Live in Tokyo long enough, and you will start to think that neon is a naturally occurring color of the rainbow. Or at least you would have, before the power saving campaign that followed the Fukushima meltdown, before setsuden.
In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami, when people started to seriously consider shutting down Japan`s nuclear reactors, I thought all that talk sounded pretty idealistic. Nuclear power was obviously dangerous, but then again so was not having any electricity. And to get through a Tokyo summer in our resource starved nation's capital without nuclear power, well that seemed like a truly impossible feat.
But then we did it. We all worked together and we did it. And suddenly it all didn't seem so impossible anymore.
There are even some things I will miss about the summer of setsuden. For one, my husband is always hot and I am always cold, so the setting on our air conditioner has been a cause of constant conflict in our marriage. Not so, however, during setsuden, when we were to discover there were actually some things more important than keeping our small apartment at the Optimum Comfortable Temperature.
Another thing I will miss about the past summer is the "cool biz" campaign, where office workers were encouraged to dress down for work to keep cool. This did not effect me, per se, because I do not work in an office. However, the past summer was different from the ones that came before in that people on the trains and on the streets no longer looked at me and assumed I was a Russian prostitute, just because I was dressed for the hot weather. And I appreciate that!
I suppose setsuden's most inconvenient aspect for me was that the trains and subways stopped running as frequently, and this made me even less punctual than I already am (which means very, very late to anyone who knows me). In the long run, however, when I stopped taking for granted that a train would soon arrive at whatever time I happened to stumble into the station, I actually had to memorize the train schedules and as a result I began commuting in a more timely manner than ever before.
Yes, and I realize all of these things just in time for the setsuden campaign to start tapering off. Figures.
So now, with the brunt of the power saving campaign behind us, are we just supposed to go back to the "normal" level of power consumption we had before the earthquake? Are we really going to go back to our dependence on nuclear power, as if we haven`t learned anything at all?
How awesomely lame that would be.
And yet, that is how it is shaping up. The neon advertising is back up and in full force. Heated toilet seats in public restrooms are warming our bare bums to full capacity, whether we like it or not. But even more disheartening, the new prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, seems fairly bent on the idea of getting the nuclear power industry back to Business as Usual.
When Kan was prime minister, all the media ever reported on was how unpopular he was and how much even those in his own party were pressuring him to resign. And yet, it always seemed to me that he was the only politician in Kasumigaseki who really gave a shit about turning the nation away from its dependence on nuclear energy and moving us towards more renewable sources. In retrospect, I suppose being the man in charge amidst a crisis that nearly turned Tokyo into a nuclear wasteland can do that to a guy. Still the lynch mob descended.
After all, this is how Japan Inc. traditionally deals with its problems. You find the highest ranking official and force him to resign (or in feudal times, commit harakiri). Then presto: all the company`s perceived guilt dies with the scapegoat. This is how you deal with a crisis without ever having to change anything, especially not the circumstances that got you there in the first place.
I feel like I notice every unnecessary light in the city as it gets turned back on, and it depresses me. I can`t help it: it makes me think of the evacuee children I worked with in Fukushima back in April and May. They are hard to forget, especially when they are still writing me letters and sending texts to my phone about classes, sports and pop idols. Nobody says this often, but the majority of the nuclear power once generated by the Fukushima power plant was likely sent straight over to Tokyo. And as a neon-saturated Tokyoite, I can`t help feeling like I am part of the reason why those kids can`t go home.
Just outside my Tokyo apartment building, there are three beverage vending machines, all placed in a row. Before the earthquake, their contents reflected brightly across the empty streets all hours of the night. Then their lights went out after the quake, and it felt weird at first but we got used to it. The vending machines were functioning, after all; they were still there for me when I suddenly craved a bottle of vitamin water or a can of coke at one in the morning.
Over six months of this and you start to forget just how harshly, unnecessarily bright these machines once were. That is, until they start getting turned back on. Two out of three of them are lit up already. The third vending machine, however, the one in the middle, continues to observe setsuden. Sadly for our lone hero, however, the blinding lights of the beverage machines that surround it make it seem as if the center machine is not even there. I have to squint my eyes to see its contents, and even then the labels on the drinks are blurry.
Still it holds out, resisting the literally glaring pressure from both sides to conform. If only we all were so brave.