Neon lights above Sapporo’s famed nightlife district darkened by quake

by Dave Hueston

Kyodo

The neon lights of Sapporo’s famed Susukino entertainment district were still off Thursday night, the area’s revelers replaced by people huddled in hotel lobby entrances or queuing for water and other bare essentials following the powerful earthquake that jolted the nation’s northernmost island of Hokkaido earlier in the day.

Power outages wrought havoc across the city as people sought out food and transportation, including sharing taxis from remote airports to the metropolis, after the damaged New Chitose Airport — the main gateway to Hokkaido — was closed.

Travelers from various countries and other parts of the nation were supplied with blankets as they were sat with family or friends in dimly lit hotel lobbies, after the widespread blackout left hallways and rooms darkened.

In Susukino, Sapporo’s nightlife hub where partying normally goes on until the early hours, the neon lights that frame the district’s famous landmarks — like the Nikka Whisky billboard — were conspicuously absent. Even a 24-hour McDonald’s burger restaurant had to be temporarily closed due to a lack of supplies.

One Sapporo resident, who was selling soda in palm tree-shaped glasses while illuminated by lights powered by his nearby car, said he was there to lighten the mood of people who probably had never experienced a prolonged blackout like this.

“A lot of people from Sapporo have never experienced anything like this. So, when something like this happens, they panic,” said Naoya Suda, 48, an event organizer. “We don’t normally have blackouts that last this long, so I think for a lot of people this is very troubling.”

“There’s no electricity, plus food is in short supply in convenience stores — if they’re even open — so people don’t have anything to eat. For me, as long as I can put gas in my truck I can generate power. We don’t know how many days we’ll be like this,” he said, adding that he is selling his sodas for ¥100 less than normal due to the circumstances.

Even though certain blocks in the district had taken on an eerie ghost-town feel and many people were finding it difficult to find basic provisions, one foreign resident of Sapporo said the blackout was not all bad news.

“I just got back from holiday and it’s the first time I can see the stars in Sapporo. It’s awesome,” said Ben Bogner, 30, who is in Japan on a working holiday from Germany.

“During the earthquake, I was in Makkari (Hokkaido) visiting a friend and I came here today by car. I heard that there was no power anywhere, so I was like ‘That might be cool.’ ”

Earlier Thursday people searched for power outlets to charge smartphones and other electronic devices, including around 600 citizens who waited in line in front of the Sapporo City Hall to use about 70 outlets that were made available. But the power supply was cut off around noon.

“I only have a little power left in my phone,” said one woman in her 40s. “There’ll probably be aftershocks, and I’m really in trouble without any information on my smartphone.”

The blackout also affected around 80 hospitals, telephone and internet services and television stations broadcasting in Hokkaido, authorities said.

Hokkaido Electric Power Co. said it will take at least a week for it to restore power to all of its service areas.

Thursday’s 3:08 a.m. quake cut power supplies to all 2.95 million homes in Hokkaido, as well as a nuclear power plant in the prefecture, while grounding flights and disrupting train services. Electricity was later reconnected in some areas.