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Post-quake Japan sweats through power restrictions

Women try to protect their faces from sunlight with fans in Tokyo's Daiba bay area, July 12, 2011.
AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi
Women shield themselves from Tokyo sun with handheld fans
Women try to protect their faces from sunlight with fans in Tokyo's Daiba bay area, July 12, 2011.

Tokyo in mid-summer is a sauna under the best of conditions. Now, with eastern Japan under orders to cut electric use by 15 percent, citizens are learning what they're really made of -- lots of sweat.

There is no shortage of handy products to ward off heat prostration, which threatens to become an epidemic this season. Freeze-and-wear neck scarves, pillows and bed liners are jumping off the shelves, as are shirts with tiny built-in electric fans. Conventional electric fans of every size, in fact, are selling out, a must-have if not retro appliance, as Japanese gamely comply with orders to keep the thermostat at a blistering 80 degrees.

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While air conditioning is the biggest drain on Japan's scarce energy supply, we're also being asked to install plastic curtains inside the fridge, shade windows with straw matting or to cultivate "green curtains," creeping foliage, said to lower indoor temperatures. State TV has helpfully left no stone unturned in the war on energy waste, urging homeowners to turn down the brightness on their video screens, plug all appliances into power strips (with the circuit breaker turned off), and, the final indignity, to switch off that treasure of every modern Japanese home, the high-tech toilet.

The 15-percent mandate runs through September. But with chaos in Japan's government and uncertainty hanging over the nuclear energy business, citizens can only wonder whether this year's sweaty summer is merely a warm-up for what's to come.