Photo/IllutrationPeople listen to radio news programs under the light of candles and lanterns in Sapporo on Sept. 6. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

When the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 knocked out power, kerosene lamps apparently made a temporary comeback.

A newspaper illustration from the time, captioned “Street lamp vendor,” shows a man with his wares lined up on the street next to a banner that says, “Until electric light comes back.”

According to journalist Gaikotsu Miyatake (1867-1955), candles were also sold on the street after the temblor.

The Great Kanto Earthquake is said to have exposed the fragility of modern life. But that was not even close to what can happen today.

A powerful earthquake on Sept. 6 knocked out power throughout the northern island of Hokkaido, forcing people to do without TV, hot baths or elevators. I can only imagine the fatigue of those who waited in long lines to charge their smartphones.

Today, even heating relies largely on electricity. Thank heavens this quake didn’t occur in winter.

Money also needs electricity for circulation. Credit cards and e-money became unusable at a number of supermarkets. At stores where cash registers ceased to function, checkout personnel had to do their own arithmetic and count money by hand.

There were shutdowns of bank ATMS, too. From now on, we would be wise to keep some cash in our emergency kits.

A domino effect of sorts is blamed for this extensive power outage. When a large power station close to the quake’s epicenter failed, all other plants shut down.

Some may argue that this could have been avoided, had there been a nuclear power plant in operation.

But the temblor reminded us anew that a devastating seismic event can occur anywhere. And this just goes to prove how dangerous it is to keep relying on nuclear power in Japan.

Many people probably immediately think of candles when there is a power outage. The soft glow of candle light may be appealing, but the Fire and Disaster Management Agency has asked people to refrain from using candles indoors, citing a fire risk.

As reconstruction work proceeds, I hope people will soon be freed from the anxiety of having to spend pitch-dark nights.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 8

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.