Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Eco Aware

Being one of the world’s largest industrial economies means that you’re always going to have to deal with one of the world’s largest amounts of industrial waste and pollution. There have been many initiatives in Japan to deal with this problem.

Perhaps one of the most pressing environmental issues of the late 20th century was the problem of greenhouse gases and carbon emissions. It was in Japan that the famous Kyoto Protocol was discussed and put into action. Since its adoption in 1997 there have been various undertakings in Japan towards meeting the protocol’s requirements.

Last year the Japanese government initiated the “Eco Points Program.” This was a program that gave consumers incentives to buy environmentally friendly electrical appliances. Incentives came in the form of “eco points” that could be exchanged for either discounts or cash-back chances. Traditionally environmentally unfriendly appliances, such as air conditioners and refrigerators, often earned the highest amount of “eco points.” The program was due to end this year but the government has decided to extend the program into the New Year. Not only has the program helped reduce Japan’s overall carbon emissions, but it has also proved to be a great stimulus for the electrical appliance industry.

Toyota is also the producer of the Prius hybrid car. The Prius is a common site on Japanese roads. It is now also the world’s most popular hybrid engine car. Other Japanese auto makers are stepping up the competition with numerous hybrid models of their own.

Finally, still on the subject of automobiles, the world’s first hydrogen fuel-celled bus service is set to start in Tokyo this week. Travellers to and from Tokyo’s Haneda airport will be able to use the environmentally friendly bus service from Shinjuku or the Tokyo City Air Terminal.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Shaky Islands

One thing you have to be aware of upon visiting Japan is earthquakes. Nowhere in Japan is safe from seismic activity. The entire country itself is a series of land formations produced by tectonic uplift and volcanic activity. Japan is often referred to as the most seismically active region in the world.

Earthquakes happen everyday in Japan. This shouldn’t be of major concern as the vast majority of quakes are so small that they go unnoticed. Nevertheless, if you are visiting, or are here on a longer stay, you do need to be aware that earthquakes are a possibility. If you come from an area that doesn’t experience earthquakes, they can be quite a scare. Fortunately, being a modern and developed country means that Japan is well-prepared for the big one.

Major earthquakes like the Hanshin and Niigata quakes have made Japanese authorities more prepared than ever. If you do find yourself in an earthquake in Japan, the best thing to do is wait it out in a safe place such as under a sturdy table or doorway. In most cases quakes aren’t strong enough to be life threatening. Stay calm and stay in a safe place. Do not run outside as you risk being struck by overhead power-lines, falling glass and other debris. If the quake has been strong enough to cause damage, follow the directions of any building wardens or authorities. You will be directed to an assembly point. All buildings and public spaces have designated “safe areas” for assembly in a disaster. Hotels and lodges always display where this is in each room.

As mentioned previously, most earthquakes won’t cause major damage, but they are fairly common in Japan and it is important to remember this while visiting here. Travel insurance that includes earthquake related injuries is always a prudent move.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Holiday Souvenirs

What’s the most important part of taking a trip? Is it the sights and attractions? Local festivals and events? Unique cuisine? Indeed, all are important but it may be of interest to you that in Japan, acquiring omiyage (souvenirs) is high on the list. In many cases, some may even say that it’s the most important thing to remember while away.

This is because the culture of gift giving is extremely important in Japanese culture. Certain social and business protocols dictate that gifts are to be exchanged. Partnerships with new clients require some form of gift exchange. Likewise does catching up with friends, family and workmates after even a short trip away.

It’s not necessarily the gift that is important but the gesture itself. Most souvenirs found in Japanese cities and towns tend to be small, relatively inexpensive snacks or nick-knacks. Popular types include manju (a soft dough cake with perhaps a sweet bean paste filling) and varieties of mochi (glutinous rice flour cakes).

Because of its place in the culture, the souvenir trade in Japan is worth millions. Each town in Japan knows the importance of having a local specialty to peddle to visitors. Even if there isn’t a distinguishing product, a town will make one. For instance, did you know that the recommended souvenir snack of Tokyo is the Tokyo Banana (a banana shaped and flavored cream cake/cookie)?

You can’t leave town without buying the local specialties and recommended foods. Most Japanese people travelling within Japan will stock up on goodies for their friends, family, colleagues and even boss. This tradition extends to international travel too. Some Japanese tourists to foreign countries even state a particular product or food as their reason for going. Such travelers are usually expected to bring samples of the product back as a souvenir. A few years ago when there was only one Krispy Kremes store in all of Japan, Japanese visitors to the USA were flying back with cases of donuts. Fortunately, there are a lot more Krispy Kreme stores in Japan these days.

So if you’re coming to Japan for the first time, remember to bring an assortment of goods for souvenirs. If you live in Japan and are going to travel domestically, do not forget your all important omiyage!

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