Whenever Tokyo appears in movies, it is usually depicted as a glitzy, technological city of the future; after spending some time in this city, I can confirm that there is indeed fact within the Hollywood fantasies. Tokyo, as well as other Japanese cities, have incorporated a variety of “smart” technologies into their societal frameworks that aid citizens in navigating the demands of everyday life. Because of Japan’s emphasis on the utilization of sustainable transportation such as mass transit and biking, many of these smart technologies are connected to this realm of society.
The smart technology that I have become most acquainted with during my time in Japan is the IC card, which is a prepaid train system card that allows users to simply tap their cards on a turnstile before and after they embark on the train to pay for their rides. Numerous cards exist under the umbrella of the Japan Rail system including Pasmo, Icoca, and Pitapa, but our students have been making use of the Suica card. The IC card is incredibly convenient because it allows users to load a desired amount of money onto their cards, with kiosks for adding more money onto cards located at every train station, thereby reducing the need for paper tickets. The MARTA system in Atlanta, Georgia has a similar feature known as the Breeze Card, but the Japanese IC cards prove to be more valuable due to the fact that they can be used to make small purchases at convenience stores as well as their ability to be made available on smartphones.
Another smart technology that has been implemented in Japan’s transit system is the presence of small digital screens within Tokyo’s train cars that display information including station names, stop times, and car numbers in addition to the weather and advertisements. These screens are helpful because they allow passengers to divulge important information without having to focus on the train conductor’s announcements or having to decipher a complicated map of the train system. Although these screens are present in the local train cars of Tokyo, they are absent from the local train cars of Kobe, which has caused me to have to pay more attention during my train rides in this new city. While the lack of digital screens in the Kobe train cars won’t inhibit me from utilizing the train system, the addition of this smart technology would definitely make riding the train a more convenient experience.
Aside from the train system, smart technology in Tokyo also comes in the form of car and bike storage. During our second day in Tokyo, our group had the pleasure of visiting Giken, a company renowned for automated parking facilities. We were brought to an ECO Cycle, which is an automated underground bicycle parking facility, and an ECO Park, which is an automated underground car parking facility, and we were able to view demonstrations of how both services work. Giken’s automated parking facilities contribute to sustainable development because they decrease the need for large parking lots and instead replace them with compact areas that can house not only cars but bikes as well. Although Giken has already established its parking facilities in countries such as Japan, the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom, it has only begun to penetrate these countries, so its impact on sustainable development will not be visible until the company further diffuses itself around the world.
As shown by the example of Japan, the implementation of smart technologies in a society can be an agent in stimulating sustainable development. Because smart technologies can help enhance the experiences of taking the train or riding a bike, they encourage individuals to utilize these more-sustainable forms of transportation. Despite the fact that progress can still be made even in Tokyo in the realm of smart technologies, the efforts to ensure a future that is both sustainable and convenient are promising.