Monday, April 27, 2009

Car Help Line Calls

Toyota doesn't have a "help line" for people who don't know how to drive, and neither does any other Japanese car makers, because people don't buy cars the way they buy computers - oh, but imagine if they did...

HELPLINE: "Toyota Helpline, how can I help you?"

CUSTOMER: "I got in my car and closed the door, and nothing happened!"

HELPLINE: "Did you put the key in the ignition and turn it?"

CUSTOMER: "What's an ignition?"

HELPLINE: "It's a starter motor that draws current from your battery and turns over the engine."

CUSTOMER: "Ignition? Motor? Battery? Engine? How come I have to know all of these technical terms just to use my car?"

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HELPLINE: "Honda Helpline, how can I help you?"

CUSTOMER: "My car ran fine for a week, and now it won't go anywhere!"

HELPLINE: "Is the gas tank empty?"

CUSTOMER: "Huh? How do I know?"

HELPLINE: "There's a little gauge on the front panel, with a needle, and markings from 'E' to 'F'. Where is the needle pointing?"

CUSTOMER: "I see an 'E' but no 'F'."

HELPLINE: "You see the 'E' and just to the right is the 'F'.

CUSTOMER: "No, just to the right of the first 'E' is a 'T'.

HELPLINE: "A 'T'?!"

CUSTOMER: "Yeah, there's an 'S', a 'T', an 'A', then an 'R', an 'L',followed by 'E'..."

HELPLINE: "No, no, no sir! That's the front of the car. When you sit behind the steering wheel, that's the panel I'm talking about."

CUSTOMER: "That steering wheel thingy -- Is that the round thing that honks the horn?"

HELPLINE: "Yes, among other things."

CUSTOMER: "The needle's pointing to 'E'. What does that mean?"

HELPLINE: "It means that you have to visit a gasoline vendor and purchase some more gasoline. You can install it yourself, or pay the vendor to install it for you."

CUSTOMER: "What? I paid $12,000 for this car! Now you tell me that I have to keep buying more components? I want a car that comes with everything built in!"

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HELPLINE: "Suzuki Helpline, how can I help you?"

CUSTOMER: "Your cars suck!"

HELPLINE: "What's wrong?"

CUSTOMER: "It crashed, that's what went wrong!"

HELPLINE: "What were you doing?"

CUSTOMER: "I wanted to go faster, so I pushed the accelerator pedal all the way to the floor. It worked for a while, and then it crashed and now it won't even start up!"

HELPLINE: "I'm sorry, sir, but it's your responsibility if you misuse the product."

CUSTOMER: "Misuse it? I was just following this damned manual of yours. It said to make the car go to put the transmission in 'D' and press the accelerator pedal. That's exactly what I did - now the damn thing's crashed."

HELPLINE: "Did you read the entire operator's manual before operating the car sir?"

CUSTOMER: "What? Of course I did! I told you I did EVERYTHING the manual said and it didn't work!"

HELPLINE: "Didn't you attempt to slow down so you wouldn't crash?"

CUSTOMER: "How do you do THAT?"

HELPLINE: "You said you read the entire manual, sir. It's on page 14. The pedal next to the accelerator."

CUSTOMER: "Well, I don't have all day to sit around and read this manual you know."

HELPLINE: "Of course not. What do you expect us to do about it?"

CUSTOMER: "I want you to send me one of the latest versions that goes fast and won't crash anymore!"

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HELPLINE: "Mitsubishi Helpline, how can I help you?"

CUSTOMER: "Hi! I just bought my first car, and I chose a Mitsubishi because it has automatic transmission, cruise control, power steering, power brakes, and power door locks."

HELPLINE: "Thanks for buying our car. How can I help you?"

CUSTOMER: "How do I work it?"

HELPLINE: "Do you know how to drive?"

CUSTOMER: "Do I know how to what?"

HELPLINE: "Do you know how to DRIVE?"

CUSTOMER: "I'm not a technical person! I just want to go places in my car!"

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Elusive Green Deal For Japan

Yesterday, Japan's Environment Minister announced a "green deal" for Japan as a way to both boost the economy and the environment. Officially, it is called something like “Innovation for Green Economy and Society,” at least until the proofreaders come up with something better.

The Ministry of Environment says that through these measures, Japan will create 1.4-million new jobs.

One of the main features of the new program is to help fund technologies or programmes that cut CO2 emissions. It will impose a compulsory emissions trading scheme for fossile fuels - introducing an environment tax for the first time in Japan.

Yomiuri has already talked about one feature of the more general stimulus package that I like:

Subsidies for consumers purchasing fuel-efficient automobiles and energy-saving home electric appliances are expected not only to serve the original goal of helping the global environment, but also help sales of these products recover. And to make sure increases in sales are not temporary, manufacturers should do their utmost, outside of government-subsidized help, to develop new products that appeal to consumers.


NHK World has more details, noting that the package includes plans to install solar energy panels at schools and other public facilities around the country. Power companies will be required to buy solar-generated power at premium prices, and to increase solar power generation by 20-fold from today's levels by around 2020.

The package also promotes measures to boost sales of energy-conserving home appliances, and to increase tax incentives to encourage purchases of hybrid and electric vehicles. The ministry says that through these measures, Japan will increase the size of its environment-related markets by 50-trillion yen, or about 500-billion dollars, by 2020, and create 1.4-million new jobs.


That would mean that Japan's environmental industries and services would be worth 120 trillion yen or about US$1.22 trillion in just over 10 years.

Do have a look at the documents published. The contributions that Japan can make to help other Asian countries could very well be the most important parts of this package. Partnership and cooperation, a Clean Asia Initiative, founding a "sound material-cycle society" in Asia, "popularize Satoyama initiative" and supporting national biodiversity strategies or "good water governance" (such as better septic systems and human waste treatment facilities) are all great ideas.

So far, so good, but my conclusion is that the effects of the "green" parts of this deal are still going to be elusive here, and a lot more thinking will be needed to actually come up with plans that make a difference. For example, seriously reducing Japan's dependency on oil will never be easy, and with 60% of the food imported rather than farmed locally, Japan has a long way to go. Innovative? Sounds good, let's hope they mean it.

Ministry of Environment: The Innovation for Green Economy and Society (English)

On a brighter note (and with a hat tip to Mutant Frog blogger Adamu) Asahi says Prime Minister Taro Aso wants you, dear reader, to support the economy under the slogan 新三種の神器 (Shin sanshu no jingi) or "New consumption divine regalia" which will be (1) solar batteries (太陽電池), (2) electric cars (電気自動車), and (3) energy-saving consumer appliances (省エネ家電). These three holy regalia have been used to sell anything from washing machines to TVs, so why not use the concept now, when we really need them?

More "New" and "Green" and "Deal" here on Kurashi: A Green New Deal For Japan

Monday, April 20, 2009

Reuters Gets It Wrong: Solar Power In Japan

When Reuters notes that solar subsidies are "failing" in Japan, you had better read between the lines. Big media may be in big trouble, but why do they always have to put a negative spin on everything?

Japan Photovoltaic Energy Association told Reuters that over 20,000 households have recently applied for a ¥70,000 ($700) subsidy per kW of solar panel equipment. "Failing"? I don't agree: things are looking more bright here than ever.

If you got $700 to install PV panels, would you complain?

What environmentalists here never fail to mention is how Japan's government suddenly pulled the plug on PV subsidies back in March, 2006. Big mistake. Consistent policies and continued support, even if they are kept at a low level, are crucial if you want lots of people to join. Now, Reuters notes that homeowners are concerned about making big investments, especially as solar power is expected to become cheaper and more efficient in coming years:

"People say they would rather wait until the cost halves in 3 to 5 years, which is what the government has forecast," said Etsuko Akiba, head of media relations at the Nippon Association of Consumer Specialists.


PV Japan, a major solar fair in June, 2009, will be the main event here for the global solar-photovoltaic industry co-organized by Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International (SEMI) and Japan Photovoltaic Energy Association (JPEA). Japan Council for Renewable Energy is among the sponsors.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Largest Earth Day Event In The World

This weekend you can celebrate Earth Day all over Japan. Here in Tokyo, the event is in Yoyogi, and regular readers of this humble blog know that I am a huge fan. According to The Japan Times, the Tokyo event has grown to become the world's largest:

Earth Day Tokyo 2009, a two-day festival aimed at raising environmental awareness, will kick off at Yoyogi Park in Shibuya Ward and other venues Saturday. The world's largest Earth Day festival is expected to attract 130,000 people to the park, where musicians will hold concerts, nonprofit organizations will exhibit their philanthropic activities and shops will have a range of organic foods on sale. Participants at the ninth annual festival will promote ecological lifestyles and the development of electricity generated by fuels with low carbon dioxide emissions.


Earth Day Tokyo '09 aims to spread green message

Click here for more Earth Day coverage on Kurashi News from Japan - since April, 2005!

Saturday, April 04, 2009

"Nice-Looking Girls" Branding Strategy And Other Tales From Rural Japan

The Japan Times has found a new trend - young people are getting interested in farming and discovering novel ways to make ends meet:

Nahoko Takahashi, 27, who grows rice and vegetables in Yamagata
Prefecture has been training female university students for two years.
Giving them the opportunity to experience the pleasure of farming has reinforced
her belief that women can play a big role in changing the industry's image. This
spring, Takahashi will launch a "young women's only farm."

"Women are sensitive to the latest trends. I think we can breathe new
life into agriculture," said Takahashi, who will run the new farm with
"nice-looking girls" and take advantage of this branding strategy when selling
their products in Tokyo. To start with, she has secured a hectare of land to
grow sweet tomatoes in five different colors — orange, yellow, red, green and
black — and rice. She plans to use herbal medicines as fertilizer, the latest
thing in farming.

Sounds really good to me, hope they do well. There is also the National Liaison Council of Rural Youth Clubs, which plans to publish a stylish farming magazine targeting readers under 35, called Agrizm. It will feature the life stories of young farmers, is expected to hit bookstores and convenience stores nationwide in June. I think I will label that as progress!

The Japan Times: Young People See Future In Farming

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Sustainability - Looking For Solutions

Stephen Hesse over at The Japan Times has asked Junko Edahiro at Japan for Sustainability what she thinks about Thomas Friedman and his recent ideas about the economy and ecology - and how we created a model for growth that depended on rich countries building more and more big stores to sell more and more stuff made in China, and how that was powered by burning more and more coal, and paid for by more and more U.S. Treasury Bonds...

"Thomas Friedman is quite right. In Japan, because of the prolonged recession followed by steep and painful cuts in sales, profits and jobs, I think many people are beginning to sense that we are now entering a new regime where economic stimulus measures and other 'conventional' measures don't help us, rather they hurt us in a long run," Edahiro said.

"Global warming is just a symptom of a more fundamental problem, and unless we tackle that we cannot create a sustainable society even with advanced technologies," she added. "The deeper problem is that we humans are seeking infinite growth on a finite globe: This is the core issue. So it is obvious that we should rethink 'growth' and the purpose of our economic activities."


The Japan Times Our mantra of continuous growth has left us on ecological brink

With Fiat (Fiat!) about to buy General Motors, and president Obama telling them to learn how to make a profit by building smaller cars, or else go bust, perhaps this is a good time for more experts to make the long trip to Japan to learn how to live without cars, invest in public transportation and smaller houses, how to save energy and eat less so there will be enough for all.

Not that Japan has all the solutions, but people here need to learn how to teach what they know about long-term sustainability. And there are many good ideas and solutions in Japan.

I am currently visiting Kyoto again and I am struck by how this ancient city has managed to provide a comfortable life for hundreds of thousands of people for so long. And they must have one of the most convenient bus systems in the world - you can get anywhere for a flat 220 Yen fee ($2) and kids ride for a dollar. Retired people ride for free. There are also a couple of subway lines and a JR train line plus the Shinkansen. Why is not every city built like this?

If we start looking for sustainable solutions we will have to throw away a lot of conventional thinking, but the first step may be to accept that others do it much better.