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TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - As Japan heads into the sizzling summer months facing a severe power shortage after the massive March earthquake and tsunami, individual families are looking for new ways to cut down on electricity use and still stay cool.
Takahiro Tsukakoshi is well ahead of the game, however -- he has been living an energy-saving lifestyle for the last 12 years, using low-tech methods to boost efficiency without breaking the bank.
"Even if Japan tried to save energy in the past, the opportunity wasn't there. But it is here now," he said.
"Here is this necessity and the government has asked (for energy conservation), so people are trying really hard to save energy now. I didn't think the city would become so dark."
The March 11 quake and tsunami set off an ongoing nuclear crisis at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant run by Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which has said it expects summer electricity demand in eastern Japan to be 55 million kilowatts. As yet, it has secured only 52 million kilowatts.
As a result, the Japanese government on Wednesday announced that guidelines to cut electricity use by 15 percent will take effect from July 1 and last more than two months. The 15 percent is compulsory for large users, with other firms and households asked to make voluntary cuts by the same margin.
"Regardless of being a large lot user, small lot user, or a household user, the electricity saving objective between July and September of this year will be 15% reduction compared to last year's peak," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said earlier in the month.
Businesses have been dimming their offices, many train stations have turned off escalators, and neon signs in busy downtown Tokyo districts have gone dark. Some businesses will operate factories on weekend days, when demand is lower.
"If you plan things in advance, I think you can manage, but you need to make sure to let people know," said Toshio Kobayashi, a 46-year-old businessman.
But others said they needed an example of how to save.
"If someone tells you, you can save energy by doing this, this and this, you probably can save 15 percent," said Emiko Sasaki, a 23-year-old housewife.
"If that's the case, you will try to save. But if you try to figure it out yourself, you don't know where to start.
Enter Tsukakoshi, a government certified energy manager, who has been cutting back for 12 years.
To save on air-conditioner use in Japan's scorching summers, he uses nearly 20 sunshades and Japanese straw mats hung over the windows to reduce heat from the sun. Insulating plastic covers the doors and keeps the house 2 to 3 degrees cooler or warmer than the outside.
He wraps the inside of lamps with aluminum foil to increase their brightness, making a 40-watt bulb look as bright as a 100-watt one.
In addition, the house's traditional paper sliding doors are made of plastic to improve insulation and shield the house from the sun.
While Tsukakoshi says making it through the summer this year may test some people, he believes it will likely change how Japan uses electricity forever.
"Japan has recovered from the hardships of war, saved energy during the oil crisis (of the early 1970s), and was capable of doing such things," he said.
"All of these incidents are opportunities, and people are thinking, how are we going to survive the summer without energy. If we do, the energy-saving trend will stick around."
Tsukakoshi hopes to avoid using air conditioning at all, instead relying on an electric fan.
The power cuts apply to areas covered by TEPCO, which serves the capital and surrounding region, and Tohoku Electric Power Company, which serves the devastated northeast region.
Editing by Elaine Lies