Tokyo Sees Its Lights Go Dim, And Lifestyles Change In normal times, Tokyo thrives on electricity. Dazzling digital billboards overlook the shopping districts, and doors glide open automatically. But the earthquake and tsunami have forced the city to reduce its power usage, forcing residents to alter their lifestyles.
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Tokyo Sees Its Lights Go Dim, And Lifestyles Change

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Tokyo Sees Its Lights Go Dim, And Lifestyles Change

Tokyo Sees Its Lights Go Dim, And Lifestyles Change

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Tokyo loves electricity. The city is full of digital billboards, automatic doors and moving sidewalks. But the earthquake and tsunami have forced Tokyo to use less power. NPR's Jim Zarroli is there and has this story.

JIM ZARROLI: For a young Tokyo hipster, Shibuya is the place to see and be seen. It's a busy, noisy crossroads where you can shop, get drunk and hear a little live music. Elina Ishizawa, a 22-year-old beautician, stands with a friend watching the crowd.

Ms. ELINA ISHIZAWA (Beautician): (Through translator) When you come to Shibuya it's always a party. The whole city is having fun. I like to come here because it makes me feel energetic.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ZARROLI: But these days, the mood is more somber. Because of the power shortage, the giant electronic billboards that overlook the streets, making evenings in Shibuya as bright as day, have all been turned off. Hidetomo Takahashi, an office worker, scans the crowd, trying to find a friend.

Mr. HIDETOMO TAKAHASHI: (Foreign language spoken)

ZARROLI: Usually Shibuya is so bright you can see everyone's face, even if they're far away. But today it's so dark it's difficult to see people approaching you.

The catastrophe of March 11 and the crippling of a major nuclear complex have dealt a big blow to Japan's power supply. And residents have been asked to contend with electricity shortages, something virtually unheard of here.

All over Tokyo, escalators have been turned off, trains are running on limited schedules, and restaurant patrons eat in the dark. Even the emperor is said to be turning off lights in the Imperial Palace.

Naoki Kobayashi manages a club in Shibuya with private karaoke rooms. Unlike a lot of businesses nearby, he's stayed open throughout the crisis. But he's had to reduce his hours.

Mr. NAOKI KOBAYASHI (Club manager): (Through translator) We're doing what we can. Of course, it's a business that uses a lot of electricity on a regular basis. So we've turned off the lights outside, and we turn off the lights in rooms when they're not being used.

ZARROLI: When measures like these aren't enough, there have been rolling blackouts in some neighborhoods.

Ms. HIROKO KAMAMOTO: (Foreign language spoken)

ZARROLI: In Fujisawa, on the far outskirts of metropolitan Tokyo, Hiroko Kamamoto stands in the kitchen of her apartment, making tea. Power has been shut off in her neighborhood five times since the earthquake. And without electricity, she can't use her oven or run water, and the heat goes off.

Ms. KAMAMOTO: (Through translator) Usually it's just my husband and me living here, and we know ahead of time when the blackout is going to occur. If the blackout is in the morning, we try to get up early and use the bathroom before it begins. If it's in the evening, we eat ready-made meals and dine by candlelight.

ZARROLI: Kamamoto says she wishes the blackouts were more predictable. But she says she understands what the country is going through.

Ms. KAMAMOTO: (Through translator) Of course, it's inconvenient for us, but when I think about the people up north and the struggle they have, this is the least we can do to help the cause. So we're doing what we can to get through it.

ZARROLI: Like a lot of people, Kamamoto says she's hoping the power supply improves by the time hot weather arrives and people need to use their air conditioners. But power company officials say they can't be sure how long the blackouts will last - and that means things could get worse before they get better.

Jim Zarroli, NPR News, Tokyo.

(Soundbite of music)

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