WHEN TOKYO WENT ELECTRIC: Electricity Theft and the Materiality of Modern Life

 

 

WHEN TOKYO WENT ELECTRIC:
Electricity Theft and the Materiality of Modern Life

A lecture by IAN MILLER
Professor, Department of History
Affiliate Professor, Department of History of Science
Harvard University

Wednesday, December 6, 2017
5:30 pm


The lecture will take place at:
Room 200, 725 Commonwealth Avenue,
Boston MA 02215


Tokyo is an electrical paradise. From the neon saturation of “Electric Town” Akihabara to the world’s most extensive electrical railway system the Japanese capital is a spectacle of light and motion. But it was not always like this. Starting with the story of the first Japanese taken to court for the crime of electricity theft, this talk takes us back to the dim, gas-lit streets of Tokyo, when the energy-intensive culture that we now call “modernity” was little more than a flickering along the edges of otherwise shadowy avenues. Within three decades of the case, Japan was among the most electrified environments on Earth. The nation’s first electric company (predecessor to TEPCO, owner of the failed Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant) was founded in 1883, just three years after the creation of the Edison Illuminating Company. By the 1930s, electrical lights were found in 44% of the homes in England, compared to 68% in America, and 85% in Germany. Japan topped 90% nationally and neared 100% access in all major cities. Our concern is with how that happened and what it means today, as we struggle to drive an “energy transition” away from fossil fuels and carbon culture.