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Archive for the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’ Category

Japan eager to be on board vertical-takeoff ‘flying cars’

September 18, 2018

TOKYO (AP) — Electric drones booked through smartphones pick people up from office rooftops, shortening travel time by hours, reducing the need for parking and clearing smog from the air. This vision of the future is driving the Japanese government’s “flying car” project. Major carrier All Nippon Airways, electronics company NEC Corp. and more than a dozen other companies and academic experts hope to have a road map for the plan ready by the year’s end.

“This is such a totally new sector Japan has a good chance for not falling behind,” said Fumiaki Ebihara, the government official in charge of the project. For now, nobody believes people are going to be zipping around in flying cars any time soon. Many hurdles remain, such as battery life, the need for regulations and of course safety concerns. But dozens such projects are popping up around the world.

A flying car is defined as aircraft that’s electric, or hybrid electric, with driverless capabilities, that can land and takeoff vertically, according to Ebihara. They are often called EVtol, which stands for “electric vertical takeoff and landing” aircraft. All the flying car concepts, which are like drones big enough to hold humans, promise to be better than helicopters, which are expensive to maintain, noisy to fly and require trained pilots, Ebihara and other proponents say.

“You may think of ‘Back to the Future,’ ‘Gundam,’ or ‘Doraemon,'” Ebihara said, referring to vehicles of flight in a Hollywood film and in Japanese cartoons featuring robots. “Up to now, it was just a dream, but with innovations in motors and batteries, it’s time for it to become real,” he said.

Google, drone company Ehang and car manufacturer Geely in China, and Volkswagen AG of Germany have invested in flying car technology. Nissan Motor Co. and Honda Motor Co. said they had nothing to say about flying cars, but Toyota Motor Corp. recently invested $500 million in working with Uber on self-driving technology for the ride-hailing service. Toyota group companies have also invested 42.5 million yen ($375,000) in a Japanese startup, Cartivator, that is working on a flying car.

The hope is to fly up and light the torch at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, but it’s unclear it will meet that goal: at a demonstration last year the device crashed after it rose to slightly higher than eye level. A video of a more recent demonstration suggests it’s now flying more stably, though it’s being tested indoors, unmanned and chained so it won’t fly away.

There are plenty of skeptics. Elon Musk, chief executive of electric car maker Tesla Inc., says even toy drones are noisy and blow a lot of air, which means anything that would be “1,000 times heavier” isn’t practical.

“If you want a flying car, just put wheels on a helicopter,” he said in a recent interview with podcast host and comedian Joe Rogan on YouTube. “Your neighbors are not going to be happy if you land a flying car in your backyard or on your rooftop.”

Though the Japanese government has resisted Uber’s efforts to offer ride-hailing services in Japan, limiting it to partnerships with taxi companies, it has eagerly embraced the U.S. company’s work on EVtol machines.

Uber says it is considering Tokyo as its first launch city for affordable flights via its UberAir service. It says Los Angeles and Dallas, Texas, and locations in Australia, Brazil, France and India are other possible locations for its services.

Unlike regular airplanes, with their aerodynamic design and two wings, Uber’s “Elevate” structures look like small jets with several propellers on top. The company says it plans flight demonstrations as soon as 2020 and a commercial service by 2023.

Uber’s vision calls for using heliports on rooftops, but new multi-floored construction similar to parking lots for cars will likely be needed to accommodate so many more EVtol aircraft, once the service takes off.

Unmanned drones are legal in Japan, the U.S. and other countries, but there are restrictions on where they can be flown and requirements for getting approval in advance. In Japan, drone flyers can be licensed if they take classes. There is no requirement like drivers licenses for cars.

Flying passengers over populated areas would take a quantum leap in technology, overhauling aviation regulations and air traffic safety controls and major efforts both to ensure safety and convince people it’s safe.

Uber said at a recent presentation in Tokyo that it envisions a route between the city’s two international airports, among others. Savings in time would add up, it said. “This is not a rich person’s toy. This is a mass market solution,” said Adam Warmoth, product manager at Uber Elevate.

Concepts for flying cars vary greatly. Some resemble vehicles with several propellers on top while others look more like a boat with a seat over the propellers. Ebihara, the flying-car chief at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, says Japan is on board for “Blade Runner” style travel — despite its plentiful, efficient and well developed public transportation.

Japan’s auto and electronics industries have the technology and ability to produce super-light materials that could give the nation an edge in the flying car business, he said. Such vehicles could be tested first in uncongested, remote areas or between islands, where public transport is less accessible and safety issues would be less of a problem.

Just as the automobile vanquished horse-drawn carriages, moving short-distance transport into the air could in theory bring a sea change in how people live, Ebihara said, pointing to the sky outside the ministry building to stress how empty it was compared to the streets below.

Flying also has the allure of a bird’s eye view, the stuff of drone videos increasingly used in filmmaking, tourism promotion and journalism. Atsushi Taguchi, a “drone grapher,” as specialists in drone video are called, expects test flights can be carried out even if flying cars won’t become a reality for years since the basic technology for stable flying already exists with recent advances in sensors, robotics and digital cameras.

A growing labor shortage in deliveries in Japan is adding to the pressures to realize such technology, though there are risks, said Taguchi, who teaches at the Tokyo film school Digital Hollywood. The propellers on commercially sold drones today are dangerous, and some of his students have lost fingers with improper flying. The bigger propellers needed for vertical flight would increase the hazards and might need to be covered.

The devices might need parachutes to soften crash landings, or might have to explode into small bits to ensure pieces hitting the ground would be smaller. “I think one of the biggest hurdles is safety,” said Taguchi. “And anything that flies will by definition crash.”

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Abe says will talk more on peace treaty, islands with Putin

September 14, 2018

TOKYO (AP) — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Friday he will meet again this year for more talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Putin’s proposal for the two countries to sign a peace treaty and discuss the status of disputed islands.

Japan, however, wants to resolve the territorial dispute before signing a peace treaty, Abe said during a policy debate in his party, repeating the country’s longstanding position. Abe returned from Russia on Thursday after meeting with Putin and attending an economic conference. He said that the two leaders are likely to discuss a treaty when they meet again later this year.

Putin said Wednesday the countries should sign a peace treaty before the end of the year and later discuss the islands. “We need to read signals from President Putin’s words,” Abe said. “There is no doubt that (Putin) expressed his willingness about the need to sign a peace treaty.”

Abe has been pushing for a way forward in the dispute, with the two leaders holding talks more often than ever before. The two sides are working on joint economic projects on the disputed islands for the first time, in hopes of further improving their ties.

The Soviet Union took the four southernmost Kuril Islands, which Japan calls the Northern Territories, in the closing days of World War II. The island dispute has prevented the two sides from concluding a postwar peace treaty formally ending the hostilities.

French president hosts Japanese crown prince

September 12, 2018

VERSAILLES, France (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte are hosting Crown Prince Naruhito, Japan’s next emperor, at the Chateau of Versailles. The official dinner on Wednesday evening is one of the showpiece moments of the prince’s nine-day goodwill visit to France.

Macron and Naruhito first attended a theater performance together at the sumptuous palace west of Paris. The 58-year-old prince will inherit Japan’s Chrysanthemum throne when his 84-year-old father, Emperor Akihito, abdicates next year.

Naruhito’s trip marks 160 years of diplomatic relations between France and Japan.

Death toll rises, flights resume, power back in Japan quake

September 08, 2018

SAPPORO, Japan (AP) — Japanese rescue workers and troops searched Saturday for the missing for a third straight day in a northern hamlet buried by landslides from a powerful earthquake. Power was restored to most households and international flights resumed to the main airport serving the Hokkaido region.

The Hokkaido government said Saturday that 30 people are dead or presumed dead and nine remain missing. All but three of the victims are in the town of Atsuma, where landslides crushed and buried houses at the foot of steep forested hills that overlook rice fields.

Toyota Motor Corp. announced that it would suspend nearly all its production in Japan on Monday. Toyota makes transmissions and other parts in Hokkaido and also has suppliers on what is the northernmost of Japan’s four main islands.

The magnitude 6.7 earthquake that struck about 3 a.m. on Thursday knocked out power to the entire island of 5.4 million people, swamped parts of a neighborhood in the main city of Sapporo in deep mud and triggered destructive landslides.

Backhoes were removing some of the solidified mud to clear a road in Kiyota ward on the eastern edge of Sapporo. In parts of Kiyota, the earth gave way as it liquefied, tilting homes and leaving manhole covers standing one meter (three feet) in the air. In parking lots, cars were still stuck in mud that reached part way up their wheels.

The return of electricity came as a huge relief for residents. About half of Hokkaido got power back Friday, and all but 20,000 households had power Saturday morning. “It was a relief that it was back yesterday evening, but it feels it took time,” said 66-year-old Sapporo resident Tatsuo Kimura, adding that the blackout was a reminder “of how important electric power is in our life.”

Tourists from South Korea and China were able to head home from New Chitose Airport, outside of Sapporo. About 1,600 people spent the previous night at the airport, according to Japanese media reports.

Hokkaido has become a popular destination for tourists from other parts of Asia.

Associated Press business writer Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo contributed to this report.

Japan crown prince says royal visits key to friendly ties

September 05, 2018

TOKYO (AP) — Japanese Crown Prince Naruhito said he will take to heart how his father was mindful of Japan’s history and tried to build closer ties during his upcoming visit to France, expected to be his last foreign trip before becoming emperor.

Naruhito, 58, told a news conference Wednesday that foreign visits, including his Sept. 7-15 trip to France, are a key role for the royal family in fostering friendship. Emperor Akihito and his wife, Empress Michiko, always paid close attention to the history of the countries they visited and thought deeply about how they could promote mutual understanding and friendship in the future, Naruhito said.

“I’ve closely observed the emperor and the empress’ way, and I will cherish their feelings as I make an effort to promote international goodwill,” Naruhito said. As next emperor, he said, “I hope to always seriously think about what I can do for the people of Japan and the rest of the world while praying for their happiness and reflecting on what the emperor has done up until now.”

Naruhito’s 84-year-old father, Akihito, will abdicate on April 30, handing the Chrysanthemum throne to his son the next day. Akihito is seen as having devoted his life to make amends to victims of World War II, which was fought in his father Hirohito’s name.

The crown prince said he also wants to interact with younger people who will play a key role in deepening understanding and friendship in the future. The crown prince will join cultural events and visit schools during his upcoming trip, which marks 160 years of Japan-France diplomacy.

“I hope to directly get the feel of how Japanese traditional culture and pop culture are perceived in France,” Naruhito said. His wife, Masako, will not accompany him because she is still recovering from a stress-induced mental condition which she developed soon after giving birth to their only daughter, Aiko, now 16, following criticism that she failed to produce a boy. She has since largely withdrawn from public appearances, though her activities have slowly increased.

Masako, a Harvard-educated former diplomat, still has ups and downs and it would be difficult for her to immediately increase her official duties, Naruhito said. He said foreign visits are not the only way of promoting international goodwill, and receiving foreign dignitaries or attending international events at home can be just as important. He added that he hopes Masako can gradually do more.

“I believe her experience of having lived overseas and worked in diplomacy will definitely help,” he said.

Japanese emperor tries to make amends for his father’s war

August 15, 2018

TOKYO (AP) — For his last time, Japan’s Emperor Akihito addressed a memorial service Wednesday marking the end of World War II. Once again, he expressed “deep remorse” for the war. It was in keeping with what by all appearances has become a mission for Akihito over his 30-year reign: to make amends for a war fought in the name of his father, Hirohito. The 84-year-old monarch is set to abdicate next spring.

“Reflecting on our past and bearing in mind the feelings of deep remorse, I earnestly hope that the ravages of war will never be repeated,” Akihito said in a two-minute speech on the 73rd anniversary of Japan’s surrender.

As emperor, he has made unprecedented visits to the Philippines and other Pacific islands conquered by Japan early in World War II and devastated in fierce fighting as the U.S.-led allies took them back. Though Akihito has avoided a direct apology, he has subtly stepped up his expressions of regret in recent years in carefully scripted statements on the war.

His words have taken on greater importance as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has sought to move Japan beyond its troubled past since coming to power in December 2012. Opponents of Abe’s policies have grabbed onto the emperor’s statements as a counterbalance to the prime minister’s push to revise Japan’s war-renouncing constitution and build up its military.

Akihito’s World War II-related trips and pronouncements form part of a broader effort to bring the royal family closer to the public. In so doing, he has won over pacifists, leftists and other critics of the emperor system in a way his father was never able to do.

Hirohito, who was worshipped as a living god until the end of the war, remains a controversial figure even today, with historians still debating his responsibility for the war. During his father’s reign, Akihito himself was almost hit by a Molotov cocktail on a 1975 visit to Japan’s southern Okinawa island, where tens of thousands of civilians died in intense fighting near the end of World War II.

He has since visited the island 10 times. Okinawans warmly welcomed him and his wife Michiko earlier this year in what was likely his last as emperor. Akihito was 11 years old when he heard his father’s voice announcing Japan’s surrender on the radio on Aug. 15, 1945. During the subsequent U.S. occupation of Japan, he was tutored in English by Elizabeth Vining, a Quaker, an experience that experts say gave Akihito his pacifist and democratic outlook.

Though Hirohito hardly changed the wording of his Aug. 15 message for a quarter century, Akihito’s has evolved since he became emperor after his father’s death in 1989. On the 50th anniversary of the war’s end in 1995, he expressed for the first time the hope that the same tragedy would never be repeated.

The same year, then-Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama acknowledged Japan’s wartime aggression and made a landmark apology to victims in the rest of Asia. His successors expressed remorse to other Asian countries until Abe dropped them and any reference to aggression in his Aug. 15 remarks beginning in 2013. He has pledged that Japan will not repeat the devastation of war, and did again Wednesday.

Abe also sent a religious offering to a Tokyo shrine that honors the war dead, including convicted war criminals. He has avoided visiting the shrine since 2013 in a bid to avoid overly angering China and South Korea, which see the Yasukuni shrine as a symbol of Japan’s military aggression.

In his 70th anniversary address in 2015, Akihito started using the expression he used Wednesday, stronger words than he had used previously. The contrast with Abe captured media attention, with the prime minister portrayed as a nationalist pushing for a stronger military versus a pacifist Akihito. Abe wants Japan to stop dwelling on the past, while the emperor doesn’t want his country to forget it.

Akihito visited China early in his reign and has traveled to some of the harshest World War II battlefields in the Pacific. His 2005 visit to the U.S. territory of Saipan was hailed as a statement of his desire to be part of the postwar healing process. Akihito traveled to the western Pacific nation of Palau in 2015 and the Philippines in 2016.

While his Aug. 15 address is always short, Akihito has expressed his thoughts about the war more clearly in annual birthday remarks and on overseas trips. He has repeatedly stressed the importance of studying history and passing it down to the next generations.

“Now that the memories of the war have started to fade, I think it is extremely important for everyone to study time and again the course of history Japan has followed and to reflect on peace,” he said in his 2011 birthday address.

His son, Crown Prince Naruhito, has largely echoed his father’s pacifist stance, but it is unclear if the first postwar-generation emperor will be able to strike a similar chord with today’s younger Japanese.

This story has been corrected to show Akihito visited Saipan in 2005.

Nagasaki marks 73 years since A-bombing as UN chief attends

August 09, 2018

TOKYO (AP) — Nagasaki marked the anniversary of the world’s second atomic bombing Thursday with the United Nations’ chief and the city’s mayor urging global leaders to take concrete steps toward world nuclear disarmament.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the first United Nations chief to visit Nagasaki, said fears of nuclear war are still present 73 years after the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombings and that they should never be repeated. He raised concerns about the slowing effort to denuclearize, saying existing nuclear states are modernizing their arsenals.

“Disarmament processes have slowed and even come to a halt,” Guterres told the audience at the Nagasaki peace park. “Here in Nagasaki, I call on all countries to commit to nuclear disarmament and to start making visible progress as a matter of urgency.” Then he added: “Let us all commit to making Nagasaki the last place on earth to suffer nuclear devastation.”

The peace and nuclear disarmament movement, started by survivors of the atomic bombings, has spread around the world but frustration over the slow progress led to last year’s adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Japan, despite being the only country in the world to have suffered nuclear attacks, has not signed the treaty, because of its sensitive position as an U.S. ally protected by its nuclear umbrella. Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue urged Japan’s government to do more to lead nuclear disarmament, especially in the region to help advance the efforts to achieve a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. He said citizens of the atomic-bombed cities are hoping to see North Korea denuclearized.

Taue said he hoped Japan’s government would take the opportunity to realize a nuclear-free Northeast Asia, including Japan and the Korean Peninsula. Taue urged Tokyo to sign the treaty and “fulfill its moral obligation to lead the world towards denuclearization.” He said more than 300 local assemblies have adopted resolutions calling on Japan to sign and ratify the treaty.

Japan seeks to close the gaps between nuclear and non-nuclear states to eventually achieve a nuclear-free world, said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, repeating almost the same phrase he used in his speech three days ago in Hiroshima.

The bombing of Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945, was the second U.S. nuclear attack on Japan, killing 70,000 people, three days after the bomb dropped on Hiroshima killed 140,000. They were followed by Japan’s surrender, ending World War II.

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