Summer Heat Stifles Tokyo as Japan Rebuilds Economy
The Japanese economy was hit hard by thehuge earthquake in March, with the twin disasters of the tsunami and theensuing crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant impacting severely on economicoutput. Industry bosses are counting on the reconstruction effort to stimulatedemand in the coming months.
The summer commute in Tokyo is even morestifling this year. A power shortage means air conditioners are being switchedoff. As temperatures build to the mid-30s centigrade, bosses have orderedworkers to abandon their normally ubiquitous jackets and ties.
Companies and households are being asked toslash power consumption by 15 per cent. Latest figures show the Japanese arecomplying - electricity demand has so far peaked at only 88 per cent of supply.
Conservation and sacrifices
Tokyo's so-called salarymen say the energyconservation measures are making life tough.
One man said, "At my company, they'retrying to reduce power consumption by 30 percent not 15 percent. The airconditioning has been turned down, the lights are kept low, and at lunchtimeeverything is turned off altogether."
A commuter said, "The impact of theearthquake made the Japanese economy fall. But Tohoku is gradually recoveringso the economy has got over the worst of it. We are having a tough time becauseof the strength of the yen, but I believe things will slowly get better."
Following the meltdown at the Fukushimanuclear plant, 38 other reactors were taken offline - pending tests on their capabilityto withstand natural disasters
The ongoing nuclear power issues, alongwith the other damage caused by the tsunami, have hit businesses hard.
Car-making giant Toyota has just announcedlosses of $1.4 billion for the financial quarter following the quake. However,company spokesman Paul Nolasco said the outlook is positive.
"In March we were basically not makingcars. So not only have our production facilities gotten back pretty much topre-quake levels, from next month we aim to be going even above that and toreally make that comeback," he said.
Toyota and other carmakers are closing onThursdays and Fridays, instead of weekends, to try to help balance powerdemand. Toyota also has announced plans to open a new factory in Tohoku, theregion hit by the tsunami.
"Eventually that plant will grow muchlarger so we will have a complete production base in Tohoku from engines tocars, everything in between... Tohoku has been really good to us in terms ofthe ethic of the workforce, the really ingenious hard-working people,highly-skilled labor - and that's one reason we've been able to get back on ourfeet," said Nolasco.
Japan's economy contracted by 3.5 percentin the first quarter of 2011, re-entering recession.
Hopes of revival
There are hopes of a revival as thereconstruction effort stimulates demand. Supply chains are recovering. Sendaiport - devastated by the tsunami - is again welcoming ships from the Pacific.But some analysts disagree, citing a weak government and a strong yen asnegative factors.
Fears of contamination from the Fukushimanuclear plant also have led to both the Japanese and overseas governmentsbanning some food products from the region.
Meanwhile, amid the bullet trains and neonsigns, Tokyo's residents and businesses are being forced to survive on rationedpower - a situation that utilities warn could last into next year.