Culture & Travel

8 February 2021

Electricity is the most needed thing in the world today. Everything from our homes to workplaces and factories needs electricity. Japan is at the top of the list of countries with the highest electricity production and consumption. Developed industry increases electricity consumption; so you need to increase production as well.

After the collapse of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant in 2011, one of the biggest problems Japan faced as a country was energy production. Nuclear power plants accounted for about 30 percent of the energy production. When Japan, which has the largest number of nuclear power plants in the world, closed them after Fukushima, the energy crisis broke out. In a world still dependent on oil for energy, Japan is no exception. But the country plans to drastically reduce its dependence on oil by 2030. In Japan, which is already doing important work in the field of renewable energy, the source that has been talked about recently is geothermal energy resources, namely underground water resources.

Japan has no oil, but it is a coal-rich country. It is also harmful to the environment. After 2011, Japan reopened coal-fired power plants out of necessity. But this is not sustainable in terms of both the environment and resources. The government insists on nuclear power (a few plants have even reopened), but public pressure is trying to quell that insistence. Among those who oppose nuclear energy are world-renowned writers such as Haruki Murakami and Kenzaburo Oe, and musicians such as Ryuichi Sakamoto.

At this point, Japan's underground water resources come to the fore. According to Sachio Ehara, Head of the Geothermal Information Institute, there are enough geothermal resources in Japan to produce the electricity produced by 20 large nuclear power plants. The fact that there is so much geothermal energy is basically related to the fact that there are nearly 200 volcanoes in the country. If this energy is used, it is calculated that it will meet 10 percent of the country's energy needs in the first year. So, it's an incredible opportunity. But why don't they?

Here is the source of the controversy. These geothermal resources are used for something else in Japan. For hot springs called “Onsen” in Japanese. The hot springs, which we all identify with Japan and whose history goes back a thousand years, use these underground resources. More than 3,000 hot springs in Japan are visited by 120 million people every year.

Onsens have been used as public baths in Japan since ancient times. Today, its impact on domestic tourism is quite high. Japanese hot springs, which have many types such as indoor or outdoor, are usually located in rural areas. However, as we said, it has started to be built in the city due to its positive effects on tourism. Many Onsens were opened under the management of municipalities or private enterprises. When the Japanese want to relax, they go to these hot springs with their families. Not only the Japanese, but also business people and foreign tourists who come to the country want to benefit from this tradition. Onsens are very rich in magnesium, iron and calcium. In other words, these healing waters are very beneficial for human health. In short, Onsen has become a culture adopted by the local people with its relaxing effect on both the body and the mind. Here, experts say that these hot springs are a part of Japanese culture and say that geothermal energy will destroy this culture and other ways must be found. Shunji Shibatani, owner of one of these hot springs, said, "There's always a Japanese in Japan who's at the Onsen." says.

So, can these two fields not be sustained together? The Spas Association, which represents spas, a sector of 26 billion dollars, answers "No" to this question, because it claims that geothermal power plants will harm both the environment and water. The other side insists that this is not scientifically correct and that both sides are sustainable. Culture or science? But this is clear: Japan's energy problem will continue as the most important agenda here for a while.

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