Nearly 100 people have been hospitalized amid one of the most severe heat waves Japan has endured in recent memory, with 37 million people in and around Tokyo told to conserve electricity in response to record-breaking temperatures straining the power grid.
Japan’s Meteorological Agency announced the end of the rainy season in Tokyo and neighboring areas in eastern and central Japan, marking the earliest declaration since data became available in 1951. Strong, high pressure has controlled Japan’s weather since the weekend and is expected to do so for about another week – and perhaps longer.
This year’s rainy season, which typically begins in June, is three weeks shorter than average – lasting 21 days. Because of unusually dry conditions, temperatures have skyrocketed to an average of 95 degrees. The city of Isesaki, northwest of Tokyo, saw a record 104 degrees – the highest temperature ever recorded in June for Japan.
The last time Japan recorded consistently high temperatures in June was in 1875.
“Tokyo had highs of over 35C (95F) for four days in a row, making it the first time on record for June,” said meteorologist Sayaka Mori, on Twitter, adding that at least 263 heat records have been set in this heat wave.
In its first-ever power supply advisory, the Japanese government called on businesses and households to reduce their energy usage between 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on some days. Tokyo metropolitan government staff workers have been advised to work in the dark. At supermarkets across the country, lights were switched off in freezers. Electrical appliances at homeware stores have been unplugged.
Japan has grappled with power shortages since March, when an earthquake in the northeast shut down some of the country’s nuclear power plants. But demand for energy is at its highest since 2011, when Japan was also hit by a record-breaking earthquake. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry warned that the discrepancy between supply and demand is “severe.”
Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine has also caused energy prices to rise, leaving heads of government across the world in difficult positions. Japan is not the only country to record unusually high temperatures: Spain, India, Algeria, Finland, Iran and Italy, have also seen scorching temperatures.
In a bid to minimize energy costs while also conserving power in Japan, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced a rewards system to incentivize households to reduce their energy usage.
The government said last Friday that it will distribute “points” worth 2,000 yen ($15) to households if they take part in a nationwide “power-saving program,” prompting outrage on social media as residents grow increasingly frustrated with the government’s mixed messaging. In recent days, officials have encouraged the use of air conditioning to avoid heatstroke.
A quarter of the country’s population is elderly, at greater risk of suffering from severe health consequences because of the extreme heat.
The heat wave is also affecting rivers and dams across the country. The Sameura Dam has a water level at 34.9 percent of capacity, less than half its typical level this time of year. There are worries it will dry up in July.
Although Japan relaxed its outdoor pandemic mask mandate in mid-May, many residents still choose to wear face coverings outside. The Health Ministry, in response, has ramped up efforts to encourage people to take off their masks while commuting, walking and exercising – broadcasting commercials and distributing leaflets on the matter. The ministry also launched a social media campaign with the hashtag #letstakeoffyourmasks, to increase public awareness on heat stroke prevention.
La Niña is likely a major influence of the persistent heat. It helps shift the jet stream and high pressure typical of the Pacific to the north, leaving Japan in a region at risk for heat waves because of expanding heat domes.
– – –
Tsui and Livingston reported from Washington, and Inuma reported from Tokyo.