Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Eco Links For December 2014-January 2015

I could probably do better, but here are a few links that caught my eye recently.

Mother Jones writer Tom Philpott provides a lot of convincing arguments and links that These Ubiquitous Chemicals May Be Making Us Stupid

Kids exposed to the highest levels of two common phthalates in the womb had an IQ score, on average, more than six points lower than children exposed at the lowest levels.

Do avoid. But do read.

The Asahi gives us a hint that should be made more generally available; clearly, this is not advice "to Japanese men" but to all of us. Is this really the level to what newspaper editing has been reduced to? Anyway, important study.

Scientists to Japanese men: Eat your veggies, reduce stomach cancer risk

January 05, 2015
Japanese men can reduce their risk of developing lower stomach cancer simply by eating a lot of vegetables, researchers at the National Cancer Center and other institutions found.

Yen for a Living provides some detailed insights to Japanese school lunches, and how they are paid for. Egalitarian, indeed, but also for too long, local political influence has been providing the wrong guidance to the people who are supposed to make sure kids get healthy food. I like how Sanjo City in Nagano, is trying to change that:

Sanjo, a city in Niigata Prefecture, “experimentally” stopped serving milk with lunches at 30 public schools. The ostensible reason, according to the mayor, was that parents complained that milk doesn’t fit in with the Japanese cuisine the schools served.
The experiment happened to coincide with the consumption tax hike that went into effect last April, and the mayor conceded that one reason for cutting milk was to “prevent further increases in the cost of school lunches.” At the time, parents were paying ¥250 for elementary school children’s lunches and ¥300 for junior high school. The carton of milk that came with every meal cost the city ¥50.
Naturally, the Hokuriku Dairy Association protested strongly against Sanjo’s decision. Last year, Niigata dairy farmers produced 53,600 tons of milk, 14 percent of which was used in school lunches. The association challenged the opinion that milk doesn’t go with Japanese food, as did nutritionists, who pointed out that the absence of milk on a daily basis could have a negative effect on a child’s development, since a carton contains 200 of the minimum 300-400 grams of calcium required.
Even the education ministry found the experiment strange, saying it had “never heard of a school giving up milk for lunches.” Sanjo countered that the calcium could be made up easily by, for instance, fortifying soup with fish stock. 

Or a generous serving of spinach and kale, without the trouble, providing much more easily available calcium than old milk.

Animal feed for dairy cows is imported from Brazil or North America, and is almost all genetically modified soy. Also, the destruction of the Amazon forests and other natural environments to raise cows for milk makes no sense at all. In Sweden, back in the mid 1970s, I was about 13 or 14 when the public schools made a vegetarian school food choice available, and now of course there are halal and other options to consider. Japan has a great system for its school lunches, but a debate is necessary that takes into account factors like animal welfare, climate change, biological diversity, peak oil... and a lot more.

The Guardian: Menstruation, the last great sporting taboo

Research differs as to the impact menstruation has on sportswomen’s performances. In 2011, a study of female rowers tested their heart rates, oxygen consumption, power output, blood lactate levels and other measures of endurance, and found no variation in the results, regardless of where a woman was in her menstrual cycle. But Women in Sport commissioned its own research (in 2010) and found “that in some circumstances, reduction in aerobic capacity and strength were exhibited,” says Ruth Holdaway, the charity’s chief executive. “It is important that sport understands and is sensitive to the potential impacts of the menstrual cycle for female athletes. This is not an issue that should be taboo for sport.”

Bloomberg: China Water Stress May Worsen Even With Water Projects

China has a fifth of Earth’s population yet only 7 percent of its freshwater resources.  

Ouch, good reporting there.

One thing I do like about living in Japan is the access to fresh water... Economists keep saying Japan has no resources, but isn't water the most important one? Forget about oil or - you name it. My veggies are doing great due to great soil and lots of rain and water from the well.

Speaking of healthy veggies,  Tokyo Urban Permaculture's first book is out!!! and the link goes to that. Looks like 186 pages (in J) of pure fun. I will file that under "organic" although I understand that there are many young veggie growers these days who are thinking and working way beyond that label.

I don't fully understand how it all happened but now there is an amazing book, crowd-sourced, crowd-funded, and exceptionally beautiful. A glorified zine!

Over 20 professional editors, writers, and illustrators were involved in this project, many who gifted their work, and about 380 people funded this project. It is a 400 person book project. And, while the book is self-published, my friends at MM books are leveraging their social capital to place our books at sympathetic (empathetic?) stores! Not only that, we are asking the stores to buy the books from us, meaning before its on the shelves, we've already sold them! I don't even know who is involved and doing what anymore. Its a project that keeps giving. And isn't that the world we want to live in? To plant seeds and harvest abundance? Thats the world I want to live in.

I hope this will revolutionize the Japanese permaculture movement, and transform the urban cultural landscape. The party continues....

Top image: Postcard I made back in 1992

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Japan: Tourism Troubles

I write a monthly column for Consumers Union of Japan's newsletter, and the theme for January is tourism. You have probably seen them, and read the statistics. Over 13 million tourists entered Japan in 2014, a record high. In fact, the number has doubled in the last 10 years. And for 2020, the government aims for 20 million.

Of course there are a lot of wonderful things to do and see. Possible troubles would usually be laughed off, a smile will save the day. There is an old saying, "When you embark on a journey, you will have a story to tell..."

Except, Japan is not prepared for this level of foreign interest in its culture or favourite places. In my column, I wonder why there is no place for redress or complaints, as more tourists will increasingly be encountering difficulties or disappointments. That's only natural, it happens at all popular destinations. But here, hotel staff often don't speak English, taxi drivers are an elderly bunch with a slow learning curve (most can hardly operate the GPS or Navi installed but also carry no book maps...) and few restaurants have menus in foreign languages.

I was shocked last fall when visiting Kyoto, and saw the crowds at popular places like Kiyomizu Temple. If a fire broke out, or if someone fell ill and needed an ambulance, there would be absolutely no way for rescue services to arrive. Many walking paths are also open to cars, making for close encounters with vehicles and pedestrians. Kyoto, in my opinion, has already reached the limit...

And even here in Tokyo, a JR station like Nippori, that has a direct link to Narita, still has no English train map. How is a freshly arrived tourist going to know how to take the trains, or what to pay? Come on, at least the nation's capital's Yamanote Line stations ought to be bi- or trilingual!?

Speaking of trains, why not provide more useful information about this country's amazing baggage delivery system? Takkyubin means you don't have to struggle with your heavy suitcase(s) anymore. Ship them! But most hotels provide no information about this useful service. Thus, you get tourists boarding the Shinkansen and other transportation, only to discover that there is no space for large luggage.

With over 5 million visitors last year from Taiwan and China, you would imagine that more places would care to hire Chinese-speaking staff. And we all know that even English is taught not for fluency but for passing tests. This means hurdles that Japan has failed to figure out ways to overcome.

What to do if your hotel room reeks of cigarette smoke? Do complain. Be polite (of course) but firmly demand a smoke-free room. If the hotel doesn't provide it, or is fully booked, and if you can show evidence that you actually asked for it when making your reservation, do ask to speak to the manager. And if that doesn't work, how about contacting the Japanese National Tourist Organization (JNTO). Currently, they don't have any services to help tourists in trouble. I think this is a consumer issue, and they need to start thinking hard about how to provide services when things go wrong.

Nippori station map from the cool type n travel blog!

Top image of a smoking hot volcano, from the JNTO website, of Sakurajima in Kagoshima.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

FY 2015 Budget: More Money For Solar, Renewable Energy

More money to efforts to get Japan more firmly on the track towards renewable energy? Green Gift is a project I really like. It encourages grandparents to give money to their children/grandchildren for use of renewable energy-based power.

Specifically, when grandparents give money to their children/grandchildren for the installation of solar power generation facilities or fuel cell-based co-generation systems, such money is exempted from gift tax.

I believe this is the first such project in the world.

Green Gift means grandparents can make a gift that contributes to the global environment while their children/grandchildren can reduce utility costs and gain an income from selling solar electricity.

Also, the installation of low-carbon-emission facilities and renovations for adding energy-saving facilities are expected to create business opportunities for local device/parts makers and contractors, energize local economies and revitalize local communities.

This system was proposed by the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES). Based on its own research, IGES concluded that 20% of the households headed by those who are in their 60s or older (about 4 million households) may give about ¥3 million (approx US$25,512) using the system.

The Green Gift tax system was included in the Outline of the Tax Revision for Fiscal 2015, which the ruling party decided on Dec 30, 2014, according to Nikkeibp.com.

While that makes a lot of sense, Japan needs a government policy that strongly supports renewable energy.

The FY 2015 Budget is some good news for a change, although as usual, too little too late. This should be a long-term strategy for Japan, in fact, for everyone.

Kyodo/Mainichi has more:

The government is expected to spend 4.4 billion yen for measures to lower the costs of solar power generation. It also plans to earmark 8 billion yen for further promoting geothermal power and 7.9 billion yen for developing technologies related to offshore wind power.

METI wants to set aside 93 billion yen ($779 million) to help factories and small-sized businesses install devices to improve energy efficiency such as light-emitting diode lamps and boilers with better efficiency. METI wants to spend about 81 billion yen in response to grid issues the country is facing in order to accommodate more renewable energy. This is necessary as more power companies try to provide solar power, in particular, to the power grid that was designed for large producers, such as nuclear plants. Also, the ministry wants to help set up energy storage systems at solar power stations or substations, which could also help people who just want to add some panels to their roofs. 

Renewable Energy World.com had an interesting analysis of Japan's situation last year, with data analysis by Junko Movellan:

According to the latest figures released by the Japan Photovoltaic Energy Association (JPEA), Japan installed 2.4 GW of on-grid PV capacity in the third quarter of this year (or second quarter fiscal year in Japan). This represents the second largest quarterly PV installation since the nation’s generous feed-in tariff (FIT) program launched in July 2012.

With the strong third quarter result, for the first nine months of this year, Japan installed about 7 GW of on-grid PV capacity. If Japan adds 3 GW more during this quarter, or an average 1 GW each month, Japan will no doubt hit the 10-GW mark. Data provided by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) shows a similar picture. 

Still, even if this trend continues, solar will only supply 2-3% of Japan's total electricity. It means Japan is way ahead of most other countries, and the race is on!

Friday, January 09, 2015

Performance Calligraphy!

I have been wanting to post about this for a while, there is this great movement to do group calligraphy, set to music, and it's like a mad dance really.

Groups of students clad in traditional hakama from different high schools even compete, in the annual Shodo Performance Koshien...

This is hard work and takes serious practice. It all seems to have started at a high school in Ehime, Shikoku, in Shikokuchuo, a town that specializes in making calligraphy paper.

The movie, Shodo Girls even made it to Cannes in 2010.

Saitama students from Matsuyama (first video below) are known to spend hours perfecting their cool routine.

Monday is Coming-of-age holiday, so here is a big cheers to all the youngsters in Japan!

Enjoy the videos.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Early January Food Post...

Today is Nanakusa Day, when people who like food traditions enjoy a set of seven herbs or 草 (kusa) which also means weeds, including tender greens and turnips that are added to rice.

One explanation I heard in the temple way back is that after over eating on the treats during the New Years Holiday, it was time for a simple fare. It is also the first harvest of the year, which is nice to celebrate.

I also learnt a new way to preserve veggies. 糠 (nuka) is just rice brans, the left overs after rice is polished. Thus you get classic nukatsuke, a way to keep anything from carrots to leafy greens a little longer. You also need salt, and I added about 100 g sea salt to 1 kg nuka. You can get nuka in most supermarkets, but do avoid the more pricy ones with flavourings and all kinds of bells and whistles...

Damien taught me a clever way to do this. Usually, people do nukatsuke in large deep pots, but since you need to move things around once or twice a day, that gets really messy. In a flat pot, however, just 10 cm deep, with a good lid of course, you have much better control. You can even move the veggies around with a spoon if you don't want to use your fingers.

I added miura daikon from my humble garten, and carrots. I plan to also add hakusai and maybe cucumber, which is great as nukatsuke, but since it is not a seasonal veggie - rather expensive in January.

Anyway, what a wonderful way to preserve your harvest and enjoy the added flavours!

Which brings me to Part 2 of this rant:

Oil prices are diving down below 50$ per barrel very suddenly, which indicates a collapse in consumption. That means the global economy is tanking. OK, so we have talked about that on Kurashi before. Reducing consumption is good for the planet, we need to conserve resources and start thinking about the long-term. But now it is happening so fast that the experts and politicians who are supposed to know about these things have no clue.

NHK had a brief segment about it tonight, expect to hear more about it during the next few days. Or make that during 2015.

Share prices in New York tumbled on Tuesday, as falling crude oil prices fueled concerns about the global economy. Sell orders were placed across the board after the latest US economic indicator fell below market forecasts. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost more than 200 points during trading, but later recovered some of the losses on buybacks. It closed at 17,371, down 130 points from Monday. Market players say investors are selling stocks because it's hard to predict how far oil prices will fall.

For example, the kerosene used by many to heat their homes has gone from around 1900 Yen per 18 liters to around 1400 Yen per 18 liters. Gasoline here has also suddenly dropped from 160 to 130 Yen.

It also means Japan (and everyone else) will have a more difficult time exporting stuff, since, as Reuters puts it,  "A growing supply glut and weak global demand have pushed crude down by more than half from a peak above $115 in June last year, with prices down by more than 10 percent so far in 2015."

Nobuyuki Nakahara, a former oil executive and ex-member of the Bank of Japan's policy board, told Reuters he expected further price falls. "Oil prices are likely to keep falling due to slower Chinese growth and because the years of prices above $100 before the recent plunge were 'abnormal' historically," he said.

Meanwhile, for Japan, food imports are getting more expensive, and there are many reasons, including all of the above, and droughts in exporting countries and unrest in others, as well as Abenomics forgetting that Japan imports some 60% of its food.

They should do everything they can to help and encourage young people to get into farming.

And yes, at the bonenkai we had in late December over at Consumers Union of Japan, I met a group of young students who want to do exactly that! The plan is, "Half-ag, half-student" to paraphrase the popular term 半農半X (han-nou, han-X). It means, half-ag, half something else. These Waseda U students are especially interested in organic farming, and want to find land or space where they can start growing the good stuff!

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Space Dandy - Ravel

Happy New Year, or as we say in Swedish, Glad fortsättning (Happy continuation..) just like in Japan, where there are 2 different greetings, one before, and one after the actual event.. But isn't it kind of curious that 正月 Shougatsu is celebrated religiously on December 31 each year at all shrines and temples, as a great tradition, even though the current calender was only introduced in the Meiji era?

Trying out some new equipment tonight, so, here we go, Space Dandy, a crazy anime that went viral as long ago as  last year. Recommended by my pals Spencer and Sharadan (hat tip). Anime, definitely, humour, maybe? Lovely tune by Ravel.

Song - Pavane Pour Une Infante Defunte

Monday, December 29, 2014

Japan, China Officials Unite on Environmental Measures?

Japan, China discuss environment in Beijing

Delegates from Japan and China have held their first forum in 2 years to discuss environmental problems.
About 500 economy ministry and industry officials of the 2 countries took part in Sunday's event in Beijing.

The vice chairman of China's National Development and Reform Commission, Xie Zhenhua, said China considers natural-resource and environmental problems as significant and that Japan has advanced technologies and experience in this field.

He said China wants to deepen cooperation with Japan in the energy-conservation and environmental sectors, and that this would lead to improved bilateral ties.

Concrete proposals were introduced for those sectors in which Japanese and Chinese companies could work together. Agreements were signed on 41 projects.

The annual forum, which began in 2006, was suspended last year after relations deteriorated between the 2 countries.

Last month's meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping apparently set the background for the gathering.

But this time, unlike previous meetings, a Chinese vice premier did not attend. And the number of participants was only about half that of the past.

An executive of a Japanese private firm said he believes this forum can encourage the 2 governments to support eco-businesses, which will lead to its expansion.

Another said he expects next year's participation to be back to full strength.

Japan, China officials unite on environmental measures as ties warm

Japanese and Chinese officials agreed Sunday to step up cooperation on energy-conservation and environmental measures during the first high-level governmental meeting since their leaders last month held official talks for the first time.
The one-day forum in Beijing, attended by a total of 500 government and company officials, comes as tensions between Asia’s two biggest economies have eased a little, particularly in nonpolitical fields.
“Through our cooperation in the areas of environment and energy conservation, I believe we will be able to add positive elements to political relations of the two countries,” Xie Zhenhua, vice chairman of China’s National Development and Reform Commission, told the forum in Beijing.
Xie, China’s chief climate negotiator, said the two countries, which shoulder great responsibilities in the international community, should promote technical cooperation and people-to-people exchanges at all levels to deepen mutual trust.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s inaugural meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Nov. 10 on the margins of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit provided impetus for the two sides to resume the forum, which focuses on ways to save energy and overcome environmental problems.

The forum has been held every year since its creation in 2006...

“The leaders’ meeting was the first step to improving relations. This forum taken part in by so many people from Japan and China reflects our strong expectations that this will be the next step to improving relations,” said Yosuke Takagi, senior vice minister at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in Tokyo.
Ahead of the forum, Takagi also held bilateral talks with Xie and agreed that the two countries will facilitate a range of exchanges on environmental and energy issues, according to a Japanese official.
Companies and government entities of the two countries struck 41 agreements on environmental cooperation, such as undertaking joint research programs on ways to combat pollution in China.
Hiroshi Amano, one of three Japan-born scientists to win this year’s Nobel Prize in physics for inventing the blue light-emitting diode, was scheduled to give a speech at the forum.
Pointing out that China is the world’s biggest producer of LEDs, Amano, a Nagoya University professor, said if Japan’s scientific expertise is combined to a greater degree with China’s production capacity, the two countries can further contribute to the world’s efforts to save energy.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

NHK World: The Raw Story

Great to see a story on Japanese TV about attempts to make people more aware of the need for a healthy diet.

Hope you can catch the video:


People in Thailand are dealing with a growing problem...their waistlines. The World Health Organization says one in every four Thais is overweight. NHK WORLD's Dhra Dhirakaosal has the story of one woman who's trying a fresh approach to eating well.
This is a canteen of an electronics plant in the suburbs of Bangkok. It's open 24 hours a day.
Many of the dishes are rich in oil and sugar. One costs only about 50 cents -- half the normal price.
The rice is free. Customers can eat as much as they want.

"If our employees become more obese, it'll create problems for our firm." Sampan Silapanad / Vice president, Western Digital Thailand
Aki Yamato from Japan works for the electronics maker as a diet and nutrition advisor.
Yamato says she used to work too hard at her old job. She didn't think much about what she ate. But after developing a colon disease she realized the importance of a healthy diet.
"It's important for firms to make their employees fit. I wanted to be an expert in the field and set up a company to that end." Aki Yamato / Diet and nutrition advisor
Eating raw vegetables isn't traditional in Thailand. Yamato decides to introduce a salad bar. She sources ingredients from a local organic farm. These beans are rich in fiber and can prevent overeating.

"Thailand has lots of healthy vegetables. If we put them together, they'll make a good salad." Farmer
On the day the salad bar opens, organic vegetables arrive fresh from the farm.
A special dressing is made from fish sauce -- a signature ingredient in Thai food.

"I hope they like it!" Aki Yamato / Diet and nutrition adviso
What do the employees think?
"The vegetables are fresh --- and delicious!" Employee
"This salad tastes great --- and looks healthy. I'll keep eating it." Employee
"I've seen my efforts pay off. I'll work harder so everyone here can eat food that's good for their health." Aki Yamato / Diet and nutrition advisor
Many people in Thailand think food that's low in calories is also low in taste. Yamato hopes she's made a small contribution to convince people that eating healthily is anything but boring.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Edda Magnason in Tokyo

Love music, love all of those who wrote the great music. Homage to Monica Zetterlund in Tokyo this weekend.



Published on 13 Nov 2014



エッダ・マグナソン with ニルス・ラン・ドーキー・トリオ


2014 12.20 sat. - 12.21 sun.
[1st]Open4:00pm Start5:00pm [2nd]Open7:00pm Start8:00pm


Edda Magnason(vo)

Niels Lan Doky(p)

Ira Coleman(b)

Niclas Bardeleben(ds)




  • Category

  • Licence

    • Standard YouTube Licence

Monday, November 10, 2014

UNESCO: Education for Sustainable Development in Nagoya

Another large international conference in Japan, this time about education. How do we teach kids about environmental issues, health, energy, biodiversity, sustainable development?

Are you a teacher reading Kurashi? How do you teach these issues to your students?

The conference will take place from 10-12 November 2014 in Aichi-Nagoya, Japan. Under the banner of “Learning Today for a Sustainable Future”, the Conference will celebrate the achievements of the Decade, identify lessons learnt while setting the stage for the future of ESD.

It will also showcase initiatives, key players, networks and ideas that the Decade has stimulated. Such examples from all over the world will help to generate future action under the Global Action Programme.

ESD describes the teaching of key related issues — including climate change, disaster risk reduction, biodiversity, poverty reduction and sustainable consumption — in forms of education.
Crown Prince Naruhito, who attended the meeting Crown Princess Masako, said he expects young people engaged in ESD to support the future of the Earth.
ESD, which aims to allow every human being to acquire the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values necessary to shape a sustainable future, was originally proposed by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in 2002 to build a prosperous and safe society through education.
The United Nations has designated the 10-year period between 2005 and 2014 as a decade to promote ESD and the Nagoya conference is expected to serve as a milestone for pointing the way ahead.

The outcomes of the World Conference will inform the deliberations of the World Education Forum to be held from 19 to 22 May 2015 in Incheon, Republic of Korea.

UNESCO is the lead agency for the UN Decade of Education for SustainableDevelopment (2005-2014).


UNESCO presented the Final Report for the Decade at the Opening Plenary, entitled Shaping the Future We Want.  It assesses the impact of the Decade on all levels and areas of education and draws out the major lessons that will inform future work. The study was based on questionnaires sent to Member States, UN Agencies and other stakeholders as well as extensive additional research.
The report identifies 10 key findings.  Among them is increased global recognition that education is a critical tool for moving societies towards sustainable development. Countries and jurisdictions from Manitoba to Mauritius have made education more relevant to the social, environmental and economic challenges that the world faces now and in the future.  The report also finds that two thirds of countries responding to the questionnaire already have a national ESD strategy or plan in place and that half have integrated ESD into relevant policies.

NHK: UNESCO ESD conference opens in Nagoya

A UNESCO-sponsored international conference on Education for Sustainable Development opened in Nagoya on Monday.

UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova said in a speech that education to realize sustainable growth is needed more than ever to deal with deepening impact of natural disasters and climate change.

Japan's Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura said Japan has been committed to the Education for Sustainable Development ideal and that it will promote the drive around the world.

Under the program, children carry out research and hold discussions to resolve environmental issues and ethnic conflicts, rather than being taught by teachers.

The participants gain experience from working with other people and learn about different cultures.

About 1,000 people from 190 countries including ministers and researchers are attending the conference which closes on Wednesday.
A UNESCO-sponsored international conference on Education for Sustainable Development opened in Nagoya on Monday.
UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova said in a speech that education to realize sustainable growth is needed more than ever to deal with deepening impact of natural disasters and climate change. Japan's Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura said Japan has been committed to the Education for Sustainable Development ideal and that it will promote the drive around the world.
Under the program, children carry out research and hold discussions to resolve environmental issues and ethnic conflicts, rather than being taught by teachers.
- See more at: http://newsonjapan.com/html/newsdesk/article/110188.php#sthash.VugDdRzT.dpuf
A UNESCO-sponsored international conference on Education for Sustainable Development opened in Nagoya on Monday.
UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova said in a speech that education to realize sustainable growth is needed more than ever to deal with deepening impact of natural disasters and climate change. Japan's Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura said Japan has been committed to the Education for Sustainable Development ideal and that it will promote the drive around the world.
Under the program, children carry out research and hold discussions to resolve environmental issues and ethnic conflicts, rather than being taught by teachers.
- See more at: http://newsonjapan.com/html/newsdesk/article/110188.php#sthash.VugDdRzT.dpuf
A UNESCO-sponsored international conference on Education for Sustainable Development opened in Nagoya on Monday.
UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova said in a speech that education to realize sustainable growth is needed more than ever to deal with deepening impact of natural disasters and climate change. Japan's Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura said Japan has been committed to the Education for Sustainable Development ideal and that it will promote the drive around the world.
Under the program, children carry out research and hold discussions to resolve environmental issues and ethnic conflicts, rather than being taught by teachers.
- See more at: http://newsonjapan.com/html/newsdesk/article/110188.php#sthash.VugDdRzT.dpuf

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

If You Like Soy Milk And Tofu...

...You will be glad to hear that there will be a new international standard for these "non-fermented" soybean foods, agreed today in Tokyo by the Codex Alimentarius, at the 19th CC Asia meeting held this week. Final words on Friday, then the text will be sent to the global food standards body that will put it in the rules books sometime next year. Important both for protecting consumers from fraudulent products and for companies that want to make the stuff.

Of course, we want such products to be supplied in a pure form, without unnecessary chemicals!

It's like watching paint dry, but the past couple of years provided results. For example, "plain" soy milk will not be allowed to contain any artificial food additives or colourings at all. That's progress as some countries initially tried to water down the standard and delayed the work. Also today, Indonesia almost put a spanner in the works for tofu, by insisting that turmeric or annatto, i e yellow colours, should be allowed. Their rationale, opposed by everyone else, was that in the past, Indonesia made soy bean curd this way, because such substances could help preserve the product, and consumers have gotten used to "yellow tofu" and even though the country now has refrigeration to better preserve the stuff, so turmeric is no longer necessary, they still want to continue its use... Well, you get the general picture. Debates like this between government officials are all part and parcel of the Codex system. The solution, this time? Allow Indonesia to do what it wants, but other countries may keep their ban on all such substances. Unless that caveat is clearly stated in the text, it could become a trade barrier under the WTO.

So, keep tofu pure.

The text that the 25-plus Asian countries agreed on also contains an interesting labelling provision: if genetically soybeans are used, the soy milk or tofu should carry a label with that information, if countries have such labelling laws. Again, it is important to get agreement on such matters to avoid trade wars.

Other work this week includes a new text that is supposed to provide hygiene guidance for street food vendors, and proposals from Korea about some of their traditional foods. "Laver" or nori may get a standard, but my guess is it will take a major effort. Japan also wants a standard for natto.

Officials from WHO and FAO are in town, and gave many insights into how the world's food system is evolving. On Friday, by the way, Japan's government will have to try to explain how it has dealt with the radioactive contamination of food since March 11, 2011. Many countries still ban foods from Fukushima and the neighbouring prefectures.

As usual, you can learn a lot during these meetings, but I also suffered from all that sitting in uncomfortable chairs in a stuffy meeting room with an interpretation headphone hanging on my ear.

Still, glad to be able to report that this particular little piece of the larger puzzle went the right way, this time.

On the other hand...

...You may be justified in wondering why a totally obscure body of government officials are making rules about foods that... you like. 

Codex website here

Photo from the 18th CC Asia meeting in 2012.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Eco Links For October 2014

Inspired by this and more, tongue firmly in cheek...

Tokyo, Japan -- Power was restored in most of Japan on Sunday, a day after the impoverished, energy-starved nation was plunged into a nationwide blackout when a transmission line from well, nowhere, failed, officials said.
The blackout was the country's worst since a 2007 cyclone knocked out the national grid for several hours, and again exposed inefficient and dated infrastructure that has held back development in the North East Asian nation.
Electricity was cut across Japan at around noon Saturday after the transmission line experienced a "technical glitch" that led to a cascade of failures throughout the national power grid, with power plants and substations shutting down.
After an evening spent in the dark, most of the residents of Tokyo, the capital of more than 10 million people, got electricity back on by 1 a.m. Sunday. Power was restored in other major cities too, but it was not clear how many people were still without electricity.

Tokyo's hospitals and the international airport continued to operate after the blackout Saturday with emergency generators. But many offices normally open had to send their employees home.
"This is terrible," said Mohammad Hasan, a resident of Tokyo's upscale Shibuya neighborhood. "We had some confidence in the government over last few years that the power sector was improving slowly. But what is this?"
Japan is considered one of the most energy-poor nations, with one of the lowest per capita electricity consumption rates in the world. 

OK, ok, that was a stretch. But you get the picture. I made that up, from The Mainichi's article, Power restored as Bangladesh struggles to fix grid

And then there was this:

Japanese households could face dimmed lights and flickering TV sets in three years' time because authorities are putting Japan’s last coal-fired power plant at risk of closure.
The company’s power station provides electricity for 2m homes and plays a crucial role in balancing electricity supply and demand to prevent shortages in Japan.
But rising green taxes and high network charges set by regulator could make it unprofitable by winter 2016-17 and could force its closure.
If the plant is shut and no replacement built Japanese consumers will be at risk of interrupted electricity supplies.
Closure would also be likely to heighten the risk of blackouts across Japan and force the National Grid to extend the use of emergency measures to keep the lights on, experts said. 

Again, I made that up. Cut & paste from The Telegraph, Scotland power shortage warning as coal plant faces closure

This, however, I did not make up. If you live in Los Angeles, you know your water supply is in deep trouble:

LA Times: Amid drought, mayor directs L.A. to cut water use 20% by 2017

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti issued an executive directive on Tuesday requiring Los Angeles to reduce its fresh water use 20% by 2017 as a response to the prolonged drought.
Garcetti also asked L.A. departments to dramatically cut the amount of water used by replacing lawns and other city landscaping, including street medians, with less thirsty plants.

"Our relationship with water must evolve," Garcetti said. "We cannot afford the water policies of the past. We must conserve, recycle and rethink how we use our water to save money and make sure that we have enough water to keep L.A. growing."The mayor also directed that the city's Department of Water and Power reduce its purchases of costlier imported water by 50% by the year 2024.

Flanked by city and environmental leaders at a news conference held at the DWP headquarters, Garcetti said it was important to address outdoor water use -- which makes up half of residential water consumption.

There were no new mandatory restrictions announced Tuesday for residents. But Garcetti asked them to voluntarily reduce their outdoor watering to two days a week. The mayor asked them to use DWP rebates to install landscaping that is drought-resistant, and to install more efficient plumbing fixtures and appliances.
The mayor said that if water reduction targets are not met by a combination of mandatory city actions and voluntary steps by residents, then residential restrictions will be mandated -- including restrictions on watering and washing cars.

"Keep in mind that reducing water use is not just good for the environment, it lowers water bills," Garcetti said. "Reaching our target and reducing per capita water use by 20% would save our ratepayers up to $120 million" a year. Water use in California has generally been going down.

After a slow start, the State Water Resources Control Board reported that Southern California sharply cut its urban water production in August, down 7.8% from the same month in 2013. Locally, DWP cut its use by 8.8% compared to the previous year. But both numbers fell short of the statewide 11.5% water-use reduction and were far below Gov. Jerry Brown’s goal of a 20% reduction.After the release of the state data, Garcetti said he was "grateful that Angelenos are stepping up" but cautioned “we must do more to further reduce our reliance on expensive imported water.”
The move comes as the DWP has stepped up enforcement of its water conservation ordinance, which places restrictions on behaviors such as outdoor watering, washing down sidewalks and allowing runoff into streets. The water agency quadruped the size of its response unit, sending more staff to crack down on residential water waste.

Japan does have  a lot of rain, and water, a resource often overlooked as everyone seems so focused on oil and fossil fuels. CIA The World Factbook clocks Japan at 430 cu km (2011). South Korea is just 69.7 and China, 2,840.  I was surprised to see Sweden at only 174 cu km.

Nevertheless, there have been a number of water shortages here in Japan too, as outlined by MLIT: Water resources in Japan

Previously, Japan repeatedly experienced major water shortages; for example, 1939 in Lake Biwa, 1964 in the year of Tok yo Olympics, 1967 in Nagasaki, 1973 in Takamatsu, 1978 in Fukuoka, and so on. Though occurrence of water shortages has become rare in recent years the shortage in 1994 covered almost all Japan, when approximately 16 million people were affected at least once by suspended or reduced water supply, and agriculture suffered production losses of 140 billion yen.

Tokyo's Bureau of Waterworks has a lot of information about its recent activities.

Tokyo Water Professionals

Message from Director General of Tokyo Waterworks
U.N. sponsored conference on Climate Change points out that global warming continues to progress. Thus there is a growing need for countermeasures.
Energy and environmental issues are common critical challenges for waterworks utilities. We, therefore, need to make further efforts in introducing of renewable energy source, promoting efficiency of pumps and facilities improvement considering energy efficiency.
This page is currently used to introduce the efforts by Tokyo Waterworks, and we are planning to add up-to-date information of other cities soon, as well as the case reports. What we have in our mind is its use as a forum for discussion.
Submissions of reference cases and updated information are welcome. We are looking forward to your active participations.

The twenty-first century is called "Water Century."
Water is indispensable for our daily life. However, it is said that more than a billion people in the world, mainly in Asia and Africa, are devoid of access to safe drinking water.
Water supply in Tokyo boasts a history of over 400 years. More than 100 years have already passed since Tokyo Water-works started its business as a modern waterworks in 1898. Today Tokyo Waterworks is one of the world’s top waterworks, supplying water to 13 million people.
Tokyo Metropolitan Waterworks Bureau has succeeded in securing water resources and reinforcing facilities to ensure steady supply of clean water. Consequently, not only from the standpoint of scale, but also from the quality point of view we are supplying the highest level of water in the world. In recent years we have introduced sophisticated technologies in order to respond to the increasing demand for high-quality water and to meet the measures against disaster and environmental requirements. We are thus offering high-quality services.
As a "World-class Water Supplier" we are determined to make greater international contributions in the future. We take them on as our mission to provide our advanced technologies and know-how to the waterworks corporations in Asia through accepting trainees and dispatching our engineers, and to make contribution to the improvement of world waterworks. Tokyo Waterworks Bureau will continue to make all efforts on the sustainable development of waterworks all over the world.

Ei Yoshida
Director General
Bureau of Waterworks
Tokyo Metropolitan Government

Shooting at the Hinohara in Jun 2014
*Hinohara (檜原村 or 桧原村 Hinohara-mura) is a municipality in Nishitama District, Tokyo Metropolis, Japan. It is the only administrative unit left in the non-insular area of Tokyo that is still classified as a village. Hinohara has population of 3,043 (as of January 1, 2006), an area of 105.42 km², and a population density of 28.9/km².

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Another IKEA Opens In Japan...

...and I was not invited, again. LOL, I went to visit the new one in Tachikawa, western Tokyo, that just blew me away. What a culture shock. The best and the worst, of two worlds!

First, it is HUGE unlike anything I have seen in Japan. Yes, there are other Home Centers and some are rather big, but IKEA is humongous and like a maze, once you get inside. You will get lost among the Älmhult designs with names like Tönt or Skvallerkärring and Kullerbytta. Well, not the first two, but maybe the last one, say for a cozy armchair made in Malaysia. Funny thing, at IKEA, next to nothing sold is actually Made in Sweden.

Dazed amongst all the blue and yellow, I walked and walked, lost among plastic window cleaners at 200 Yen or pretty classy paper lamps at 2000 Yen. Oh, they have expensive items too, but I wasn't in the mood. Weird plastic Christmas decorations and mass produced Almoge curtains. Not an Organic cotton cushion in sight, but that might change, I suppose, if people here start asking for it.

Best and the worst? Well, the staff is super friendly, and addressed me in English, which was odd, but cute, since I said "Tack så mycket" in Swedish, so maybe they just misheard. But again, very friendly and helpful, in that special Japanese way, where customer is, well not king, more like, "I appreciate that you shop here, that pays my salary, so I will treat you like I wish you would treat me" kind of way. Then of course, this being Japan, the lack of real information, as in what kind of materials are really used, and where do products come from, like the wood, is it from Amazon rain forests or Siberian old growth, cut down by dubious loggers hoping to retire on the Crimea...

I really liked the ubiquitous IKEA restaurant on the second floor, if you are a vegetarian you could eat well there, try the broccoli medallion, grönsakskaka or ベジタブルメダリオン for 200 Yen, with mush potatoes and salad, or rice. For all of you who eat anything, there are meatballs, and other IKEA language pages identify them as made with pork and beef from Australia, but not so the Japanese page. That may because a lot of processed food from Australia contains meat that is imported from other countries.

Australian Pork Ltd told the committee that most consumers are unaware that 70 per cent of "Australian made" ham and bacon is made from imported pork.

So it is complicated. The salmon may or may not be from Norway, the information is confusing.

In the famous IKEA food shop, I bought knäckebröd, Made in Finland. Yummy, and I trust that, real rye bread cannot be faked...

OK, back to regular blogging, soon, after this dip into Swedish multinational colonialism redux, a kind of reminder that the World carries on, with or without you... Lots and lots of young couples in their 20s and 30s, looking to spruce up their homes. I wish them well, and I wish IKEA will become a responsible corporate member here in Japan, and publish their CSR report in Japanese, for a start.

Top image from Tachikawa My Pleasure

Monday, October 27, 2014

Amari: "[TPP] Agreement Is Not Yet In Sight"

Score another failed round of negotiations, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) continues to let down big business that wants less regulations and more secrecy.

And meanwhile, Japan's newly appointed Trade Minister Miyazawa is in hot water for taking illegal donations from a foreign company, a story that I'm sure will have more importance than the fact that some on his staff joined a S&M club and paid for it from his pocket (although he says he did not attend).

But back to TPP. Today, another non-round of negotiations (the last proper one was held in Brunei, which I attended as a "stakeholder" for Consumers Union of Japan) has failed to get results. This time in Sydney, the amicable host, Australian Trade Minister Robb (how is that for irony, a politician actually called exactly was they do best, rob paul to pay peter, etc. etc.) criticized NGOs and other experts who are trying to bring information about this deal to the public:

Mr Robb lashed out at consumer groups and the Greens for spreading misinformation about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, before walking into a meeting with 11 trade counterparts in Sydney on Saturday to finalise the "basic elements" of the deal.
"Those who are opposed to this scheme for all sorts of reasons are peddling a lot of misinformation, saying pharmacy costs will go up," he said on ABC Radio.
"This is not the intention or the outcome that will occur with this particular 21st century agreement."
Mr Robb's words back up assurances by Finance Minister Matthias Cormann this week that the government would not support an outcome that sees medicine costs pushed up.
But consumer advocacy group Choice claims the trade deal includes provisions to stretch patents on some life-saving drugs for an extra 12 years. Prices usually drop 16 per cent once the patent expires.
"If the TPP extends patents we'll be paying higher prices for some medicines over a longer period of time," said Choice's campaign manager Erin Turner.

I might add that Choice is a highly respected independent consumer organization in Australia, with a long history as a member of Consumers International.

In Australia, the debate and the demonstrations have been fierce this weekend. Here is a good take from The Conversation, with some history to help you if you feel a little lost:

Deja vu: last week a new version of the intellectual property (IP) chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was leaked. Even as experts try to make sense of 77 pages of complex text, IP negotiators are meeting in Australia this week and next to try to finalise the treaty.
Experts have already highlighted some big issues with this IP text. Extensive proposals on patents, clinical test data and the links between patent law and processes for approving pharmaceutical products, if agreed, look like creating barriers to access to medicines in the region. There are unprecedented proposals to criminalise certain kinds of unauthorised access to or use of trade secrets that, at their broadest, could threaten journalism and whistleblowers.
Extensive criminal and civil enforcement provisions are also there. Some extraordinarily long copyright terms – yes, longer even than we already have here in Australia – are still on the table. Less widely commented on are proposals – not surprisingly opposed by Australia – that would demand changes to our local IP rules, especially in the area of trademark law (with special and potentially very broad protection for famous brands) and in our protection of industrial designs. What’s striking about this is how little has been learnt from the past.

If you are interested in how TPP may complicate efforts to protect the environment, do read my analysis over at Japan Focus:

The documents reveal that Japan plays a major role in obstructing the progress of the Environment Chapter. Japan is “concerned” with the language relating to equivalency in the scope of the coverage, that is, the question of how a country may deal with imported products that are identical or almost identical with domestically produced products. For example, imported timber from tropical forests would compete with “similar” wood products produced domestically, unless rules are in place to prevent this. Without international rules, it would be impossible for an importing country to compete with countries that export wood products manufactured by corporations that engage in clear-cutting. Increased trade in such timber would lead to even more destruction of rainforests, and less ability to control the corporations that engage in unsustainable logging practices. Efforts to label genetically modified organisms (GMO) and provide consumers with information about how food has been produced could also be curbed.

On the other hand, we learn that Japan has joined all other nations in opposing a proposal by the United States related to how to address other environmental agreements. This is connected to whether or not the novel dispute settlement mechanism in the TPP should be implemented. The United States, which has refused to ratify many global environmental agreements, seeks to settle trade conflicts in the TPP rather than the WTO. This could make it difficult for countries like Japan to maintain stricter domestic legislation that resulted from having ratified other environmental agreements.

Still, there has not been a single proper round of negotiations held in Japan. 

There are a lot of critics here, and before Japan’s trade officials sign anything, it ought to be discussed in public. Or maybe it will just fizzle out, as the United States heads towards mid-term elections, and no support seems to be forthcoming to support TPP in Congress? Why should people in Japan and their elected representatives not have the same rights to democratically discuss a major trade deal? 

Oct. 27, 2014 - Updated 12:59 UTC+9
The Japanese and US chief negotiators for the projected Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement met in Sydney on Monday. But they were unable to break the deadlock in trade negotiations between the 2 nations.
Japan's Economic Revitalization Minister Akira Amari met US Trade Representative Michael Froman, shortly before the final day session of the 3-day talks. 12 countries are participating in the TPP negotiations.
They apparently failed to achieve a breakthrough on key areas, including removal of tariffs on 5 agricultural categories.
After the meeting, Amari told reporters the 2 sides will continue with working-level talks in an aim to narrow their differences.
He said much progress has been made since the bilateral ministerial meeting in Washington last month.
But he said difficult issues remain, and agreement is not yet in sight.
Amari also said the 2 countries are in the final phase of the negotiations and that the talks will likely become more difficult. He added both sides will step up their efforts.
Amari indicated that he will meet Froman again before the summit talks of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Beijing in November.