Dotted with energy-efficient factories and fuel-saving cars, Japan has been less affected by surging oil prices than most wealthy countries.
Stung by the “oil shocks” of 1973 and 1979, the government has spent the past few decades urging businesses and consumers to save energy and decrease its reliance on oil. Japan imports about 87 percent of its oil needs from the Middle East.
The nation now has automobiles that can temporarily shut down when idling in city traffic and convenience stores that recycle refrigerator heat to warm the inside of shops.
Each new air conditioner or washing machine model seems to consume less energy than the last.
The efforts have paid off: Japan uses 130 grams of crude oil for every $1 of nominal GDP, compared with 230 grams in the United States, 460 grams in South Korea and 800 grams in China, said Nobuyuki Saiji, an economist at Mizuho Securities.
Japan is more energy efficient in part because its manufacturers tend to produce precision products rather than raw materials that use up oil and gasoline more quickly, he added.
Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., the maker of Panasonic consumer brands, said it is more worried about the cost of other resources.
“The electronics industry hasn’t been directly affected by oil price increases yet,” said Tetsuo Egawa, a company spokesman. “For us, price increases in steel, copper, aluminum, resin, cobalt would pose much more damage than oil.”
In 2003, Japan imported 248.49 billion liters of crude oil, up 5.4 percent from 2002.
Imports haven’t changed much over the decade, however, because the economy has only grown sporadically and slowly, and because of heightened fuel-efficiency.
Noriyuki Kageyama, an official at the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry, said the government’s biggest concern about higher oil prices is that they might undermine consumer spending in the United States and China — Japan’s two biggest export markets.
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