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Dialog with an Uncertain Future / Excerp (Irregular updates)

The 54th Installment"The modality of an ultra-low-energy society "

by Hiroshi Hashimoto,
Professor, Master Program of Innovation for design and Engineering

The modality of an ultra-low-energy society

In 2025, at the point when Asian countries became huge oil-consuming nations, Japan is having a hard time importing oils and the government started policies to completely ban all oil-consuming equipment and facilities. For that reason, the provision of lifelines, logistics, and information has been brought under control at the city level to realize an ultra-low-energy society. It means that the government is trying to realize a super-efficient society that allows the supply of logistics, energy, and information on a real-time basis within a small region in urban areas only when necessary. Additionally, thanks to the recent phenomenon of a declining population, the realization of a super-efficient society is advancing in suburban cities, where it is easier to redevelop the infrastructure, and people are gradually moving to those suburban cities.
The above column, which I wrote in December 2010 as the chairperson of the Committee on the Next Generation Industrial System Technology of the IEEJ Industry Applications Society, appeared in the Journal of the Institute of Electrical Engineers of Japan (March 2011) ( nl_2011.html). At that time, astounding economic growth in China, ASEAN, and India was causing a higher consumption of energy and food, and it was no wonder that imports into Japan would eventually run out (Note 1). Although it is of course important to reestablish national policies, trading, and the entire economy system to stop the depletion, following the ancient teachings that things should be assumed from both perspectives all the time as mentioned at the beginning, I think I held a sunnier view of the future realizing an ultra-low-energy society. When I wrote the column, I thought that it would be years down the road before the government and people would start taking an ultra-low-energy society seriously. Until the occurrence of the Tohoku Earthquake in March 11, 2011, I never dreamed that a disaster would cause such a pressing situation.
Now, let's take a moment and think about an ultra-low-energy society, which is unique to Japan. I consider it a close synonym of smart cities and use the term.
There are a few tacit conditions that are unique to Japan:
 1. Allows production activities
 2. Urban functions should be highly functional
These are the two vital conditions for Japan. As for the first condition, Japan is a country without a rich endowment of natural resources, and it survives with an economy that relies on the export of products to other countries. Production includes not only the traditional engineering products, but also culture, arts, and services. The second one considers the characteristics of the Japanese people as well organized. My friends overseas often say that Japanese people are punctual. It is not too much to say that their punctiliousness helped win the confidence of the international community with regard to manufacturing. So, society should not be the way that would lose their punctiliousness. Among the urban functions, the importance of punctiliousness is called into question when it comes to public transportation. Trains and airplanes run as scheduled (Note 2) and frequently. People can get whatever they want anywhere at any time from convenience stores, 24-hour grocery stores, and Internet shopping. Additionally, the infrastructure systems that support smooth transactions are well maintained while preventing the confusion of large crowds of people (Note 3).
For that reason, the modality of a Japanese-type ultra-low-energy society (or can be referred to as smart cities) should be determined in order to satisfy those two conditions. There should be many answers, of course. However, the results should be surely accepted by other countries that are urged to change their national energy policies and problems associated with the industrial structures. Thus, it is my belief that considering those two conditions could be the keywords that lead Japan to export the infrastructure industry. So, I would like you to look at the columns provided as a part of the PBL by professors specializing in designs in this major. Also, please read my thoughts on the URL that I mentioned earlier.

Note 1: Japan is largely dependent on oil imports from the Middle East, which is unstable in geopolitical terms, and it has been said that it is a big challenge to iron out. Also, Japan's dependency on imported wheat and soybeans has become part of the accepted truth. Other than this, there was a time when Japan did not receive any imported lobsters from Australia and corn to produce bio-based fuels because of the cornering of goods by other countries.
Note 2: According to Always on time-Why Japanese trains are the most punctual transportation in the world written by Yuko Mito and published by Shinchosha Publishing, Japanese people feel a train is delayed after one minute of scheduled time. For Germans, who are also known to be punctual, they consider it delayed after five minutes or more. For the British, who are also European, more than 10 minutes is considered a delay, and more than 15 minutes for Italians. From my experience, not only the delay of over 30 minutes, I have seen people in Italy waiting sedately for hours even though the train was canceled without notice (it turned out that a driver did not show up).
Note 3: Compared to other countries, the form of infrastructures is largely affected by people's philosophy and religion. For example, fare gates at train stations. Japan develops a system to prevent people from committing crimes and people can enter paid areas after buying tickets (nowadays, tickets are replaced with IC cards such as Suica). The system made further advances to process large crowds of people in a small amount of time. In Europe, based on the idea of keeping promises to God, people there are required to take full responsibility for their actions. They have a tacit understanding that people should purchase tickets properly and take trains without setting up fare gates. At that rate, if they get caught cheating, it imposes a more serious penalty than that in Japan.

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