Wednesday, January 18, 2012

On Water

It's true most of us take water for granted — at least here in Japan or in the United States. It's always available; it's relatively cheap; and it's clean.

It's so clean around here, in fact, that the neighboring town, Saijyo, has water fountains flowing with spring water at the train station. The Asahi Beer Factory is also located in that town and both Niihama and Saijyo are regularly rated as having the purest water in Japan.

So when you wake up in the morning to nothing but air coming out of your tap, you start thinking about how lucky you are — lucky to have a little canal running right in front of your house that blue herons and turtles can be spotted in most days.
So you know you won't have trudge miles to find water if it ever came to that. You can just pop outside, dip a bucket in the canal, and go about your business.

But when the water stopped, I decided to call the water company first. They politely told me that there was road construction happening in the neighborhood (yep, I could hear that going on) and it would be a few hours until the water resumed flowing through my pipes.

All right. I could live with that. About an hour later, after trying the local sentō (public bath) — too early yet, closed — and getting a couple of liters of water from the local supermarket to boil for tea, there came a knock on my door.

A man from the road crew was offering to bring me over a few gallons of water to compensate for the inconvenience (and to use to flush my toilet.) I gladly accepted, and a few minutes later he came back with a large container full of water.

Now that's service. I couldn't quite imagine it happening that way back in the states.

And, just after lunch, as promised, the water came back on.


  1. A story that made me smile. Japan's abundant water remains a miracle to a person from drought-ridden South Africa. I still can't get used to the fact that my kitchen sink doesn't even have a plug: when you wash your dirty dishes, you do it under running water. Sacrilege where I come from …

  2. Last night I started reading The Big Thirst by the appropriately named Charles Fishman. The book explores contemporary water use and how much smarter about it we need to get. From what I can gather so far, some interesting changes are happening out of necessity in places like Australia and the American southwest.

  3. In South Florida, water restrictions were imposed a couple of years ago because of a very dry Rainy Season. Water levels have returned to a relative safe level but the restrictions (in one form or another) remain. To me this seems like a good idea, get people use to reduced water consumption even when water is plentiful. Now the goal is to enforce the restrictions more uniformly.

  4. Are you suggesting a water gestapo? I'm more for creative reuses of water — I think they're calling it purple water now — where people don't use drinking water to flush toilets or water lawns.

  5. What a lovely story, in just a few sentences.

    My question would be, in the U.S., when was the last time you turned on the tap in the morning and had nothing but air? Almost never happens. Water service is so reliable...that is one of the reasons we end up taking it completely for granted.

    EMC, glad you found "The Big Thirst," and I hope you find it engaging, but also that it answers questions about water you didn't even know you had.

    (Exceprts available free at:

    Charles Fishman, Author, "The Big Thirst"

  6. Thanks for your comments Charles. I'm enjoying the sweep of your book — you must have put in a lot of feet-miles to cover what you did. I'm especially fascinated by the spiritual and cultural underpinnings that make people behave in certain ways toward water. I remember standing transfixed on a bridge in Delhi several years ago watching people bathing and doing their washing on the ghats while a group of men hauled a paint mixer down and cleaned it out right next to them. Don't worry, they all seemed to agree, the river will wash everything away.

    You've also changed a bit my view of Las Vegas, a place I've never had an urge to visit.

    I suppose in the near future there will also be locations where the people will have to act just as smartly to combat and sequester abundance as people are doing now to deal with scarcity.