While Japan might at times seem just to be one concrete jungle, there’s still a lot of nature around and even some cities maintain a rare balance between the forests of old and the convenience (stores) of new. Kyoto is one, where you can walk from Gion to the mountains in a relatively short amount of time.
Wood is of course the consummate Japanese material. It is used traditionally for houses, temples and bridges. However, wood also burns down easily, which is not great in a country prone to earthquakes and natural disasters.
And so, along with the demands of cheaper materials and urban living, wood has been replaced by concrete in most people’s domiciles. However, there are still craftsmen trying to make use of the material in new ways. And the traditional need not preclude the commercial.
Here’s a great example. The Nenrin Mini Healing Speaker is an audio speaker made with genuine Kitayama Kyoto cedar wood allowed to grow for 30 years before harvesting. The name plays on “Nenrin”, meaning growth ring, and the speaker is the result of a five-year development partnership between Kyoto Natural Factory and a Kyoto precious wood dealer.
There are two log designs and colors. You can get either a natural or dark finish, while the Jinshibo version is “treated” and polished, and the Deshibo speaker is 100% natural.
Since the wood is so old, not surprisingly the speakers don’t come cheap. However, knowing your speaker comes from sustainably-harvested materials will give you the moral high ground over your friends and their cheap made-in-China boomboxes, not to mention that this is a real work of art and with the natural materials enhancing the sound quality.
It reminds us of the Bon Bon Sound lacquerware speakers (sadly no longer available) from a few years back that combined superior audio quality with beautiful artisanship.
As the name tells itself, LowCarbonLife.net provides yet another possible solution for saving the earth. Online they have a variety of furniture on sale, but it’s neither the design nor the build-it-yourself concept that separates the brand from other competitors in the market. It’s JGBOARD, the patented material that makes the difference.
In short, JGBOARD is a 100% recyclable wooden board that is made from used paper. JGBOARD furniture, then, can be disposed of as recyclable waste just like ordinary cardboard boxes (which are collected separately and recycled in Japan).
Does this seemingly eco-friendly material only help us feel less guilty about throwing out or replacing old furniture? Well, according to their description, their product is just as durable as any other wooden furniture, yet is 40% lighter, about 50% cheaper and waterproof. There is no need to use any tools, as paper tubes and double stick tape replace the role of nails to connect each board. Their video tutorials are also great help to build each piece of furniture which, to be quite frank, looks much like just placing a different combination of colored cardboard boxes onto one another.
The low table on the left below is 3,900 yen and the single bed on the right is a mere 14,499 yen.
At first I felt nothing but great respect for whoever came up with the idea of making 100% recyclable furniture. And yet I can’t also help but question one phrase that is written in their product description – use it as disposable furniture and feel at ease. It seems as though JGBOARD furniture is specifically targeted at those who need a set of simple furniture for a short period of time. The demand for such product is surely expected to increase in spring as it is the time of the new school year and fiscal year, with many people moving in and out of their places.
I don’t mean to boast here but the wooden desk that I have at home has been with me for almost twenty years and I never intend to throw it out. It’s one thing to be eco-friendly and move toward a world where everything is recyclable, but I can’t help thinking there should be some other ways, too.
In post-Fukushima Japan, we need more projects like this.
While the LDP government slowly cranks up the return to full nuclear power, some Japanese corporations are being more realistic about the future. One of them is Kyocera, which has built the Kagoshima Nanatsujima Mega Solar Power Plant at a cost of $275.5 million.
The solar power plant is Japan’s largest and has a capacity of 70 megawatts. That’s enough to power some 22,000 Japanese homes (which are typically a bit smaller than American or European ones).
According to Kyocera, the plant “is being operated by a special purpose company established by Kyocera and six other companies to sell the electricity to a local utility under Japan’s feed-in-tariff (FIT) program.”
The Kyushu facility covers an area of 1,270,000m2, roughly the same area as 27 baseball stadiums.
Expectations and interest in solar energy have heightened to a new level in Japan with the need to resolve power supply issues resulting from the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 2011. To further promote the use of renewable energy, the Japanese government launched a restructured FIT program in July 2012, which stipulates that local utilities are required to purchase 100% of the power generated from solar installations of more than 10 kilowatts (kW) for a period of 20 years.
Kyocera is also being savvy about the PR advantages of being a green pioneer in Japan, not to mention how it can tie in with regional tourism, a formidable money-spinner. That’s why it is promoting the site not only for its long-term eco implications but also its own intrinsic value as a visiting destination for technology buffs (of which there are more than a few in Japan) or even sightseers hoping for good views of nearby Sakurajima.
Additionally, a tour facility has been built adjacent to the 70MW plant — which is open to the public — featuring a circular viewing room where visitors can observe the 290,000 solar panels from an elevated vantage point and enjoy the view of the ocean bay and grand Sakurajima volcano in the background. Display zones for visitors such as students and tourists provide information about environmental issues and the science behind photovoltaic energy generation. By dedicating this facility, all parties involved hope to foster a deeper understanding of renewable energy and further facilitate a low-carbon society.
Let’s hope that vision isn’t too far away.
Kagawa prefecture on Shikoku island, famed for its udon noodles, has found another way to turn its popular food to good use — power.
Chiyoda Manufacturing in Takamatsu City has announced “udon power generation” in which waste udon noodles are fermented to make methane gas, which is then burnt as fuel to drive electricity-generating turbines. This will be sold on to Shikoku Electric Power Company from September. In a year it is planned to make around 50 households’ power, or 180,000 kilowatt-hours. The generation facilities will also be available for purchase by other would-be noodle electricians.
The same company has already been manufacturing biomass ethanol gas from waste noodles from Kagawa and the methane gas plan emerged when they wanted to utilized the leftover materials from their previous bioethanol operations.
Using around 1 ton of raw garbage collected from restaurants and 1.5 tons of udon used in ethanol production, this then forms one day’s worth of fuel that is placed in the fermenting tub to be burnt. This produces methane gas, which drives turbines that generates electricity.
The plant can be operated for twenty-four hours a day and then sell its output for some 7 million yen a year. This value almost doubles when you add in the income the company receives for supplying waste disposal services to udon manufacturers and restaurants to take their waste noodles off their hands. Now that’s what we call an ace renewable energy business model.
The contour Coca-Cola bottle has to be one of the most iconic beverage vessels in the world.
But even when something is that established, it doesn’t mean it can’t be given new life sometimes when there is a great concept.
It’s a kind of eco idea fused with classic Japanese artisanship. The bottles will be “up-cycled” from degraded glass contour bottles. After all, Coca-Cola bottles are already collected, cleaned and recycled. But still some of course deteriorate over time and these are the ones that will now be turned into this superb new tableware range, courtesy of Oki Sato and his team at nendo.
Sato says: “We were captivated by the particular greenish-blue tint, fine air bubbles and distortions that are a hallmark of recycled glass, so decided to create simple shapes that would enhance these traits. But we also wanted users to feel a remnant of the distinctive bottle in the new products. Our solution was to create bowls and dishes that retain its distinctive lower shape, as though the top had been sliced off.”
“The dimpling on the bottle base that keeps the bottle from sliding is not ordinarily a strong visual feature, but it’s part of a bottle’s identity nonetheless, and visible to anyone who picks up the bottle to drink. Keeping these ring-shaped dimples on the base of our bowls and plates doesn’t just retain their non-slip quality, but also helps to convey important messages about the way that glass circulates between people as it’s made, used and recycled for further use, and about the connections it makes between people in this process.”
The actual creation of the final products has been entrusted to a small workshop in Aomori in northern Japan, known for its glass craftsmanship utilizing local traditions.
The resulting bowls and dishes are on sale priced from around ¥5,000 ($60) to nearly ¥15,000 (nearly $200). They will be on display as part of Design Tide Tokyo 2012 later this autumn (October 31st to November 4th) and then on sale at highly select stores in the capital in strictly limited numbers.
Fashion brand amadana has come up with this pseudo eco bag, the BAGTTERY, part power source and part quasi-luxury apparel. It sounds like a character from Game of Thrones but it is meant, you’ve guessed it, to be “bag + battery”.
The idea is that busy, busy shopping girls on Omotesando want to charge up their phones or tablets but stay on the move — and of course look good.
You can boost your phone to “around 2.5 charge”, courtesy of the USB battery inside the leather bag. It makes things a bit hefty though; the bag weighs in at nearly 1.5kg (3.3 lb)!
We’ve seen a few of these kinds of charging products before, from cheap USB bags and so on made by the likes of Thanko, to more impressive innovations in the Sanyo Eneloop series of mobile rechargeable gadgets.
This is clearly a cut above the rest; the price of this fashion accessory can set you back as much as ¥88,000 (over $1,000), depending on the top end store where you buy it.
This reminds of us of the eco bag boom, which also saw lots of fashion items emerge to suit energy-conscious consumers.
Japan’s eco trends are always fun to watch. You are never sure if you are looking at something really innovative — and frequently you are on the tech side — or just silly. The eco mottainai boom over the last few years has definitely veered that way, with every sundry item being labelled and sold as “My…” (chopsticks, bag, coffee tumbler etc). A marketing gimmick isn’t needed for something that should be common sense!
The March 2011 disaster was a real chance for Japan to rebuild, creating sustainable smart communities in Tohoku, and replacing aging hulks of nuclear reactors with off-shore wind farms, geothermal energy plants, tide power generators and so on.
The jury is still out — and for the foreseeable future — on whether the regional and central governments can defy their sclerotic stereotype and deliver a viable alternative for the next generation.