I felt a sort of similarity when we rode our first train in Kyoto last week; it was like going from the relative flatness of Atlanta to the rolling mountains of Appalachia. Except this was the transition from Tokyo and Fukushima to Kyoto—a new beautiful country with monkeys and native bamboo forests at the tops of those mountains. Keihanshin, our new megaregion.
The mountains in Keihanshin have been the most blatant regional observation that I've observed the past few weeks from the Kanto region. In the cities I've been in so far in Keihanshin (Kyoto, Kobe and Osaka), the mountains make for longer rail rides. Here in Kobe, I find myself riding on Rapid express lines more than anything. To get to school, it takes a 50 minute train and bus commute to get from our dorm up where the main campus is. But trains are also quieter and simpler to navigate—I haven't had to cram myself into a rail car yet and our local station in Kobe (Fukae) only has one rail line going through it.
Apart from differences in transit, our classes have discussed regionalism in language. Some words change from Tokyo to Kobe such as "baka" becoming "aho" for "fool", or "arigatō" becoming "ōkini" to mean "thanks." Our Kobe classmates said that these words are often used interchangeably, which suggests that the regional vocabulary isn't strict. There is also a difference in dialect apparently from these two regions, but I don't have the ear to notice a distinction yet.
Another shift in the Keihanshin region is that I'm back to my American roots while walking; people walk on the right side here. Or at least, that's where the arrows are in stations, but I think there are so many tourists and commuters here that it gets confusing. I was trying to find the etiquette for this region online and found out it's more complicated than I thought:
"Interestingly, people in Kyoto behave differently on the escalators on different train or subway lines in Kyoto. For JR lines and subway lines, which mainly run in Kyoto city, most of the people stand on the left side when taking the escalator. While for Hankyu lines, Keihan line and Kintetsu lines, which connect Kyoto to its neighborhood such as Osaka and Nara, more people stand on the right side." (https://www.getaroundjapan.jp/archives/4730)
It's definitely confusing for me now because I just became used to walking on the left.
I've only really been settled in this new region for a week, so there are likely more evidence of regionalism that I have yet to experience. But so far, it's been my favorite part of the country as I feel really connected to nature. Almost too connected; I went on a run last week to try to scale one of the hilly areas near me and was deterred by a sign for wild boars. I'm hoping to get over my fear and climb Mount Rokko (Kobe's signature peak) in the next week or so.
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)
(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.
These past three weeks, I have taken numerous modes of transportation from Kyoto's city bus and Tokyo's trains to Hiroshima's ferry and the Shinkansen and learned about various aspects of Japan's culture and practices. Little did I know that all around me were installations of smart technologies that all work towards creating more sustainable cities.
During the first week in Tokyo, we visited Giken to learn more about the company's efforts towards parking facilities by taking advantage of underground spaces. Company representatives demonstrated for us both their bicycle and automobile parking systems, in which both the former and latter contain hundreds of units to prevent cluttering of public areas and to also conserve space from up above (which is especially needed for Japan's high population density). Giken has also developed a soundproof technology called the press-in method, which uses static loading with zero noise and vibration at construction sites. This smart technology, therefore, allows for any important construction to occur right beside people's homes without disturbing them with the usual noise that is commonly heard right on Georgia Tech's campus.
Additionally, Google Maps has advanced its technology by coordinating with the public transit system in Japan. To get to your destination, the application will list when the train will arrive as well as the optimal car to board; this way, you will be closest to the exit and get out the fastest when you arrive at your designated stop. In most trains, but more so in Tokyo, there are overhead displays that, for each of the next few stops, show the time remaining until the train will arrive at those particular stops.
I also learned about the innovations that JR East is currently working on during our visit to their Research and Development Facility in Tokyo several weeks ago. One development is a new ticket gate in which the top surface will slant inwards so that wheel-chair bound individuals can easily tap their ticket onto the scanner without any difficulties. The company is also working with laser technology, so that a sensor hanging from the ceiling can detect all commuters carrying a card or ticket without them having to scan it at the machine. This would increase time efficiency and reduce congestion at the ticket gates, especially during rush hour.
It has only been a short three weeks, but I have already learned a lot about sustainable development with respect to Japan's infrastructure, transportation systems, public spaces, and more. I hope that for the next two months, I will come to recognize more smart technologies that Japan has implemented and how these systems will help the country's approach towards sustainable development.
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.
The last three weeks of this trip have been very informative and enlightening on the advancement in “smart technologies” in Japanese society. From innovations in transit services with the JR, to improved, sustainable parking methods from the Giken company and their eco-parking systems, Japan is continuously showing why it is leading in the race of creating smarter cities.
In the beginning of our trip, we toured the Giken company observing and learning about their eco cycle and car parking systems. They can park over 200 bikes and 50 cars in their underground parking units, which are a cylinder shape. The system works in where you park your car, receive a ticket of its storage spot, and then when you come back, you insert your ticket and the computer retrieves your car for you. This parking system is “smart” indeed by saving space in the city with smaller parking space which always for more space to build other beneficial “smart” and green systems instead of having clunky, cement parking lots taking up an unnecessary number of square miles.
On another tour, we observed some of the newest initiatives in improving JR East transit systems. One project was relating to the boarding and departing the trains, where instead of a simple waist level barrier separating the customer form the tracks, it is whole fence-like barrier that rises and lowers upon arrival and departure of the train. This will increase customer safety and further decrease the chances of people committing suicides on the railways. The JR East employees also showed our group an improved version of the Suica card scanner. This scanner, differing from the present box gate look, has the scanning part at an angle and also above the customer suspended from the ceiling, providing more convenient access to customers, specifically to handicapped passengers in wheelchairs and shorter customers to scan their card with less strain. These are just two examples from the JR company to make more sustainable transit systems, working with “smarter” technology.
With these and the countless other examples in the making, Japan is displaying very “smart” and sustainable technological advances to make their environment healthier and people having easier access and convenience in their everyday lives.
Over the past three weeks, I have been observing many different examples of smart technologies in Japan. A smart technology is anything that improves the everyday lives of all citizens of an area. The technologies have emerged out of Japans megaregions because megaregions are usually the sources of technological innovation. Cities that implement these technologies are referred to as “smart cities” are usually leading cities in sustainability.
The first smart technologies I witnessed in Japan were the underground parking garages for cars and bikes. These were essentially parking hubs that robotically stored one’s car or bike and then returned it when needed. These improve people’s lives and preserve the beauty of the city by eliminating massive above ground parking structures or cluttered parking lots. The automated parking systems have been implemented in certain areas of Tokyo, but I have yet to see them in other cities in Japan. I also feel that the United States could benefit from implementing a technology like this because a lot more people own and drive personal vehicles. The underground parking garage technology could also be used for Bird and Lime scooters, which would help clean the streets of scooters laying around everywhere.
I also witnessed a variety of smart technologies while touring the JR East Research and Development facility. The people over at JR East were working on multiple innovations that will improve the lives of every utilizing their transit systems. The most impressive technology I observed there was the adjustable train station ceiling. If implemented, this ceiling would adjust in height to correct airflow depending on how many people were walking through the station. Another innovation that JR East was working on was their new prepaid card scanner. This is almost the same thing that is currently being used, however, its aim is to make scanning in or out of train stations easier for wheelchair users by placing the scanner at an angle to the gate.
These are just a few examples of smart technologies that have been developed and implemented in Japan, however, there are still many ideas that can be produced to improve our lives.
One of the key factors in pushing for a place to become sustainable is to ensure you have technology that will allow you to keep doing so. Japan is a place that has done a great job in implementing such technologies. I will write about some of these "smart" technologies that I have observed in my past three weeks here.
The Suica card is similar to a Marta breeze card, it enables passengers to be able to pay for their train rides with it. One thing that sets it apart from any other metro/train card is that it can be used to pay for various forms of travels, ranging from the Shinkansen to a city's street car service (it is accepted at most vending machines too) regardless of which company operates the service. This cooperation between companies to allow for users to have the most convenient journey by allowing them to reduce the number of payment methods they have to carry to only one card is the perfect implementation of a smart technology.
A passenger putting their Suica card at a gate of a train station. Image from gogonihon.com.
The next smart technology that I saw was something that has not been implemented yet. I saw it at the JR East Research Facility. It was a ceiling whose height could be adjusted. They used this to imitate the heights of different stations but it could also be used to adjust the temperature of stations in a more efficient way. I can see this method having the potential of saving a lot of money in heating/cooling expenditure and adjust how air conditioners are used in a way that is better for the environment.
Another smart technology I learned about was also at the JR East Research Facility. They are developing translucent solar panels that can be placed on windows of trains and train stations. I found this very impressive as if this is successfully implemented it will increase the amount of renewable energy used while also saving money for the companies running train stations and trains (which are usually the same).
Overall, there have been a lot of smart technologies that I have seen in Japan and I could talk about them all day. I am impressed by how technology development is approached by taking sustainability into mind and also how companies are willing to work with each other here.
Giken, a company making underground parking for cycles and cars. This is another example of a "smart" technology. Image taken from Giken.com.
We praised Tokyo’s sustainable development surrounding their transit system; however, in towns outside of this megaregion, they do not have these capabilities. The towns within the prefecture of Fukushima, the preferred mode of transportation was cars. In front of every retail center, there was parking spots and parking lots, indicating people needed to travel by car in order to reach these destinations. In Kyoto, a much older city, the roads are much smaller. It seems that within these condensed patches of infrastructure, bikes and walking are the preferred mode of transportation. With towns within Fukushima, power plants have taken advantage of the hardly dense population for the rest of the country. Prior to the nuclear reaction, the plant in Fukushima powered most of Tokyo. Unfortunately, these are the areas that are susceptible to a nuclear reaction or other hazardous materials such as hydrogen because of this reason.
Resilient is not an adjective I thought could describe a city or a community beforehand. The towns of Fukushima show true resilience. The people did not abandon the city even when there was nothing left to return to for some. There were no more jobs and for some, no more homes. Towns that had been there the last 1200 years were wiped. All the town’s history, important monuments, and people’s homes were all gone in a matter of a few hours. In place of these towns, the have built a seawall all alongside in order to mitigate further damage in the future. They have also built new homes for those who were forced to evacuate. They are slowly one by one tearing down homes that were affected by the earthquake and tsunami. The amount of current movement that bustles in and out carrying soil bags was impactful. They did not leave the city to let nature took over. The amount of work that goes into removing the entire surface of multiple towns sounds like a development nightmare. There is a lot of current movement, even eight year later, in these towns that are building infrastructure in place in order to mitigate and rebuild livable conditions.
Image 1: The seawall supplies next to the last standing school.
Image 2: New homes rebuilt for the evacuees.
Not only are they keen on physically rebuilding, they want to rebuild their community. The sheer determination from Mayor Toshitsuna Watanabe of Okuma really left an impact on me. Even after 8 years, he still considered himself the mayor of the town and never stopped working on his duties ever since the day of the evacuation. He still felt ownership and responsibility over his town. He is aware that the elderly in the community are the ones who want to come back and he is recreating a home for them because they do not have the economic stability to work in another place and restart their lives. They just want to retire and finish their lives in their beloved home. I am touched that so many resources and money are going to the reconstruction of this town primarily for its elderly inhabitants.
Image 3: Georgia Tech students and Mayor Toshitsuna Watanabe of Okuma.
I am touched by our tour guides who are still tirelessly trying to make the city a home for themselves and for their loved ones. This is their home and their history, and they will continue to rebuild. I also believe it says a lot of the Japanese culture and their beliefs. They value tradition and innovation. They are rebuilding their communities that have significant history and taking the opportunity to do things better. They took the opportunity to convert to 100% renewable energy and have flooded their fields with solar panels and a hydrogen plant. I am very impressed with the determination of the government, the people, the businesses, and the overall community. I do believe the towns once affected by a triple disaster will be the epitome of a resilient community for others in the world to emulate.
Image 4: Georgia Tech students with our tour guides.