Conservation, the Japanese way

Updated on: Aug 17, 2011






We touch down at Tokyo's Narita airport with a mix of emotions – excitement and apprehension – the latter because of all that Japan has gone through in the recent past. Parts of the airport are in semi-darkness and rather warm; the explanation is that the country is in energy-saving mode with nuclear power cut down. So, many lights are switched off while air-conditioning in public places is mandated to be at 27 degrees C. And, the Japanese are a stoic and disciplined lot, as we will learn over the course of the next five days of our stay in Japan.

Leaves us quaking

A bit of apprehension is met the second night in Tokyo – at approximately 12.30 a.m., the floor starts shaking. We're on the eighth floor of the hotel so the swaying is quite pronounced. The earthquake tremors get one to recall the shaking buildings in Chennai during the 2004 Indonesian quake and tsunami. But, the receptionist is cool as a cucumber, says everything's ok. But one has difficulty sleeping after. Next day, we're assured that these tremors are pretty normal after the big March quake – this one was south of Tokyo and measured 6.1 on the Richter. The Japanese get alerts on TV and their cell phones 10-15 seconds before the quake strikes. The hotel staff assure us that buildings are quake-resistant and because of that can sometimes sway longer than the tremor lasts. Cold comfort!

Eco ideas

The theme at global consumer electronics conglomerate Panasonic is ‘eco ideas' and you'll see it splashed not just on brochures and branding literature but also on small lapel pins that executives wear on their business suits. In 2018, Panasonic will be a 100 years old and its vision is to be the top green innovation company in the electronics industry with the avowed aim of making the “environment central to all business activities.” It expects, through energy-efficient products and practices, to contribute a reduction in CO2 emissions by 2018 of 120 million tonnes.

A quick visit to Panasonic's solar-powered Eco Ideas house in Tokyo is in order to see what the future can be. With an energy management system in place (which connects devices), and lithium-ion batteries that can store the solar power and power generated from fuel cells, the home is equipped with LED lighting, sensor-operated to adjust for outside light, ACs that use the cooler air from under the flooring to circulate the air within.

The AC sends an optimum air current by detecting the location and movement of a person in a room with a sensor. For example, it sends sufficiently warm air to a person who is reading and moderately warm air to a person who is doing housework and automatically turns itself off when the room is unoccupied. The Eco Ideas house can be a zero carbon emissions one, say Panasonic officials.

On the Bullet train

An excited bunch, we are at Tokyo's Shinagawa station to take the Shinkansen or the Bullet Train to Osaka, where most of Panasonic's facilities are located. Trains arrive precisely on the dot and trying to pose for a pic with the train in the background is futile; it's just a blur. There are three types of ‘Bullet' trains, we're told: ‘Nozomi' (Hope), ‘Hikari' (Light) and ‘Kodama' (Echo). The difference is in the carriage used, and the number of stops. We travel by the Nozomi, which has the least stops and which uses the latest/fastest carriage.  We travel at 270 kmph, covering the 552 km to Osaka in two-and-a-half hours! Nary a shake or shiver and one can sip wine and browse the Net. Only, we don't get to see Mount Fuji, enveloped as it is by clouds.

Preserving corporate history

We visit the Konosuke Matsushita museum, where the journey of Panasonic's founder is catalogued in every little way. Corporate history is so evocatively preserved here, from the founder's early years, the first light socket he developed, the bicycle lamp he had invented, to the first home appliances Matsushita Electric, as it was then called, produced. On display are the early fridges, TVs, rice cookers, radios that the company produced and how they have evolved. A movie on the founder starts with a shot of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's visit to a Panasonic factory in 1969! You also realise how large and diverse the $ 117-billion Japanese conglomerate is – from consumer products to industrial solutions. In India, one gets to see only a slice of it.

Recycling, the Japanese way

We traverse through rural Japan. Acres of lush green paddy fields (a vital ingredient, someone points out, for Sake, the potent rice brew!) ringed by quaint Japanese tiled homes. We are headed to the Panasonic Eco Technology Centre which recycles home appliances. The first example of which we see soon as we enter the lobby of the office – a glass-topped table fashioned out of the drum of a discarded washing machine.

Recycling is now mandated by law since 2001, Panasonic officials inform us. The Japanese found that almost 6 lakh tonnes of home appliances were being trashed annually and landfills were running out of space, especially so in Japan where space is at a premium. Interestingly, in this three-way collaborative effort, the consumer pays the retailer the money to have his old appliance recycled which is then passed on to the producers to recycle. The plant we visit is one of 35 such around Japan that various makers have put up.

TVs, washing machines and fridges are dismantled manually and refrigerant fluorocarbon is recovered as are other metals such as copper and aluminium. Once done, the shell is sent to a giant compactor which crushes it like putty. The recycling centre gets scores of visitors so every aspect of the process is well organised, including large screens to see processes which are not visible, such as the giant compactors, leading one wag in our group to comment that it looked better than even some of the manufacturing facilities one sees at home!

India in sights

A farewell dinner hosted by Takumi Kajisha, Managing Executive Officer, Panasonic Corp, and Daizo Ito, President, Panasonic India. Ask Takumi-San why Panasonic, which along with its brand National, very familiar to Indians during the Eighties and Nineties, allowed the Korean brands to storm the Indian market, he's candid when he says part of the fault also lay with the Panasonic HQ which had taken its sights off the Indian market. But, now India is firmly in focus and Panasonic is aiming to be the top consumer electronics company in India by 2018. And, it irks Daizo-San that Panasonic has a 10 per cent share in markets around the world, except in India. With custom-made products for India, sewing up alliances with Indian companies and strong local hiring he expects Panasonic to make a splash in the Indian market. On that hopeful note, we bade Sayonara!

(This writer was part of an India media team invited by Panasonic to visit its facilities in Tokyo and Osaka.)

Published on August 17, 2011

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