|Japanese apartments. Photo originally from this website.|
One family dropped using an electric toothbrush, their washing machine, their vacuum cleaner, and 24-inch television. Their electric bill is now about $13 a month. The movement, called Amepere Down, was started by a Canadian English teacher living in Hokkaido. It gained popularity after the Fukushima accident.
I found this almost bemusing. Not because I disagree with what the Japanese are doing--far from it--but because I remember living there and thinking that in a lot of ways, the typical Japanese lifestyle took up a lot less resource space than my (even somewhat simple) life in the United States did. When I first read this article, I wondered what in the heck the Japanese were going to cut.
Homes in Japan tend to be small. Unless you're fairly well-to-do, you won't have your own bedroom. People sleep on futons on the floor and hang them to air out the next day (or fold them up and put them in their closets). These are not the "California style" futons we have here in North America; they are fairly lightweight, yet comfortable sleeping pads and comforters. Unless you live in Hokkaido or norther Honshu, you don't typically have central heat. You may have a propane heater you could hook up (my friend's parents in Yokohama had that) or you may have an electric space heater (I had that--and I suppose if I was going to amp down I wouldn't use it). It didn't typically get below freezing. I felt cold there in the winter, but I got schooled quite quickly on what cold really is when I came back to Boston. (In some homes, the bathtubs did have units that kept the water hot because people washed quite thoroughly before going into the bath. You did this because you didn't drain the tub when you were done--you covered it to keep the heat in and got out so that other people in your family could wash and then enjoy the hot bath. Going into a hot bath was a great way to relax and to warm up on a cold day.)
I lived in homes that had washing machines--in fact, it's quite typical for every apartment to have one. But dryers are rare. The washing machines are smaller and they have a strong spin cycle, so the clothes are just damp when you take them out. And the vast majority of houses and apartments have balconies--not to hang out on (it's sticky sticky hot in Japan in the summer), but to hang your clothes out to finish drying and to air out your futons. (This is why I prefer to hang my clothes to dry to this day--they actually last longer. All that lint in your dryer? Is from your clothes. Air dry them and they don't shrink, pill, fade, or fall prey to weakened fibers.)
There were ways that Japan seemed to use more energy than I thought Americans did--they tended to have the newest, most flash gadgets and despite the extensive public transportation system and the very heavy use most people gave it, there was also a lot of automobile traffic. Most cities--even smaller cities--have a love affair with neon and bright lights. The Namba section of Osaka was lit up so brightly with neon and lights and video screens at night that it was like being out in daylight. (I used to think I was a city girl until I lived in Osaka. Then I realized I was a country bumpkin.) However, the overall individual lifestyle was pretty modest.
Given that, I think it's pretty admirable that there's a movement of people to use less--and to sort of enforce it by getting lower amp loads. That's. . .well, I guess it's stereotypically Japanese. THERE WILL BE NO CHEATING! Whereas with me I'd rationalize it and then flip out and run the microwave, hair dryer, TV, and vacuum all at the same time.
Before even doing this, many Japanese households use circuit breaker boxes with 30 amp loads. In the US, 100 amp loads are common, and now 200 amp loads are becoming a thing.
I'm not saying this to shame people--hi, my name is Pamela, I live in the US, and I have a TV, a microwave, and a lap top that I'm currently writing this blog post on. I also work 61 miles from home. I also whine like a little baby when I'm even slightly cold or uncomfortable. So I'm not finger-wagging or finger-pointing by any stretch.
But I do wonder what we could give up. Right now, people who are amping down in Japan are striving to use the same amount of power as they did in the 1960's (with varying success). We have so many energy efficient appliances here, we strive to conserve, but then we also have things that suck up a lot of power that have become necessities--or at least ubiquitous. Flat screen TV's, smart phones, tablets, laptops, etc. We have more energy sucking gadgets now than even in the 1990's, let alone the 1960's. Even comparing to the 1980's--cell phones and computers weren't really common things for people to have.
I don't think I could do it the way some folks are in Japan. But I do wonder what I could live without.