It was August 2012 when Chikako Fujii had one of the most memorable conversations of her life. That moment came when a bill collector from Tokyo Electric Power Co. rang her doorbell in the west Tokyo suburb of Kunitachi and told her with finality that she had an important choice to make.
“Your payment is overdue this month. Unless you pay now, we will have no other option but to terminate our contract with you,” the man threatened.
“Sure, go ahead,” Fujii replied nonchalantly, much to his shock. The collector quickly dropped his hostile attitude and tried in vain to get her to reconsider.
Fujii, however, remained adamant. The following month, the 53-year-old housewife terminated her contract with the beleaguered corporate behemoth.
And so began her current life as a “solar joshi” (solar girl), as she is known online. She now spends much of her time passionately campaigning against nuclear energy and spreading her knowledge of power-saving techniques.
Fujii, who makes a living as a textile-dyeing artist, recalled how the Fukushima nuclear crisis in 2011 made her cringe when she realized how easily life could be disrupted by blackouts. Seeking a lifestyle less dependent on electricity, especially the nuclear-generated kind, she began minimizing her use of air conditioning, converted all of her lights to LED bulbs and even got rid of her TV set and refrigerator.
After more than a year of energy-saving efforts, her electric bill in August 2012 — the month she terminated her contract with Tepco — had dropped to an incredible ¥400.
“I just couldn’t stand the idea that a part of my payment, however meager, was being used by the company to promote nuclear power,” Fujii said.
Prior to parting ways with Tepco, she had experimented with solar panels to gauge their viability. By the time she got rid of Tepco, she was confident the panels alone could sustain her spartan lifestyle.
The solar equipment, including capacitors and inverters, cost her about ¥130,000, but can generate an average of 800 watts a day, depending on the weather. Although unsure of the exact figure, Fujii believes her energy consumption amounts to 15 kWh a month.
Her daily routine includes using a hand-cranked radio to get general information instead of a TV. The scorching summers are weathered by sprinkling water outside. “Trust me, it does make a difference,” she said.
In winter, the gas heater becomes her best friend. Since she discarded her refrigerator as well, Fujii uses a handmade cooler to store what little food she wants to keep in reserve.
Having stopped eating meat and fish as a part of her energy-saving crusade, her vegetarian diet allows her to buy on demand, meaning she can get by without storing food for days. She also heats and cooks the vegetables with a home-made solar cooker that makes direct use of the sun’s rays.
Her laptop and cellphone are two of the few necessities that need recharging. She routinely blogs and tweets about her life, sharing expertise and tips with like-minded nuclear foes and conservation aficionados.
Once darkness falls, she resorts to lamps to keep her room dimly lit.
The hardest part of her life, however, is running the washing machine, which consumes a lot of power.
As an extra source of electricity, Fujii started using a bicycle connected to a motor earlier this year to produce self-generated power. She said the heavy pedaling helps her stay fit.
“Some people have told me incredulously that I made a very bold decision,” Fujii said. “But seriously, I don’t find any of what I’m doing that inconvenient. I’m truly enjoying my life now.”
Despite repeated assurances that she honestly loves her anachronistic lifestyle, Fujii has fallen prey to several unusual “accidents.”
Before installing the bicycle, her washing machine would stop occasionally at night due to lack of power, leaving the clothes to soak all night long. She has also accidentally dropped china and other items at night because her dwelling is so dimly lighted.
But the self-proclaimed natural optimist laughs off all these mishaps.
“This lifestyle is definitely not for the fastidious. You have to be accepting of certain inconveniences,” Fujii said.
Although a vocal crusader for a nearly zero-power society, Fujii said with a tinge of embarrassment that she used to run her TV nonstop and overuse the air conditioner. That is, until she realized the “fragility” of her electricity-dominated life.
Amid the heavy media coverage sparked by the ongoing nuclear crisis in Fukushima, she said that she learned for the first time that there are more than 50 atomic reactors nationwide.
“Given the snowballing population across the globe, I think we have to figure out ways to come up with sustainable energy resources. That’s how the world should be changing,” she said.
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