Temperature extremes in Japan are leading to greater reliance on fabric shade structures.
By Kikuko Tagawa
Japan has been experiencing extremely hot summers in recent years. The summer of 2013 was especially fierce, according to a statement issued by the Tokyo Climate Center (TCC) Advisory Panel on Extreme Climatic Events, at its extraordinary session held at the Japan Meteorological Agency on September 2, 2013.
According to the TCC, in 2013 the summer mean temperature averaged over western Japan was 1.2° C above normal, the highest since the area-averaged temperature records began in 1946. In particular, August 12 saw the highest temperature ever recorded in Japan—41.0Ëš C (106° F), in Shimanto-city, Kochi Prefecture. As many as 143 observation stations recorded the highest daily maximum temperatures. Daily minimum temperatures were also record breaking in many locations; 93 stations recorded the highest daily minimum temperatures.
Seasonal total precipitation amounts were above normal in the Tohoku region and on the East Sea/Sea of Japan side in the main island of Japan, with serious heavy rainfall; other areas, including Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya, suffered from extremly sunny (and humid) weather with little rain. (For more details, a copy of the TCC’s statement is available.)
Health and shade
Heat attack (heat illness) in summer has become a growing social problem in recent years. The number of people who were transported by ambulance to the hospital because of heat attack from June–August 2013 was 55,596 in the country—the highest number ever. These climate changes have been observed for the last 2–3 years. The need for special care, especially for children and the elderly, is becoming increasingly evident and drawing more attention from public and private facilities. There is also greater awareness of skin damage from ultraviolet (UV) rays, leading to skin cancer. Under these circumstances, shade structures are growing in popularity in a variety of areas and markets.
“We started importing mesh fabrics for shades about seven years ago from Gale [Gale Pacific Ltd.], which I found at IFAI Expo,” says Mr. Toshio Katayama of Daiichi Hanpu, Osaka. “Before that there were actually almost no mesh fabrics for shades in the Japanese market. People were more conscious of protection from rain rather than only sun and heat. But recently, that has been changing. Various mesh fabrics for shade that block sun, heat and UV rays while allowing soft natural light and wind were introduced and developed.”
`It was roughly at that same time that Taiyo Kogyo Corp., Tokyo, co-developed a mesh fabric, “Shade Azul,” with a fabric manufacturer. In the swimming pool of Konan Elementary School, Kobe, children learn swimming under a white retractable fabric roof instead of a blue sky. The roof was installed by Taiyo Kogyo in May 2013. Shade Azul cuts approximately 80 percent of UV rays. The roof is retracted to warm the water when children are not in the pool.
“Characteristic of Shade Azul is not only offering a nice shade, like the shade of a tree, but also providing stretching performance through a special production method that makes a beautiful tensioned form possible. It also does not cause harmful gas, including the carcinogen formaldehyde and others, so it can be used without worrying about ‘sick building syndrome.’ The fabric is lightweight and can be folded and stored in the off season, and can be washed with household detergent,” says Mr. Tetsuya Ueda, Taiyo Kogyo public relations.
“Recently we’ve seen a lot of private elementary and junior high schools starting to plan to cover their swimming pools with a retractable roof, and kindergartens and schools to cover their playgrounds. It is regarded as the solution to avoiding the heat attacks and harmful UV rays for children.”
Manager at the Miyazaki office of Yamaguchi Sangyo Co. Ltd., Mr. Nobuyuki Yamaguchi, says, “Especially in Kyushu and the western part of Japan, it is expected to be hot and sunny in summer. We sent a promotional direct mail about tents as a countermeasure against heat and UV rays to kindergartens and elementary schools in the Kyushu area before summer started.” The promotional efforts have been very successful.
Functional, fashionable—and comfortable
It isn’t just children who need protection from sun and heat, but their parents as well. Yamaguchi Sangyo constructed a shelter to shade the sandbox at Uminonakamichi Seaside Park in Fukuoka, Japan, to keep the sand from becoming too hot for the children, and also built a shade structure in the playground next to the play equipment, for parents to relax. The fabric used, Dynastar® from Kanbo Pras Corp., a photocatalytic-treated PVC architectural membrane, features an antifouling technology unique to Japan to keep the fabric surface clean.
In June 2013, with the renovation of the Fukuyama service area facility along the Sanyo Highway in western Japan, a unique shade structure was completed by Asahi Tent Shokai Co. Ltd. The terrace area of the fast-food restaurant had a pergola roof with rafters at intervals of 875 mm. The owner of the restaurant wanted to provide some protection against heat and sun, but did not want holes drilled in the pergola or walls. A unique design was developed to “weave” the fabric across, over and below the rafters.
The fabric used was Serge Ferrari’s Soltis® 86. The company’s Précontraint® technology, offering high dimensional stability with high tensile strength equally in both warp and weft directions, makes it possible to keep the fabric tensioned for a long time. The fabric strips were cut in widths of 794 mm and 770 mm, fixed with a locking system, laid out in an alternating pattern and tensioned. There is no seam in the longitudinal direction. With a white building, the roof resembles rolling white waves. The restaurant owner was very pleased with both the design and the function of the shade structure.
Teijin Ltd., Tokyo, recently released a new line of mesh fabrics for shades, Shagarl® View, using ECOPET® fiber made of recycled PET bottles. The company has been putting great effort into environmental sustainability programs and products. The fabric has a cotton-like texture and presents a natural and high-grade feel. “Not only is it environmentally friendly but it is also highly weather resistant and fire resistant,” says Mr. Rieko Nishida. “Since it’s made of solution-dyed spun yarn, it has color fastness and keeps its beautiful colors for a long time in outdoor use, cutting UV rays. A fabric with these properties is very unique.” Applications include mainly shades and roll curtains, since the fabric is lightweight, light touch and translucent. OneSweet PVC-coated polyester is another mesh fabric from Teijin that cuts UV rays and blocks the view from outside (but not from inside) without blocking the wind, to maintain privacy and comfort with windows open.
Need, and opportunity
Despite the growing concerns in Japan about extremely hot summers, there is also great public concern about shortages of the supply of electricity after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident. People have become very conscious of the need to save energy, and more hesitant to rely on air conditioning.
The shade market in Japan is undergoing a great impetus, and will continue to grow along with peoples’ awareness of the need for protection from heat and UV damage. Accordingly, the design of awnings, canopies and shade structures is expected to become both more fashionable and more functional as more public and private buildings adopt them. Fabric technologies should advance as well, blending performance, style, versatility and durability.