June heatwave in Tokyo worst since 1875 as power supply creaks under load

TOKYO, June 28 (Reuters) – Japan burned for a fourth straight day in scorching temperatures on Tuesday, as the capital’s heat smashed nearly 150-year-old records for June and authorities warned power supplies were scarce enough to end the specter of cuts.

The heatwave comes less than two weeks before a national election in which prices, including the cost of electricity, are among the top issues picked by voters in opinion polls that show the government’s approval rating is slipping – with politicians, among them the governor of Tokyo to push for electricity price cuts.

Temperatures in the capital hit 35.1C as of 1pm local time on Tuesday (0400 GMT) after three straight days of temperatures reaching above 35C – the worst June heatwave since records began in 1875. And the heatwave is not there to break: The Japan Meteorological Agency forecast highs of 36C for Tokyo on Thursday and 35C on Friday.

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With heatstroke warnings issued in some areas of the country on Tuesday, cases of hospital admissions rose, with emergency services saying 76 people were hospitalized in Tokyo.

Many in the capital and elsewhere continue to ignore the government’s advice to reduce the risk of heatstroke by not wearing face masks outdoors – a legacy of more than two years of widespread mask-wearing in public places during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are telling people that if they are outside, if they can keep enough distance and not talk, they should take their masks off,” Health Minister Shigeyuki Goto said at a news conference.

For a second day, authorities urged Tokyo-area consumers to conserve electricity to avoid an impending blackout — but in moderation.

“Apparently there are some elderly people who have turned off their air conditioners because we are asking people to save energy, but please – it’s so hot – don’t hesitate to cool down,” Trade and Industry Minister Koichi Hagiuda told a news conference .

The reserve ratio for Tokyo on Tuesday evening (1630-1700) was expected to drop below 5% from Monday evening, near the 3% minimum that ensures stable supplies in Tokyo and eight surrounding prefectures. Less than 3% reserve capacity risks power outages and blackouts.

On Tuesday, the Department for Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) said forecasts had improved slightly but continued to urge consumers to be economical with electricity. It warned that supplies would still be tight on Wednesday.

Monday’s warning prompted government agencies, including METI, to turn off some lights in the afternoon and evening, with METI halting use of 25% of the elevators in its building.

Electronics stores took similar steps, turning off televisions and other merchandise on store floors that would normally stay on to lure shoppers, and some Tokyo residents said on social media they would turn off any devices not in use.

But politicians called for further steps.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike attended a meeting of Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) (9501.T) shareholders on Tuesday and later said she had called for price cuts, Fuji News Network reported. TEPCO supplies the greater Tokyo area with electricity.

Although Kishida is expected to do well in the July 10 elections to the upper house of parliament, the ruling party of Kishida is facing rising prices, exacerbated by a depreciation in the yen, making imports more expensive.

Approval for the Kishida cabinet was 50% in a voter poll conducted by public broadcaster NHK June 24-26, up from 55% last week.

Natsuo Yamaguchi, head of the junior partner in Kishida’s coalition government, warned in a campaign speech on Monday that citizens risk heat stroke if they try to save electricity.

“What I really want is for the government to tell energy companies to cut costs,” he was quoted as saying by the Kyodo news agency.

From an economic perspective, the heat could be a double-edged sword, said Yoshiki Shinke, senior executive economist at the Dai-ichi Life Research Institute.

“Scorching heat is expected to boost summer household consumption through higher sales of beverages and household appliances…but excessive heat may curb consumption,” he added, noting that people are staying home and vegetable prices are rising.

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Additional reporting by Sakura Murakami, Kantaro Komiya, and Yuka Obayashi; writing by Elaine Lies; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell

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