Jul 11, 2018

To bury or not to bury? That is the question (for Japanese power lines)

Hello webverse. Yesterday I wrote about a common complaint from expats in Japan, which is the heavy build-up around rivers and mountains, imposing manmade structures across the landscape. Here’s another one common one...

To bury or not to bury? That is the question (for Japanese power lines) photo

...above ground power lines.

This one is not just a debate among expats though, as many Japanese also question why power can’t be buried. In fact, in the October 2017 House of Representatives election, the issue was part of the policy platform for the ill-fated “Party of Hope,” which pledged, “No more utility poles.”

But does it really matter? How realistic would it be to bury all the power lines throughout Japan, anyway?

I recently read that there are over 35 million utility poles in Japan, so you can imagine just how colossal a task it would be to bury all of those power lines. Complicating the issue is the level of coordination and cost-sharing required. As it stands, every town in Japan has three types of roads: national, prefectural, and municipal. Any decisions or costs regarding each of those respective roads lies at different levels of government. Then there is the coordination required with power companies. Trying to get four independent entities aligned to produce consensus on a way ahead is, at best, time consuming, and, at worst, near impossible.

Also, out here in Yukiguni, I don’t know how wise it would be to bury power lines. With as much snow as we get out here, if there were ever an issue with utility lines in the winter, workers would have to get through a few meters of snow first just to troubleshoot a problem.

So what’s the solution? Frankly, I think the only way to fix the problem is opportunistically. Certain areas are better suited for buried utility lines, so whenever there’s a new housing development or major renovation in those places, go ahead and install buried power lines. Eventually, over time the number of utility poles will decrease, even if it does take a while.

In the meantime, the only thing to do is to get used to it. I think I have. I certainly don’t notice the power lines a lot more when I first moved back to Japan. How about all of you?



Hitting the books once again as a Ph.D. student in Niigata Prefecture. Although I've lived in Japan many years, life as a student in this country is a first.

Blessed Dad. Lucky Husband. Happy Gaijin (most of the time).