Thursday, June 23, 2011

23/06 VOX POPULI: The way forward for Japan may only be found by going back

Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a daily column that runs on Page 1 of the vernacular Asahi Shimbun.

Let me tell an old joke. An old woman dreaded lightning, saying it was a curse from heaven. Her grandchild reassured her: "Don't worry. Lightning is just electricity." The grandmother replied: "You mustn't lie. We had lightning in the olden days, before electricity came to the village."

It was the American scientist and politician Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) who proved that lightning is electricity. The well-known episode of flying a kite amid a thunderstorm is said to have taken place on June 22, 1752. The 19th century saw the invention of the arc lamp and the incandescent light of Thomas Edison (1847-1931). It was the dawn of electric lighting.

In Japan, an arc lamp was installed on a street corner in Tokyo's Ginza district in 1882. It attracted a crowd of visitors who came to see its 'dazzling brightness." A magazine at the time carried a caricature of a personified street lamp proudly saying, "We are going to light up every corner of the nation." As we know, those words proved true.

Times have changed. On the summer solstice, June 22, lights were switched off after dark across the nation and people spent their night in candle light. The movement, which started several years ago, grew on the back of environmental consciousness. This year, it had a special meaning. Electricity is no longer inexhaustible.

Come to think of it, it was not that long ago that whole families would stay in one room with their legs under a "kotatsu" (heated table) in winter. Television channels were changed manually. In the last three decades, electricity consumption per household has jumped more than 50 percent. In that time, the number of nuclear reactors grew from 23 to 54.

Building more reactors was a national policy. But did the number of reactors increase to meet growing demand? Or did we come to use more electricity because of the increased power supply? The relationship is difficult to understand, like that of the chicken and the egg. As a general rule, when we get lost in the mountains, we should stop and go back. There are new ways that can only be found by going back.

--The Asahi Shimbun, June 22

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.

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