Within the past three weeks, our class has already gotten to experience the two megaregions of Japan: Greater Tokyo, which is comprised of Tokyo and its surrounding cities, and Keihanshin, which is composed of the major cities of Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe in addition to the smaller cities around this area. Even though people can easily traverse between Greater Tokyo and Keihanshin thanks to Japan’s exceptional railway system, the proximity of these megaregions to one another does not eliminate the existence of differences between the two. Both Greater Tokyo and Keihanshin possess their own unique customs and experiences that make each region worth visiting.
One difference that exists between Greater Tokyo and Keihanshin are their mass transit systems. I would not hesitate to say that the Greater Tokyo megaregion has the best, and perhaps even the busiest, transportation system in the world. The train stations were always bustling with activity, and I found myself standing rather than seated in the train cars more often than not. Due to the vast number of individuals who utilize the rail system of Greater Tokyo, it possesses extensive lines to transport commuters virtually anywhere they need to go, as well as top-of-the-line technological innovations to ensure that passengers’ rides are as expedient as possible. In contrast, although the mass transit systems employed in Keihanshin are still miles ahead of any of those utilized in the United States, they are still not at the level of the rail system of Greater Tokyo. I have taken the bus more frequently in Keihanshin than I ever did in Greater Tokyo, and the bus systems in Keihanshin leave something to be desired. I feel that the interiors of the buses could have been laid out in a better manner because essentially every bus ride I have taken in Keihanshin has led me to have to contort myself into some odd position for an extended period of time. In the case of Keihanshin’s rail system, it is better than the bus system but still doesn’t quite measure up to Greater Tokyo’s rail system due to the lack of smart technologies such as digital display panels in the train cars that make commuting more efficient.
Aside from transportation systems, I have also perceived a difference in the lifestyles of the individuals living in Greater Tokyo versus Keihanshin. While in Greater Tokyo, I noticed that the majority of the individuals living there were between the ages of about twenty and fifty years old, which means that a large portion of the population of Greater Tokyo is comprised of people of working age. This observation falls in line with the fact that many major companies have established themselves in Greater Tokyo, so it makes sense that many working age-individuals are living in this area. In contrast, I have noticed significantly more elderly people as well as children in Keihanshin. Although Keihanshin still sports lofty buildings and a vibrant nightlife like Greater Tokyo, Keihanshin contains more residential areas that are more suitable for starting a family or retiring. From my apartment in Kobe, I can often hear children playing and singing, which is something I never experienced in Tokyo except for on occasions when we would pass by a park.
Such diversity in societal aspects exists among the regions of Japan, which only has two megaregions, so one can only imagine the extensive range of differences between the numerous megaregions of the United States. Although many Americans like to boast their pride in their nation, citizens of differing regions of the country definitely have divergent customs and ways of life. For example, people from the southeastern United States are known for their alleged “southern hospitality”, which is portrayed through kindness, politeness, and charity; on the other hand, people from the northeastern United States are said to be colder and more indifferent towards others. Another instance of regionalism in the United States is differences between people from the East Coast versus the West Coast. Individuals who live in West Coast states such as California, Oregon, and Washington are stereotypically more free-spirited and liberal, whereas people who live more towards the eastern side of the United States, primarily in the south, are said to be more traditional and conservative.
Whether a country is as expansive as the United States or as small as Japan, differences will most likely exist between the various regions within the nations. Aspects of regionalism can be as concrete as disparities in transportation systems or as subtle as personality traits. Being presented with the opportunity to observe differences between Greater Tokyo and Keihanshin helped me realize that even countries as small and homogeneous as Japan can still have discernible distinctions from region to region.
The first week of this program was spent in Tokyo, a part of the Kanto region, we then proceeded to the travel leg and have ended up in Kobe, a part of the Kansai region. Even though these regions are part of the same country and are relatively close to each other (at least in an American standard) there are a lot of cultural differences between them.
The first difference that I observed was the way people stood on escalators. In the Kanto region, most people stand on the left side and leave the right for people in a rush. Whereas in the Kansai region, people stand on the right and leave the left side of the escalator for people in a rush.
The differences in escalator use between regions. (Image taken from CNN)
Another difference that I learned about was the dialect. The funniest difference I learned about was the word for "idiot." The Kanto region uses the word "baka" when referring to someone but often use it when referring to carelessness, whereas the Kansai region uses the word "aho" but use it when talking to people they are more familiar with.
Overall, there are a lot of differences between these two regions that usually go unnoticed by foreigners. The difference in language, food, culture, and many other things show the regionalism present in Japan. This regionalism can be compared to the one we see in the USA, especially in the North East and the South, where there are differences in language, food, culture, and other things.
The Kanto and Kansai regions on a map. (Image taken from CNN)
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.
Japan incorporates “smart technologies” into its sustainable development and has areas where it could incorporate more. They have technologies within the train system that are energy efficient and more equitable for the passenger. They also have technologies in daily life that are also more energy and water efficient, as well as some that are not.
Within their goal of achieving sustainable development, they have also included features that make it more convenient for the passenger that are “smart”. The metro cards, such as Suica, are able to be uploaded to your cellphone and a passenger is able to just touch their cellphone. The card may also be used in convenience stores within or near the train stations. This is very convenient for the passenger and gives the passenger a reason to also be sustainable with their mode of transportation.
Image 1: Suice on an Iphone X's Apple Pay. (Source)
The train company JR East is also investing resources towards creating more equitable and energy efficient technologies. JR East is currently working on creating check in stations that are more accessible to those that are handicapped and having a screen that is also accessible, not just from a standing position. They have designed seats that have raised edges that creates equal seating for men and women. They have also created trains that are electronically efficient with batteries to use when the trains do not have access to electricity. They are also constructing a train called the Maglev, which is magnetically powered which can be more efficient than conventional high-speed trains. JR East is also researching the potential energy transfer from one train during its deceleration to another train’s acceleration, drastically reducing the amount of power needed to accelerate trains, which is when energy is mostly consumed. JR East is invested in creating more equitable and energy efficient innovations.
Japan’s restrooms have also shown energy efficient features. Smaller restrooms such as within the National Olympic Youth Center and the Tokyo Palace Hotel have had motion sensors that turn off a lot quicker than any other restroom I have seen. Not only are the rooms energy efficient, but the toilets are also water efficient. Many toilets have a sink on top that pumps water out automatically. A lot of them also have the option to flush lighter, which is water efficient. However, many toilet seats are always heated and come with a touch panel. The seat is always heated during the day for the few minutes a person sit downs during a day. This seems like the use of energy is not being used to its maximum capacity. The toilets require an electrical input that seems like an abundant amount of electricity is being used for a few minutes of comfort.
Image 3: Japanese toilet with side panel and sink (Source)
Likewise, in the name of comfort, Japan uses a lot of plastic in order to make life more comfortable and convenient for the consumer. There is a lot of plastic packaging and items that come with products that are not sustainable. Many drinks and cups come with plastic straws or utensils. The grocery stores are lined up with numerous small items. It is a very difficult to buy in bulk as you would in the United States. Many items are individually packaged for the sake of using that one item and disposing it right after. There are bags that often have smaller individually packaged cookies or chips. Despite having modernized check-out systems and technology, there is a significant amount of plastic consumption.
Image 4: A store with plethora of small plastic packaging. (Source)
The last few weeks in Japan has shown me many instances of “smart technology”. Their transit is efficient, and JR East is looking towards creating more efficiency and equity within their trains and train stations. The bathrooms have also given me a glance of areas that Japan is efficient and in other ways, where it is not. The features on the toilet are great, but in regards to energy efficiency, are not so. The grocery stores are also another place that highlights where more technology could play a factor in their reduction of plastic consumption. Like all countries, including the United States, Japan has many areas with smart technologies and areas that are still working on in achieving sustainability.
Our group has observed many technologies in Japan that make living and commuting easier and more sustainable. These smart technologies are incorporated in all aspects of life and society and are sometimes more related to policy measures just as much as technological innovation. One example of these smart technologies are the rail line cards, such as the Suica card that we used to move between rail stations throughout Japan. The Suica card can be scanned in and out of stations, allowing for lines of passengers to move quickly and efficiently. These cards can easily be obtained, and money can be added conveniently at any of the stations when needed. This technology is one of the cornerstones of the Japan rail system. While such systems also exist in other places around the world, Japan’s system is the most extensive and convenient, as the Suica card can be used in any location in Japan, rather than being restricted to a single city or megaregion.
One other example of smart technologies in Japan is the presence of more compact personal transportation vehicles. Cars in Japan tend to be much smaller than those in America, allowing for more to fit on roads, and to drive down narrow roads in which pedestrians and bikers share the path. Mopeds are common in the streets as well, taking up even less space than cars and therefore allowing for more efficient flow of traffic. While not cutting-edge technologies, these vehicles and their implementation in the streets of Japan is nevertheless sustainable, allowing people to travel as directly as possible between locations and decrease idle traffic.
Another smart technology that can be seen in Japan are the vending machines spread across the country. Like convenience stores, their presence is as much of a policy decision as a technological innovation, but it is one that allows for citizens to quickly get food and drinks at almost any location. Vending machines are also used at stores such as ramen shops to speed up the process of ordering food. Like Japan’s personal vehicles, these machines have a small footprint, which is particularly useful in Japan’s densely populated environment. The widespread pervasiveness and accessibility of the vending machines also means that people will never need to worry about finding a place to eat if they are away from home.
There are, however, some aspects in which smart technologies can still be introduced to Japan. One example of this is the dryers in Japan. In my experience so far, Japanese dryers are rather ineffective, and while that may save energy in the long run, it is also inconvenient. One technology that could be implemented is a more energy-efficient system that is capable of drying clothes, or even just a retractable clothesline system in rooms that allows for clothes to be dried without taking up much space. Another potential area for implementation of smart technologies in Japan is in transit for schoolchildren and college students. This is particularly important to me as the transit time to and from the Kobe University campus in which we are taking classes is 50 minutes despite only being a few miles from the dorms. The existence of an express rail system or designated roads for buses could lower the commuting time. While Japan already has a number of smart technologies that increase the country's overall sustainability, there is always room for future innovation.
Japan has been forced into a position of being the world’s leader in creative and smart technology; being an island nation with few resources and a miniscule percentage of usable land mass means that they must create valuable exports or suffer economic dependence on other countries. Even coming from America, another tech hub, I have been incredibly impressed with the advanced nature of every technology I have encountered since arriving. Everything from transit to toilets is far beyond anything that I have ever encountered in my lifetime, but that is not to say that everything here is all perfect. One thing I find very interesting about Japan’s technologies is the gap between them; for example, they have the highest-class transit on the planet and yet cannot create functioning dryers. Putting my nitpicky observations aside, though, the way that Japan has handled their technological development is wildly impressive.
On a large scale, Japan is filled with metropolitan hubs packed with millions of people in tiny areas, and the fact that they can sustain this packed population is only made possible by their technological development with regards to public transit. Were it not for their timely, convenient trains and top-of-the-line shinkansen, the country would not be able to withstand their own people. Even just the thought of Tokyo’s population attempting to use something as underdeveloped as our own transportation system, MARTA, is enough to send chills down one’s spine. Going so far as to investigate how the country would run if the same percentage of people used cars here as were used in Atlanta would be catastrophic when considering traffic and emission levels, but every area in Japan has ensured that they are more than equipped enough for inter and intracity travel.
On top of the much-discussed transit system, Japan is also known for their state-of-the-art computers, televisions, and entertainment systems. We experienced this first-hand all over the country, but especially in Tokyo (namely Akihabara), the sight of the neon electo city is enough to make anyone’s head spin. While at first glance all the technology seems excessive and over-the-top, I realized while I was there what a tourist hub it is. Though this may sound superficial, tourist traps are actually incredibly important to Japan’s sustainability, as they bring in a large amount of revenue to the country with a rapidly declining workforce. Yes, the neon lights and games and technology centers may seem unnecessary, but they are part of Japan’s international identity, and this identity could end up making or breaking their economic sustainability in the near future.
Even aside from large-scale technologies which have gained the island a lot of international attention, some other less talked about technologies have also impressed me a lot since arriving. The first thing that blew me away technologically speaking was, believe it or not, the bathrooms here. Even just a single Japanese toilet has an astounding amount of environmentally friendly technology. From built-in sinks in many residential buildings to solid and liquid waste options, Japan has created several inventive ways for something so mundane to be an icon of environmental sustainability. There are other day to day technologies which have also impressed me here, for example, showers that time how long you need water, fridges that remind you to shut the door when cold air begins to escape, etc, are also ways in which Japan is trying to create an environmentally sustainable future.
Japan is not, however, without its shortcomings with regards to technology. As mentioned, the dryers barely work, but this is because Japanese people tend to air dry their clothes as an alternative. That being said, however, with an ever-growing tourist industry and the necessity to make up for a dying workforce with foreigners, perhaps it is time for Japan to make a few tweaks to daily activities such as drying clothes to be truly sustainable in the long run.
Often in modern society, “smart” technology is defined as technology that has access to the internet. However, “smart” technology can have many different definitions. One such definition is the ability for a technology to self-monitor and respond to certain stimuli. Another, which I choose to adopt for this discussion, is any technology that is more beneficial, economical, or convenient than the technology it replaces.
Japan is well known for their transportation network; their train systems are fast, reliable, and convenient. It is no surprise that they are constantly improving their technologies. Japan has prepaid cards can be used almost universally in the transportation realm and even in some non-transit applications. The cards are applicable all around Japan, making transit easy and accessible. The more convenient public transit is, the more people will use it, and the more sustainable the system is. The cards are also becoming compatible with newer smart phones, allowing the phone to replace the card. The amount of information available at the train stations also makes the stations more convenient and user friendly. In larger train stations, there are interactive screens that will display destinations inside the station and directions on how to get there. The information screens are extremely helpful to non-locals and keep the stations running efficiently.
During my stay in Japan, I’ve also noticed automatic fixtures are very common. Automated air conditioning, lights, sinks, and toilets are conventional in America, but in Japan they are almost universal. These devices are energy saving by nature. However, Japan has automatic doors that don’t have a sensor. Instead the doors have a button that you can push, and they automatically open. This is better than the standard automatic doors since they are much less likely to be triggered accidentally. Another notable aspect of Japan is the universal free Wi-Fi. The widespread Wi-Fi makes it easy to get around the city, talk to locals, and find information. The most unfamiliar characteristic of Japanese smart technology is the sinks resting atop the toilets. Once the toilet is flushed, the sink tap turns on, allowing the user to wash their hands while the runoff water fills the toilet tank. This significantly reduces water usage.
Even with all of these smart technologies, Japan could benefit from smart technologies that currently exist in America. Japan has a large issue surrounding plastic consumption; everything is wrapped in plastic, sometimes in two or three different wrappers. Smart garbage technology could make this trash more manageable or even reduce the amount of trash altogether. In the Atlanta airports, trashcans are self-compacting. Such garbage bins could automatically crush cans and bottles, reducing the space they require. An alternative to compacting garbage cans is “Pay as You Throw” garbage system. With these trash cans, a fee is required to deposit trash. These disposal bins would not be effective in many countries because people would litter instead of paying a small fee. However, in Japan, littering is nonexistent. Having to pay to throw garbage away may reduce the amount of disposables consumed. Another smart technology growing in the U.S.A. are water fountains with reusable bottle refilling capabilities. Japan has very few water fountains, and none I have encountered have the tap for water bottles. These fountains could promote reusable water bottles reduce the amount of plastic water bottles purchased. A final smart technology that Japan could benefit from is found on Georgia Tech’s own campus. On west campus, just outside the Love Building, is a picnic bench shaded by two solar panels situated above the table. The picnic table is also equipped with four outlets. Japan has many parks and outdoor areas where such tables could be placed, generating clean energy and using that energy to charge peoples devices.
People all around the world value convenience. Smart technology consistently makes life more convenient and is constantly evolving. Japan has many desirable smart technologies that also make the country more sustainable, but they could also benefit from observing and implementing smart technologies from other countries.
(First of all: apologies in advance for pictures being sideways and videos being linked instead of embedded. GT is giving me an error when I try to embed the images and videos. I will try to fix the issues for next post.)
In some areas, Japan’s technological progress has amazed me. However, I am surprised that such an advanced country is lacking in other areas.
One of the technologies that I first encountered, and have grown to love, are the toilets. There are so many options to make the experience comfortable. Often, there are cleaning wipes so you can sit directly on the seat (they are heated!). Most of these features are more for comfort than sustainability, but there are environmental and social features too. Many of the toilets I’ve used have settings for different flush levels to save water, including the toilets in our dorms. This toilet also has a faucet on the top, so when you flush it refills the toilet and you can rinse your hands simultaneously (not gross toilet water, regular sink water). This feature saves water, although I am still trying to figure out where hand soap comes in this process (I feel weird not using soap, so I wash my hands after the toilet rinse). There are also baby holders in some of the public bathrooms I’ve encountered. This is helpful for mothers to bring their children on errands so they can be more time efficient. I doubt there is the same in the men’s restrooms, but if they incorporated that, it would be great for increasing gender equality.
Another technology I have encountered is sliding automatic doors. In the states, most automatic doors are in supermarkets where you would be carrying bags. In Japan, almost all doors I’ve encountered are automatic doors. I’ve become so used to them that when I encounter a door I have to push or pull, I do a double take. These doors help prevent germs from spreading since there are no handles. They are also helpful for older people or people with disabilities who might have a hard time opening the doors. They allow for people to have their hands full, maybe carrying a child or bags. Another benefit is that the sliding doors take up less space which helps with the high population density. Overall, automatic sliding doors are a sustainable in a variety of ways. One downside might be that they use electricity, but this can be a neutral effect if the electricity comes from a reusable source.
One smart technology that has the potential to be so much more sustainable are vending machines. There are so many vending machines in Japan. Unfortunately, almost all the bottles are made of plastic. While there are receptacles for these bottles specifically, reducing plastic use is much more effective than recycling in terms of sustainability. In my opinion, the vending machines don’t have to disappear, but they could instead use dispensing vending machines. There are fancy Coca-Cola machines in Atlanta that pour a huge variety of drinks while being easy and fun to use. They don’t incorporate a payment system, but if the price was set by the type and amount of beverage, this could eliminate the need for bottles. At Tech, everyone carries around a water bottle. If people in Japan had personal water bottles and refilled them with any drink from a vending machine, the plastic use would go down dramatically while still being profitable. One minor issue is figuring out how to refill these machines, which would be harder than with bottles but certainly doable.
Japan has many smart technologies that make the country sustainable. There are areas where they could improve, and I hope they do. I also hope we implement some of these useful technologies in the US and other countries. One major lesson I’ve learned on this trip so far, is that all the countries in the world could learn a little bit more from each other; that would be nice.
Our travel week is over :( but now we're in Kobe studying with a class twice the size of us! We talked about smart cities in our first lecture together. A smart city is one that uses digital ICTs (Information and Communication Technologies) and other new technologies to improve citizen's lives. These new technologies can help promote sustainable development by providing data and increasing efficiency for all groups of people. They also have the potential to make a country more resilient, as seen in earthquake-resistant structures. There are several ways that I've seen Japan fit the mold of a sustainable city. Although some of these technologies seem unnecessary, Japan is a clear leader for integrating smart technologies for environmental efforts and social inclusion.
My immediate observations about tech here is its appearance in food. On Ramen Street, we ordered by pressing a button. Other places, I've ordered by an app.
Toilets are also honestly an amazing technology here. As a combination of western design and eastern bidet practices, it is amenable to many people. The toilets in our new apartments have a built in sink that also pours water in to refill the tank.
Both the food and toilet technology may seem small, but they're contributing a lot to sustainability issues in the country. Tech in restaurants helps limit the number of people needed to run it—and for a country that's losing its workforce this is a practical solution for the future. Toilets with built-in faucets help conserve water and space.
Our tour of Giken way back in week one was another example of smart technologies. Their silent press-in system helps eliminate noise emitted by construction. Their Eco-Park design also conserves space and saves people time by providing an automated valet.
When I think of unnecessary technologies, my usual frame of reference is thinking about how that time/money could have been spent more effectively. For example, when we visited Fukushima, our tour started with a movie played at the TEPCO decommissioning archive center. The video was combined elements of digital and paper media to illustrate the explosions, and part of the video was projected on the ground. It was a really well-designed movie but it lacked any discussion about how TEPCO is trying to make a change. What else could've been done in the time to make that very tech-savvy video? Maybe increased efforts to help people more who were personally affected by the mistakes made during the nuclear disaster.
That being said, smart technologies are being introduced in Fukushima. Solar panels are becoming common, and hydrogen as a source of power is being explored in the region. New sources of energy can help improve citizen's lives and safety.
As seen, there are many instances where Japan is investing into smart technologies. Some are small, but almost all are improving citizen quality of life. Other efforts may not really be necessary, but I also recognize the functionality of technology also varies by the person. The fact that Japan is working on tech-involved parking systems and forms of energy illustrates how much of a leader it has become in the realm of sustainability.
Robots, gadgets, high-speed trains . . . Whenever I think of Japan, its advanced technology immediately comes to mind. Japan is known around the world for its technological development. Having now been in Japan for three weeks, I can attest that Japan’s incorporation smart technology has transformed and continues to transform the living experience within their cities.
In Japan, smart technologies are particularly seen through the development of ECO cycles and ECO parks. With these technologies, a simple scan of a card provides access to a compact entrance that transports vehicles to an underground parking lot. These parking lots can store hundreds of bicycles and cars, so high parking capacity is achieved in a small space. Rather than creating clutter, the entrance is designed to suit the surrounding environment, harmonizing with the landscape rather than clashing with it. Utilizing this technology also creates more comfortable walking spaces and increases the convenience of city parking.
The entrance of the ECO Cycle.
Japan’s transit system is another prime area where smart technology is incorporated. During my first week in Japan, I rode a monorail, where the front of the train was completely empty as it was entirely operated by an AI system. Technology is now shifting towards automated rather than manual control, which provides greater precision and reduces problems that can emerge from human error. Within the transit sector, smart technology is also seen in advancements made with the Suica card, a card typically used to pay transit fees. This card can now be added as a digital card on Apple Wallet, allowing users to simply place their phone on the card reader to enter or exit a station. Around a week ago, I paired my Suica card to my own phone, and I have been able to add money to my account and keep track of expenses with a couple of taps. This has created an even more seamless traveling experience.
Screenshot from my Apple Wallet.
Smart technology is also incorporated within the train stations themselves. In the underground mall at Tokyo Station, there was a robot that was able to respond to questions asked in English. Particularly when we asked where a ramen restaurant was located, it quickly provided a map with directions. Service robots are now able to communicate with users over multiple languages, which provides easy-to-access information. Especially in a place such as Tokyo, which hosts a large number of tourists, having technology that readily provides important information is vital.
A service robot at Tokyo Station.
While Japan is most definitely at the forefront of technological developments, there do exist areas where the inclusion of additional technology could be used to create an even smarter city. When I first arrived at the Kobe University dormitory, I was shown the trash disposal area. Our guide emphasized how important it was to separate our recyclable material into the appropriate categories because there was a worker who was tasked with ensuring the trash was sorted correctly. This is an extremely tedious process; thus, technology could be further developed to introduce robots that are able to sort the material to improve efficiency. Additionally, while there are some service robots already implemented in various stations, service robots can also be placed in other touristy areas such as by gardens or castles. Often times, these areas are inundated with visitors and accessing information can be difficult; therefore, having service robots that would be able to communicate and provide answers in various languages would beneficial.
Over these past few weeks, I have been making a multitude of observations of Japanese lifestyle, accumulating countless examples of both smart and sustainable development. While like with all countries, there are areas where improvements can be made, there still is much to be learned from how Japan plans its cities. Japan is a key player in the production and incorporation of smart technology, and it continuously makes advancements to improve society.