EFEFujisawa, Japan

Tables that become stoves, toilets that are hidden from view and solar panels that provide electricity during emergencies are some of the features of "smart cities" in Japan, a country always on alert for natural disasters.

Residents of Fujisawa, 51 kilometers (31.7 miles) to the south of Tokyo, are witnessing how what was once technology company Panasonic's industrial complex is slowly turning into a residential zone with prototype houses fitted with solar cells and electric vehicles roaming the streets.

Between the rows of houses, built to the last detail in compliance with local rules, canvases cover what will soon be new residences.

After all, only 25 percent of the total urban project has been completed, and it currently houses just 128 of the 3,000 planned tenants.

The entire region is designed to save energy, make maximum use of sunlight and allow the soothing breeze from the nearby Shonan dunes to flow through.

It also offers a privileged view of the iconic Mt. Fuji (when the weather allows).

In 1961, Panasonic, based in Osaka, set up its first factory in Fujisawa.

In 2007, when it was considering some other purpose for the place, the corporation decided to think about contributing to society.

In this way, the Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town, SST, was conceived, incorporating the emerging concept of "smart city" while also taking into account certain conditions in Japan: the entire archipielago is located on the so-called Ring of Fire, one of the most active seismic zones in the world.

The houses are built using earthquake-resistant materials and are totally equipped to consume less energy, making them between 10 and 20 percent more expensive than conventional houses, according to Hiroyuki Morita, chief of Panasonic's Business Solutions division.

Prices range from 50 million yen (372,600 euros or $422,000) for a basic house to 110 million yen (819,700 euros or $928,500) for a much bigger one.

Its energy-saving potential is guaranteed by solar panels on the roof and complementary cells that generate electricity for lighting and heating water.

This would mean that the families residing in Fujisawa SST need not pay electric companies, as they themselves would be producing their energy.

In fact, if they generate a surplus, they can sell it and earn money, says Panasonic spokesperson Yayoi Watanabe while showing the generators installed in one of the houses.

Residents can access data regarding their energy consumption and production through their own website, and their houses incorporate "Smart TVs" and security cameras throughout the complex.

The features of Fujisawa SST go even further. The city is well-equipped for an emergency.

It includes functional elements such as tables that turn into stoves and community solar panels that residents, as well as people from neighboring areas, can use in case of an emergency.

It also provides services for renting motorcycles, bicycles and electric cars -with their corresponding refilling stations-, in case someone wishes to change cars every weekend, says Morita.

Officially inaugurated in November last year, the sustainable city has already had more than 900 visitors, and their number continues to grow.

The SST is one of the 18 smart-city initiatives undertaken by Japan's private sector, while the country's government has conceived another 14 such projects in Yokohama, Toyota, Keihanna and Kitakyushu.