Oi! Oi! Nuclear is Back!

Prior to the accident at Fukushima, Japan relied on nuclear power for around 30% of its generation capacity (with plans to raise that to 50% by 2030), and had a total of 54 active reactors dotted around the country’s coast. For the last few months none have been operational because of ongoing public concern over their safety.

With the summer season now upon us however, demand for electricity for air conditioning will skyrocket leaving the Kansai area in particular with a significant shortfall unless some of the nuclear reactors are restarted. The most likely candidate was the plant at Oi, in Fukui Prefecture, part of Japan’s “Nuclear Alley”. This is a place close to my heart, because when I was last living in Japan it was close to my home!

For weeks we have witnessed a pantomime with the nuclear regulator, plant operator, prefectural governments and the Prime Minister all playing roles. This pantomime slowly conveyed to a largely sceptical public a carefully crafted message: this is safe, and this is inevitable. When the Prime Minister finally announced the restart he framed his argument around the importance of affordable electricity for maintaining the Japanese standard of living.

The Oi reactor was restarted this week and is expected to start to transmit electricity from today.

I have just a few thoughts to share:

Firstly, I think it’s incredible that Japan has to-date survived the loss of 30% of its generation capacity without rolling blackouts. This has been achieved through restarting mothballed thermal plants and encouraging people and businesses to save energy.

Secondly, I note with interest that there is no sunset date for the restarted operation of Oi, something which would seem sensible given that the extra demand will only last until the summer ends and that reaching public consensus over the future of nuclear power in Japan is still far off.

Thirdly, I think geothermal electricity generation could in future play a much larger part in Japan’s energy mix. For this source of electricity Japan’s unstable geology becomes a strength rather than a weakness.

Finally, it is worth noting that the Tokyo area still have no nuclear plants in operation. Several years ago TEPCO boasted in a TV commercial that 40% of its power came from nuclear plants in Niigata and Fukushima. I didn’t want them looking silly (again), so I took the liberty of updating their ad.

Before (view commercial)

Prepaid Data SIM Cards

Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to get prepaid SIM cards in Japan on a tourist visa. They are quite hard to find and there’s little information available in English, which is why I thought I’d write this post. Having data on the go is indispensable if you plan to take a smartphone and laptop with you on your trip. There is very little free public Wi-Fi in Japan and the ability to check your e-mail, find your location and map out train routes with Google Maps, and book hotels on the move is a huge advantage.

I bought a 6-month prepaid u300 b-mobile data SIM for 14,900 yen. I’ve since recharged it online for a further 6 month period for the same price. There are no additional usage fees to pay. B-Mobile uses NTT Docomo’s network which has possibly the best coverage in Japan.

I use this SIM in my Australian unlocked iPhone 3GS to access the net on the move. I use a USB cable to tether with my laptop and use this connection when I’m working away from my desk. Uploads and downloads are unlimited but are speed-restricted to 300kbps. That’s fine for e-mail, maps and basic web. It’s not fast enough for Skype (even audio-only) or web video. If you want faster access you can buy the b-mobile 1GB定額 which gives you 1GB of data without a speed limit.

In Nagoya you can buy b-mobile SIMs at Bic Camera (just outside Nagoya Station) or at some of the many small electrical retailers around Osu-Kanon’s Akamon Street. The SIM card I bought required activation by making a simple phone call from a separate Japanese mobile (which you can ask a friend to do for you). However, I’ve noticed that they’ve just released a new product for travellers that doesn’t require activation and they’ve finally put up some information about it in English.

B-mobile SIM Package. This is the 6-month prepaid version.
b-Mobile SIM
The actual SIM card.
b-mobile speedtest
Speed is limited to 300kbps. Here’s my speedtest.net result from my tethered laptop.

Convenient Conveniences

The Japanese are expert at taking pre-existing things and refining them until all inconveniences are eliminated.

The toilets at any modern Japanese shopping centre are a prime example of this. Imagine you’ve arrived on a rainy day, umbrella clutched under your arm. At the entrance to the mall you’ll find a machine that bags your umbrella, preventing it from dripping all over the floor as you walk about. Enter the male toilets and next to each urinal you’ll find a hook upon which to hang your now bagged umbrella, and a shelf above for your bag or briefcase. There’s nothing inherently clever about the existence of these two things, but the fact that someone thought to put them in those locations is very clever indeed. The urinal itself flushes automatically when you arrive, as if say, “I’m clean. I’m cool.” Do your business and step back and the urinal flushes automatically.


Does your business involve something more, ahem, substantial? Enter a cubicle and sit on electronic bliss. The lid raises at the touch of a button on the wall-mounted control panel. The toilet seat has been pre-warmed for your pooing pleasure. (By contrast, if you sit on a toilet seat in Australia to find that it is warm, it is never a good thing.) Use the built-in bidet to get that freakishly fresh feeling. Adjust the temperature, location and pressure of the water jet at will. Make a few mistakes with all those buttons and you’ll soon learn not to do so again. Use the in-toilet dryer to desiccate your derrière. Don’t worry if you forget to flush or close the lid. The toilet will do these menial tasks automatically on your behalf. That way you can pretend to care even though you don’t.

Rest assured that if you are pregnant, the toilet will know about this before you do, and kindly inform you of the fact. What better way to find out than being told by a toilet? I am reliably informed that ladies embarrassed about the sound of their natural bodily functions also get a special button on their toilets that plays a beautiful masking sound, such as the tweeting of birds. In Australian toilets the only tweeting you’ll get is on a smartphone Twitter client. Uncouth.

Do you have a toddler that needs to go? Use the provided child seat. Do you have a toddler that you need to restrain while you go? Use the “jail seat” provided inside the cubicle, where you can secure the toddler while you take care of business. Enjoy the convenience. Don’t think about “human rights”.

At the sink soap is dispensed at the touch of a button and instant warm water, heated to just the right temperature for the season, begins to flow as soon as you put your hands near the spout. An “air towel” blows excess water off your hands much faster than it would evaporate using a traditional hand dryer. It also takes off a layer of skin.

I enjoy the fact that conveniences in Japan actually live up to their name.

Small Boy Arrested In Front of Bullet Train

Small Boy and Bullet Train
Source: Nagoya Police Department

If you can read a Japanese date you’ll realise that this photo was taken back in February, when we spent a very enjoyable and appropriately geeky day at the Linear Railway Park – a new railway museum in Nagoya. If you’re visiting this part of Japan and have even a passing interest in trains (heh heh) I definitely recommend paying a visit. At ¥1000 a ticket it isn’t the cheapest day out, but you get plenty of trains for your money. If you’re lucky you might even get to try out the bullet train driving simulator.

Watch out for hardcore train geeks with huge cameras. They have little patience for mere mortals who obstruct the view of their precious trains!

Cash Prize!!

On my cycle this morning I spotted what I can only assume is a Google streetview car. Here is a photo of it:

Streetview Car
Streetview Car, or mobile 70s disco? We may never know.

My father-in-law is on streetview. He’s standing in his driveway fixing a pump. I kinda like the fact that he is on the internet while he doesn’t even know what the internet is.

Anyway, to liven things up a bit around here I’m offering a cash prize to the first person who can find me on streetview. Good luck! And beware of the ravages of carpel tunnel.