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Saturday, July 7, 2012
The price you pay for electronic bells and whistles of businesses
By AMY CHAVEZ
The setsuden (power-saving) campaign is now in full force, as residents all over Japan are being encouraged to conserve electricity so there is enough to get through the high-use summer months. Even on my small island of 609 people, each household received a list of suggestions on how we can help Japan save energy.
It covered points such as not leaving the lights on during the day and cleaning out the filters in your air conditioner to help them run more efficiently — things any environmentally conscious person already does. In addition, more extreme measures were suggested, such as unplugging appliances so that the LED stand-by light stays off. Even though the LED uses an infinitesimally small amount of energy, among a population of 120 million people, it all adds up.
While I agree that we can all use a gentle reminder now and then, there are others who could use a good kick in the butt. The others I'm talking about are the real energy sappers: the electronic bells and whistles of businesses. While businesses have been asked to cut back from 5 to 15 percent on energy expenditure, they could easily do a lot more. Japan must be the loudest, most electronically deafening country in the world.
Pachinko: If citizens should be unplugging their appliances, then pachinko parlors should turn off those annoying pulsing lights on the outside and the bells that clang over their loudspeakers inside during business hours The surfeit of electricity in just one pachinko parlor would equal that of all LED lights in Japanese homes. With over 10,000 pachinko parlors in Japan, it all adds up.
Lighting: Even the smallest cities in Japan have a central area, such as the front of the train station, sporting neon lights with company logos, large video screens and colorful displays of lights that advertise around the clock, even during the daytime. Limit them and put them on timers and we'd save heaps on energy consumption. And while we're at it, can't we get rid of all those incandescent bulbs Japan still uses?
Department stores: I'm sure that if, as citizens, we had escalators and elevators inside our homes like department stores do, the government would tell us to limit their use as well as turn off the endless recordings that accompany them, such as those telling you to watch your step, to be sure to take your child's hand on the escalator, or that the elevator is now going up to the second floor. After all, the rest of the world has been surviving for decades without these superfluous "safety" announcements.
Supermarkets: Surely cooking demonstration videos and barking announcements over loudspeakers about the latest amazing new product, accompanied by way too frisky music, would be a no-no in our own kitchens. In post-tsunami, earth-rattling, bull-in-a-China shop nuclear Japan, why is this verbiage so tolerated in supermarkets? It's no wonder vegetable gardens are so popular in the countryside. People want an anti-nuclear, anti-electronic, natural vegetable shopping experience.
Restaurants: Do you think they have special flyers for restaurants suggesting they turn off their mechanical critter signs to save energy? Like those giant crabs gyrating above the front doors of restaurants on Dotonbori Street in Osaka, or electric maneki neko cats? Maybe there will be a switch from the lucky beckoning cat to the more environmentally friendly tanuki, with his oversize, and thankfully unelectronic, kintama (scrotum).
Electronic clocks: Do you think anyone has sent a notice to the Buddhist temples who ring their giant temple bells via the electricity god because the priests are too lazy to get up at dawn and ring them? And what about our island's own electronic chime? Do we really need to be chimed via electrons at 6 a.m., 12 p.m., 5 p.m. and 9 p.m.? Every day? Do any of Japan's country towns need such creative circuitry?
Vending machines: While our flyer reminds us to switch our refrigerators from high to medium, do you think they're expressing the same message to the distributors of Japan's vending machines? While the drink vending companies have started to make some changes to make their dispensers more efficient, why don't they just get rid of some of them? Do we really need a drink vending machine out in the middle of nowhere, like the ones you so often see in rural areas among rice fields? We have two on the port on our island (run by businesses) that stay lit all night long, even though the entire population of 609 people is sleeping. With 5 million or so vending machines across Japan, it all adds up.
Convenience stores: As soon as you walk into a convenience store, the electronic assault begins. Peppy store music welcomes you while some lady with a high-pitched baby voice is chirping out the daily specials. They really ought to have battery-operated recorders with headphones at the door of the store, like they have at museums, for those who want a guided tour of the sales.
At the same time, the business community would like you to believe they really are conserving energy.
Shopping streets: Stores in these streets are notorious for blasting their air conditioning to the point you could freeze ice cubes, while leaving the doors to the shop wide open. Not this year though. This year they have adjusted the air conditioning to a reasonable level and put up a sign that says, "Please excuse the temperate air. We're conserving energy!"
Government offices: Or you can do what the post office on our island does. Turn the air conditioning to the temperature of the local morgue, then turn off the lights during lunch time and put up a sign that reminds customers that "setsuden shiteimasu" (We're saving electricity).
I think businesses could use some citizen policing, just like the garbage police (the do-gooders in your neighborhood who make sure no one throws out a sliver of plastic o-bento grass with the non-burnables). With people power overriding business brawn, not only would we have enough energy to go around, but surely most people would enjoy a quieter Japan.
If that doesn't work, the next best thing is rolling blackouts: Peace and quiet a couple hours at a time.