The first post by SurvivalJapan was “A New Threat“: Manufactured goods from the no-man’s land are the latest addition in the spread of contamination. Japanese cars are among their best manufactured goods and those that are built in Japan for the domestic market pose a serious threat. Conversely, Japanese cars built abroad for the international markets should not be a concern (but exports are). The Japanese car industry is scattered around the country and car parts can come from any factory in the world so it is impossible to trace which car brands are safest, radiation-wise, with certainty. However, some car manufacturers headquarters, factories and public policies give us some hints.

When you seat down in your car, seats expel some air charged with dust. Likewise, when you turn on your air-conditioning system, air inflow follows ducts, pass through some filters against pollens, etc. which should be changed regularly in order to do their job (otherwise the air just passes through a condensate of pollens, dust, fungi, etc.). Another source of dust is the car headliner which is rarely vacuumed. Even if car parts are imported, final assembly will not take place in a white room, so depending on your choice, your car could be filled with contaminated dust. Even if you purchase a second-hand car, be aware that many cars were retrieved from the no man’s land and that the decontamination process was basically taking them to a car wash.

Another source of danger comes from the onboard electronics. In the aftermath of 3/11, supply chain was interrupted and car manufacturers worldwide were waiting for parts from Japan, and particularly onboard computer system called microcontrollers for which Japanese company Renesas enjoy an enormous market share. Renesas was directly hit by the disaster and is therefore in the no man’s land. Electronics and computers are fragile in the face of radiation. Space industry reinforces their satellite onboard computer systems against the radiation in which they will bask up there. If a “heavy” radioactive particle hits a supremely miniaturized transistor cell inside their computers, satellites can get out of control. Usually hardened integrated chips, extra shielding and redundancy (multiple back-up systems) avoid space disasters. Cars are not designed to safely operate in radioactive environments. Renesas microcontrollers are made from silicium that could be contaminated by radioactive dust if white rooms are not clean enough, or if the cleaning of the IC chips is done in a poorly controlled environment (for example at a subcontractor, cf. TEPCO) and the final product could still be damaged when stocked in the no man’s land. Next time you wonder why the automatic brake did not work, you may inquire where the microcontroller came from (this of course applies to any country since a majority of foreign brands use these Japanese chips). As if this was not enough, the Japanese government chose Tohoku as a hub to recycle rare metals which are used in electronic devices, thus ensuring internal contamination, dysfunctions and eventually new lethal car accidents.

The car manufacturer which is in the center of the no man’s land is Honda. Today, Toyota announced that they would produce their smaller cars in Miyagi and progressively shift production towards Tohoku. Toyota currently has factories in Shizuoka prefecture, i.e. where green tea leaves are radio-positive. Several other car manufacturers are based around Tokyo, which is also highly contaminated. The only company outside the no man’s land is Mazda, in Hiroshima. It is not absolutely certain that their cars are radiation-free, but it is quite sure that with other makers, you’ll breath some amount of contaminated dust.

The key point with Toyota is that they put the focus on supporting Tohoku (maybe getting some financial incentives by local government) instead of making absolutely sure their cars are radiation-free. This kind of policy is decided at high management level and will apply to their other subsidiaries, like Lexus, Daihatsu, etc. in the long term. If you live in Japan and decide to purchase a Prius because of its ecological appeal: think twice. Likewise, all so-called “green” cars who plug in electricity stations actually support nuclear power.

Toyota is one of the main taxi manufacturers (and army transportation vehicles but in all likeliness it does not concern you unless the Japanese Self-Defense Force sends their contaminated trucks to your country). Old taxis do not have this kind of problem – but think about it next time you ride a brand new Toyota taxi.

Honda declared that they would halve exports of domestically built cars and it is good news for their customers abroad in terms of radiation exposure.

Asahi Shimbun article about Honda :

Honda to halve car exports

BY YUKIO HASHIMOTO STAFF WRITER

2011/10/06

photo
Honda Motor President Takanobu Ito shows off the Fit electric vehicle in Shanghai. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The soaring value of the yen will force Honda Motor Co. to slash exports of domestically manufactured vehicles, according to the company’s president.

Takanobu Ito told The Asahi Shimbun that the firm plans to cut the proportion of Japan-built cars sent overseas from 34 percent to between 10 and 20 percent over about 10 years.

In fiscal 2010, Honda manufactured 910,000 vehicles in Japanese plants and exported 310,000 of them. That was considerably lower than the 53 percent export ratio of the whole Japanese automobile sector, but Ito said further cuts are necessary to maintain profitability.

In fiscal 2010, Honda manufactured a total of 3.57 million vehicles worldwide. The new strategy means that cars sold in foreign markets will increasingly also be manufactured overseas.

Honda plans to maintain its domestic production capacity of about 1 million vehicles a year by increasing sales of cheaper minicars. It hopes to double minicar sales in Japan from 150,000 cars in fiscal 2010 to about 300,000 but will face stiff competition from rivals including Suzuki Motor Corp. and Daihatsu Motor Co.

Honda will introduce a new minicar model in December and has several other new models in the pipeline.

Overall domestic automobile production is currently about 5 million vehicles, nearly 20-percent less than 10 years ago.

Asahi Shimbun article about Toyota :

Toyota to shift output of small cars to U.S. and Tohoku from Shizuoka

2011/10/05

Toyota Motor Corp. will cut back production of small cars at its aging plant in Shizuoka Prefecture by shifting output to the United States and the Tohoku region.

It will reduce annual capacity to 180,000 units from 210,000 units at its Higashi-Fuji plant in Susono, operated by subsidiary Kanto Auto Works Ltd.

The cutback is the first for the automaker since the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake.

The Higashi-Fuji plant, built in 1968, has two production lines, rolling out the Corolla, the Corolla Fielder, high-end cars and taxis.

Toyota will shut down one of the lines, shifting the production of small cars, which have lower profit margins, to other factories.

The Corolla, which is designed for the North American market, will be manufactured at Toyota’s factory in Mississippi. The Corolla Fielder, which is sold in Japan and overseas, will be manufactured at a new plant in Miyagi Prefecture operated by Central Motor Co., a group company.

The space to be vacated by the shutdown will be used to upgrade the paint line.

The Higashi-Fuji plant will continue to produce luxury cars and other vehicles.

Despite the cutback, Toyota will maintain overall domestic annual output at 3 million units or more.

Toyota’s current annual capacity in Japan is around 3.6 million units, which the automaker considers to be excessive.

Toyota has maintained domestic annual output of at least 3 million units for many years, except for 2009, when the auto giant was battered by the financial crisis triggered by the collapse of Lehman Brothers in autumn 2008.

Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota, is committed to maintaining the 3 million level. He has expressed concern about the possible impact on employment as well as research and development in Japan if Toyota’s production level falls.

The fate of the Higashi-Fuji plant had been a matter of considerable speculation since July when Toyota announced its plan to make facilities of its group companies in the Tohoku region the key production base for small cars as part of streamlining efforts.

Under the plan, Toyota is expected to turn Kanto Auto Works into its wholly owned subsidiary in January 2012.

After that, it will integrate Kanto Auto Works with Central Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Tohoku Corp., both of which are based in the Tohoku region, in July 2012.

This article was written by Tomoyuki Izawa and Takeshi Narabe.

Yomiuri Shimbun article about rare metals recycling in no man’s land :

Govt to position Tohoku as hub for rare metal recovery

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The government will launch a project to make the Tohoku region a hub for recovering rare metals from small electric appliances, including cell phones collected from across the country, to support the reconstruction of areas hit by the Great East Japan Earthquake, it was learned Wednesday.

Tohoku once prospered as a mining region, and there are a number of business enterprises that have the technology to recover rare metals.

The Environment Ministry, which will be in charge of the project and will shoulder the cost of delivery of small electric appliances to the region among other expenses, hopes the project will help create local jobs.

The ministry requested 200 million yen to implement the project in the third supplementary budget for fiscal 2011.

With this money, the ministry will support local municipalities and business firms by shouldering the expenses for: delivering electric appliances to the Tohoku region; promoting public awareness of the project; and purchasing “collection boxes” to be installed in local municipalities that take part in the project.

The ministry will invite local municipalities from across the country to take part in the project later this year.

Once the appliances are delivered to Tohoku, intermediate processing businesses will separate the parts and components containing rare metals for refinery firms to extract rare metals.

During the Meiji era (1868-1912), a large number of mines were developed in Tohoku. This helps explain why a number of companies operating businesses to recover nonferrous metals such as copper and zinc exist there today.

In the envisaged project, the ministry will ask the intermediate processing businesses to sort parts containing rare metals manually, rather than mechanically. By doing so, the ministry hopes to increase the recovery rate of rare metals, and also secure more jobs in disaster-affected districts.

Meanwhile, the ministry will make it mandatory for refining businesses to allocate a percentage of profits from the sales of recovered rare metals to help develop related technology. The ministry hopes the firms will become more competitive in the global market and may someday be able to expand overseas.

A national recycling system to recover rare metals from small electric appliances is yet to be established, but the ministry is thinking of introducing such a system in fiscal 2014.

The invitation for local municipalities to take part in helping collect appliances for rare metal recycling in Tohoku is considered a harbinger of the system’s full-fledged national introduction.

(Oct. 6, 2011)
Comments
  1. kintaman says:

    I would only buy “Made in Japan” as it was a badge of quality until now. From 3-11 on, I will NEVER buy anything made in Japan. I know though, that Japan will use dishonesty and mislabel their products as “made in China” (how ironic) so they can sell to consumers. Everything we have known has changed but the tsunami of this reality has yet to hit. It will come soon though and then Japan’s economy (and subsequently the world’s) will be finished. I was never a doom believer but since 3-11 my outlook has changed. It may sound very grim and negative but I think it is the reality.

    • “Made in Japan” has been respected as a badge of quality, although the decline started before 3-11, if you’ll remember various Toyota and Mitsubishi scandals… Food manufacturers were caught time and again for sub-par quality and downright fraud, as mislabelling food “from Japan” while it was in fact from “China”. Stereo music equipment I bought from Sony and Panasonic as well as phone from Sharp personally also let me down in recent years – but to be fair, everything including iPhones are made in the same Taiwan factories. The reverse labelling is bound to happen and it is sadly ironic indeed. On the other hand, the delocalisation trend started before 3-11 with the “Lehman shock” with Honda manufacturing in China, Mitsubishi in Thailand, etc. is picking up with the damaging yen exchange rate, so products will increasingly be manufactured abroad, with geniune “made in China / Vietnam / Thailand / Indonesia” labels. The Japanese industry is just packing away. As you can read in the articles, Japanese cars manufacturing in the US is ramping up quickly and you should not worry about radiation for these (unless some parts like A/C were made in the no man’s land and assembled in the US plants), except for the intelligent systems which dysfunctions will increase (but again non-Japanese manufacturers use the same microcontrollers).
      As a conclusion, cars devoid of “smart” functions (there were already some accidents with French Renault premium Velsatis in the past) and even A/C may be paradoxically the safest in the future (you don’t want your airbag to accidentally inflate when you’re driving because some contaminated rare metal or radiation-burnt transistor cell made the onboard computer confused).
      Moving factories is a heavy process so domestic buyers still have some time ahead before their cars come from the no man’s land. Besides, the article mentions only small cars (first), which means that rich elder men who favor large, expensive cars will be the last population segment affected. We can see that not everyone is equal is the glow of radiation: wealthy people and celebrities in Tokyo have already moved out, to Singapore mainly, while most of the population cannot even afford to move out of the no man’s land into west / south Japan.
      I beg to differ with your doom belief, which I respect, but we have been and continue to go slowly in a downward spiral. I can’t see the bottom of it yet, nor whether we’ll spiral up when we hit it. We are 7 billion people on Earth, most of them survive in conditions which we would find impossible but they are still here. Even if your doom scenario happened, we would still be the most numerous primates on Earth by a factor 1000.

  2. kintaman says:

    Thank you for your reply survivaljapan. I agree with your statements. Japan’s track record regarding food mislabeling (expiration dates, country of origin) was the final point that drove me to decide to leave Japan completely back in March. While I love Japan (the people and culture) very deeply as it is my ancestral country I could not trust the corrupt government and corporations with the safety of my family and I.

    My point about “doom” was not necessarily directed at the humans species as a whole but more specifically to Japan as a nation. It is really a nightmarish Sci-Fi situation beyond anything imaginable. I remember jokingly thinking while living in Japan several months before 3.11 that the odds of us ever suffering a nuclear event would be so small. I remember saying “what would be the odds of the same small nation getting hit a third time by a nuclear catastrophe. How wrong I was. I wish I could wake up and find that this was all simply a bad dream but I know it will not happen.

    What is making things even worse than the disaster itself has been the reactions and decisions made by the Japanese government and TEPCO. I do not think worse decisions than those already made could possibly be made. One has to wonder at the logic behind these decisions. There are likely very sinister motives behind them.

    This then leads me to wonder how much longer the people of Japan will put up with the ‘shenanigans’ that are occurring. People often think of Japanese as naive and obedient but there is a line that has been crossed by these events which should push the people to revolt and take the power away from the psychotics currently running the show.

    • I feel the same as you kintaman. In my case, I was born in the nuclear age and nuclear holocaust has been on my mind since I was a teenager. As soon as I learnt about the existence of nuclear power in sismic Japan, it was always on the back of my mind – like the threat of an earthquake. There are other places in the world were I expect sismic activity will not fare well with nuclear installations…

      I don’t think that there are any sinister motives, only incompetency, complacency, lack of leadership, dysfonctional communication and processes, etc. What is sinister is the grim business of yakuza hiring day-laborers in the street, including homeless people, trucking them to Fukushima, making them work without any contract (even if job contracts are less common in Japan than in western countries anyway), sometimes unpaid, often under-trained and almost always unqualified, without any dosimeter, until they are so sick they put them back under the bridge to die out alone.

      Some Japanese people are beginning to show their frustration, but there will not be any revolution – a coup d’etat is more likely actually.

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