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Will this year's abnormally dry season lead to a water shortage?


This has been an abnormal summer, weather-wise. The almost nonexistent rainy season left the level of dams and reservoirs in the Tone, Arakawa and Tama river systems that serve as Tokyo's water supply have fallen enough for a "yellow warning light" to be flashed, reports Yukan Fuji (Aug 16). In anticipation of troubles ahead, the water supply from the Tone River system has already been reduced by 10%.

According to the website updated daily by the Bureau of Waterworks, Tokyo Metropolitan Government, rainfall from Typhoon No. 7, which on Aug 16-17 skirted the Pacific Coast, had little effect on reservoir levels.

Should the shortage become severe enough to require further cuts in supply, Yukan Fuji warns it may mean it won't be possible to flush toilets in homes and office buildings, and major water consumers, such as hospitals and small manufacturing businesses, will be forced to curtail operations.

On Aug 5, the eight dams of the Tonegawa system, Tokyo main source of water, were down to 59% of capacity and by August 12, the largest, the Yagisawa dam, had declined to 43%. Japan's Meteorological Agency blames the climate abnormalities on the presence of the La Nina phenomenon, a cooling of the Pacific surface off the coast of Peru, which is part of the Southern Oscillation climate pattern that alternates with El Nino.

Without sufficient rainfall, the supply from the reservoirs will be incrementally reduced.

Taikan Oki, a professor at the University of Tokyo's Institute of Industrial Science, notes that should the supply be cut by 20%, water pressure may also decline, reducing the gush from faucets to a trickle.

When supply cuts fall to 40%, it's effectively a water outage.

"When the flow stops and toilets stop flushing, people will have to refill their toilet tanks from jerry cans of water, and I suppose they will also start hoarding bottled drinking water," Oki was quoted as saying. "Swimming pools at schools and other places will also be forced to close."

"When the flow is reduced by 70%, it's possible that tap water will only be available for 8 hours a day, usually at times that coincide with preparation of breakfast and supper," Oki continues. "Manufacturing businesses will be vulnerable, with companies like steel producers, which need water to cool the molten metal for example, seriously affected. It will also become more difficult for food and beverage businesses that rely on water for food preparations."

The most serious of all, Oki warns Yukan Fuji readers, would be hospitals, where patients on treatment requiring large quantities of water, such as those undergoing kidney dialysis, "would probably have to be transferred to hospitals in another part of the country."

A similar situation happened before in 1964 -- the year of the first Tokyo Olympiad -- when the lack of rainfall led to a record-setting water shorage. That summer households were only able to obtain half their normal water supply. Echoing the sense of panic felt by the public, the media coined the word "Tokyo sabaku" (the Tokyo desert), and the 1964 shortage became so severe that barber shops closed their doors and thieves stole water from the spigots of others.

Compared with 1964, Tokyo has greatly bolstered its water supply system. Still, at this time of year, the reservoirs that serve Kanto are typically at around 90% of their full capacity. But if more rain doesn't fall soon, some people may begin asking if the "Tokyo desert" is about to make a reappearance.

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Still too early to know if the shortage of rain is a blip or the start of a drier weather pattern. In addition to the risk of water shortages, and just as worrisome, is the reality that less precip means an increase in the likelihood of forest fires. Not a pleasant thought for densely forested Japan.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Step one: stop taking baths and instead take brief showers.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Wealthy Tokyoites need not worry-they can always wash in Pocari Sweat or similar.....

-5 ( +2 / -7 )

The headline should read 'lead to a water shortage in Kanto?' as the rest of the country has either had enough rain or been flooded...

11 ( +13 / -2 )

With improved living standards (like installation of baths and flush toilets in almost 100% of homes), the amount of water consumption per capita in Tokyo has probably tripled or quadrupled since 1964, so the additional capacity of reservoirs has barely kept up with consumer demand.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

This could really change what we take for granted in our daily lives. Still I think they should have put in some water saving ordinances long before now. Unless there are I just don't know about them.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Non-existent rainy season? I remember the first week or so being pretty sunny and dry, but pretty wet after that. Still, I'm not disputing the measurements. It's not like I have a measuring stick out there myself. Coming from a country where forest fires are a danger every summer, I can't see it happening here by a long shot. Japan has to be the wettest country I've ever lived in. The hills and mountains in and around kanto are still very lush and green. It'd take absolutely no rain at all for an extended period of time for it to be a fire risk.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Yeah, what could possibly go wrong in an insanely over-crowded megapolis like greater Tokyo? Except for a period of drought, a blip in the supply chain, a megaquake...and then...we're 3 square meals from anarchy, never forget that.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I am curious to see what happens when people start getting asked to avoid filling a bath every single night. Coming from Australia I remember being told to keep showers to 3 minutes (and being given a timer to make sure you keep to that time), and every time i tell a Japanese person about that they reel back in horror at the thought of having to wash themselves in less than 30 minutes...

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Perhaps if people stopped watering the sidewalks and cement in front of their houses their might be no water shortage.

In any case, I think calling it "non-existent" is a little disingenuous, given all the flooding in Kyushu. For a large swath of Japan there was less than normal, but this wasn't the driest rainy season since I've been here. What's worrying is AFTER the rainy season (and they in fact have a hard time predicting the end because of late they have not been all that wet compared to a few decades ago where it started raining and stopped three weeks later -- give or take a few days between). It's good that there have been no typhoons hit and cause damage, as in past years, but I often remember the irony of it being very, very wet AFTER the rainy season ended as opposed to during, and we're seeing very little of that. Some random and heavy storms, for sure, but more often than not there have been rain predictions and then nothing but scorching sun.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

No daily ofuros - and don't use those fancy "washlet"toilets...wash dishes in a basin and rinse in another basin...

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Japanese have no concept of water rationing.....

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Step one: stop taking baths and instead take brief showers.

Perhaps, but think a bit before doing that. Bath water can be re-used, for example, for filling the toilet cistern.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

There can be no excuse for a water shortage. Japan gets a lot of rain and snow. Every year in Hokkaido I watch tons of snow (i.e. frozen water) being dumped into the ocean. This summer has been a very wet one and if there is a water shortage it is because of poor planning on the part of the government.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

Japanese have no concept of water rationing.....

I'm always wondering WTH is my J. wife doing when she turns on the water and walks away to do something else. Once I came home and the water was running but nobody was home. She also runs the water continuously when washing the dishes. I just get them wet, turn off the water, and scrub. Coupled with taking submarine showers, I estimate that I use one-100th the amount of water that she does.

Once in the junior high school a J. student got his hands dirty and asked permission to wash them. He then proceeded to wash them for 30 minutes straight, the water running the whole time. I kept glancing at the teacher thinking, "Aren't you aware of what's going on?"

2 ( +5 / -3 )

Yet another doom and glooom "sky is falling" article.

Buried deep in the article is a quiet confident statement that water projects have been an ongoing concern in Japan for over 50 years. Anyone who does not spend their life in a cubicle will note that Japan's whole paddy rice system not only RELIES UPON seasonal run off and precipitation, it also manages it. Huge amounts of water are released simply to make room for flood control.

And water treatment is not a concern either. Japan has the capacity to collect, treat, and reuse water just like any other economically developed country.

Does anybody here collect rainfall or precipitation? Anybody? If you do, you know that you will top up your reservoir in June and July and then things get dry in August until the Typhoons come. And then you top up again. Offhand, I would say that Japan as a whole would have to have a dry winter, a dry rainy season, and a dry typhoon season for about two years running before "trouble" arises. Offhand, I would say that is equivalent to rolling doubles with dice 6 times in a row. Hint: when Japan starts having forest fires raging out of control for weeks on end, we might want to think about not having enough water. When instead we turn on the news and see flooding and mudslides, that "probably" indicates that "not enough water" is not a big issue in Japan.

Let's worry about something else, shall we? In the meantime, I challenge any one of you lazy couch potatoes to go outside and start a garden and then tell me that "not enough water" is a major problem for you.

5 ( +8 / -3 )


Nice post.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

ah no problem in my home, we have ground bore water as well as city water, ground water for washing clothes , baths etc city water for cooking etc, just one of the perks of living in a semi rural area. Oh and the peace and quiet!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

No resource on the planet, and especially water, should ever be taken for granted. I was here in 1973 when Kanto experienced a severe water shortage and due to unseasonably low precipitation in winter and June. Restaurants stopped serving water to customers unless they requested it, and there was actual rationing for a short period, although I don't remember all the details. I can't see Japan ever becoming a desert, but with ongoing climate change, anything is possible.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Does Japan have water meters like us in the UK? if not, install them, and charge people who waste water, this way it wakes people up when they get a massive water bill!!

1 ( +3 / -2 )

There have been massive amounts of rain in the Kanto Region the last 3 days, though. That should help. Still Japanese people need to realize that water is a precious resource (few of them do).

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I remember a similar shortage in the late '80s or early '90s. We were eating rice from Thailand, California, and other places and not liking it very much at all !

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Does Japan have water meters


like us in the UK?

No. In UK, they are generally not compulsory, and in some places (such as parts of Scotland) it would make little sense.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

A bit pre-mature.... plenty of typhoon related rain coming our way.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Wow, is the place I live completely different from the rest of Kantou?

We had rain pretty much every single day of June in Ome. My umbrellas got a thorough workout as did my bottle of Kabi Killer.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

5speed racer - your post is not correct for all Japan.

Where I live, every year the question is asked - will there be enough water to last over summer ~ autumn?

Most years there is - but 5 of the last 20 years (25%) have been very iffy. It is normal for water reductions to be initiated, in the first instances by pressure cuts, volume supply and then moving on to designated hours in a day for usage leading to the severe bans / restrictions on watering, car washing, pool use, bathing etc. Many school / municipal pools have not opened in some summers due to water shortages.

Currently we are in the 2nd stage of water pressure cuts in this city of half a million. At current rates, dam holdings with no significant rain in 2~ 3 weeks, will see very real and severe rationing.

Nature doeesn't always favour all - something that should never be forgotten anywhere - let alone Japan.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

"5speed racer - your post is not correct for all Japan."

First of all, I never said it was, and secondly, oh piffle. Somebody noted above that Japan had a water emergency about 45 years ago. Not coincidentally, California had one too at about that time, and it sparked a skateboarding renaissance as kids took their boards and skated empty swimming pools. But guess what. Since then California's population has doubled or thereabouts, and Japan's population has stabilized. Japan simply does not have any unsustainable resource problems with water, and it has been developing projects to stay ahead for generations.

If you live in Japan long enough, you know that bans and restrictions are not emergency measures, they are prudent measures. If a city of half a million does not have enough water, that is an investment problem, not a resource problem. Alternatively, I might say that if a city of half a million somewhere in Japan is running short on water chronically, that does not constitute a national problem. Alternatively, why don't you move? If fhere is not enough water for half a million, maybe it is the population that has gotten out of whack. I have three catchment basins within 10 min walking distance and two dams within a 20 minute drive, and I don't consider my situation "rural" or particularly privileged.

And you know. I might as well say this. I have been composting for decades. I water my garden with rainwater. Solar panels. My whole life is looking at lifestyle problems and solving them. Anybody who seriously worries about this issue should do something about it. Are people seriously wringing their hands wondering if they are going to have enough potable water next year? Go buy a water butt, hook it up to your drainspout and start loving life again. Topsoil? Electricity? Why am I not worried sick about that stuff? Because I did something about it, and anybody can.

I type this in the middle of a typhoon by the way. Another 500 liters of free water for me. Free for anybody to take, all it takes is some initiative and forward thinking.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Japanese have no concept of water rationing.....

Racist assertion. Have you not seen television accounts of water rationing after disasters? Had them in a number of areas after 3.11.

There can be no excuse for a water shortage. Japan gets a lot of rain and snow. Every year in Hokkaido I watch tons of snow (i.e. frozen water) being dumped into the ocean. This summer has been a very wet one and if there is a water shortage it is because of poor planning on the part of the government.

Mindless Japan bashing. Snow in Hokkaido doesn't do anything for a water shortage in Kanto. Just because it may have been wet where you are, it doesn't mean that it's been wet everywhere. Japan has eight major climate areas that vary considerably in the amount of precipitation received and when.

Does Japan have water meters like us in the UK?

Don't know about all of Japan but we certainly have them in Tokyo.

I remember a similar shortage in the late '80s or early '90s. We were eating rice from Thailand, California, and other places and not liking it very much at all !

1994 and the reason for the domestic shortfall was bad weather, not a shortage of rain, plus panic buying in anticipation of a shortage. Too much rain at the wrong time can devastate the rice harvest.


If you live in Japan long enough, you know that bans and restrictions are not emergency measures, they are prudent measures.


0 ( +1 / -1 )

5speedracer - thanks for your response.

Re Japan & water - You said,

" I would say that Japan as a whole would have to have a dry winter, a dry rainy season, and a dry typhoon season for about two years running before "trouble" arises. Offhand, I would say that is equivalent to rolling doubles with dice 6 times in a row. "

As I read that it says Japan and unless you say parts of Japan I can only assume you mean the whole country as in .... you know... Japan.

And why the condescension? You seem to think you know it all, you seem to think people need to get a life (like yours) - in fact you seem to be the expert on water logistics in Japan. But please don't preach to me about my personal situation. You have no idea about my house, garden, water conservation habits etc.

If you read my post carefully, all you would note is my explanation about the current situation in my city. No grizzles, whining, holier-than-thous . Just a fact about an ongoing situation that people have been asking govts for ages to look into seriously.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I challenge any one of you lazy couch potatoes to go outside and start a garden and then tell me that "not enough water" is a major problem for you.

I have a garden and two allotments (vegetable gardens away from the house) and here in Okayama it hasn't rained more than a very brief shower for five weeks and is 36 deg C every day; it's a major problem keeping the plants alive.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

On the whole Japan is blessed with a very generous water supply. On the whole, there is more than enough precipitation to meet all needs. On the whole, there is little incentive (apart from the water bills, because yes, the water supply is metered, one reason why people like to use the bath water for laundry) for people to worry overmuch about water shortages.

So when there is a localised or temporary shortage, caused by an abnormally dry rainy season, failure of enough wet typhoons to hit land or whatever, it's seen as a big thing because, well, it is a big thing. And it's normally a localised thing.

I remember when I had not been in Japan all that long (so, in the late 1970s), there was a particularly severe water shortage in Hokuriku when our well dried up and we were reduced to melting snow (luckily there's plenty of that in Hokuriku in winter) to wash in and getting plastic tanks of water delivered from the sushi restaurant up the road, who had a deeper well than we did, for cooking and drinking.

Then fifteen or twenty or so years ago (can't remember exactly) a friend who had moved to Shikoku when her husband was transferred there came back with the kids after a couple of weeks to stay with her in-laws, because a severe water shortage over there meant they got a trickle of water from the tap for just a few hours each day, while here in northern Kanto we had plenty of water.

My impression was that we had roughly the same amount of rain in June/July this year that we get every year, but how much rain falls on my garden/allotment isn't the issue; the rain needs to fall where it can gather in the reservoirs, which this year it apparently didn't do. We had notices sent out in mid-July asking people to be economic with water because if we didn't get more water in the reservoirs, rationing might be necessary. Hopefully today's typhoon will have helped sort that one out.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Why the condescension. Here is why. I grew up in a desert. And it was beautiful, and nobody worried about running out of water. And then populations doubled and tripled and quadrupled because everyone wanted to live in a desert. And they wanted their golf courses and their super flush toilets and pig farms and wheat fields and oh yes, their swimming pools. And most of them are liberals. Um... liberal people, mostly. And they just can't understand for the life of them why God has cursed them with "nature" that does not allow them to keep their hot tubs topped up. I condescend because the people who feel that things are "out of control", in my experience, are people who are part of the problem and who are not very proactive in taking care of themselves. They ruin it for everybody. Then they move on. People are the problem.

So some person upthread decides that "nature" is to blame. We must be conscious of haves and have nots. Cue the scientists who study rainfall but not demographics. Let's blame nature for inequities and our misfortunes. If I recall correctly, Shikoku has some difficulties with overextraction and a falling water table. Many areas, I think, rely on run off for 100% of their water. Some areas of Kyushu have similar difficulties. If they populated areas and did not prepare enough reservoirs, then this is just another example of humans rushing into an area with insufficient resources, looking to others to provide salvation, and by the way, move over to make room. People are the problem.

It is a trap set for "reasonable" people. This kind of journalism presents a "problem" that has to be "solved" because "warnings." Meanwhile, people just keep moving to where things are nicer, populations of dependent people increase, and "problems", even if they are localized, become a reason for more "solutions." It is systematic and self-perpetuating. Instead, think differently. Question the premise and the pattern. People are the problem.

How about not populating areas beyond their capability to support populations? If a town of half a million people does not have enough water, maybe it never should have gotten beyond 100,000. Don't blame "nature." Don't even blame government for not being able to keep up with high short term demands. It was not TOO long ago that everyone decided that we need flush toilets for every man, woman and child because "ewwww." And now here we are, shouting at the heavens because we flush our tinkle with eight liters of drinking water. Hint: Nature and government did not force anyone to use flush toilets.Nor did grim fate. People are the problem. They just want MORE.

The person upthread needs water for a garden, er. Allotment. Great. Me too. Certainly there is enough. And there will be if we don't just blame nature or somebody else. I said it before: Japan gets precipitation in three seasons. A two year drought is like rolling doubles six times in a row. Japan has done water projects for at least a thousand years. I am betting that Japan is just fine. Of course, I can't guarantee that there is enough filtered, treated, chlorinated water for every tomato plant in Japan, but does anybody stop to consider that maybe there shouldn't be? If people had to haul water for allotments from rivers, we would be using a lot less water for garden entertainment. Or at least people would be growing sweet potatoes and not corn and summer lettuce. Roots would be deeper. People would collect water to meet their own needs.

Finally, this is not an "I've got mine, so who cares" attitude. I am pretty sure that everyone can have theirs if they just calm down and ignore Chicken Little. And any anxiety about this "problem" would be better channeled to efforts at conservation and better management of one's own resources.

tl/dr Be a steward of the environment, not a client, and blame will fall to where it should fall. And "problems" will be "solved." Automatically.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

5speed - very good points you made. Just about nothing there I disagree with.

But nothing to do with me and my comments.

You jumped onto your soapbox and slighted me with presumption.

And obviously you took my comment on the power of nature as a whine against nature. Now that's a disturbing fail.

Good luck with the garden.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

5speed - in the main a reasonable post but yes, from your soapbox.

"The person upthread needs water for a garden, er. Allotment. Great. Me too. Certainly there is enough. And there will be if we don't just blame nature or somebody else."

Not quite sure what to make of this but let's just say that I wasn't blaming anyone or anything merely responding to someone's challenge. PS: I don't try to grow lettuce in mid-summer, they bolt too easily.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Why the condescension. Here is why. I grew up in a desert.

Well then that determines your own take on things. Most people here didn't grow up in a desert, they grew up in a country with plentiful rainfall; no need at all for rain butts, except in places like Okinawa, especially the islands, where'll you'll see a huge metal tank perched on the top of almost every building, public and private. People in Okinawa know how to conserve water.

The problem in Japan is not people moving to places that are 'nicer' or watering tomatoes with filtered water. The problem, if there is one and I'm not sure yet that there is, is the potential for global climate change to alter rainfall patterns drastically. But just as one swallow does not a summer make, one summer with unusual rainfall is not a Chicken Little situation.

Autumn last year brought widespread flooding to large areas of Kanto, so it is obviously not an ongoing or developing 'chronic water shortage' situation.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Well let me share a little bit more about my perspective. I pretty much made the same comments as those above to someone who moved to Texas who then complained about her electricity bill for AC and for the high price of water, and boy oh boy is it hot. Then she blamed Obama for all of it. It is all a blame game designed to deflect responsibility. Anyone can play.

And they do. Aren't people here doing the exact same thing? "I live in an environmentally stressed area by my own choice and I insist on having all the amenities that people have everywhere for reasons! Gee. I hope there is enough water for me." I mean, pardon my perspective, but MOVE! I went through another day of deluge yesterday. I chose to live where I do. Does anybody even do that anymore, or is the pattern these days to just plop down someplace and start complaining?

In the interest of brevity and maintaining good relations with Cleo, I have deleted specific arguments about why "climate change" is probably not an issue here. Also, claiming that it is climate change is very counter productive. It makes as much sense as blaming Obama.

I have already stated what is wrong. Whether you move to Texas, Arizona, California, Kyushu or Shikoku, realize that there have always been water problems, or there are gonna be water problems when populations are five times greater than they were 30 years ago. Or when there are five times as many flush toilets. People who are truly concerned about conserving water can install low consumption shower heads, They can put a brick in their toilet tank. If it is yellow, let it mellow. They can get rain butts. They can water their garden at the roots and early in the morning, and mulch heavily. They can use ofuro water in their toilet tank and in the laundry. Until someone has done all those things and more, "worrying about water" is just a trick to avoid personal responsibility and effort.

The Green movement is dying. Consumerism (I want a flush toilet/ cheap electricity.) and clientism (I pay my water/electric bill, don't I?) and the convenience of complaint and claim (Ofuro water in my garden and washing machine? Nuclear power plants? Coal? Are you kidding?) have won.

Here we have another "problem" created by "nature" or "ghoulish utility executives" that we have to "solve" using somebody else's resources. The press encourages outrage and "nature blame" or "obama blame" in place of trying to get people to reduce their own wasteful ways and make better choices. Some people will never have enough. And if they have enough, they will waste.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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