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Japan's Island Paradise Okinawa Expands EV Role in Eco-Tourism +VIDEO


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OKINAWA, Japan - February 20, 2012: The name Okinawa means “rope in the open sea,” and the island archipelago in southern Japan offers tropical beauty that lassos in more than 5 million tourists annually.

Over the past year, the Japanese prefecture has offered a new lure for visitors: Nissan LEAF electric cars.

Setting its island-style pace aside, Okinawa touts one of the country’s most aggressive EV infrastructures, with 220 Nissan LEAF rental cars and 27 quick-chargers at 18 locations.

Starting this month, Nissan and JTB Travel are jointly offering a tablet application called “Camploo — Okinawa! Campaign 2012”. The app highlights spring training activities for some of Japan’s most popular baseball teams.

With it, rental customers transform their holidays into virtual sightseeing tours.

The application communicates directly with the LEAF and is operated by GPS. It helps drivers to navigate a 60-kilometer course on the island to popular destinations and to quick-chargers in the area. Those quick chargers are located along the highway at rest stops or at FamilyMarts, usually about 30km to 40km apart. Operating the tablet means that someone else should drive.

Ultimately, the idea is to have — in one device and one application — the EV’s information integrated with external information, such as traffic conditions, to best get the driver to the destination.

This project uses IT to integrate car trips, environmental awareness and convenience for all baseball fans and island lovers.

LEAF rentals are still under 1% of Okinawa’s total rent-a-cars, but that will soon change, says General Manager Munehisa Matsumoto of Advanced Energy Company, which installs quick chargers on the island.

Matsumoto says that by the end of the decade, the number of chargers in place could serve a market of as many as 6,000 EVs.

“Moving forward, if we are able to set up a total of about 100 quick chargers, then people living on the main island will also be able to use them regularly, without any inconvenience,” says Matsumoto.

LEAFs are also available for rent in Hawaii — which has a similar climate to Okinawa — as well as in Paris and London.

But Katsushi Miyagi at the Environmental Policy Division of the Okinawa Prefectural Government says the islands are uniquely suited for EVs.

“Okinawa extends about 106km (66 miles) north to south, and about 30km (19 miles) east to west. It’s a long island, so the area in which to move around is limited,” said Miyagi. “Considering the distances that EVs travel, it seems natural to operate them here. And because the island is long, we can install chargers along the highways effectively.”

With more LEAF passengers quietly taking in the islands' natural vistas, Okinawa will soon feature not only for sand and surf, but a commodity tourists also treasure on vacation: silence.