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Energy Conservation, Japanese-Style

The Washington Post reports on comprehensive energy-saving measures being taken in Japan in response to a “national battle cry against soaring energy prices.”

The small mountain town of Kamiita—chosen as an exemplar by the Japanese media—shut off the heating system in the town hall this winter. Employees work bundled in coats and wool blankets. Most of the town’s 13,000 citizens are strictly obeying a nationwide call to turn off car engines while idling, particularly when stopped at traffic lights.

Takao Iwase, Kamiita’s husky administrative director, joined other locals in switching off the heat at home, too—leaving his family to quickly hustle from steaming nighttime baths to the warm comforters on their traditional futons. "We’re saving [$100] a day at city hall by shutting off the heat,” Iwase, wearing four layers of clothing and a winter coat inside his office, said proudly. “But we no longer see this as just an economic issue. Japan has no natural resources of its own, so saving energy has become our national duty.”

As President Bush calls on Americans to break their addiction to oil and increase energy efficiency in the face of soaring prices, perhaps no people serve as better role models than the energy-miser Japanese.

A pervasive approach to energy conservation, from reduced-power consumption in consumer and business electronics to intelligent machines from subway far changers to elevators that automatically shut off when not in use has contributed to the fact that Japan’s energy consumption per person is almost half that of the US.

Conservation fever swept the nation after the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 treaty written in Japan that aims to reduce greenhouse gases. The United States has not ratified the treaty.

But Japan’s transformation, experts note, dates from well before the Kyoto treaty—and was rooted more in economics than environmentalism.

After the 1970s oil crisis, Japan “went into a panic. We have no oil of our own, and are completely dependent on imports,” said Takako Nakamura, an official at the Global Environment Bureau of the Environment Ministry. “That weakness changed the way we looked at energy.”

Low-emission vehicles account for almost 11 million (21%) of all autos on Japanese roads.

(A hat-tip to Harvey D!)



"Japan has no natural resources of its own, so saving energy has become our national duty."

That can't really be true, can it? If by 'natural resources' they mean conventional hydrocarbon fuel sources (oil, coal, natural gas), I suppose I can believe that, given what I've heard of their imports of Canadian coal (and wood).

But certainly they have some of the UNconventional sources that are the rising stars of the renewable world. Wind, wave, tidal, geothermal, all these they should have in spades. Biomass is a little more difficult (they subsidize domestic rice production to keep it 'competetive' with the world rice market), but waste biomass they should also have.

Harvey D

It is amazing what Japan has done to conserve energy. While doubling their GNP since 1973, they have reduced OIL consumption by 16% and reduced energy required to produce a ton of paper by 38%. Japan uses 20% less energy to produce a ton of steel than USA and 50% less than China and produces 50% of the world Sun Power vs 15% for USA and the list is much longer. Imaging where energy consumption would be in the USA and Canada if we had made the same effort for the last 30+ years.

Lance Funston

Americans seem to largely regard the waste of energy (and resources) as a kind of status symbol. I've often heard that just asking American's to save energy is a kind of faux pas (forget mandating it).


This was post in

Here is the interview

a report by Robert L. Hirsch, SAIC, Project Leader, US DOE, Feb 2005


Wow. This makes me sick to live in the United States. There are plenty more reasons to leave, but this really digs the knife that much farther. I think I'll move to Japan, where the dictator comes from a smarter family...

Dave Zeller

So, this is the shining example put forth by some of the media elite of how Americans should live and work; i.e., in buildings that have no central heat in the winter.

Absolutely brillant! This sounds like something out of Soviet Russia in the 1930's.

However, does anyone expect our "smart and beautiful" people, some of whom work for the Washington Post, to live like this? Oh, please do get real; this is just another example of the nihilistic views of the "Do as WE say, not as we do" sort of crowd.

Sooner or later we will have massive problems with natural gas and electricity production. Many know that this is inevitable, given the myriad of counter-productive energy and environmental regulations enforced by the states and federal government. Under such circumstances, and in past crisis, many people would choose to heat their houses and businesses with wood or coal. However, there are those who would like to see this banned, and now regulators are slowly turning their sights on any sort of appliance that burns solid fuel, which of course means they will be banned, as no manufacturer has enough sales and profits to pay for these changes.

Currently, there is a big push "Up North" in the New England states to regulate central heating by solid fuel. I've always wondered why the most half-ass and ignorant ideas and trends seem to originate from that place, considering that they use more imported oil than anyone else to heat their homes and generate electricity.

One may be tempted to ask," How do THEY expect people to stay warm?" Well, I'd say that this Washington Post article pretty much spells it out:

They don't give a damn!

Harvey D

Dave Z.: You should visit Finland and Sweden to see how one can live comfortably in cold weather without waisting too much energy. Living almost 1000 Km north of Washington DC we changed our older house 10 years ago for a much better insulated place and our total energy consumption decreased by 50+% from 25000+ KWh/yr to less than 12 000 KWh/yr while maintaining the same level of comfort (71/72 F in winter and 74/75 F in summer. Since about 55%/60% of the energy still goes for heating and conditionning we could do much better if the house had better windows (2X triple-pane thermos) and was better orientated (S.W. instead of N.W) etc. The same applies to vehicles. We got rid of our Chrysler and Ford V-8 (feorever) and use Toyotas saving more than 50% in gas and getting there just as fast and with a lot less troubles than with our V-8 monsters. Waste of energy does not necessarily mean more comfort and a better life. You don't have to eat tons of junk food, weight 300+ lbs, drive a 3-ton 4 x 4 and smoke 50 cigarettes a day to be healthy. Stop giving-in to ads and propaganda, be more selective and consume less food and energy (specially fossil fuels).


The recent speech of President Bush clearly downplays the importance of conservation. Simply speaking, there may be a discrepany between his vision and the current situation of energy crisis.


Honda Powered Cogeneration unit

Joseph Willemssen

Not heating the indoors has always been common in Japan. In a home setting, it's all about zone heating. Portable kerosene heaters are common, and the standard room size is about 100 square feet. What's also common are kotatsu - which are basically low, square tables with an electric heater on the underside, which is then covered with a blanket.

an example:

It's a modern evolution of the central hearth of a Japanese home.

Plus, Japanese tend to take hot baths at night, and that helps to tolerate the cold as well. They're also a lot less sedentary than the average American, which probably helps keep up their core temperature as well.


It really all depends on what echelon of income you are. I'd argue most are middle to lower.
Living in Australia now, our family has never had a full blown air conditioning system, because we can not afford one. Opening doors for fresh air and drinking ice tea is where we're at. Back in my old country it was the opposite. We had double graze windows and lots of jumpers.
It is never unbearable to be a bit more frugal. Living on the edge of the confort zone does not mean you are uncomfortable. And if saving money on heating means you can buy a nicer toy for your kid at Christmas then I don't see the problem.

Roderick Williams

Rather than going down the route of freezing in winter, why not adopt the european PassiveHaus standard, Comfortable (20-25 degs C) houses and apartments that use 20% of the energy of standard housing for space heating and domestic hot water. Thousands of new homes have been built in the last 10 years and the techniques are now being adapted for renovation. Germany is using this spec to reduce their housing power usage by 3/4 in the next 15 years.

As the power requirements are so low these can be provided from renewables.

Paul Melbye

The thermostat setting in my house is 49 degrees F. I live in a city and I use my Mt bike for cloths, grocery and other small purchases. Next year at the start of the heating season I will have purchased a high quality, light weight coverall. I'm thinking I will be able to set the thermostat at 40 to 45 degrees F or less. I can then determine how many months it will take to recupe the cost of the coveralls

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