lifestyle

Why does Japan have so many overhead power lines?

72 Comments
By Casey Baseel

Something many visitors to Japan notice is the abundance of overhead power lines. Whether you’re in the suburbs, city center, or even rural communities, it’s rare to look up at the sky or towards the horizon without the view being crisscrossed by thick, black cables.

So why does Japan have so many above-ground power grids when so many other countries have gone subterranean? The easy answer is cost, but there’re also some purported advantages to stringing cables up on poles, and the country hasn’t quite reached a consensus on which is the better option.

Starting with the budgetary side of things, subterranean systems are a lot more expensive. With the added expenses of digging the ditches and properly installing the lines and conduits, the cost can balloon to ten times that of a comparably sized network of above-ground poles.

Still, some contend that, economic advantages aside, this isn’t the place to cut corners. Since the mid-1980s, the Japanese government has been enacting initiatives to replace existing poles with underground lines. Not only do such moves please those who’re tired of power lines marring the scenery, there are even safety and durability benefits, as below-ground power grids are less exposed to the elements, making them resilient against wind and snow that can damage above-ground equipment.

A further safety benefit has been observed during earthquakes, according to the NPO Non-Pole Community. The organization says that during the Hanshin Earthquake that struck Kobe in 1995, neighborhoods with above-ground power lines were much more extensively damaged. Non-Pole Community’s Secretary Toshikazu Inoue also referred to toppled poles blocking roads and preventing emergency vehicles from swiftly reaching victims in the disaster’s aftermath.

Still, the majority of Japan’s power grid remains above ground. One argument against subterranean systems has been put forward by the Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO. While the company itself has publicized the superior aesthetics and durability against wind and snow mentioned above, it also acknowledges certain advantages to the more common above-ground system. “In the events of flooding or landslides, it’s harder to isolate damaged areas of a subterranean system,” the company points out. “That can increase the amount of time necessary to restore power to damaged areas.”

TEPCO also mentions other, simpler roles performed by power poles, such as providing housing for street lights and posting space for maps or address markers, which can be extremely helpful in navigating towns in Japan, where only a minuscule fraction of streets have names.

Reflecting the respective pros and cons of the two systems, Japanese Internet users are also unable to come to a consensus.

“No matter how much money it takes, we should be taking down power lines! Let’s get started and keep on going!”

“There’re places where they don’t look nice, but I think there’s a sort of rustic appeal to countryside towns with power line running above the buildings.”

Regardless of how things go in the future, though, with only about 7 percent of Tokyo’s central 23 wards currently having subterranean power networks, and even less of Osaka, power lines, like vending machines and ramen joints, are going to be part of the Japanese urban landscape for some time to come.

Sources: Ameba News, Jin

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- A Must-See Visual of Japan’s 2011 Earthquakes -- M6.3 earthquake hits Japan, anime fans rush to tweet photos of damage to figure collections -- Inmate of Tohoku prison within nuclear evacuation zone sues TEPCO for emotional distress

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72 Comments
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Funny how when the name TEPCO is mentioned I automatically think it is something stupid, again I think power companies in Japan should cough up funds to use underground wiring. Yes we have landslides and flooding but how about typhoons, don't we have them anymore?

10 ( +11 / -2 )

Because Japan doesn't appreciate the landscape, apparently :-( The only reason they have a rustic appeal is because of the neglect of previous generations to do it the right way first. "posting space for maps or address markers..." Way to spin, TEPCO.

7 ( +12 / -6 )

In Britain, there is often a single pole on a residential block, with the cables radiating out spoke-like, causing no unsightliness as in Japan. In North America, the lines run straight and orderly, often on grassed boulevards.

The spaghetti eyesore in Japan is a result of a lack of spirit of cooperation among residents and lack of cohesive development plans.

8 ( +13 / -6 )

These power lines in Japan....are what freak me out. If there is an earthquake.....how am I supposed to run for safety when there is power lines all over the ground? I think the correct reason why TEPCO and other companies have not switched to underground is because they want more money in their pockets.

Landslide excuse? Really? Maybe for the mountain areas, or step landscape places...but not where I live. There is no excuse here.

10 ( +12 / -3 )

They truly are eyesores in places which would otherwise be considered beautiful.

Because they are so complex I've never felt that rustic charm that one might, perhaps, feel driving across the countryside in North America: a single pole with a single line.

5 ( +8 / -3 )

They look ghastly and are a danger to traffic in narrow back roads. I understand the point about them being necessary in areas where there is a danger of flooding or avalanche, but that is not the whole of the country, is it?

They have to go.

And the next thing that should be done is to bring in a proper street name, house number system like the rest of the planet. With street names clearly and conspicuously written on each corner, so that people can find their way and know where they are in a city. I'm getting fed up with phone calls from delivery companies asking where our apartment is.

6 ( +10 / -6 )

They truly are eyesores in places which would otherwise be considered beautiful.

Spot on. Not to mention that they appear to be the most popular place for those god-awful crows to perch on, which means even walking on a sidewalk puts you in jeopardy of being soiled.

6 ( +9 / -3 )

It's true that reliability and cost are the two main reasons. The electric reliability for outages on underground systems is basically 50% less than for overhead systems. But the average duration of an underground outage is about 58% longer. So the repair times are much longer and the customer served by underground lines are usually among the last to have power restored. Long term reliability is also an issue. As underground lines get older, they become less reliable. The cost to place high-voltage new transmission lines underground is about 8 to 10 times the cost to build overhead lines and the cost to build underground distribution lines is four to six times the cost of overhead distribution lines. In the end placing existing overhead lines underground is simply an expensive proposition.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Why does Japan have so many overhead power lines?

I have often asked myself the same question and mentioned it to workers fixing the wires near our place... They wondered the same thing saying it's not only safer from the elements but there have been countless accidents from climbing up these poles.

TEPCO also mentions other, simpler roles performed by power poles

I'm sure that's true... they've obviously been watching my dog... ;-)

6 ( +8 / -2 )

These power lines in Japan....are what freak me out. If there is an earthquake.....how am I supposed to run for safety when there is power lines all over the ground?

Speaking from experience, this isn't too much of a worry. These powerlines hold up well even during really strong earthquakes (2011).

I think the correct reason why TEPCO and other companies have not switched to underground is because they want more money in their pockets.

I agree 100%. They will come up with various reasons to justify it, but the bottom line is that they want to do it on the cheap.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I understand the reasoning behind the damage caused by quakes, but there's FAR more likely a chance of utility poles going down in a strong quake and ripping other lines and poles down with them. Overhead lines should be used only in emergencies to get power quickly in places where cables on the ground won't help. This is merely because it's cheaper, and that's all, but given the amount of unnecessary digging up they do all across Japan from now until the end of March to ensure their inflated budgets are all used up and they can get them again in April, they should lay down power lines underground while doing this -- the street across from my apartment building looks like someone's been playing a bad game of tic-tac-toes and I have no idea for the life of me what they are doing (they're not changing any pipes, just digging up and constantly repaving some areas).

4 ( +6 / -4 )

JeffLee: Apart from large pylons I've never seen power lines above ground in the UK. Maybe you are thinking of telephone cables?

In Japan putting the cables above ground is done because it is cheap. It looks terrible, but then so do most of the buildings, which are also made of cheap materials. Saving money on aesthetics means more profits to donate to the LDP.

After the big earthquake a few years ago we were one of the first to have our power restored and the power cables were underground in that area. Having the cables above ground doesn't necessarily mean the power will be restored more quickly, although it's certainly true that access will be easier if they are damaged.

7 ( +7 / -1 )

Yes utility poles are a blight on the landscape all across Japan, truly ugly in far too many places. It always amazes me you go to some place with a supposed nice view & all the Japanese are whispering ......sugoi, kirei....etc etc & all I see are ugly buildings & utility poles & wiring, Japanese are so used to it they seem to automatically filter this visual garbage & are somehow able to only focus on the trees, a truly amazing ability which I don't have.

Just because you can see a LOT from some vantage point doesn't make it pretty but lots of Japanese seem to think so......

4 ( +5 / -1 )

I'm not sure what to believe about the safety of above-ground power lines during earthquakes. My gut reaction, especially when I was in downtown Tokyo for 3/11, is to be terrified of them. They look like they could fall at any moment and electrocute people. But I hear remarkably few stories about this happening. It seems that it would take a particularly violent earthquake to cause the power lines to fall. Not that that is out of the question.

In terms of the aesthetics, it is rather fascinating. Japan might not be great at "planning" cities in the Western sense (but is the West even good at it anymore, with all the urban sprawl?). However, Japan is remarkable for its cleanliness, efficient public transportation, and generally well-maintained urban spaces. Against that background, the ubiquity of above-ground power lines is incongruous. It probably is just because it's cheaper. And also because Japanese cities are so dense and so built up that it would be very difficult, logistically, to bury them all.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I'd agree with you that the above-ground power lines have gone a bit overboard. But some urban photographers have found a sort of beauty in them. Also, have you not thought this through the whole way? If Japan were to suddenly start moving all their power lines underground, it would cause massive traffic chaos with all the roadwork, not to mention the noise and dust pollution that would result for many years to come. It would be a huge undertaking that could disrupt people's lives more than the current situation.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Heh you thought these cables are bad? Go to Vietnam, hundreds of cables packed together, hang headhigh, and are a bungled together that you cant even see where 1 begins and one ends. An accident waiting to happen.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I always notice the power lines when I'm in Japan. Most people would think I'm joking--they haven't been to Japan. Being a lineman is dangerous. Being one in Japan seems more like gambling.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

It's interesting how interior design can be so esthetically beautiful in Japan and the urban landscape such a blight. People talk about how great a city Tokyo is but if we think about these electrical polls and lines, the complete lack of sidewalks and thus sidewalk cafe's and the minimal number of public squares and green spaces in which to relax, it can't be included among the world's great cities. The profits of developers, the auto industry and power companies have for too long controlled the political economy to the detriment of livability.

6 ( +7 / -2 )

I love how everyone feels the need to criticize , citing many different reasons why Japan hasn't gone subterranean... "We in England..." "Back home..." "In the States..." Poverty, extremely high crime rate, corruption at the highest levels, and much more are the things "your" countries and you should be focusing on, not how it's isn't aesthetically pleasing to see cables in Japan.

Asinine comments

-10 ( +8 / -17 )

@Paolotic

Agreed.

I quite like the cables. They're somehow foreign and exotic. Better the cables than litter all over the place... like back home.

4 ( +8 / -4 )

The cost angle I can understand. However, what baffles me is the fact that a lot of these poles are built into the roads, not beside them. Drive through any small town / shitamachi and you'll see what I mean. Extremely dangerous - especially around corners!

7 ( +6 / -0 )

sighclops: However, what baffles me is the fact that a lot of these poles are built into the roads, not beside them.

That describes the scene of the accident the other day where a truck driver killed one little girl, crushing here against the pole, and injured two others. mainichi.jp had a photo but I've lost it. About two thirds of the width of the bumper was on the pedestrian side, and bumper a foot or so from the wall next to the pole.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

In my neighborhood we have a few streets (generally larger ones) with the wiring underground and a few with it above ground.

Sadly, aesthetics-wise, the lack of utility poles and wires is only of marginal benefit on most of the streets. You either have a sea of ugly architecture and asphalt with virtually no trees covered by power lines, or the same mess just without the power lines.

The only places where it seems really worthwhile are on the few nicer shopping streets which actually have trees that aren`t brutally hacked to pieces every 2-3 months by city workers. This probably accounts for less than 1% of the city though.

Sadly, if the country had done a better job of preserving its traditional architecture then having the power lines underground would probably have made a huge difference. Having failed to do so though, burying the power lines just seems like a pretty meagre gesture that won`t really improve the look of most neighborhoods.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

@sighclops

The poles are placed on the street because there is no other place to put it. The power company negotiated with my significant other for over a year, wanting permission to place a pole in our driveway. They were willing to pay a yearly fee for the privilege. The poles have a date stamped on them and are replaced every few years. The slight movement of the pole causes the rebar to become work hardened and brittle. The poles are good for about 150 knots of wind in a typhoon. They are more susceptible to being pushed over rather than snapping. The transmission wires are insulated and the only danger of a broken one is at the end or damaged area. One of the design factors of the pole/wire system is that if a pole breaks or is blown down, the wire must be capable of supporting a designated number of broken poles on each side of it, this is an additional safety factor. Having said all this, they are as ugly as a mud outhouse.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

a sort of rustic appeal

That's interesting. For me, rustic would mean there is no electricity of any kind.

Anyway, I'm glad they are burying some of the lines. My next request is for cities not build roads right next to the beach... the beach that doesn't exist, I mean. Really, Japan has many beautiful places, and the other places would be a lot more beautiful if people would take these things into consideration whenever possible.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

They make it difficult or dangerous for fire ladder trucks to rescue people. This is a prime consideration in the planning and permitting of multistory structures in more modern cities in Europe and North America. Paying to move them underground would be an absolute requirement to renovate or construct.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

@senseiman so true, those nicely planted trees being brutally cut around the pole lines are sometimes just plain awful. Otherwise, it doesn't bother me that much anymore being living here for quite some time. Actually the number of the poles have decreased compared to the time when they still used hardened logs. And they do become a marker for the confusing address and a place to post for those lost pets.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Coming from Britain and being a former electrical engineer I was amazed when I came to live here. My eyes and brain were disturbed by the overhead cables and poles but 20+ years later I don't even think about it anymore except sometimes when taking a photograph and I don't want them, or even I photoshop them out.

We have lived in two places where in the inner city areas the cables have been buried. Nagano for the 1998 Winter Olympics, and Kobe City following the rebuilding from the 1995 earthquake.

The poles are placed on the roads because there's no charge unlike when placed on private land the utility must pay a yearly rental charge.

The poles also carry the transformers which in many countries would be located in ground level substations. Sometimes they burst into flames from overheating.

There was a program in Tokyo to bury the cables and is certainly behind other capital city's on that point. The program was started in 1986 and some of the costs were paid by TEPCO, the power utility for the city. In London and Paris, 100% of the cables are buried, 98% in Berlin and 83% in New York.

Following the 3/11 nuclear disaster, TEPCO informed the government it could no longer afford to pay.

About 30% of Tokyo's 2,300 km of highways have had their power cables removed.

The main problem of the poles is during powerful earthquakes when they can collapse blocking the roads for the emergency vehicles.

Burying the cables is very expensive which can also involve the moving of the gas and water pipe works with costs reaching ¥600 million per km. The cost of maintenance for buried cables is much higher than overheads and involves digging up the roads to carry out repairs.

I remember back in Britain, the hole digging was a very major problem.

Currently, I think, the cables are owned by the power utilities but from 2015 there will be a new law separating the power utilities from having both power generation and power supply. New companies will be formed to take over the power supply, including a new grid company. Maybe that grid company will take over the poles and cables?

With the Tokyo Olympics we'll see more areas with buried cables.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

A G-7 member but burying the lines for safety like all the others is "just too expensive"??? Digging holes is just too hard? Geez, they are even buried in Mexico City.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Ah, because it's a low-tech country?

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

Underground power lines certainly have a whole lot of advantages safer and more durable being the most undeniable ones, prettier I think is really personal I've always thought those power lines look nice having grown up surrounded by jungle (bits of civilization like this have a certain appeal to people like me). But I wonder if part of the problem is the cost of having to rebuild underground power lines continually if they get destroyed. Remember this is Japan, it doesn't just have one natural disaster it has every natural disaster: landslides, earthquakes, typhoons, tsunamis, floods, volcanoes and of course people and their large vehicles.

Take traditional Japanese houses for instances they were originally built out of wood, on free-floating stilts and with relatively light walls and covering made of paper. This made them very vulnerable to fire and storms, it did give them moderate earthquake durability compared to brick and concrete of the time but most importantly it made them easier to build, repair and then rebuild. A friend of my once called them origami houses; they were designed to break in the safest way possible (as safe as you can get with a collapsing house) and then be rebuilt in the easiest and quickest way possible.

I think underground cables are more resistant to earthquakes (being buried and all versus suspended on poles that can crush you) and Japan could certainly build very durable underground cables having for instance built the Seikan tunnel connecting Honshu to Hokkaido but I can't imagine they or anyone for that matter can build indestructible ones that can endure all the earthquakes and landslides that frequent every corner of the islands. 1500 earthquakes are recorded in Japan each year with category 4 to 7 being common. Thus you have to wonder how much it would actually cost to make more power lines underground if you have to rebuild them every time a strong enough earthquake or landslide hits and rips them to bits. Laying them could already cost up to 10 times that of overhead lines (don't forget Japan rains and snows a lot) but what about having to clear them away after being destroyed then having to bury new ones again and again potentially every year. Suddenly costs could go from 10 times to 50 times. And that's not including the tendency for broken underground lines to be more dangerous, after all how do you find them after they've been bodily moved ten meters from where you laid them down?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The cost of burying all the power cables would eventually fall on the customers and consumers of the power utilities which would mean higher monthly power charges.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

In my early days here I once asked a student at the Eikaiwa about this and she said they were above ground because of earthquakes????? I replied that I also come from an earthquake prone country and we tend to put them underground for that very reason.

I agree with many others. Cost cutting. After 3/11 do you really think the likes of TEPCO want to spend money on safety?

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Aesthetically, much better to have them burried. However, this needs to be balanced agains tthe need to have the roads dug up on a very regular basis because one of the companies needs to replace one of their wires. If they are put under the roads, they should be in an easily accessible place, and not covered in tar macadam.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I love how everyone feels the need to criticize , citing many different reasons why Japan hasn't gone subterranean... "We in England..." "Back home..." "In the States..." Poverty, extremely high crime rate, corruption at the highest levels, and much more are the things "your" countries and you should be focusing on, not how it's isn't aesthetically pleasing to see cables in Japan.

It is because Japan doesn't have those issues that frees up the resources to do this.

So what's Japan's excuse?

Better the cables than litter all over the place... like back home.

Why can't ya have best of both worlds? Why do ya feel ya have to choose?

4 ( +4 / -0 )

For a long time, I thought Japan doesn't have money for this. But recently I feel the real reason is that the electric companies can maintain the lines easier this way.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

I like them... they just make me smile whenever I'm on holiday and walk into a quiet road, there they are. Totally bonkers of course, but yes, for some reason I like them.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Why does Japan have so many overhead power lines?

Because there was never any meeting to change things.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

In my early days here I once asked a student at the Eikaiwa about this and she said they were above ground because of earthquakes????? I replied that I also come from an earthquake prone country and we tend to put them underground for that very reason.

It may seem obvious that burying lines is safer. Like many obvious facts, it isn't necessarily true.

In the Christchurch earthquake, there was more damage to underground lines than overhead lines. As the provider puts it: "Most of the high voltage electricity network in Christchurch is underground, while local low voltage lines are often overhead. Massive earth movement in some places, particularly around rivers and streams and in the hill suburbs caused multiple underground cable breaks which take a long time to and [sic.] fix. As we would expect, power generally went out in the areas affected by the greatest earth movement."

I assume they meant to say "find and fix". They also deal with the question, are overhead lines better than underground cables, by saying "Modern overhead power lines built to the latest seismic standards generally withstand earthquakes better and can be repaired much faster than underground cables, which are not designed to move."

http://www.oriongroup.co.nz/Default/Key-questions.aspx#feb

1 ( +1 / -0 )

If power lines are moved underground, the capital cost of those projects along with a negotiated return on investment between the utility and the regulators are borne by the ratepayers.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Where I live the community's power is underground. In the 10 years I've lived there, my community has had one unplanned outage and that was when a driver drove into one of the above-ground line service boxes and shorted out everything in the box. Underground cabling has two main enemies: varmints and flooding. If done right when it is first installed, underground cabling doesn't take that much longer to repair than above-ground cabling. The power company recently had to replace a cable segment outside one of the schools I work at and and the total outage was only about 5 hours with no digging required. The power cables were in conduit that allowed the bad cable to be pulled out one end, and then the replacement cable was able to be pulled through the conduit and terminated. For that to work, they had to have reliable conduit installed FIRST.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Has anyone here considered the role of the high water table in Japan?

Not only does it make digging expensive (in most places in Japan you're digging in mud just a few meters down), but it also means a quite dangerous electrified area of soggy ground where any kid walking by or farmer working in the fields could die.

In addition the real worry about quakes may not be the major ones, but the constant micro-quakes (1's to 4's) that Japan experiences pretty regularly and that most of us don't even register. Free-swinging overhead cables wouldn't be affected, but underground cables in soft, muddy soil would "drift" until the stress on the line resulted in a break.

These might be the reasons why underground cables aren't feasible across most of Japan.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

Has anyone here considered the role of the high water table in Japan?

Power cables would be buried less than 60cms and all connections are waterproof. Underground water isn't unique to Japan. Water and gas pipes are also buried, usually at about 30 cm to prevent freezing. Broken gas lines would be far more dangerous than power cables in an earthquake.

The electrical systems were not very well thought out even from the early days. How does a country end up divided by two power systems, 50 & 60 Hz which caused problems with the shut down of the reactors.

At the end it's all about the costs of burying the power cables which also need to have substations to house the transformers.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Not only does it make digging expensive (in most places in Japan you're digging in mud just a few meters down), but it also means a quite dangerous electrified area of soggy ground where any kid walking by or farmer working in the fields could die.

Electricity 101: Electrical current ALWAYS takes the path of least resistance to ground potential. If the cable already is IN the ground and the conductor is exposed via a break or subterranean flooding, the resulting direct short to ground will never be felt by someone standing on the surface. The current is not going to move from a location at ground potential, pass through the "kid or farmer" who is decidedly ABOVE ground potential (and I'm not talking about elevation), then return back to the location at ground potential. Current doesn't work that way. If it did, every bird that sits on an electrical wire would be instantly fried.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

FadamorSep. 25, 2014 - 10:29PM JST Electricity 101: Electrical current ALWAYS takes the path of least resistance to ground potential. If the cable already is IN the ground and the conductor is exposed via a break or subterranean flooding, the resulting direct short to ground will never be felt by someone standing on the surface. The current is not going to move from a location at ground potential, pass through the "kid or farmer" who is decidedly ABOVE ground potential (and I'm not talking about elevation), then return back to the location at ground potential. Current doesn't work that way. If it did, every bird that sits on an electrical wire would be instantly fried.

Apparently you never got to Electricity 102. How electricity behaves in water. Look it up, come back and then you can eat some crow.

-5 ( +1 / -6 )

Go to Sumida. In all the streets aligned to the Sky Tree Tower the overhead power lines have miraculously disappeared! And nice lightening poles have replaced them. These streets look now great. But all side streets are remaining with these ugly suspended spaghettis.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Apparently you never got to Electricity 102. How electricity behaves in water. Look it up, come back and then you can eat some crow.

Pfft! If the farmer or the kid were swimming and surrounded by water you might have a point, but they're not. By your own words, they're walking or working... surrounded by AIR. Air is a DAMN good insulator. A good insulator provides high resistance to current flow. Electrical companies the world-over rely on air to insulate the different phases of their high-tension lines from each other. Look it up, come back, and then you can eat some crow.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

The cost of burying power cables are 15-20 times more expensive than the cost of overhead ones.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Zichi- the cost of buying, insuring, maintaining, and putting gas in etc in a car is 15-20 times more than using a $500 horse. Just saying, every developed country already has and most developing countries are slowly doing so as they can. Street by street, slowly if you wanna be cheap, but get on with it. It is a total culture shock for every Gaikokujin when they first see the spaghetti system above every tiny street. The tiny unsafe streets themselves are also uniquely shocking as well as all the unsafe kei-shas. And Fadamor is right about air insulating 440,000Volt power lines just keeping them 10 feet apart. (but he is nuts posting that SDH crap) And don't forget that Japan is the only OECD country that STILL doesn't use a grounded system. Still only a 2 prong connector with no ground. The USA mandated grounding in 1964. Most of the world uses the German system, including Korea and China, and all other systems worldwide are grounded. Except Japan. And what is with having that 50/60hz divided country and the world's weakest voltage (100V)??? Lower than Zimbabwe.....

1 ( +6 / -5 )

What's really telling about how even the Japanese feel is how in advertisements for new houses and "manshon" developments the overhead lines are PhotoShopped out.

There is no excuse in Japan ("High water table"? Pfft. Earthquakes? Demonstrably safer underground.) for lines to be above ground with new developments. If you are going to open up the street, bury the lines.

2 ( +3 / -2 )

The poles carrying the power cables also carry other cables like phone, fiber optics, cable TV, local TV, local PA warning systems, street lights. Removing the poles would also involve those services too?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Neither the article, nor anyone has gotten it right after 53 comments.

It has nothing to do with aesthetics or practicality, it's all about the money. The cement industry is king in Japan and "friendly" with NTT, power companies and politicians. More cement and concrete is poured in Japan than the US ever year.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

... The cement industry is king in Japan ...

Isn't there a lot more concrete in an underground conduit than a similar stretch atop concrete poles?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Darnname - so it comes down to corruption at the highest levels? There is NO concrete in underground conduit, it is high tech polymer with great sealing systems between connections. At least in every other country in the world. With plenty of room for pulling through future technical advances or needs. Why do the people put up with a system so corrupt that an apple costs 10 times more than in the US or the rest of the free world and power lines can't be installed underground?

0 ( +3 / -3 )

In Fukuoka city near the Yahoo Dome there is a city called "Momochi" and the adjacent city Marina Town is a man made town, very expensive homes, affluent community, very prestige and one thing that you will notice while strolling through the neighborhood (and it's pretty big) is that, there are NO overhead power lines. Everything is underground. It's very visually appealing to the eye. I know not every town can afford to do this, but with all the overhead power lines throughout Japan, when you see a town that doesn't have it, you feel something different. Personally for me, the power lines are a serious eyesore. But each to his own. I think visually it's much more attractive not seeing the cables, but that's me.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

A poster above said that ads for new construction have the spaghetti power line system Photoshopped out. That must mean that there is no code like the NEC or requirement in obtaining a construction permit to install underground all utilities like in other countries. It must be optional and only the richest of the rich even bother to follow the rest of the world.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Yes, Scrote, it seems you're right. I stand corrected.

"the overhead lines are PhotoShopped out."

And they often add grass lawns or green fields to the images, where in reality there will be gray concrete. Which begs the question: why not implement the things that you actually like and desire? Other developed countries have done it, why can't the Japanese?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

This could be a great Grand Project, beginning with a competition to develop a cost-effective (and exportable) solution to the issue.

How about Beautiful Japan (instead of the cringeworthy Cool), focused on the sensory aesthetics? The visual would see new zoning too, and local areas would love competing in national competitions to beautify their communities.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Ironically, the reason is because of Earthquakes. Above ground wiring is far easier and faster to fix than pipes underground.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Love the power lines... one of the iconic images of Japan to me. I'm being serious too...

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

Overhead power lines maybe easier to fix after a big quake, but I was always taught in school about the fire risk they pose if they come down in a big one. I'm particularly worried about this in a city like Tokyo where the buildings are so close together. It has happened before, hopefully the current power lines hanging all over the place don't cause it again.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

It would be nice to bury those cables... though just to think the chaos that it will cause when they do that in those narrow streets, where two bikes and a person will be enough to block the road... that is going to be hellish.

But without those poles... walking would be so much nicer....

Some one said something about street names and the address coding here in Japan. To be honest I find the address coding in Japan one of the best and you can locate and navigate easily a building here with the numbers... Let's say... Edogawa-ku, Hirai 4-12-10... and you will get the house with no so much fuss.... I come from a country were even a dirt road has a name... and quite honestly to navigate with street names in an area you are not use to is HELL.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

jokpali: There is NO concrete in underground conduit, it is high tech polymer with great sealing systems between connections. At least in every other country in the world.

The idea is to spend money, not save it. Because as the other guy said, "the cement industry is king in Japan".

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electrical_conduit#Underground_conduit

Conduit may be installed underground between buildings, structures, or devices to allow installation of power and communication cables. An assembly of these conduits, often called a duct bank, may either be directly buried in earth, or encased in concrete (sometimes with reinforcing rebar to aid against shear forces). Alternatively, a duct bank may be installed in a utility tunnel.

photo: The Wunpeece Duct Spacer allows for the fastest and sturdiest installation for concrete encased duct runs.

http://www.udevices.com/assets/images/Wunpeece.jpg

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Underground cabling results in power companies constantly closing off and digging up the roads (with the inevitable poor surface repair to follow) resulting in closed roads, diversions, mayhem and an excess of noise in an already noisy city. Anyone from London and no doubt other major cities will testify that this is a nightmare, not just for drivers but for pedestrians and residents too.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Neither the article, nor anyone has gotten it right after 53 comments.It has nothing to do with aesthetics or practicality, it's all about the money. The cement industry is king in Japan and "friendly" with NTT, power companies and politicians. More cement and concrete is poured in Japan than the US ever year.

I once had a chat with an enlightened and well connected Japanese chap and he told me in our area one company had the contract to make the utility poles. There is a lot of cement and rebar involved in making them, not quite like the tetrapod racket, but still a nice earner. This company was run by people with" questionable connections", ergo things were very unlikely to change.

The civil constructions companies have their hands filled with highways, bridges, by-passes, flood protection etc, so they don't really need the work of underground conduits; they are happy and the 'pole' industry is happy and keep their niche.

(pure speculation now) What would be curious if lots of these big civil works projects substantially dry up and these companies start eying up underground utility conduits as their next earner. Maybe things would change if the right people exerted the right kind of pressure.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

FadamorSep. 25, 2014 - 11:23PM JST Pfft! If the farmer or the kid were swimming and surrounded by water you might have a point, but they're not. By your own words, they're walking or working... surrounded by AIR. Air is a DAMN good insulator. A good insulator provides high resistance to current flow. Electrical companies the world-over rely on air to insulate the different phases of their high-tension lines from each other. Look it up, come back, and then you can eat some crow.

... NOW I understand why your comments are so ignorant, you've never actually been to Japan. You see in Japan a farmer IS wading through water in a rice paddy, and when it rains there are massive puddles.

Well done, you've officially proven that you're posting from some other country and know jack about Japan.

-6 ( +1 / -7 )

Some countries have a shallow topsoil covered over hard rocks and the rocks are not feasible to cut through to bury cables. Is this the case in some parts of Japan?

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Liberty Joe LoweSep. 26, 2014 - 10:26PM JST Some countries have a shallow topsoil covered over hard rocks and the rocks are not feasible to cut through to bury cables. Is this the case in some parts of Japan?

Japan is a country of water-logged coastal areas and high mountains... and very little in-between. If you're not trying to lay cables in water-logged borderline swamps then you're trying to cut into solid mountains.

Oh, and I missed this:

zichiSep. 25, 2014 - 10:14PM JST Power cables would be buried less than 60cms and all connections are waterproof. Underground water isn't unique to Japan. Water and gas pipes are also buried, usually at about 30 cm to prevent freezing. Broken gas lines would be far more dangerous than power cables in an earthquake.

Connections are waterproof... until an series of small earthquakes result in the cable fraying or being steadily abraided by rocks in the soil or the coil being stretched and compressed too many times or a dozen other engineering nightmares.

Oh, and many areas in Japan are less than 1m above above sea level, which means that you'd have the fun, fun, fun job of trying to dig and lay cable while the water seeped up to meet you. Yay!!

... seriously people, this isn't rocket science and you don't need some conspiracy about the concrete industry. A combination of water-logged coastal areas, mountainous areas and earthquakes make overhead lines a logical and defensible choice for Japan.

The problem most of you are having here is that you're incapable of focusing on more than one factor and want an answer that either dismisses the engineers as dumb or reduces it to a single easy factor. Real life isn't like that, it is often multivariate.

-4 ( +3 / -7 )

And here I thought the whole reason for all the powerlines was to make sure Gojira would have something to rip up for SFX reasons...

When I first arrived in Japan way back in the mid '90's, the first thing that struck me as interesting was the fact that all those HUGE powerline that dotted the hills and cities were really there and not added for cinematic effect. I just couldn't get over how many of these large distribution lines with the huge steel towers there were. Some of these towers were right beside 5 to 10 floor 'mansions' with the 20 odd high voltage lines go directly over the building. This almost seems normal in Japan but I can't stop thinking how these electro-magnetic fields might be causing some damage to people's DNA.

One thing that I was amused by with this story was this line

"which can be extremely helpful in navigating towns in Japan, where only a minuscule fraction of streets have names."

I wonder if Bono was referring to Japan when he sang "Where the streets have no name"... hmmmmm

0 ( +0 / -0 )

When I first arrived in Japan way back in the mid '90's, the first thing that struck me as interesting was the fact that all those HUGE powerline that dotted the hills and cities were really there and not added for cinematic effect.

I have a great picture I took where you can see these towers in a line going off in the distance, directly towards Mt. Fuji in the background. It looks like they are powering Mt. Fuji (or Mt. Fuji is powering the city).

1 ( +1 / -0 )

(but he is nuts posting that SDH crap)

Different article. I posted it because there appeared to be relevant and cited information in the document. Whether you want to believe what's in the document is up to you. I merely offered it as an additional viewpoint on the subject.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

There is the historical reason. That during post war national re-electrification the overhead wires were a totem of progress, modernization and recovery. Everyone actually enjoyed seeing them wherever they were built. And, meanwhile, Toshiba and Hitachi were making humongous profits through the power utilities which had borrowed capital for CAPEX from the government. It was also quicker and easier from an eminent domain legal perspective to buy up rights-of-way above ground instead of below it. Then there is factor of nuclear power. When electricity is generated with fossil fuels the efficiency of converting say coal or oil or gas to electricity is measured by this basic formula: BTU(in) = BTU(out) minus (LINELOSS). LINELOSS is the energy produced (generated) at the plant which is not ultimately consumed by end users (it is lost during the transmission process). Overhead transmission lines result in huge LINELOSS compared to below-ground transmission lines. With fossil fuel generation this means you need to burn more coal, gas, oil to make up for any LINELOSS. On the other hand, if you produce power with atomic energy LINELOSS does not affect your fuel costs in the same way. So, once the ATOMIC CLUB decided that Japan was to have basically ALL nuclear electrical generation they no longer cared about the LINELOSS inefficiency issue because it did not affect their corporate profits. Now that Japan is back to importing fossil fuels to make electricity the LINELOSS issue is suddenly a very BIG deal. Unfortunately political inertia prevents the regional power generation monopolies from agreeing on how to fix the problem. They real key is to separate ownership of generation from ownership of transmission lines, but the fat cats cannot decide how to do it. Meanwhile utilities bills for all will continue to rise.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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