Tokyo Tower and its adorning 176 floodlights have illuminated the world’s richest city from sundown to midnight for the past 22 years. Tonight, the 1,093- foot beacon will go dark for a sixth straight day.
“We all should play our parts, so we shouldn’t use electricity if it isn’t necessary,” said Masakazu Yoshida, an administrative official at Nippon Television City Corp., which operates the structure. “We know the tower is symbolic so it was really tough to make the decision to turn it off.”
As Tokyo Electric Power Co., the utility battling to avert a nuclear meltdown, begins scheduled outages, subway lines are running fewer trains, shops are closing early and offices are shutting off non-essential electricity. The blackouts, which are forcing companies including Asahi Breweries Ltd. (2502) and Sony Corp. (6758) to halt factories, are compounding the economic fallout from last week’s magnitude-9 earthquake and tsunami that Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) estimates may cost $200 billion.
“It’s inevitable that businesses slow down from the blackout,” said Koichi Ogawa, chief portfolio manager at Daiwa SB Investments Ltd. in Tokyo. “Even though the economy will be damaged, we can get back on our feet as long as we’re alive. Our priority now is to save lives.”
In Tokyo, office buildings are switching off lights in the hallways and turning off the heat in toilet seats. A poster at the corner of Tokyo station reads: “We are very sorry for the trouble and we ask for your understanding.”
In the shopping area of Ginza, the doors at Mitsukoshi department store shut at 6 p.m., two hours earlier than usual. At Yamada Denki’s main store in downtown Osaka, the spotlight for a sign was off, as was the music.
Tokyo Electric said last week it would begin three-hour blackouts, alternating between five designated zones, until the end of April. The March 11 earthquake, Japan’s strongest, damaged its Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant, creating a shortage of about 10 million kilowatts daily in greater Tokyo.
Second-quarter gross domestic product would shrink at an annual 2 percent if the blackouts continue through June, analysts at Goldman Sachs said in a research note this week. Prime Minister Naoto Kan called on the public to conserve energy.
Yoshinobu Tsunaka, manager of the Tsukiji Nakajima fish restaurant, heeded the call. He turned off the fluorescent lighting in the refrigerator where he stores beer.
“We turned off all ambient lighting,” Tsunaka, 37, said. “We’re only saving a little power here but if you think about the entire Tokyo area, it’s a concerted effort.”
Sakae Kogure, a salesman for an employee-training company in Tokyo, ranked by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLC in 2008 as the world’s largest city in terms of economic size, said he’s taking the stairs to get to his fourth-floor office after the operator of the seven-story building switched off the elevator.
“It’s good exercise,” Kogure, 55, said. “We’ve turned off the floor heating, and my family keeps going on and on about saving electricity.”
The blackouts, aimed to counter a 25 percent shortfall in power supply, may hurt manufacturing companies by 2.5 percent and financial, insurance, information and telecommunications companies by 10 percent, Nomura Holdings Inc. estimated this week. Power shortages, after easing in April and May, may worsen in the summer because of demand for air conditioning, according to a UBS AG report.
Sony, Japan’s largest exporter of consumer electronics, and Asahi, its largest brewer by sales volume, are among dozens of companies suspending operations, partly because of the blackouts. Mazda Motor Corp. stopped operations at four plants until at least March 20.
“We do have a manual for general emergency situations though, and a possible power outage is included in that,” said Ken Haruki, a spokesman for Mazda, maker of the Miata roadster.
The effects of disruptions in Japan’s economic output may spread to the rest of the region, Takahira Ogawa, a Singapore- based credit analyst at Standard & Poor’s, said on a conference call yesterday.
Not all companies have been hit by power outages. Backup generators and batteries at Tokyo’s main airports, Narita and Haneda, are allowing Japan Airlines Corp. to fly its planes on time, said Soichi Yatsugi, a spokesman.
Some manufacturers are trying to do more. Suzuki Motor Corp. (7269) asked some dealers to save electricity by not using neon signs and adjusting their air conditioners, said Hideki Taguchi, a spokesman. Honda Motor Co., Japan’s third-largest carmaker, is among those seeking to save energy.
“We’re trying to save electricity by scaling back our use of lights, air conditioning, elevators or by plugging off everything at night,” said Keitaro Yamamoto, a spokesman. “Worst-case scenario, we may rethink production itself, including the adjustment of production volumes and when to resume manufacturing.”
The earthquake and subsequent aftershocks rocked Tokyo Tower hard enough to bend its antenna by 5 degrees. The operator decided the following day to switch off the lights, which cost about $260 a night, for the first time since Emperor Hirohito’s death in 1989.
Nippon Television City hasn’t decided when the lights will go back on, according to its website.
“There are some people who say that the tower’s lights cheer them up,” Yoshida said. “But we got more response that appreciated our decision to cut use of electricity so it turned out to be good.”
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