the Splendor and Introspection Under the Celestial Beauty
Energy Sustainability | Yi Fan Lin, Hokkaido

Photo by Raul Petri

Photo by Raul Petri

If light is taken away from the world one day, what would Hokkaidou look like from the outer space?


At 3 a.m. on September 6, 2018, a 7-magnitude earthquake at a small town called Atsuma Chō threw the whole Hokkaido into a 36-hour complete darkness. That night, wrapped in darkness without any idea of when could we see light again, we saw the universe behind its mask.

At 9 a.m. on September 7, I finally had my phone charged after 36 hours of power outage. Ever since mobile data came into our life, this might be the first time we were out of connection with the world for so long. Everyone immediately began to catch up with the latest news about housing destructions and power blackout caused by the earthquake, as well as sending messages to check in with their families.

It’s not unusual for a 7-magnitude earthquake as destructive as this to happen in countries on the borderline between the Pacific Ocean and the Eurasian Plate, such as Japan, Taiwan,and Philippine. Yet the earthquake this time, referred to as “Hokkaido Eastern Iburi Earthquake,” is the first one Hokkaido has ever endured on record. The earthquake struck down all the major power plants on Hokkaido, with even the emergency ones overwhelmed by sudden extra duty. Deprived of electricity, Hokkaido, the 21st largest island in the world and Eden to the Northern Japan, sunk into pitch darkness. The post-apocalyptic scene well reminded me of the 2017 Japanese film “The Survival Family,” which depicts how human struggled to survive after an inexplicable power blackout.

The island-wide power outage reminded Hokkaido residents of the importance of electricity in life -- without it, we cannot flush the toilet, cook, boil water, let alone watching TV, surfing the internet, or communicating with the outside world. Nearly everything is powered by electricity; without it, even the mundanest thing in life cannot function.

A night without electricity felt unusually long, dark, and terrifying. But it also forced us to look up at the sky and discover the magnificent stars whose light has always been cloaked by street lamps and house lights. Such celestial beauty was breathtaking and guilt-inspiring.

Nowadays, electricity has become too common to be appreciated and cherished. Despite of sporadic efforts in advocating for energy saving, it had rarely been applied in everyday life. The total blackout as if suddenly woke up Japanese citizens: Hokkaido residents, business owners, and the government were forced to realize the value of electricity. During the recovery of the power plants, the government called for electricity saving, and citizens responded with an island-wide campaign.

Photo courtesy  Kyodo News

Photo courtesy Kyodo News

“Those who have lost power before can save it!”
- Ebetsu Energy Saving Campaign.

The slogan, first generated by a grassroot organization called “Ebetsu Second Project,” quickly spreaded all over Hokkaido. Communities, governments, schools and enterprises in Hokkaido’s five major cities -- Sapporo, Asahikawa, Hakodate, Otaru and Obihiro -- responded by adapting the slogan to their own region.

The most effective measure of saving energy after the earthquake, according to a Japanese official report, is turning off the lights. The electricity consumed by using lights takes up 20% of domestic electricity use and 40% of companies’. In support of the campaign, stores turned off neon light on their signs as well as half of the indoor lights, putting up stickers on the walls that read: “Saving Energy”.

Photo by Antoine Boissonot

Photo by Antoine Boissonot

After switching their life to an energy-saving mode, Hokkaido citizens shared positive feelings for this change: even though it was darker than usual, but life went on pretty well. Within the month, many individuals and enterprises were forced to rethink about electricity:

Maybe, we don’t need that much.

“The campaign is not only a chance for us to bring energy saving into our life, but also a reminder that it does not only apply to the difficult times, but also daily life.”

The Hokkaido energy-saving campaign is remarkable not only for those cliché measures in people’s households, but also for its tech-savvy in using social media, especially twitter. Participants contributed articles and posted with hashtags (such as #EnergySavingCampaign) to share how they save energy and how they can make it interesting. Environmental organizations also helped organize and spread their ideas.  


“Saving energy sounds dull and inconvenient. Were it not natural disasters, no one would want to do it. So what we should do is to make it interesting and stress-free: a simple action every day makes a great different!

For example, form a small and intimate friend circle and gather in each other’s homes in turns. By cooking, eating, watching TV and spending the night together, you save the energy that could have been wasted by living in separate homes. By gathering few times a week, you might be surprised by the power you save in the long term in air conditioning, lights, and cooking, etc.. What’s more, it’s also a great opportunity to bond with friends, isn’t that a win-win?” The spokesman of the Ebetsu Second Project said elatedly.

“You're just finding excuses for drinking. Aren’t you?” I couldn’t help but teasing him.

“We are finding excuses for drinking, yes. But we are also saving energy. That’s how easy and practical energy saving can be. It would be even better if we could go to bed early and go jogging together the next morning!” What lies behind his words is a concept that is often found in Japanese energy-saving slogans –– staying together.

Photo by Sven Scheuermeier

Photo by Sven Scheuermeier

Be it energy saving or sustainable life, these causes share the same origin.

Applying such common sense to real life is not only a challenge faced by Hokkaido residents after the earthquake, but also one by all of us as citizens of the planet.

Not seeing a problem doesn’t eliminate it. This earthquake reminded us of the energy crisis which we cannot ignore anymore. Energy saving is no longer anyone’s lone battle, but a collective fight. When we share our experience, thoughts and actions on the internet, we might inspire someone on the other side of the earth to stand up, turn off their electric appliances, and switch off their lights. Such a simple and beautiful cooperation is the start of a sustainable life.






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