This is another guest post from M, a fellow assignee working in Tokyo, writing her recent observations about life in Tokyo after the earthquake.
1. Electricity is at a premium now. The tsunami disabled 2 nuclear power plans. In addition, Japan does not have a national electricity grid like the US does. This means that the southern part cannot easily share its surplus with the northern part. Therefore, everyone from companies to public transportation to individuals must work to reduce power consumption. IBM has basically shut off all office lights during daytime hours – we use sunlight. 90+% of all escalators in subway stations are shut down, but on the plus side that means more exercise. Tokyo is normally filled with pretty neon lights on stores, buildings etc – these are all shut off. My apartment building has stopped running 1 of its 2 elevators and also shut off 50% of lights in common areas. I have stopped running the heat except if it gets really chilly. I am also careful to turn off lights as soon as I leave a room. Conserve now – save up for the summer where air conditioning causes usage to increase 25%.
2. Bottled water is at a premium. Last week, after it rained, the amount of iodine in the Tokyo tap water exceeded the limit for infants (but not for adults) for a brief period. Everyone freaked out and promptly made a run for bottled water. Supplies are slowly returning, but in small amounts. The grocery stores near me are out (although interestingly, they seemed stocked with everything else). Some convenience stores (especially the 7-11 Chain) seem to have a better supply, but only offer smaller sized bottles. This morning, I found a 2L bottle and was ecstatic – probably the most exciting thing to happen all week. Hmm – what does that say?!? HAHA
3. Although radiation levels in the air are way below the limit (but higher than usual), it seems that people are staying out of the streets as much as possible. Places that are frequently used by walkers and joggers are vacant. In general, there are just less people out and about.
4. Early April is the cherry blossom season and it is very, very festive. Individuals, families, and companies sponsor picnics under the cherry blossoms. Lots of eating and drinking. Big tourist event in Tokyo. This year – the government is asking everyone to refrain from having parties. Normally, the cherry blossoms are lit at night – cancelled this year due to electricity conservation.
5. Because of the above, the tourist trade is decimated. 20,000 foreigners have left Japan. Many airlines (including American, Delta, British Airways) have cancelled flights to Japan – because no one is coming. Hotels are down to 15 – 20% occupancy vs. the normal 80% or so during the cherry blossom season. I guess it means that the economy, which was already not so great, will continue to decline, even in areas not so directly devastated by the damage.
M also took some pictures of the Tokyo Tower with a bent antenna after the earthquake.