Japan's high-tech displays give paper a cutting edge

TOKYO (Reuters) - Bend it, write on it, read it -- just don’t try to fold it into a paper plane. Electronic paper is Japan’s answer to rising raw material costs, depleted resources and booming demand for printed matter from emerging markets such as China and India.

At a high-tech fair in Tokyo this week, Japanese firms showed the latest versions of what is still considered a niche product, ranging from thick, sturdy readers to thin displays that look like plastic sheets and can be bent.

E-Ink, which manufactures Sony’s Reader tablet, says consumers will eventually embrace the energy-saving technology as the cost of paper and fuel goes up.

“The BRIC nations like India and China are consuming so much paper as their economies expand that the cost of A4 size paper is up 20 to 30 percent,” said Ryosuke Kuwada, vice president for E-Ink corporation’s Asia pacific region, referring to an abbreviation that groups Brazil, Russia, India and China.

“As people try to wean themselves off pulp paper, the push for electronic paper is going to intensify,” he added.

Japan, known for its beautiful hand-made paper as well as its cutting-edge technology, has already been trying to combine the two.

Companies such as Fujitsu and Sony use electrophoretic displays, or EPD, for everything from watches and mobile phones to electronic readers.

The display sends electronic charges along a grid embedded in the e-paper which cause tiny black and white particles to move, creating text and images.

“This is going to be a new kind of personal tool that businessmen would carry in their bags. It will be yet another powerful tool after the cell phone,” said Yoshiaki Kageyama, director of Fujitsu’s e-paper division.

Fujitsu recently developed flexible e-paper that can display different colors, a further step towards publishing to e-magazines and newspapers.

Writing by Sophie Hardach