*to Hanlon's razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Japanese Razor: Electricity

Japanese Razor: if there is a better solution, 'it's not Japanese culture'.
I wonder where that wire goes?

I do not have a handle on the power situation in eastern Japan following the series of disasters (seismic, tsunami and nuclear), but this page makes as much sense as any.   The quick version is that power is short now, and we have had threats of scheduled rolling blackouts which have not all come to fruition.  On the long term there is no easy fix to the shortage, as the link explains, there is a good chance that it will be a less air-conditioned summer, and that there will be a big hit to the Japanese economy if companies cannot rely on electricity.

All bad things, but it does not mean that the solutions are more intelligent than you would expect with Japan's top-down coerced 'consensus'.   When it comes to air-conditioning, there have already been a few summers of the promotion of 'kouru-bizu', 'cool-biz', which means the opposite: dressing down to work in hotter offices (26C) so that there is even lower productivity than the usual dicking around.  The temperatures used in N.America are stupid in the summer (19C), but once you take it above 23C you make the staff lazy and funky.  I worry that they will raise it even higher.  I know that I am better off taking off to Canada than fighting with the native wife all summer, again, about the indoor temperature.

Fighting over the small efficiencies instead of the large ones is propaganda, and though not a unique feature of Japanese society, a ubiquitous one: 'missing the forest for the trees'.  So it goes with water use and Byzantine recycling, never mind that personal use is dwarfed by industrial, agricultural and institutional use.

One of the more asinine and poorly thought examples are the new 'efficiencies' applied to transportation in Kanto.  This includes the reduction in trains and station services since the nuclear incidents, and the rolling blackouts.  What has happened, exactly as anyone thinking might have guessed, is that the roads have become jammed with traffic.  Increased fuel use of people taking to their cars, idling in traffic jams, during a minor fuel shortage is the outcome.  Better the train service had remained stable, and there were restrictions on personal vehicle use: a compromise that you could sell in Japan, if not in N.America.  The blackouts have included street lights in the affected areas, with the several predictable deaths.  It would seem that street lights are not on a separable grid, or that nobody thought of exempting them: either explanation I can believe.

The stations I have passed through in Tokyo in the past two weeks have had half of their escalators halted, and their garbage bins closed.  The consequences of these would be screaming customers and filthy stations in Toronto: not far off the norm (including the water leaks in Ochanomizu station since the quake, or most Toronto stations since the 80s).  Stupid as the closure of garbage receptacles is, the sober Japanese public behaves well, and there were so few receptacles in Tokyo that it hardly differs (tip: use toilet garbage cans).  The escalator closures would not matter to me, except that unsatisfied with saving the electricity, they have roped them off, because train exists were not already unsafely crowded?  And never mind the disabled and the injured, what do you do about the fact that they have the world's oldest population?  The bright spot, ironically, is the reduced squandering of electricity for the eyeball-peeling neon and the soul-crushing fluorescent lighting that the locals prefer.

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