COVER STORY: Sustainable Cities
Caption: An electric car glides through the hot spring resort of Unazuki
Map of Unazuki and Kurobe
Unazuki hot spring is located in the city of Kurobe, Toyama Prefecture, at the foot of the Northern Alps. The Kurobe Gorge is a famous sightseeing spot where viewing the natural scenery from the Torokko train traveling the length of the gorge is a particularly popular attraction. Toyama Bay is also not far away so in terms of the palate, it is possible to enjoy both seafood and mountain vegetables.
Aiming to become a low-carbon sightseeing area, Unazuki hot spring launched the Denki Unazuki Project in April 2010. (“Denki
” is the Japanese for “electricity.”) Modeled on Zermatt, the world famous mountain resort at the foot of the Matterhorn in Switzerland, the concept is to turn environmentally friendly urban planning into a spark that ignites interest among visitors. Local tourism operators and building contractors got together to start up the project, inspired by a proposal made by Professor Hiroyuki Uesaka at Toyama University of International Studies, who has researched the advanced initiatives to protect the environment at Zermatt, including the ban in principle on driving gasoline-powered vehicles.
They started with a car rental service of three electric cars and twenty electrically assisted bicycles for sightseeing in the hot spring town and its surroundings. The electric cars can travel about 100 kilometers, which is enough for a leisurely day of sightseeing in the surrounding tourist areas. In December, the town started a demonstration trial of a small generating facility that uses the water for fire prevention that flows through the town to charge the electric cars.
Satoshi Ohashi, director of the executive committee for the Denki Unazuki Project, comments, “We have arranged for convertible electric cars with cute designs that make many visitors feel that they want to try them. Recently, there has been an increase in visitors who come because they want to drive the electric cars.” The initiative already seems to be pioneering new visitors.
There is a typically Japanese hydraulic power station in the upper reaches of the Kurobe-gawa river, which flows through Unazuki hot spring, and the high level of interest in green energy among local people has also provided backing for the project.
“At present, we are developing an electric bus for ferrying visitors from Unazuki Station to the spa hotels. Recently, there has also been an increase in visitors from Asia including China and Taiwan. We want to continue to work hard to attract visitors from all parts of the world to enjoy the natural surroundings and tourism through green energy.”
The electric car rental closed for the winter season in the middle of December, but the service will reopen in the spring.