Japan: Land of Green Gizmos

Where going green is almost a sense of duty.

ByABC News

April 28, 2007 — -- An environmentally friendly bio-gasoline went on sale at 50 gas stations in Tokyo on Friday. The Japanese plan to offer the fuel at another 50 stations over the next year and to expand to the whole nation after that.

It's an experiment that might not work in many countries, but in Japan, green is definitely in fashion.

The new fuel mixes gasoline with ethanol made from corn and sugar cane. It costs more to make, but the Japanese government and the oil industry are picking up the extra cost, so the bio-fuel costs the same as gasoline at the pump. That's more than $5 a gallon, but Japanese have been paying that for years without complaint.

The Japanese have embraced green technology -- in their cars and in their homes. The Maeda family in Tokyo have equipped their home with the latest energy-efficient air conditioning units and the lowest-wattage electrical appliances, including an energy-conscious refrigerator that emits a signal if you don't close the door properly.

They are particularly proud of their newest gadget -- an experimental home fuel cell that converts natural gas into clean hydrogen, which provides electricity. They say it has cut their utility bills in half.

But for the Maedas and, in fact, most Japanese, energy conservation is about more than saving money -- they see it as a responsibility.

The Japanese have one of the world's most switched-on societies when it comes to managing and conserving energy, partly out of insecurity.

In the 1970s, the Japanese economy was crippled by the Middle East oil embargo. The nation vowed it would never be an energy victim again.

Japan began setting global standards for energy conservation by dramatically raising the fuel-efficiency of its cars and by introducing the world's first hybrid and electric vehicle.

Japan also turned to nuclear power, which now provides a third of the nation's electricity. Nuclear energy produces no carbon, but some environmentalists consider it a bad bargain since it produces dangerous radioactive waste.

All environmentalists, though, are fans of solar power, and Japan has promoted solar panels so effectively that power companies now buy excess electricity from some consumers.

Jeff Kingston, director of Asian studies at Japan's Temple University, said in Japan, conservation has become a state of mind.

"It's normal here," he said. "It's part of how you should be, how you should live."

And Japanese companies ignore that at their peril. Appliances in Japan now have prominent stickers with fuel efficiency ratings. A two-star rating may cost a little less, but it's the five stars that most Japanese want.

ABC News' Mark Litke reported this story for "World News."