LED lights at Shibuya crossing
Over the course of our stay in Tokyo and exploring during the travel leg, I have experienced several information and community technologies (ICTs) that show Japan’s commitment to cultivating smart cities. These innovations not only promote sustainability, but also improve the everday lives of Japanese citizens by increasing accessibility and limiting the waste of resources. Some of these technologies exist in the United States, but many are still unique to Japan. However, there are some areas where the Japanese have not yet introduced smart technologies that could aid in their mission for sustainable development.
Shinkansen at the platform
One major part of Japan’s organizational structure in which it has implemented smart technologies is within its transportation system. As we have studied this summer, Japanese railways are extremely efficient and are able to move people in and between major cities. The Tokyo Metro has an expansive network of 13 lines that makes it possible for millions of people to travel around the entire city each day. Moreover, the Shinkansen bullet train is one of the fastest trains in the world and makes inland traveling much easier for many of the Japanese. In addition to the train infrastructure itself, the stations and auxiliary transit are constantly developing new technologies that make them more accessible and sustainable. JR East has created handicap-accessible Suica card readers as well as automatic detection systems that raises or lowers the roof of the station according to the number of people present. The buses that we take each day to Kobe University have push-to-stop buttons in order to eliminate unnecessary stoppage and improve traffic flow. These transportation innovations only scratch the surface of what Japan has done and will continue to do to provide intelligent public transit.
Fukushima solar farm
Source: Minoru Karamatsu
Japan has also introduced smart and sustainable energy sources. Japan currently supplies about 10% of its electricity from renewable energy technology and has pledged to increase that number by another 15% by 2030. They have installed solar panels in less inhabited regions, invested in wind turbines on the leeward sides of mountains, and have developed leading hydroelectricity technologies. In addition to generating cleaner energy sources, Japan has also implemented electricity-saving measures in its major cities. Many restaurants and hostels we have visited use motion-detecting lights or LED lightbulbs. Household appliances tend to run on a lower wattage, which in the case of our dryers has encouraged us to hang our clothes outside to dry each night. Japan’s commitment to developing energy efficient ICTs will both reduce their consumption of fossil fuels and limit their overall electricity demand.
Giken Eco-Park via Giken
Another way Japan has incorporated smart technologies with sustainable development is through their infrastructure. During our stay in Tokyo, we got to visit Giken, a construction company with the mission to “contribute to the world by creating original products and technologies that benefit society.” In addition to learning about their products and their environmentally-friendly press-in method for pile penetration, we got to take a tour and experience some of these technologies firsthand. They have installed “eco-park” garages that efficiently store vehicles in compact underground spaces. This system limits the amount of land being taken up by empty vehicles and promotes sustainable urban development. Similarly, they have an eco-cycle system that encourages bicycle usage by removing the eyesore of illegally parked bikes. This underground facility ensures safety and security while also saving land for other public use. Smart construction technologies will be crucial to the establishment of smart cities as they will use a more sustainable means to get to a sustainable end.
Food waste in Tokyo streets
Overall, Japan has invested in research and innovation to produce some of the world’s most groundbreaking ICTs, which has made them a world leader in smart cities development. However, there are some areas I have noticed that could use some improvement, particularly with waste management. While the Japanese have established an efficient plastic bottle recycling system, the other forms of waste disposal are lacking and unnecessary use of plastic packaging is common. Almost any fruit or vegetable in a convenience store or supermarket is wrapped in an extra layer of non-recyclable plastic, which ultimately ends up getting incinerated. Additionally, there are no easy options for paper recycling and composting does not seem to be a common practice. If Japan were to introduce these initiatives, they could simplify their waste management system and promote sustainable development by limiting unnecessary waste.