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[ISHES Newsletter #2]September 2018

2018/09/25 15:34:21
ISHES Newsletter #2
September 25, 2018
Copyright (c) 2018,
Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society
See what's new on our web site:
In the September 2018 issue of the ISHES Newsletter:

- Thinking about 'Resilience' During Power Blackout in Shimokawa,
- Recommended articles on sustainability issue in Japan from JFS

Announcements from ISHES:
A new website has been launched in English for the Research Institute
for Creating New Paradigms based on Eastern and Western Wisdom. We
invite you to check it out here:

Thinking about 'Resilience' During Power Blackout in Shimokawa, Hokkaido

Earthquake hits Hokkaido, followed by power outage across the region

A magnitude 6.7 earthquake struck the northern Japanese island of
Hokkaido shortly after 3 a.m. on September 6, 2018, Japan Standard Time
(JST). The earthquake occurred directly above the epicenter in the
central eastern Iburi District in southern Hokkaido, where the ground
had been loosened by heavy rainfall from Typhoon No. 21 (also known as
Typhoon Jebi) that had hit all of Japan up to the day before. The
earthquake caused major damage in the towns of Atsuma, Abira, and Mukawa,
and reportedly killed 41 people so far.

Near the epicenter, the Tomato-Atsuma thermal power plant in Atsuma came
to an abrupt halt, which sparked a chain reaction of suspended
operations at other power plants, resulting in a massive blackout
affecting 2.95 million households across Hokkaido. The Tomato-Atsuma
plant is the largest one operated by the Hokkaido Electric Power Co.
(HEPCO), with a generating capacity of 1.65 million kilowatts. At the
time of earthquake, it was supplying about half of Hokkaido's power
demand. The halt disrupted the supply-demand balance, destabilizing the
system's electrical frequency, triggering one plant to shut down after
another, leading to an all-out blackout in the company's entire service
area. Transportation was paralyzed. Traffic signals stopped working.
Medical institutions stopped accepting outpatients. People could not
withdraw money from bank machines. There were huge impacts on people's
lives and the economy.

When the earthquake hit, I happened to be on business in Hokkaido in the
town of Shimokawa. It is far from the epicenter, so I didn't feel much
of a jolt and no local damage was caused by the earthquake, but I had to
spend a day without electricity. After 24 hours, the power came back on
in Shimokawa. Two or three days later, electricity returned to most of

My thoughts during the massive power outage in Hokkaido

I learned valuable lessons from the first-hand experience of the
earthquake and power blackout.

1. Energy resilience: Realize how much our day-to-day lives and
industries depend on electricity. And prepare accordingly.

Shimokawa has made progress with renewable energy, and nearly half of
the town's heat demand is now served by burning local forest biomass.
However, because HEPCO serves almost all of the electricity demand, the
entire town suffered when the power went off. I heard that people living
in all-electric homes were really in trouble. Electrical induction
cookers can cook without flames and are safe and convenient in normal
times, but they can't even boil water during a power failure.

This disaster occurred in summer, but it could have been worse. What if
it was in winter at 30 degrees Celsius below zero? I talked about this
with people in Shimokawa. Even the biomass-fueled boilers need
electricity to operate, so they would not work in a power outage.
Kerosene-fueled fan heaters need electricity, too. We need to consider
measures beforehand for things that cannot work without electricity.

Also, we need to introduce more renewable energy systems with solar
panels and storage battery combinations and so on, which can provide
power in times of emergency. The Shimokawa municipal government used
fossil-fuel-powered generators as an emergency power source for citizens
to charge their cell phones, etc. If public facilities such as town
halls and general households are equipped with renewable energy systems
and storage batteries for use as emergency power, they would be more
resilient in an emergency. In addition, HEPCO will soon start operating
a generating station powered by a large dam in Shimokawa. I hope the
town can discuss power purchase agreements with other nearby power
plants for times of emergency.

Some people living off-grid in Shimokawa with solar panels and storage
batteries sent messages via social media saying they had power and
inviting people to come and recharge their devices. This made me think
about resilience in such times.

Although electrical appliances would not work during the power outage,
people with gas-powered rice cookers could bring cooked rice over to
their neighbors. (I too was a recipient of rice balls!)

2. Food and water resilience: Diversify your sources during normal times.

After the earthquake and subsequent blackout, food and other items
instantly sold out at local supermarkets and convenience stores. A
gathering I had scheduled with people in Shimokawa soon turned into a
potluck dinner, and I too could enjoy the meal. This made me think that
even if food disappears from stores, people have vegetables and corns in
their gardens to eat, and that was very comforting.

Fortunately, Shimokawa's water supply system was not affected by the
earthquake, but even if the main water supply happened to stop, still
the town had its own local water sources. In contrast, what if it was
Tokyo? If the water supply stopped and bottled water sold out at
convenience stores and vending machines, there would be big trouble. The
point is that before an emergency happens, we need to develop various
ways to get water and food.

3. Community resilience: Build relationships among residents so people
can help and support one another in an emergency.

During my stay in Shimokawa, a restaurant stayed open even on its weekly
closing day to cook and serve meals for town visitors like me who may
have had no other place to eat. I was more than grateful for their help.
I heard that on the morning of the earthquake the owner stood in front
of the restaurant and handed out food and fuel to townspeople travelling.

I also heard many heart-warming stories about the power outage. Someone
said, "My elderly neighbor told me she couldn't cook rice with her
electric stove, so I cooked meals and brought them over." Another person
said, "I went to check in on my neighbor who lives alone." A restaurant
texted this via social media: "We cooked all the food in our
refrigerator before it spoils. Please come and get some. It's free."
Many residents were thankful for the food.

I witnessed people caring, talking, helping and giving to one another,
and realized that I never want to be in a disaster but if it happens, I
hope it's when I'm in Shimokawa. Also, I am reflecting on what I should
do in my own community, even though I can't spend much time there since
I'm always moving around.

How can we increase resilience?

There are several elements that create resilience, which means the
ability to be strong in the face of external impacts and to recover
flexibly. The most important elements are "diversity," "modularity," and
"timely feedback."

Secure diverse energy sources, food supplies, and water sources. Be part
of the whole world in normal times but have "modularity" so that people
can be independent in times of emergency. I think these are very
important. Also, during emergencies it is very important to have ways to
obtain feedback on the situation via timely and accurate information.
Rumors circulated that the water supply would stop in the afternoon on
the day of the earthquake, but the municipality was quick to spread the
word that there was no problem with the water system.

As mentioned above, people in Shimokawa have strong local bonds, and
that was fully manifested this time. I deeply appreciated the safe and
secure feeling that was given to me. Those kinds of relationships and
the trust between people cannot be built in a day after an emergency
happens to come along. They are built over time through day-to-day
communication among neighbors.

On the other hand, many big-city dwellers might overlook such
relationships and tend to think of them as "a hassle," "inefficient," or
"unnecessary." I have to be careful with this myself, but this may be
one example of "pursuing efficiency in the short term at the cost of
resilience in the medium and long term."

The damage this time may have been worsened by the heavy rains that fell
before the quake. And also, it became clear that the energy systems were
vulnerable. When one power plant stopped, the effects spread to a much
wider area in a chain reaction.

Unfortunately, the effects of climate change are expected to increase in
the future. We can also expect larger typhoons and unprecedented
torrential rains. Everyone should think seriously about how we can
change our economic and societal systems to develop medium- and
long-term resilience rather than short-term efficiencies and profit.
This experience in Shimokawa made me keenly aware of all that.

Finally, when speaking with people in Shimokawa, I shared my thoughts
that the blackout was a tough experience, but there was also something
wonderful. With all the town lights off, we could see the beautiful
stars in the night sky. More than I had ever seen before. I thought to
myself, "It feels like the stars are falling," and "This is what a
starry sky really means." Our universe is really so full of stars! We
don't see them from under the street lights, but they are really there.
In the total darkness, I just stood and gazed up the night sky. This too
will be an unforgettable memory for me.
Recommended articles on sustainability issue in Japan from JFS

In this regular section in each issue of the ISHES Newsletter, we will
recommend articles from past newsletters of Japan for Sustainability.
The non-profit JFS was active from August 2002 until July 2018 sending
out information to the world with the aim of moving both Japan and the
world toward being sustainable and happy societies.

This time, we introduce two articles on Japan's Edo Period. How was it
that the country managed to be self-sufficient and have a circular
society for over 250 years? Find some clues in these two articles. The
first describes reuse and recycling during the Edo Period, and the
second describes the "plant-based" society with a special focus on

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