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EDITIONS
Friday, 13 December, 2002, 10:02 GMT
Japan cleans up its hi-tech act
Electric car sharing scheme
Green vehicles were a popular attraction

Japan is taking the lead in developing hi-tech products that protect the planet as a recent exhibition in Tokyo showed.

Thousands of environmentally friendly products were on display at the Eco-Products exhibition, which attracted over 100,000 visitors.

Japan has a lot to teach the rest of the world when it comes to being green and that is precisely what the exhibitors at Eco-Products had in mind.

One of the biggest draws at the show was Toyota's fuel-cell car.

Four of the clean vehicles have just been leased by the Japanese Government to improve its green credentials.

However, it could be some time before they become a common sight on the roads as the cost of leasing them is a hefty 6,315 per month.

Cheap and green

Equally popular, and a lot more accessible, was the electric car-sharing scheme from CEV Sharing.

Operating in much the same way as bicycle-sharing schemes in some European cities, registered users pick up the Suzuki-made cars from a parking stand, unlock them with a special card and drive away.

It's nice to pollute less, but I feel a lot better about saving on my electricity bills

Hirofumi Fukunishi, schoolteacher
The cars have to be left at a similar stand at the end of the journey. Costs are low, starting at 52 pence for a 15-minute trip, plus a monthly membership fee of 105.

The scheme is currently only running in Yokohama, but visitors were enthusiastic.

Junko Hasegawa, from Tokyo, said she would use the car if it were available to her.

"I'd like to share ownership like this, as it's more convenient than public transport and cheaper than owning a car by myself," she said.

"Of course, as it's electric, there's no problem with exhaust gases."

Cost-savings

For its part, the consumer electronic giant Matsushita focused on its range of domestic appliances designed to help consumers save the planet and money.

Bottles to be recycled
Teaching children about recycling
While there was no shortage of technical explanations for how its new Freon-free refrigerator worked, foot-high characters spelt out how it could also lighten the load on the household budget.

Hirofumi Fukunishi, a 30-year-old schoolteacher visiting the show from western Japan, said: "It's nice to pollute less, but I feel a lot better about saving on my electricity bills."

The range of eco-friendly kitchen appliances included hobs, kettles, microwaves and rice cookers, all with a detailed breakdown of likely financial savings.

Interestingly, although distinctly underplayed, the company's products now use the industry's first environmentally friendly lead-free solder.

Solar attractions

On the smaller stands, visitors lapped up a selection of weird and wonderful products.

One of the more interesting gadgets included Studio del Sole's Violetta Solargear, a pocket-sized solar power charger for mobile phones, PDAs and music players

And Nissho Engineering showed off its Tug Power, another novel phone charger, but operated this time by a manual pull-cord.

Tokyo-based internet retailer natural-sky.net drew crowds with its range of easily affordable solar-powered goods, including garden fountains, fans and domestic lighting.

But the strangest product at the show was actually more of a free how-to guide.

Kyoto-based Ryuz Lab's Earth-saving Hinemos system took a bite out of junk mail by turning it into tubular building pipes for children.

Instead of dumping the dreaded fliers, children learn about recycling by making the tubes and following the Hinemos instructions to turn them into an intricate T-rex, a dragonfly or a mechanical grabber.

One direction

The Eco-Products show reflects how seriously Japanese businesses take the environment.

They lead the world in the respected ISO 14001 certification for reducing environmental impact.

The country has almost 10,000 such certified companies, which compares to a UK figure of only 3,000.

Junko Edahiro, renowned environmental journalist and chief executive of the non-profit organisation Japan for Sustainability, explained her country's success could be down to "a typical Japanese follow-the-others mentality".

"I personally believe that for the environment, this Japanese mentality has worked very well, pushing everyone for the same direction," she says.

See also:

12 Apr 01 | Business
29 Jun 02 | Asia-Pacific
03 Jan 02 | Science/Nature
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