LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Traditional Japanese culture meets futuristic technology in a new exhibition at London's Science Museum, opening on Saturday, which provides a glimpse into the transport of tomorrow.
A collection of compact and environmentally friendly cars are exhibited alongside bonsai trees at "Japan Car," presenting the country's ancient traditions against its modern technological advances.
Some of the 14 unusual cars on display are already in use, while others are conceptual models.
They include the Mitsubishi Motor i-Miev -- an emission-free electric car due to be sold commercially from next year -- which can be driven 160 km after being charged overnight using household electricity.
"These models are showing how the car industry is responding to the challenge of a crowded world and teaching us how to work with an environment under pressure," said Andrew Nahum, principal curator of technology at the Science Museum.
"Having something small does not mean settling for less and that's a really interesting message for all cities of the world ... Japan is solving the problems the rest of the world is only just waking up to."
Among the more futuristic models featured is the Nissan PIVO2, a three seater car whose central cabin, mounted on four independently controllable wheels, rotates 360 degrees -- handy for those who struggle with reverse or parallel parking.
The Toyota Motor Corp i-REAL, a "personal car" or scooter which looks like a high-tech armchair on wheels, is also on display.
The exhibition, which runs until April 19 next year, was put together by graphic designer Kenya Hara and architect Shigeru Ban, and Ban's trademark cardboard columns run down each side of the room.
Nahum said the bonsai trees, one of which is 120 years old, were intended to emphasize that small can be beautiful.
"The bonsai displayed here represent the aesthetics and culture that underpin Japanese car design," he said.
As a densely populated nation lacking in oil reserves, Japan is at the forefront of modern automobile technology, and mini -- or kei -- cars, have long been popular there.
Japan's capital, Tokyo, is one of the most densely populated cities in the world, with a total population of more the 8.5 million -- just over 14,000 people per square kilometer (10,760 sq ft).
Size regulations dictate that, in order to qualify for local tax and insurance exemptions in Japan, the length of a kei car cannot exceed 3.4 meters. Its width has to be less than 1.48 meters, its height below 2 meters, and its engine under 660cc.
The seven kei cars on display at Japan Car include a compact truck and a micro 4x4. A small convertible is also exhibited dismantled into its component parts to show that although the cars are small, their design is elaborate.
As well as being space savers, small cars are also now favored for having less impact on the environment.
"Today Japanese car design also deeply relates to global environmental issues," Ban told Reuters, adding: "It's not only a show for the car design ... we chose the car as a reflection of Japanese culture and lifestyle."
The exhibition ends with a specially commissioned painting by Akira Yamaguchi which depicts the future of transport. Among traditional Japanese buildings people can be seen recharging their cars using electricity generated by a water wheel.
Editing by Paul Casciato