TT-681 -- Bicycles versus Cars in Tokyo, ebiz news from Japan

* * * * * * * * * T E R R I E 'S T A K E * * * * * * *
A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd.

General Edition Sunday, October 07, 2012, Issue No. 681


- What's New -- Bicycles versus Cars in Tokyo
- News -- Dramatic advance in iPS cells
- Upcoming Events
- Corrections/Feedback
- Travel Picks -- Kibune, Kyoto and Abishiri, Hokkaido
- News Credits

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As if there wasn't enough debt by the government, we read
with surprise recently that the Infrastructure Ministry is
considering putting some of the Shuto metropolitan
expressway underground, tearing down the aging overhead
structures. While it will certainly improve the scenic
value of downtown Tokyo, given the cost of around
JPY4.3trn, we can think of better ways to spend public

The Ministry is apparently weighing three different options
for dealing with the 40-year old expressway system, and the
underground option is one of them. The other two are to
simply continue repairing the aging sections, but this is a
losing battle as apparently there are twice as many repairs
needed monthly as there were five years ago (once cracks
appear, you can no longer ignore the problem), OR to simply
remove the freeway. If they were to do this, they would
force traffic onto newer routes, such as the Central
Circular Route and the Tokyo Outer Ring Road, which open
next year. Our take is that this last option will
exacerbate the traffic congestion problem and is

We can think of several other ways to deal with the
problem. Firstly Tokyo could start limiting the number of
vehicles transiting the city -- think of Singapore and its
various toll charging and vehicle registration systems.
Singapore reckons that since it introduced its VQS car
ownership bidding system, they have kept annual vehicle
growth down to just 1.5% a year, and now they plan to
reduce vehicle growth to just 0.5% from February next year.
Sure there would be lots of complaints from the auto and
freight industries if you tried to reduce traffic, but the
idea would be to throttle back slowly, focus on getting
commercial users to switch to night-time deliveries, and
use higher day-time tolls to get non-commercial users to
take public transport.

The problem with forcing people on to public transport is
that it is also crowded during the most desirable times of
the day. That won't be the case in 20 years time, as the
number of people working slips by another 15% or so, but
for the time being the government should look at automating
commuter flows and charges, much the same as it should be
following the Singaporean model for road traffic. As the
Cool Biz campaign has proven, government mandated changes
in fundamental behavior are possible, and the government
could reward consumers and companies by encouraging them to
change their work start times from 09:00am to an hour
earlier or later. The reward would be reduced commuter pass
costs (train companies would be subsidized by the
government), which every company would be happy to see
since they generally pay the equivalent of 5%-10% of an
employee's monthly overall costs for commutation fees.

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But the way we'd really like to see the government reduce
congestion on the roads, and improve national health
figures at the same time, is to do a lot more to encourage
cycling in Japan. Bicycles are cheap, fast, and minimally
polluting, and would seem to us a natural way to get to
work and home each day. How much more efficient are
bicycles than cars? The debate is still going on, but
without considering the costs of maintenance (for a car
engine or the bicycle engine -- you), apparently bicycles
are about 10 times more efficient. For an amusingly
detailed description of how to calculate this number, check
out this page:

Since the earthquake in 2011, the number of cyclists on the
roads in Tokyo has increased dramatically. We think this is
because after having to commute by bicycle out of necessity
in the weeks after the quake and Fukushima, bicycle riders
have discovered that they can get to the office quicker and
stay in shape at no extra cost, both at the same time. We
know many people (including us) who have completely changed
their lifestyles and commuting patterns because of this
simple discovery. Tokyo may not be ideal for bicycle
commuting, but it is doable.

Now you would think that the powers that be would see the
cycling trend as something desirable. Surely having a new
generation of healthy workers who are able to able to use
time more efficiently and who don't pollute is something
that should be encouraged? Unfortunately, our lives are not
controlled by intellectually aware people, but by petty
authorities in local government who don't give a toss
about ecology, the economy, or macro-health issues. They
simply want to have nice clean sidewalks and order in their
lives. And so they in conjunction with the police are
engaged in another crackdown on cyclists, demonizing
cycling in the media and over-emphasizing the errant few at
the cost of the many.

For sure there are some pretty horrible cyclists around.
Take your pick of demographics, our favorite example is
junior and high school kids without an ounce of commonsense
(that not being taught in schools any more). You see them
every day riding on the wrong side of the road, no lights
at night, and no helmet -- it is no understatement to say
that they are the terror of Japanese car drivers
everywhere. But these kids and their ignorance of how to
use the roads have been around for decades. Certainly if
the police wanted to deal with them, they could have done
so by now.

The authorities say that the number of traffic accidents
and violations involving bicycles is increasing
dramatically. Two numbers that are trotted out frequently
in the media are that there were 3,956 traffic citations in
calendar 2011, while at the current rate in 2012 there will
be more than 5,600, a 70% increase. That may or may not be
meaningful given the increased number of cyclists and also
the crackdown by the police. Instead, figures for actual
accidents caused by bicycles are probably a better
indicator. In this case, of the 428,787 traffic accidents
in the first 8 months of 2012, 19.7% involved bicycles.
Hmmm, sounds bad.

However, looking back at earlier data, especially looking
at casualties, we can see that the actual incidence of
cycling accidents is slowly reducing. There is a very good
if slightly dated study into Japanese cycling habits and
accident causality (link is below), which found that there
are three demographic segments which are prone to accidents
involving bicycles. They are: junior and high-school kids
who are careless riders, mothers with young children who
are overloaded and can't control their bicycles properly,
and aged frail pedestrians who are less aware of someone
bearing down on them and thus tend to be struck more often
and who are injured more seriously. You can see the study

What this study by Shinichi Yoshida tells us is that not
only should the police be concentrating their compulsory
education efforts on junior and high school kids, but that
bicycles should be taken off the sidewalks because the
number of doddery old people is going to keep increasing.
Instead, as in other advanced countries, cyclists need to
use the roads and preferably do so via special cycling
lanes. OK, lack of available space makes this difficult for
now, so instead, if cyclists are required to share the road
with cars then not only the cyclists but also car drivers
need to be educated on bicycle safety.

Since the National Police Agency has commissioned an
advisory panel to look at the problem, we hope that they
will recognize that the nature of cycling and those
commuting by bicycle has changed significantly in the last
couple of years. Now you have a lot more responsible adults
as a major new rider segment, and that these people are
also car drivers who know the road rules. Therefore, any
new regulations and rider education programs should be
recognize improved cyclist sophistication and reward the
cycling public for their improvement.

Specifically, the use of the roads should be modified to
allow more effective and efficient commuting as well.
Long-term this means cycling lanes, but short-term it means
changing out-of-touch laws that encourage flouting of them.
For example, one law that particularly irks us is having to
move to the sidewalk when wanting to turn right, then
having to wait for a whole set of traffic light changes to
be able to move again... If we're wearing protective gear
and riding at a similar speed to general traffic flow,
there should be no reason for a sophisticated cyclist to
not be able to use the road on the same basis as a regular

Lastly, the issue of parking your bicycle. Central
government needs to give guidance to local authorities (in
Tokyo anyway), that unless they provide ubiquitous free or
nearly-free parking for bicycles around central commercial
districts, they should not be stickering and impounding
bicycles just to make the place look cleaner. Every bicycle
impounded is one step further away from energy efficiency
and another piece of scrap metal. Charging JPY1,000 a day
to park your bicycle is NOT an encouragement to use that
bicycle parking space. At JPY10,000 for a cheap bicycle,
it's easy to figure out that cyclists will simply take
their chances on the streets. Instead, local authorities
should receive bicycle parking subsidies from Central
government, and be forced to do offer parking at cost
(amortized over 40 years).

...The information janitors/


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+++ NEWS

- Spain's Gestamp to invest JPY90bn into Japanese solar
- Songle player dissects songs for structure
- Japan, Germany collaborate for next asteroid probe
- Dramatic advance in iPS cells
- Why Softbank bought eAccess

=> Spain's Gestamp to invest JPY90bn into Japanese solar

One of Spain's leading solar energy companies, Gestamp
Solar, has announced that has signed an agreement with
Kankyo Keiei Senryaku Soken, to build and operate solar
farms on the roofs of industrial and commercial facilities
around Japan. The plan calls for an investment by Gestamp
of up to JPY90bn until 2015. The joint venture aims to
produce around 30MW of power over that time, with the first
installation due to be installed by the end of March next
year. ***Ed: This is exactly what we need to kick off a
wave of foreign investors into the sector, and believe that
this deal signals the start of such a wave.** (Source: TT
commentary from, Oct 5, 2012)

=> Songle player dissects songs for structure

Wired magazine highlights a new Japanese PC application
called Songle (pronounced "song-lee"), which was developed
by the Advanced Industrial Science and Technology
Institute. The application can analyze a song on the Web
and tell you how it is structured in terms of chords, beat,
melody, and repeats (chorus). The inventors say their app
is intended for education and entertainment, and so far
they have analyzed and gathered metadata on about 80,000
tracks. ***Ed: Great for aspiring guitarists who want to
learn new songs.** (Source: TT commentary from,
Oct 5, 2012)

=> Japan, Germany collaborate for next asteroid probe

The Japan Aerospace and Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the
German Aerospace Center (DLR) have announced that they
will collaborate on the next Japanese mission to rendezvous
with an asteroid. The collaboration will be in the form of
a sophisticated jumping robot which can test the geology of
the asteroid. Apparently Hayabusa 2 will be traveling to
1999 JU3 (the asteroid's name) and it will negotiate the
lumpy topology by using a set of rotating weights that
fling it forwards to each new test site. (Source: TT
commentary from, Oct 5, 2012)

=> Dramatic advance in iPS cells

Researchers at Kyoto university have had another
breakthrough in iPS cells, when they announced that they
have successfully created viable mice eggs from adult mouse
skin cells, and have subsequently bred two generations of
normal mice from the eggs. The procedure involved creating
the eggs and fertilizing them in a test tube, then
implanting them into a surrogate mother to grow the fetus
to birth. The resulting off-spring then had normal babies
themselves, indicating that the procedure is robust. The
researchers say that they will now move on to experiments
with monkeys then humans. ***Ed: Profound breakthrough and
one that raises all sorts of ethics questions.**(Source: TT
commentary from, Oct 5, 2012)

=> Why Softbank bought eAccess

OK, so now we can see why Softbank was so willing to pay
well over the going rate to take over eAccess last week.
There appear to be two reasons: firstly because Softbank
has raised its monthly subscription fees to match KDDI's
and so has lost a lot of new subscriber momentum, and
secondly, because of tethering. On the first point,
although the two competitors now have similar prices, KDDI
bundles fiber optic service as well, making its service
much cheaper if you're a typical household. Softbank is
being pummeled in the market as a result and needs eAccess'
extra subscribers. On the tethering side of things, KDDI
already offers a tethering service, allowing users to
connect a variety of devices to their iPhone 5 without
having extra accounts or devices, while Softbank won't have
such a service available until December. eAccess, however,
does have such capability. (Source: TT commentary from, Oct 6, 2012)

NOTE: Broken links
Many online news sources remove their articles after just a
few days of posting them, thus breaking our links -- we
apologize for the inconvenience.


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No events this week.



In this section we run comments and corrections submitted
by readers. We encourage you to spot our mistakes and
amplify our points, by email, to

=> No corrections or comments this week.



=> Kibune Shrine, Kyoto
Sakura and Koyo at the Same Time

Want to escape from the crowds in Kyoto? The temples and
shrines in the mountains north of the downtown area can
boast of being surrounded by more unspoiled nature than
anything in the main parts of Kyoto can, and, being removed
from the city center, have drastically reduced crowds.
Kibune Shrine near the town of Kurama, is an excellent
example. Neither Kibune Shrine or the village around it are
very large, but their location, tucked away into an
extremely narrow and steep mixed pine-deciduous tree
forested canyon, is nothing short of beautiful. Walking up
Kibune Shrine’s red lantern and maple tree-lined main
entrance recalled imaginings I had of Japan as a child from
watching anime like “My Neighbor Totoro.”

Now for something more impossible, how would you like to
see sakura and koyo (red autumn leaves) at the same? My
visit to Kibune was during Golden Week. Because of the
mountain location some sakura and ume were still in bloom
and, much to my elation, while most of the maple trees
were covered in leaves of spring’s freshest green, many
were also alight with red leaves. The contrast of the red
against the green leaves was striking, but the spot at
Kibune Shrine’s back gate where sakura, spring green and
red maple leaves all came together was a sight of beauty I
have yet to find a match for. Don’t believe me? Take a trip
up to Kibune Shrine around Golden Week and maybe you too
will be lucky enough to see sakura and koyo at the same

=> Yakiniku Beer Kan - Abashiri, Hokkaido
The Technicolor Beer Experience

After a day of visiting the various sea ice related sights
of the town we decided it was time to drink some of it! We
then headed to the Abashiri Brewery restaurant ‘Yakiniku’
- literally "Grilled Meat" in Japanese - where we got a
cook-it-yourself on the table top meal of beef short rib
and much famed Hokkaido King Spider Crab.

Firstly, there is the Okhotsk Drift Ice Blue, a startling
bright sky blue color which your brain tells you should
definitely taste of fake-chemical raspberry, but actually
is a very fine lager made from Abashiri’s famous drift ice
– my favorite. Then we had the Potato Pink which is very
mellow and doesn’t have any bitter taste like beer normally
does. There is the Shirotoko Draft green beer that tasted
of slightly of green tea which might be better to focus on
than knowing it is made from golf ball-like green algae
that grow in the crystal clear waters of lakes in Hokkaido.
Last but not least, was the Hanamatsu pink beer that
tasted like flower petals, and was also a rather fetching



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