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Sunday, Aug. 31, 2008

'Backyard naturalist' finds it fun to be green

Staff writer

Tadashi Nemoto's home in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, is proof that you don't need lots of expensive equipment to enjoy an ecological lifestyle.

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Hot house: Tadashi Nemoto shows off the outdoor solar cooker he helped design (above), and which is now on the market, in his Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, home (below), where a wind turbine that lights the garden and a solar-heating system on its roof all add to its green domestic credentials. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO
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Nemoto, a 48-year-old chemical ecologist for a national research institute by day, is a self-proclaimed "backyard naturalist" after work.

His garden boasts some 400 kinds of plants, including numerous trees, shrubs and herbs and mouth-watering pumpkins, apples and raspberries. It is also home to a 400-watt wind turbine, which Nemoto installed by himself. The wind-power setup, consisting of a U.S.-made turbine and numerous other parts, including a 4-meter steel scaffolding pipe he bought from a DIY store to support the turbine, cost him ¥100,000 in total.

Although it's not connected to the grid, the turbine has powered his family's gardening tools, batteries, a notebook PC and Christmas lights. He has also had a local builder bury an 800-liter tank underground to store rainwater, which is used to feed the garden. In addition, the 150-sq.-meter wooden house, which is eight years old, is equipped with a liquid-based solar system to heat water and the house itself.

Nemoto, a father of three, says he became interested in exploring renewable energy for his home because he had long been an amateur radio enthusiast. "In the old days, people who were interested in independent sources of energy were mostly ham operators," he said. "I wanted my house to have some capabilities to protect my family against hazards (such as power outages)."

Nemoto's interest in harnessing solar energy is so intense that it has led to him developing a solar cooker — a parasol- like aluminum device on a tripod that focuses the sunlight to its center, where a cooking pot is placed. Nemoto says that he personally prefers to use the outdoor cooking device — which is now on the market for ¥27,800 — during winter, as he finds the summer heat and humidity oppressive outside.

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Green tea time: All-natural herb tea brewed with leaves from Nemoto's garden and water boiled by solar power. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

"We have had full dinners of soup, main dishes and dessert all prepared by solar cooking," he said.

Nemoto, who has spent ¥36 million on the house, says the key to ecological living is to enjoy the lifestyle, not to be obsessed with monetary gain. "If you ask me if I'm getting my investment paid off, the answer would be no," he said, serving up herb tea brewed with leaves handpicked from the garden, along with water boiled by his solar cooker. "But the more pertinent question for me is, 'How much fun am I having?' Such benefits are very hard to quantify."

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