From Daily Yomiuri Online; REVITALIZING JAPAN -- Living on an island arc / Japan's geography gives birth to sought-after technology
The following is the third installment of "Living on an island arc,"
part of a series of articles examining ways to restore Japan's vitality
after the March 11, 2011, disaster. This section examines ways of
turning Japan's weak points into strengths.
Plumes of steam 10 meters high rise amid tea plantations on the
slope of a 2,000-meter mountain about two hours' drive from Bandung, the
capital of West Java Province, Indonesia.
The sulfurous-smelling steam columns gush out of a dozen wells dug
by two Japanese companies, Marubeni Corp. and Toshiba Corp., as part of
the construction of the Patuha Unit 1 geothermal power plant that is
scheduled to open in 2014.
Three Japanese companies--Toshiba, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd.
and Fuji Electric Co.--hold about 70 percent of the global market for
geothermal power development.
Their dominance springs at least partially from Japan's geography,
an arc-shaped archipelago on the western side of the Pacific Ring of
Fire. This volcanic environment--called an island arc--has spurred
innovation in fields related to volcanic and seismic activity, such as
geothermal energy and earthquake-resistant technology.
Steam from beneath the earth often contains sulfur and other
impurities, so turbines for geothermal power generation must be built
with specially designed material to protect against corrosion. Japanese
firms have a decided edge over their overseas competitors in this area.
Indonesia, another island arc in the ring of fire, has even more
geothermal energy resources than Japan. Also possessing a rapidly
growing economy, demand for power in Indonesia has been rising about 8.5
percent per year.
Indonesia's government plans to expand the country's geothermal
power generation capacity from about 800 megawatts in 2010 to 5,000
megawatts by 2025.
According to Atsushi Shibata, chief of the No. 1 overseas power
generation project team at Marubeni, "Japan's global technological
advantage in geothermal power generation will remain strong for a long
The unfortunate tendency for earthquakes in Japan has helped
domestic firms compete internationally in the field of geothermal power.
Safety is No. 1
Japan International Consultants for Transportation Co., a new firm
jointly capitalized by 10 railway operators including East Japan Railway
Co., began operations in April.
Many emerging economies have decided to build new railway networks both fueled by and to facilitate red-hot economic growth.
Japan's rail technology has caught the eye of such nations as
Brazil, India and Vietnam for its safety even during major earthquakes,
as well as the elaborately designed, highly reliable train operation
The high quality of Japan-made train cars and other equipment, however, comes with a big price tag.
Nevertheless, according to Hiroshi Komatsu, director of Japan
Consultants' planning and marketing headquarters, "Japan is one of the
very few countries that has been successful in operating profitable
"We want to show emerging economies how adopting safe and reliable
Japan-developed rail systems can benefit them in the long run," he said.
Japanese infrastructure technologies have gradually taken root in
several areas in Taiwan, Japan's neighbor at the southern end of its
Taiwan High Speed Rail (THSR), sometimes called the Taiwan
Shinkansen, opened in 2007 and was the first place Japan's Shinkansen
technology was employed overseas.
The THSR contract was initially awarded to a consortium of German
and French companies, but in wake of a massive earthquake that struck
Taiwan in 1999, a consortium of Japanese firms including Mitsui &
Co. snatched the contract away, primarily because Taiwan took a second
look at Japan's earthquake-resistant technology.
About 120 THSR employees underwent training by Central Japan Railway Co. and other Japanese rail operators.
"The Taiwanese trainees were drilled thoroughly on fundamentals such
as on-time train operation and regular equipment inspections,"
according to one person familiar with the training.
THSR placed orders with Kawasaki Heavy Industries and other domestic
train car manufacturers for 48 bullet train cars earlier this year, a
contract worth about 19 billion yen.
In architecture, Japanese contractors including Kumagai Gumi Co.
helped build the Taipei 101 Tower in Taiwan's capital. The 508-meter
tower is one of the world's highest at 101 stories and was completed in
The building features cutting-edge earthquake-resistant technology
from Japan, as well as an ultrahigh-quality steel frames crafted by
Nippon Steel Corp.
Taipei has also introduced Japanese-style systems for tap water.
Since 2008, the Taipei city water department has been adopting
"accordion" water pipes that are highly earthquake resistant. The pipes
are the same as those used by Tokyo Suido Services Co., a quasi-public
corporation that cooperates with the Tokyo metropolitan government.
The "overwhelmingly low" rate of leakage of the Tokyo water system
was crucial in the decision to employ Japanese-made pipes, according to
Wu Yanglung, head of the Taipei water department. Tokyo's water leakage
rate is only 3.1 percent, far below the global average of 25 percent to
Thirty percent of Taipei's water pipes have been replaced with the
accordion pipes, bringing the water leakage rate down to 19 percent from
27 percent in 2006. The department plans to increase the proportion of
accordion pipes to 90 percent by 2025.
Japan's island-arc shape has helped nurture a wide variety of
cutting-edge technologies that can be implemented in projects around the