Sunday, April 20, 2014

Drakskip: Swedish Folk Musik From Japan

I almost went to this live tonight with Kyoto folk music band Drakskip featuring Tatsushi Toritani... Great to see some Swedish nyckelharpa and violins, with a great beat.

Drakskip is a Japanese band in love with the Scandinavian music, formed in 2006 in Kyoto, Japan.
They perform both traditional and original tunes inspired by Scandinavian traditional music with their own unique sound.
They have performed with famous artists,
LAU, Valkyrien Allstars, FRIGG and Göran Månsson.

They have a decent English website too, click to start listening!

But you could call this a rare match of cultures:

Their drummer Nabe has a uniquely Japanese background in percussion. When he was seven years old he saw the Japanese drum troupe "Kodo" and it so inspired him that he religiously practiced Taiko (Japanese drum). When he was a high school student Nabe spent a year in Tasmania, Australia and during his stay, he was an instructor for the local Taiko group there. His vast experience with Taiko has significantly contributed to Drakskip’s unique sound.

Live from 2011. "Horse Carrying the Sun":

Friday, April 11, 2014

Please Get Rid Of Nuclear Weapons ASAP Meeting In Hiroshima...

...or as it is officially known as, the Nuclear Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI) is being held this weekend in Hiroshima, Japan. I feel a little bit like Tom Hanks or rather that character he played, Forrest Gump, who happened to turn up at all kinds of important events in history, because for other reasons I happen to be in Hiroshima right now while this is going on. NGOs including ICAN, Ploughshares and Pax are paying attention, but will mainstream media? Flags and banners here and there, important-looking delegates in black suits, and some cool people hanging out at Otis! tonight. Hope something good will come out of this.
April 11, 2014
To call for world leaders to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki

by Jumpei Fujimura, Staff Writer

A “Hiroshima Declaration” will be prepared by the 12 non-nuclear nations of the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative, including Japan and Australia, at their ministerial meeting to be held in Hiroshima on April 11 and 12 it was learned April 7. The declaration will call on world leaders, including those of nuclear nations, to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Final discussions are underway to see that the declaration focuses on the inhumanity of nuclear weapons and that it includes a call for unity in the effort to bring about a world without nuclear weapons despite nations’ varying stances on nuclear disarmament.

This will mark the first time the NPDI has called on world leaders to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In speeches delivered at a high-level meeting on nuclear disarmament at the United Nations General Assembly last September, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida called on world political leaders to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki to see the impact of the atomic bombings firsthand. Through the Hiroshima Declaration, the government intends to make this an international proposal.

As foreign minister of the host nation, Mr. Kishida will chair the NPDI ministerial meeting. In an interview with the Chugoku Shimbun, he said, “The foreign ministers of various countries will come to Hiroshima and learn firsthand about the reality of the atomic bombing. Delivering a political message after that is one reason holding the meeting here is significant.”

With regard to the growing international focus on the inhumanity of nuclear weapons, Mr. Kishida said, “In working toward a world without nuclear weapons, taking into account their inhumanity will serve as a catalyst for uniting the international community.” As for the upcoming ministerial meeting he said, “I would like to gain a consensus based on an awareness of the inhumanity of nuclear weapons and use it to issue a shared political message.” Source: Hiroshima Peace Media Center

Monday, March 31, 2014

Eco Links For March, 2014

IPCC report warns that climate change could threaten food security, increase poverty and become an indirect cause of conflicts, says NHK World today as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change meeting ends in Yokohama.

At a press conference Monday, IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri emphasized the need to take the predictions seriously and make efforts to address problems related to global warming. No one would be immune from the impact of global warming, he said. The report mentioned frequent surges in food prices that took place after IPCC published a similar report in 2007. It stated that abnormal weather that frequently struck main food-producing areas, including heat waves, droughts and floods, were a principal factor behind the sharp rises in food prices. The report said a 2 C increase in temperature would cause a decrease in the harvest of rice, wheat and corn in temperate and tropical regions. An increase of 4 C or more would deal a serious blow to each nation’s food security because of the difficulty in securing food supplies.

The Yomiuri: 2 C rise would reduce grain output

Meanwhile, we learn that Japan's whale hunt is "not scientific," a case brought on by Australia:

The International Court of Justice on Monday ordered a temporary halt to Japan's Antarctic whaling program, ruling that it is not for scientific purposes as the Japanese had claimed. Australia had sued Japan at the U.N.'s highest court for resolving disputes between nations in hopes of ending whaling in the icy Southern Ocean.

Reading a 12-4 decision by the court's 16-judge panel, Presiding Judge Peter Tomka of Slovakia said Japan's program failed to justify the large number of minke whales it takes under its current Antarctic program, while failing to meet much smaller targets for fin and humpback whales. "The evidence does not establish that the program's design and implementation are reasonable in relation to achieving its stated objectives," he said.

He noted among other factors that Japan had not considered a smaller program or non-lethal methods to study whale populations, and that it cited only two peer-reviewed scientific papers relating to its program from 2005 to the present - a period in which it has harpooned 3,600 minke whales, a handful of fin whales, and no humpback whales. The court ordered Japan to halt any issuing of whaling permits until the program has been revamped.

The decision is a major victory for Australia and environmental groups that oppose whaling on ethical grounds, though it will not mean the end of whaling.

The Mainichi: World Court: Japanese whaling not scientific

The Guardian has had live coverage of this debate today, with one comment noting: "What a pile of crap. I've seen the way my local butcher gets through a carcass, that must make him a scientist."

Not to mention the larger, moral issue... But being unscientific has not stopped governments and large corporations, or individuals for that matter, from doing all kinds of things they shouldn't be doing.

On a happier note, Japan is quietly in the midst of a solar boom, and that seems to continue as no nuclear power plants are online, and none seem about to be restarted in a hurry. Small hydro power plants are also being encouraged, but some 97% of government support for renewables are currently going to solar power, according to

Thus, the government will lower the tariff slightly for solar, in order to encourage investment in other renewables. Also, I'm hearing rumours that not all solar projects are going as planned. I'll try to remember to follow up on that topic later.

Speaking of all things nuclear, The Japan Times notes in an editorial:

The agreement reached last week by nations at the Nuclear Security Summit to minimize their stockpiles of plutonium gives more reason for Japan to review its nuclear fuel cycle program, under which it plans to reprocess spent fuel from nuclear power reactors to extract plutonium for reuse — despite uncertainties over how its already large stock of separated plutonium would be consumed.

Quote of the month: “Nuclear plants have been closed, so you cannot say we cannot live without nuclear energy,” anti-nuclear campaigner Junichi Okano said.

Source: More anti nuclear rallies held in Japan

Update: Published in March, I have to add Sustainability [R]evolution to this, as well as the Power Shift initiative from over at English text here! Quote: "One of Kai’s first goals is to “transform Japanese universities to be powered by 100% green energy”. In fact, the university that Kai had attended, University of California Santa Cruz, had implemented 100% renewable energy through student activism!"

Update 2: The Kyoto Smart City Expo 2014 was held on March 26-27. Topics included sustainable mobility:

Realization of comfortable mobility is an important issue for the formation of smart cities. Amid the increasing world's population, coupled with concentration of urban populations, conventional road networks that have reached their physical limits have become a serious issue along with the problem of CO2 emissions.

This session focuses on new technological development of next generation automobiles and development of road transportation systems, as well as transformation of transport systems from automobile-centric communities to communities centered about pedestrians, bicycles, and public transportation.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

BBC: "Hunger Games" In Japan Due To Climate Change And More

The BBC is in Japan for the Climate Change conference in Yokohama, and I was interviewed about food issues and what needs to be happening, soon: Is Japan playing hunger games with climate change?

"...We are facing a crisis unless we do something. I think we need a fundamental change in the minds of consumers," says Martin Frid from the Consumers Union of Japan. "One of the solutions here in Japan is local consumption; local production, where consumers come and help out on the farm and bring their kids."

Nice photo from the BBC website of my good friend and organic farmer Michio Ouzumi in Ibaraki, who contributes in his own original way to inspire and educate!

The Yokohama Climate Change Policy Headquarters has a website called Hope our Earth with this message from Yokohama-born astronaut Satoshi Furukawa:

The Earth as seen from space had an overwhelming presence. I was strongly struck that the Earth was a system keeping a perfect balance, with us humans as one part of that balance. I also felt the importance of air and water. On the space station, what is taken for granted on the Earth must be artificially created. Our Earth is irreplaceable. I invite you to join me and think about what we can do to pass our rich environment onto the next generation.

More details about IPCC reports here.

The large conference is about to release its report tomorrow, and it should be a useful tool to raise awareness about unsustainable lifestyles...

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Very Clever, Mr. Dahl

Roger Dahl in Seattle has some of the best cartoons about Japanese politics. Absurdities, indeed.

If I have to spell it out, well, the current Abe government seems more interested in military might ("collective defense") and Constitutional reform and helping large corporations enter the arms export market, than in protecting farmers and the people who are already under pressure from cheap imports of food, and all of that, from TPP and other free trade agreements, that Abe seems to imagine will - do what to Japan?

Thus the "plowshares" joke...

But you long-suffering Kurashi readers all got that, right?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Climate Change Conference In Yokohama Starts...

...with a clear mandate to come up with a report by Monday next week that should outline how climate change will impact the world over the next 100 years.

That includes food and agriculture topics, such as food security issues, that I work on, so I was interviewed by the BBC today in Ueno Park about that. If I like Matt McGrath's report later this week I promise to post a link!

Climate change will no doubt cost Japan dearly. Estimates could be as high as ¥17 trillion (US$176 billion) annually by the end of the century, according to a 2009 report from Ibaraki University, found referenced here.

The study reveals that Japan will have to cope with a range of impacts that could simultaneously:

  • affect the stability of its most important food supply, rice;
  • increase the severity of natural disasters, like flooding;
  • alter and undermine some of its key natural ecosystems;
  • place even greater pressure on communities and a health system already struggling with its ageing population; and
  • cause increased deaths from heat stroke and communicable diseases.
In a country like Japan whose geography, topography and climate means it has always been prone to serious natural disasters (especially seismic activity and typhoons), people are likely to react with resilience and calm to additional impacts from a changing climate.

Meanwhile, some more background about the ongoing efforts in Yokohama here:

BBC: Climate report aims to blossom in Japan

NHK World: IPCC chair warns of irreversible changes
(Image: NHK)

Yomiuri: IPCC Special / Japan infrastructure vulnerable to storms

“Atmospheric vapor turns to rain,” explained Akio Kito, chief researcher at the University of Tsukuba. “When temperatures rise, the amount of vapor increases, which makes it easier for large rainstorms to occur.” As for typhoons, most scientists believe that while the total number will shrink, the ones that do happen will be more powerful.

Smaller temperature variances between the sky over tropical seas and the ocean surface weaken the winds and eddies that cause typhoons, which is expected to reduce their number. However, when ocean temperatures rise, the amount of vapor in the atmosphere increases. As typhoons arise from the vapor, they are expected to be stronger when they do happen.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Casa Brutus Goes Green

I'm sure it is just my imagination, but when a major Magazine House publication like Casa Brutus suddenly goes all green and promotes veggie farming and herbs and flowers... What is the world coming to? Great to see this happen in 2014, hope it means we are in for more, not less... Although I still promote less consumption, not more, if you know what I mean ;)

Casa Brutus 169

As for their "Complete Botanical Manual" and "Flower Look Book" I guess it is much like how they tell trendy wanna-be people what bag to wear, with what belt, and that special necktie. Only now they also include a garden goods catalog, and inspiration from Kew Garden in London and California, and the awesomeness of botanical gardens in general. And yes, much of it is edible! Plus a couple of pages about Japanese sake...

I could get all emotional here, and ask for an issue about animal rights (avoid leather), or how the drought due to climate change will affect our lifestyles, or why not an in depth look at the biological diversity behind the rice that is used to make sake...

But, I will just say this. If you want change, you go green, and others will follow.

If you do it right.

Love the design, by the way.

Order here.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

...And Way South...

Kyushu is rather very far away from Tokyo, and has been that way since time immemorial when the good people in Satsuma (Kagoshima) refused to go along with/only reluctantly accepted the bakufu (Edo/Tokyo), and the rest is history.

I had the pleasure of visiting these southern parts of Japan, staying at Kurokawa Onsen, and then I went further to Yakushima, an island with great cedar trees that are up to 7000 years old.

Some 40% of the island is protected. Shiratani and Yakusugi Land provide the kind of hiking I had always dreamt of. But the local harbour and the main roads along the coast are being "developed"and there is a lot of construction going on.
You can get a terrific cappuccino at the  

One helpful guide who had previously been in the Self Defense Forces but was now working at Shiratani told me that the busy road projects were all due to Shinzo Abe and the current government policies. Ahem. Makes sense, if you think about it, as said Abe hails from what is now Yamaguchi prefecture, which was part of the Satsuma/Choushu rebellion against... but that is another story.

 Global Islands Networks

Yakushima has been studied as a model area where material recycling and indigenous energy systems could be realized based on the zero-emission concept. Currently, the major energy source for electricity on Yakushima is hydroelectric. The amount of electricity consumed is 58,400 MWh/y (or 211,000 GJ/y). This renewable energy accounts for about 30% of the island’s total energy supply. The rest of the energy consumed on the island is mainly fossil fuels including LPG, kerosene, gasoline diesel oil and heavy oil. The amount is 530,000 GJ/y. On this island, hydroelectric, wind, photovoltaic, solar thermal, biomass and waste energy sources are available as renewable energy sources. However, various academic papers have concluded Yakushima possesses enough potential hydropower alone to substitute all energy demands without impacting the environment on the island.
There are four hydroelectric power stations on the island. Three of them belong to a private company, Yakushima Denko Co. Ltd that consumes most of the generated electric energy in the production of silicon carbide. The company also sells some portion of its energy generation to commercial and residential sectors on the island. In 2002 a project called "Yakushima Clean Energy Partners" (Y-CEP) was begun and promoted by Denko. It aimed to create the world's first complete "hydrogen society" that uses only renewable, clean energy by between 2020 and 2030. The Y-CEP project had several main components that will use surplus hydro-electricity, including the production of hydrogen, compression, storage, and transportation to supply facilities on the island, and this hydrogen would be used for test driving fuel cell and hydrogen-powered vehicles.
In 2004, a hydrogen fueling station was constructed in the town of Miyanoura. This demonstration project was carried out by a collaboration involving a joint university team, Denko and Honda. The university team researched the efficiency of the hydrogen production, the design of an energy supply network on the island, and the public acceptance of a hydrogen society. Denko maintained and operated the station. Hydrogen was produced by on-site water electrolysis and stored as a compressed gas. Honda carried out the driving test runs using their FCX fuel cell vehicle. The produced hydrogen was supplied to the fuel cell vehicles for their testing.
In August 2010, Nissan Motor Co. Ltd and Kagoshima prefecture signed a Zero-Emission partnership to jointly embark on the “Development of a CO2-Free Island” project to create an advanced low-carbon society on Yakushima. The partnership will primarily focus on promoting the widespread adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) on the island and creating an environment where people can safely drive EVs and utilize renewable energy. Already, the prefecture has offered a purchase incentive for EVs by providing subsidies for installation of chargers, while Nissan has started to analyze how to install chargers using drive data analysis technology. The widely varied topography of Yakushima will also offer an ideal setting to conduct studies on further refining the navigation system for EVs to more precisely factor in road gradient.

South Kyushu thus - an amazing place to visit if you use the new Shinkansen all the way to Kagoshima (if you have the JR Rail Pass).

There is the Sakurajima island of course, which you can reach by ferry from Kagoshima City. When I was in town, suddenly there were great gusts of volcanic ash and strong winds, and my taxi driver pointed out spots where the volcanic ash from last year's eruption could still be seen near the roads.

Image: Dinner served at Minshuku Yakushima...

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Go West...

Like to hike? If you spend all your time in central Tokyo you probably have no idea how close you are to some great nature adventures, unless of course you read blogs like Kurashi... It is that time of the year when the weather gets better and if you want some fresh air, head out to Hanno and the Oku Musashi Mountains, or why not Chichibu where the real fun begins. Most tokyoites don't seem to realize how far west into the wilderness the Metropolis stretches:

...into areas like Oku-Tama, part of the Chichibu-Tama National Park - a 1250-km2 expanse of mountains, forests, river sources and rural towns and villages, around the convergence of Tokyo's western extent with Saitama, Yamanashi and Nagano prefectures. These mountains offer many of the more serious hiking experiences within easy reach of Tokyo proper.

That's from Ai Chaobang's blog, check out his post about Mitake-san and Ōdake-san about 2 hours or so west from central Tokyo on the JR Ome line.

Check train times over at the  Hyperdia (E).

Even better, read about his crazy February hike from Shomaru station on the Seibu Ikebukuro line, just when the entire world up here in Sai-no-kuni had been blanketed with not one, but two great snowstorms. He managed to make it to Izugatake and the Ne-no-Gongen temple and then back to Agano station, and did I mention the snow?

This video shows what it looks like the rest of the year, without the snow...

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

TPP - Not Going As Well As PM Abe Might Like

Prime Minister Abe has been busy with all kinds of arrows to promote Japan and its economy. One was the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations, a deal that no one seemed to be able to define, and who would benefit? At least here in Japan, it was never made clear.

The latest round of negotiations that I have been following - in Singapore - ended without a deal.

That is Abe's man in Singapore, with his headphones on, and everyone seems to be having a laugh.

Reuters says: UPDATE 2-No end in sight yet for Trans-Pacific trade pact

Sticking points over intellectual property and the rules for
state-owned enterprises and government procurement are also
proving difficult.     
    "If you ask whether all outstanding issues have been
resolved, it is also a common recognition that they still
remain," Japan's Economics Minister Akira Amari said ahead of
the final part of the talks.
    Malaysia's International Trade and Industry Minister,
Mustapa Mohamed, said participants were all showing flexibility,
but some issues were tough to move on.
    "There are things which can be done, there are others which
cannot be done and we've been telling our partners what is
doable and what is not doable," he said. 

BBC says:

An ambitious 12-nation free trade plan, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), has hit a new roadblock after four days of negotiations in Singapore. Sticking points over market access and differences over tariffs on imported goods were the main reasons cited. TPP members were also aiming to set a common trading standard on a range of issues, including labour regulation and environmental protection.

NHK World says:

Japan's minister in charge of negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement says his country and the United States will continue working-level meetings to reach a broad agreement.

Akira Amari made the remark in Singapore on Monday after he failed to come closer to an agreement with US Trade Representative Michael Froman. The 2 met on the sidelines of the TPP ministerial talks.

Amari used the meeting to ask the US to remove its tariff on Japanese auto exports. Froman urged Japan to open its agricultural market to US products.

Amari told reporters he cannot say he sees the 2 sides coming closer to an agreement even after 2 meetings with Froman. But Amari says he and his US counterpart are engaged in an active discussion.

Amari reported the negotiators have not yet reached a consensus in the ministerial meeting, but they are finding more common ground regarding some issues.

He says the negotiators plan to discus the topics they have not yet agreed on when they meet for their final conference on Tuesday. He adds that he will do his best to work toward a favorable outcome.

Feb. 24, 2014

Australian Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb said a Japan-US agreement is vital to a final TPP deal, as the 2 countries together account for 70 percent of the 12 nations' gross domestic product.

New Zealand's Trade Minister Tim Groser stressed that market access is the heart and soul of any trade agreement. He said unless the issue is resolved, the 12 nations will have no agreement.

Japan and the US remain at odds over access to Japan's farm market and the US auto market. 

Feb. 25, 2014

TPP talks status by category
Overview of the status of the TPP talks that ended on Tuesday in Singapore:

The ministers made some concessions on intellectual property, one of the most difficult areas of negotiation.

The United States reportedly showed consideration for Vietnam and Malaysia, which have been seeking easier access to cheaper generic medicines.

But no agreement was reached on how long drug development data should be protected.

On conditions for competition between state-owned and private businesses, the ministers are now ready to discuss what kind of firms should be treated as state-owned. But they're still at odds over tax breaks for state businesses.
The ministers were not able to bridge differences over how to promote both trade and environmental protection, or close their gap over the conditions for foreign businesses to join public works projects.

In Japan-US talks on tariffs, Japan offered tariff cuts and abolishment on 5 agricultural items, but the US demanded zero tariffs on all items in principle.

The ministers reached agreement on some of the 21 categories being negotiated.

These include foreign business access to telecommunication infrastructure, cooperation on personnel training and technological support in emerging economies, simplification of export and import procedures, food safety and methods for animal and plant quarantine.

Feb. 25, 2014

We ought to be celebrating, but the state of things is, we haven't got a clue what may be a better deal.