MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And now to Japan. The country promotes itself as one of the most energy efficient places in the world. Its corporations proudly show off eco-friendly cars and gadgets. But as NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports, Japan's environmental record is not as clean as a Toyota Prius and some critics are dismissing Japan's promotions.
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ANTHONY KUHN: Plug-in cars, recycled building materials, humanoid robots. These were just a few of the futuristic products that Honda, Toshiba, Hitachi and others were promoting in their corporate booths and videos at the G8 Summit in Hokkaido this month. The images were of a cool Japan helping an overheated planet to chill out.
At the Fujitsu booth, Miwako Morishima showed off her company's latest green gadgets.
Ms. MIWAKO MORISHIMA (Fujitsu Employee) Can you touch the - can you touch?
KUHN: Hmm. Feels great. It's a wooden…
Ms. MORISHIMA: Yes. Yes.
KUHN: …it's a wooden laptop computer.
Ms. MORISHIMA: Yes, sir.
KUHN: Called the Monacca, is that right?
Ms. MORISHIMA: Yes. It's not product yet. There are some more hurdles we have to overcome to deliver as a product.
KUHN: The centerpiece of the show was the Zero-Emission House, a prototype home with technology from a number of big Japanese companies. House guide, Akiko Obayashi, explained that the house gets most of its electricity from renewable sources.
Ms. AKIKO OBAYASHI (House Guide, Zero Emission House): At the moment, if the weather is good, we can provide all the electricity from the solar panels and also the wind turbine.
KUHN: The house's walls include built-in seismic shock absorbers.
Ms. OBAYASHI: In Japan, we have a lot of earthquake, and it absorbs the shock and change to the heat.
KUHN: Yes, but not enough to heat the house, right?
Ms. OBAYASHI: No, no.
KUHN: Experts point out that many of the same Japanese companies that make these products actually oppose government measures to limit emissions, such as carbon trading systems. Iida Tetsunari is Director of the Tokyo-based Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies.
Mr. IIDA TETSUNARI (Director, Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies): Japanese company culture is typically more focused on the supply side or technology gimmick or technology solutions. The majority is very much against introducing so-called cap-and-trade or carbon tax.
KUHN: Iida says that the Japanese government is deeply divided on how to tackle global warming. He and others say Japan's claim to be a world leader in energy efficiency is deceptive. Andrew DeWit is an energy policy expert at Rikkyo University in Tokyo.
Professor ANDREW DeWIT (Economics, Rikkyo University): The establishment here says, oh, look, we're out in front of the Europeans, we're 20 years ahead of the Europeans. I mean, that's just on the face of it wrong.
KUHN: He notes that Japan has set low targets for renewable energy use and it has so far only urged companies to voluntarily reduce their carbon emissions. DeWit says that at root, many Japanese corporations are suspicious of government intervention in the economy. They're reacting, he says, to the huge infrastructure spending and corruption that followed the busting of Japan's economic bubble.
Prof. DeWIT: They want to get away from these pork barrel projects, you know, the spending on roads and so forth. And that was very much emphasized in the '90s as an effort to prime the, you know, the economic pump.
KUHN: To lead the world, Japan must take the initiative by achieving a low-carbon society. Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda urged his cabinet. But if Japanese companies are left to set their own targets for energy efficiency, DeWit says, they will not be leading the world's charge out of fossil fuels. They will be following it after all their other options and resources have been exhausted.
Anthony Kuhn, NPR News.