Photo/IllutrationTicket gates are crowded with commuters rushing through due to power-saving efforts at a subway station in Sapporo’s Chuo Ward on Sept. 10. (Yoshinori Toyomane)

  • Photo/Illustraion

SAPPORO--Commuters hit the streets of the Hokkaido capital on their way to work and schools on the morning of Sept. 10, after a deadly earthquake had thrown the northern island into darkness early on Sept. 6.

Although power was mostly restored from the large-scale blackout that followed the quake, residents found that their lives were still far from back to normal in light of damage to the Tomato-Atsuma thermal power plant, the largest of its kind in Hokkaido.

The city of 2 million ushered in a new week with government-requested power-saving measures such as subways in Sapporo cutting some trains and retail stores reducing the number of lights.

At around 8 a.m., a swarm of commuters heading for nearby business districts briskly passed through the ticket gates at Odori Station where all three Sapporo subway lines intersect.

The city has started to extend normal train service intervals of seven minutes to between eight to nine minutes from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sept. 10.

A total of 45 train services, including municipal streetcar services, were suspended, which could result in up to about 2 percent power savings.

The Sapporo traffic bureau explained why it avoided saving on electricity usage during the morning and evening rush hours.

The bureau said that it had already cut much power consumption by reducing the number of lights as well as by limiting the usage of escalators in the aftermath of the quake. Therefore, further reductions in service is difficult as it could affect passengers' safety.

Meanwhile, residents of the city showed understanding over the inconvenience caused by the natural disaster.

“It can’t be helped, given the harsh power conditions,” said Kayo Saito, 49, of Sapporo’s Nishi Ward. “As far as the power-saving measures are implemented only in the daytime, it won't affect my daily life so much.”

The woman said she learned firsthand how difficult it was to live without power after the quake.

“My family is saving power at home by staying in the same room with all family members together as much as possible.”

Hokkaido Railway Co. (JR Hokkaido) suspended operations of its 15 limited express trains in a section between Sapporo and Asahikawa stations as well as between Sapporo and Higashi-Muroran stations on Sept. 10.

JR Hokkaido partly halted its ticket machines and reduced the number of lights at some stations.

Meanwhile, J. Front Retailing Co.’s Daimaru Sapporo department store partly suspended operation of its escalators from the second to eighth floors even after the power had been restored, the first-ever suspension of the escalator since the opening of the store.

Customers have been forced to shop on floors with no music playing in the background. The department store is expected to meet an overall power-saving goal of 20 percent by making only necessary announcements over the intercom system.

Entertainment facilities have often been criticized as they use vast quantities of electricity.

Pachinko Himawari, operated by Goda Kanko Co., which has about 30 pachinko parlors in Hokkaido, set a power-saving target of 10 percent. Pachinko Himawari started to save on electricity from Sept. 9 by reducing 25 percent of the lights in each of its pachinko parlors.

“It is the first time for us to grapple with power-saving measures inside our parlors," said the manager of its pachinko outlet in front of JR Sapporo Station.

Elementary school students returned to their classrooms after their schools temporarily closed following the earthquake.

Shortly after 8 a.m., students arrived one after another at Meien Elementary school in Sapporo’s Higashi Ward. Some students were walking holding hands with their parents as some roads in the school zone were still blocked.

“My daughter has maintained a stiff upper lip until things settled down after the quake,” said a 40-year-old mother who saw her daughter off at the school gate.

“She wanted to go to school as soon as possible,” the mother said, describing how the second-grader could hardly wait to get back to the classroom.

On Sept. 10 and 11, the school planned to hold classes only until the third period. Lights in the school were dimmed to half the usual brightness, according to a school official.

“The restart of school can send a message to people in our community to return to their everyday lives,” said Yuzo Sato, the school principal.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga announced during a news conference on the morning of Sept. 10 that a total of 44 people have died in the earthquake in Hokkaido, while there were no more apparent victims or people reported missing.

The quake, registering the maximum 7 on Japan's seismic scale, hit at 3:08 a.m. with the epicenter located in the eastern Iburi district, which stretches along the southwestern coast of the main northern island.

The deaths of 36 people were reported in the town of Atsuma, while four died in Sapporo, two in Tomakomai, and the death of one person was reported in Mukawa and Shinhidaka, respectively.