatisfied — a relatively new benchmark for evaluating indoor environments) by four-fifths.

The article was full of other practical advisories, such as placement of more potted plants in the office. Men were advised to trim their hair short, particularly around the ears, and use oil-free hair tonics. Shirts with open collars can be worn where appropriate — nautical fashions have the advantage of looking good and being comfortable. If the heat gets too oppressive, try applying a towel dampened in cool water to the throat. It’s also a good time to go on a diet and lose a few unnecessary pounds.