Friday, April 24, 2015

New Ramsar Sites

Good news, possibly some important wetlands may get protection, if they make it as Ramsar Convention sites. One in particular, in Ibaraki Prefecure, could help protect the habitat of the Oowashi, Steller's eagle, in Swedish, Jättehavsörn.

Lake Hinuma: I have been there a number of times, thanks to Pandabonium, who insists on sailing his Lido in that area, and it is a lovely place.

Hope these great eagles will get all the protection they may get, that lake is such a sweet spot.

About the Oowashi eagle, this is a huge bird of prey:

This bird nests in two habitats: along sea coasts and alongside large rivers with mature trees. They nest on large, rocky outcroppings or at the tops of large trees. On Hokkaido, eagles concentrate in coastal areas and on lakes near the coast, along with substantial numbers of white-tailed eagles. Eagles depart between late March and late April, adults typically leaving before immatures. Migrants tend to follow sea coasts and are usually observed flying singly. In groups, migrants are typically observed flying 100–200 m (330–660 ft) apart. On Kamchatka, most migrants are birds in transitional plumages. They are also occasionally seen flying over the Northern ocean or perching on sea ice during the winter. They are legally protected, being classified as a National Treasure in Japan and mostly occurring in protected areas in Russia. However, many threats to their survival persist. These mainly include habitat alteration, industrial pollution and over-fishing, which in turn decreases their prey source. The current population is estimated at 5,000, and declining.

Japan has pitched four wetland areas, including one in Ibaraki Prefecture that is home to a rare species of eagle, for recognition under the Ramsar Convention.
The Environment Ministry recommended to its Central Environment Council’s wild animal subcommittee on April 22 that the areas be included as candidates for the Ramsar Convention, a global treaty for the conservation of important wetlands around the world.
The four wetland areas in Japan are expected to be officially included as recognized sites at the meeting for the contracting parties to be held in June in Uruguay.
The wetlands chosen as Ramsar sites are: the Hinuma area in Ibaraki Prefecture that is home to the rare Steller’s sea eagle; the Yoshigadaira group of wetlands in Gunma Prefecture that has a natural environment formed by volcanic activity; and the Higashiyoka mudflat and Hizen-Kashima mudflat, both in Saga Prefecture.
The ministry also decided to substantially expand the recognized area of waters of Okinawa Prefecture's Kerama Islands, which are already included in the treaty.

Here in Japan, Ramsar areas are regarded as important and cannot easily be challenged. Quoting international conventions, we can make a difference. Locally, development issues can be brought to the attention, and global rules can be applied. Your small lake or river may be an important part of a much larger waterway, connected to all kinds of efforts to save biodiversity. Don't let that local planning authority pave over your precious ditch, if you think it is connected to something more important...

Thus, as the new Shinkansen train route made headlines recently, they may have to be re-routed:

Shinkansen extension beyond Kanazawa may be changed to ease impact on protected wetland
The Hokuriku Shinkansen Line’s planned route beyond Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, will probably be changed to avoid harming an important wetland area in Fukui Prefecture, the government-backed builder of the bullet train system said.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Earh Day Tokyo 2015

Time again for the greatest environmental festival in town. Each year, Earth Day celebrates food and farming, the forest and the ocean, and all the good people (and animals). Performances and music all weekend long in Yoyogi, and it promises to be a particularly sunny party this year. Yes, Peace!

More info (J)

This year, there is also a more political side to the events, with a Peace Parade starting on Saturday, 14:00 going through the busy commercial streets of Shibuya and Harajuku. Arranged by among others Parc and A Seed Japan, as part of the global action day, People and Planet, Before Profits. And at 18:00, there will be a candle night event for peace.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

March 22: Large Demonstration and Parade Against Abe in Tokyo

I went to the large demonstration today at Hibiya in central Tokyo and in the warm, sunny weather, some 10,000 people showed up for the parade to surround the Parliament Building (Diet) - Japan's Palace of Westminster or Capitol Hill...

Update: Kyodo (J) has the number of participants today as 14,000.

The event was also billed as the "Democracy Convention 2015" in English.

If you have ever been to a large demonstration elsewhere, prepare yourself for the utter control here in Japan. Police and riot vans are everywhere, but as long as things go smoothly, like today, you can bring your baby stroller and your grandma... The organizers are committed to peaceful protests and so be it.

But, that may not be the way Japan's Public Security Intelligence Agency sees things, according to Eric Johnston in The Japan Times: Security blanket: Should Japan beef up its anti-terrorism measures?

Great coalition of hundreds of groups for solidarity with Okinawa and labour rights, against TPP, hate speech and nuclear power plants - and much more. It was also a massive display of support for democracy and Article 9, the peace clause in Japan's constitution, that Prime Minister Abe is trying to change.

English info:
Refuse Abe!
Reclaim our Democracy!
Mar. 22,
13:00 Hibiya Open-air Concert Hall
14:00 Petition Rally, Demo & Parade to surround the Parliament Building (Diet)

Hibiya Open-air Concert Hall
Around the Diet
To submit a petition to the Parliament members at the same time as surrounding the Diet building.

Committee for the 0322 Rally against the Abe administration.

Metropolitan Coalition against Nukes
National Network for Abolishing Nuclear Power Plants
PARC, Pacific Asia Resource Center

SEALS: Student Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy
TDC: Tokyo Democracy Crew
Citizens’ Group for Examining State Secrecy Law
Committee for the Wakamono Rally for Constitution
C.R.A.C.: Counter-Racist Action Collective
TA4AD: Tokyo Action for Anti-Discrimination
Lawyers for Civil Action in front of the Diet
JLAF: Japan Lawyers Association for Freedom
Lawyer’s Network Against TPP
SHOKKENREN: National Coalition of Workers, Farmers and Consumers for
Safe Food and Health, Japan
Japan’s Federation of Women’s Organizations
Beer and Cafe BERG Shinjuku
NOUMINREN: Japan Family Farmers’ Movement
MIN-IREN: Japan Federation of Democratic Medical Institutions
Federation of Commercial and Industrial Institutions
ZENROREN: National Confederation of Trade Unions
Tokyo Regional Council of Trade Unions
New Japan Women’s Association
ZEN-NOH ROREN: National Federation of Trade Unions of Agricultural Cooperative Associations in Japan

Concerns are mounting that the second Abe administration has been
reestablishing the political characteristics of the pre-1945 Japanese
government. Most recently, Prime Minister Abe capitalized on the ISIS
hostage crisis to argue that Japan should be ready to send Self Defense
Forces abroad, while it is widely known that the administration’s
military and confrontational stance against ISIS has aggravated the
situation. The combination of hawkish policy and neglect of human lives
seems to be a consistent pattern of this administration. From the
macro-economic measures which pander to the big business at the cost of
increasing poverty, to the unwillingness to deal with the proliferation
of hate speech in the civil society, people’s wish to live in peace and
stability is increasingly dismissed by the administration’s policies.

The enemy unites us. Too often, Abe disregards public opinion against
his ill-conceived proposals and does not even hesitate to sidestep
democratic parliamentary procedures to advance policies representing the
interests of the powerful and the rich. In this circumstance, it has
become evident to the organizers working with different issues in our
society, such as nuclear power plants, collective defense,
constitutional amendments, US base in Okinawa, State Secrecy Law, TPP,
consumption tax, welfare, labor, and agriculture, that none of these
issues can be handled democratically without ousting Prime Minister Abe
from office.

With the municipal elections in April coming up close, it is high time
we deliver the Abe administration a strong and clear message that we
will not take it anymore. We must reclaim our democracy from those who
dismiss people’s voice. On March 22nd, in Hibiya, let us be a massive
crowd and tell Shinzo Abe that his clique of dictatorial aspirations
does not represent us because we are a democracy.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Our Wishes (1970)

"The Things We Desire" or "Our Wishes" is a song by Nobuyasu Okabayashi from July, 1970. It is also about what we do not want.
We do not wish to live and suffer, what we wish is to live to enjoy...
We do not wish to live for the sake of society, what we wish is a society, for us...
We do not wish to be awarded, what we wish is to grab it by ourselves...
We do not wish to kill you, what we wish is to live together with you
Not for the unhappiness we feel, but for the joy yet to come...

Here are two versions:

Live, with his band, Happy End:



Wednesday, March 11, 2015

What Have They Done To The Rain (1964)

50 years ago, nuclear bombs were still being tested in the atmosphere, but increasingly, the concern about the radiation fallout ended that horrible practice. 50 years later we still have a few countries that won't give up their nuclear arsenal, and others (including Japan and South Korea) hiding under the so-called nuclear umbrella. Others, like Sweden and South Africa, briefly considered going nuclear, in order to stay independent, as sovereign states. In most - if not  all- the countries that produced nuclear weapons, those are now getting very old and dangerous - and obsolete. Meanwhile nuclear power remains the big question mark for mankind. We need to more clearly see the links between nuclear power and nuclear weapons.

Here is a wonderful song from 1964, by the UK band The Searchers. Song originally written by Malvina Reynolds, and later also recorded by Joan Baez. Here in Japan, the initial contamination from the Fukushima nuclear reactor meltdowns spread through rain in March, 2011. Time for a new generation of bands and singers to step up the call for peace on earth?

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Organic Agriculture Conference in Tokyo, GMO Free Zone Meeting In Kumamoto, Osaka Action Meeting Against Takahama Nuclear Plant...

Care for healthy food and want to join the discussion how to make it better, here in Japan...

Busy weekend!

How about joining the Japan Organic Agriculture Association conference in Tokyo this weekend? JOAA is the oldest organic group in Japan, founded in 1970. They are known abroad for their work promoting teikei, which is a system to connect farmers and consumers. While similar schemes have evolved in other countries, like the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) trend, teikei is about more - how agriculture can support communities.

I will speak in a panel on Sunday March 8, but there is a lot to do and enjoy during the 2 days, including films and seminars by Japanese organic farmers and experts. For more, check out the JOAA website about teikei (E) and details about the conference (J) on March 7-8, 2015 at the Kokugakuin University in Shibuya. Tema: Healthy food and soil for our children.

If you are in Kumamoto, you can attend the GMO Free Zone Meeting on Saturday March 7. This is the 10th such event and everyone in Kyushu will be there. Last year's meeting was in Tochigi prefecture, and the movement is just getting bigger. From 13:30 - 17:00 at the Aso Villa Park Hotel. Details here (J) and here (J).

This is part of a huge global trend to focus on farmers' rights and to support consumers who do not want genetically modified organisms (GMO) if they learn what it entails. Green Co-op and other Kyushu groups join the No! GMO Campaign and Consumers Union of Japan, and many others, while corporations like Ajinomoto are involved in GM research. Read more in English over at the GMO-Free Regions Website (E).

And if you are in Kansai, you can join the Osaka meeting (and live & parade) to protest against the controversial Takahama Nuclear Plant on March 8, at the Kita-ku Civic Center from 10:00.More info over at Genpatsu Zero no Kai Osaka (J).

Takahama is slated for using MOX fuel that contains 7% plutonium, but all four reactors are currently idle. The Kansai Action group opposes the restart. Sayonara!

Read more about Takahama on the Green Action website (E).

There is citizen protest against restart of the Fukui Prefecture reactors. Fukui Prefecture citizens are petitioning to stop restart of all the nuclear reactors and Kansai area residents are addressing evacuation, seismic, severe accident and other issues.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Eco Links For February, 2015

Time sure flies! I already have spuds in the soil (danchaku variety) and some peas in the greenhouse. Harvesting purple cabbage and lettuce, and spinach - need to protect them from birds, clever creatures they are. Next weekend is the big Japan Organic Agriculture Association (JOAA) assembly in Tokyo, a great opportunity to talk to experts in the field here. I'll be participating in the workshop about teikei (CSA) and show a few photos from my humble garten. Big reason I got so hot under my collar about growing my own vegetables was - visiting and learning from JOAA farmers.

Food safety, anyone? Good to know we are not exposed to anything harmful, unless you eat a lot of wild boar meat. Strontium 90 may be a concern, however. Water also safe.

Analysis of Japanese Radionuclide Monitoring Data of Food Before and After the Fukushima Nuclear Accident

Atominstitut, Vienna University of Technology, Stadionallee 2, 1020 Vienna, Austria
Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, The University of Tokyo, Meguro-ku, Tokyo 153-8902, Japan
§ Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado 80523, United States
Institute of Environmental Radioactivity, Fukushima University, Fukushima 960-1296, Japan
Environ. Sci. Technol., Article ASAP

In an unprecedented food monitoring campaign for radionuclides, the Japanese government took action to secure food safety after the Fukushima nuclear accident (Mar. 11, 2011). In this work we analyze a part of the immense data set, in particular radiocesium contaminations in food from the first year after the accident. Activity concentrations in vegetables peaked immediately after the campaign had commenced, but they decreased quickly, so that by early summer 2011 only a few samples exceeded the regulatory limits. Later, accumulating mushrooms and dried produce led to several exceedances of the limits again. Monitoring of meat started with significant delay, especially outside Fukushima prefecture. After a buildup period, contamination levels of meat peaked by July 2011 (beef). Levels then decreased quickly, but peaked again in September 2011, which was primarily due to boar meat (a known accumulator of radiocesium). Tap water was less contaminated; any restrictions for tap water were canceled by April 1, 2011. 


Yen for a Living didn't mention the recent large milk study in Uppsala, Sweden about the harmful effects that milk has, such as hip fractures.

Got milk, get real?

Milk is not a good source of calcium, while spinach and kale is - and in many places in Japan, they are not so keen on the bovine stuff anymore:

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. In any event, the city received 61 messages from residents, with 43 supporting the experiment.

While I have had next to no encounters with Japan's hospitals, I'm told they provide terrific services. Not so in Sweden, apparently (except in the important category of "prevention"). This debate article by Johan Hjertqvist, president of Health Consumer Powerhouse, an organization which compares global healthcare systems, notes that waiting times in Sweden's hospitals are among the worst in Europe:

The question remains: What is preventing Sweden from taking a firm grip on its exuberant waiting times and making radical improvements? It hardly needs more investigation or more money - health care is not more expensive in countries with good accessibility. How long will queuing patients have to live with anxiety, pain and incapacity before Sweden's counties are able to honour their duties?

I have read a few of his novels, but who is the man? The Guardian tries to explore Kazuo Ishiguro's secrets, and maybe there are none, except that his wife reads his early drafts and has major input.

 He was born in Nagasaki in 1954; his mother, Shizuko, had survived the atomic bomb attack there when she was a teenager. His father, who was brought up in Shanghai, was an oceanographer, and it was his job that led the family to move to Guildford, where his mother still lives, when Kazuo was five. In a 2008 interview with the Paris Review, Ishiguro recalled how struck he was by the quietness of England, the sudden diminution in noise and images, the abiding sense of greenery. From his grandfather in Japan he still received colourful, busy books and comics; finding their English equivalents rather dull, he developed instead a great enthusiasm for Sherlock Holmes, even coming up with his own detective stories.

(Top image, something I made back in 1992)


Yoroku: TEPCO must not fear telling the truth on Fukushima plant leaks

It has been nearly four years since the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, and almost as long since plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) declared the disaster "under control." This was and is an exaggeration, as we can see with the ongoing battle to deal with repeated radioactively contaminated water leaks.
Following news on Feb. 22 that water with concentrations of radioactive material 70 times higher than normal was being discharged into the plant's harbor from a drainage ditch, we learned yesterday that this contaminated water was also escaping into the open sea. What's more, TEPCO now says it had known this water -- which collects atop the No. 2 reactor building before running down drain spouts to the ditch -- was heavily contaminated since spring 2014, but made no public announcement until now. The utility hadn't even reported the situation to the government.
This terribly managed contaminated water problem is certainly scarier than tigers and wolves. What's truly deplorable, however, is how insensitive, how clumsy TEPCO is when it comes to releasing information. Because of the company's reticence, it is bound to be suspected of trying to hide the inconvenient fact of the leak. Both local fishing cooperatives and Fukushima Prefecture, too, are wondering openly if they can trust TEPCO.
Without the trust of the locals, TEPCO will find it well-nigh impossible to make progress on contaminated water disposal and the eventual decommissioning of the ruined Fukushima reactors. This radioactive water leak is unacceptable, but so is misreading what we need to fear most. ("Yoroku," a front-page column in the Mainichi Shimbun) February 26, 2015 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

How Ethical Is Your Bank?

Wow, the words "ethical" and "bank" in the same sentence? A new campaign has been launched to try to make that happen:

Some banks and pension funds have rules about what kind of companies they invest in. For example, ethical investment means the funds do not support companies involved in weapons manufacturing or environmental destruction. Human rights and labour rights are other issues that many people should urge their banks to support.

Since starting in 2009, a Dutch initiative has grown into an international campaign, Fair Finance Guide. Now, Japan also joins this great project, started by A Seed Japan, JACSES and PARC. They have carefully investigated five of Japan’s largest banks. Their new website (* will help you compare their score on a range of issues.

For example, Mizuho Bank scores relatively high on transparency, but low on environmental issues like forestry protection. All five get “Zero” for their investments in armaments, except Mitsui Sumitomo Trust, that scored “One” which is still terrible. Resona scores worse than the others on climate change and food issues (including GMO and pesticides). No bank scored a perfect “Ten” any of the issues, as determined by Fair Finance Japan.
Fair Finance Guide Japan ethical banking
There is clearly room for improvement. You can help by clicking on the links on the website. A message will be sent to Fair Finance Japan and then directly to the different banks. In Europe, reports about how banks invest in questionable corporations have led to the emergence of a large number of ethical pension funds, as people increasingly want their life savings to support good practices. I think this is a really good idea!

(Image from a FFJ seminar at Toyo Gakuen University)

Monday, February 23, 2015

Agriculture Minister Nishikawa Resigns

This just in today, from NHK World:

Japan's agriculture minister Koya Nishikawa has resigned. He submitted a letter of resignation on Monday to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who accepted it.

Abe appointed former agriculture minister Yoshimasa Hayashi as Nishikawa's successor. Hayashi formally assumed the post later in the day.

Nishikawa came under fire after it was found his political organization received a contribution of 3-million yen, about 25,000 dollars, from a wood processing firm. The company was granted state subsidies.

Nishikawa's group also accepted a donation of one million yen, or about 8,400 dollars, from a company run by the head of a sugar industry organization. This body too, was granted state subsidies.

Nishikawa said in the Diet that he thought the donations were not illegal. He said he returned the money to avoid raising doubts about his responsibility as farm minister.

Serious, especially the donation from the sugar lobby, especially in light of the TPP negotiations that involve - you guessed it - Japan's sugar subsidies. Serious enough for Abe to sack the guy. Let's see, anyone remember how many Abe ministers have had to resign due to scandals by now...?


TPP accord no longer expected before April

JIJI  Feb 22, 2015
Ongoing negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement are no longer expected to conclude before April.
Japan and the United States had hoped the 12-member TPP talks would conclude as early as March, assuming the two countries could clinch an accord at a bilateral meeting in late February or early March.
The delay reflects slow progress in U.S. congressional procedures to grant President Barack Obama trade promotion authority, which would give him significant power to negotiate trade deals and is considered crucial for early ratification of an eventual TPP accord. The U.S. Congress has yet to take up legislation on such powers.
At a news conference Friday, TPP minister Akira Amari admitted that a final accord may come later than early spring, as previously scheduled. According sources close to the TPP talks, a ministerial meeting of the 12 countries toward a possible accord could come in mid-April at the earliest.
In light of the dimming prospect of an early conclusion, some negotiators are now worried that the solidarity to strive for an accord among the 12 nations may weaken. Indeed, the United States and emerging economies in the talks remain wide apart over issues such as intellectual property rights, while some members have tried to revive discussions over issues that have been almost agreed upon, according to the sources.
Chief TPP negotiators are set to meet in Hawaii from March 9 to 15. The United States and Japan, the two countries seen holding the key to the success of the talks, are hoping to hold a bilateral working-level meeting ahead of that. With the United States showing few signs of concessions over some tricky issues, however, it is “hard to imagine significant progress,” one source said

Friday, February 13, 2015

We Are All Greeks Now

How will the EU deal with Greece? South vs. North narrative? Not really. More like people vs. banks. It is happening in Japan as well, esp. in Okinawa, Fukushima, Hokkaido. Rural vs. you name it - city? Hardly. Nagoya has its Toyota factories but is hardly enjoying the prosperity, in spite of the record-breaking 14+ million car sales. Detroit knows about that. London, well, it has tried immigration, will Tokyo follow? Again, hardly.

Speaking of Okinawa, Takeshi Onaga is the name to remember.

Ryukyu Shimpo: Okinawa Governor conveys his opposition to new US base

January 15, 2015 Ryukyu Shimpo
On January 14, after cabinet approved the fiscal 2015 promotional budget for Okinawa, Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga visited the Prime Minister’s Office and Cabinet Office. At his meeting with Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Kazuhiro Sugita, the governor conveyed his opposition to the government’s plan to move U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futema in Ginowan to Henoko, Nago, and said he sought to relocate it to outside of Okinawa. However, his plan to meet with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chief Cabinet Secreatary Yoshihide Suga, who is responsible for reducing Okinawa’s base burden, was not realized this time.
The governor reported from the meeting that he sought the government official’s understanding of the gubernatorial election outcome, and pledged to block new base construction in Henoko and move the Futenma base to other prefectures or abroad. He told him it was unreasonable for Okinawa to host 74 percent of Japan’s U.S. military exclusive-use facilities when the island is only 0.6 percent of Japan’s land area, now that 69 years have passed since the end of World War II.
The deputy chief cabinet secretary said he would exchange opinions with the governor on how to reduce the base burden.
At his meeting with Yohei Matsumoto, parliamentary vice-minister at the Cabinet Office, the governor showed his appreciation that a certain amount of the Okinawa promotion budget had been ensured.
The governor said, referring to the Okinawa promotion budget reduction, “A required amount was reserved. However, it went up last year.” He showed his willingness to meet with Prime Minister Abe and Chief Cabinet Secreatary Suga, saying it is important to convey what we think to each other.

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Image of protest action in Okinawa from Ryukyu Shinpo (newspaper in Okinawa)

Japan has always had the disadvantage of not really having any good models to follow. Historically, this country has had leaders that had few clever ideas of their own (while the people here generally did amazingly well in that department) and never really managed to stay ahead of the curve for very long. Most people outside of Japan probably cannot name a single Japanese prime minister, not even in recent history. I'd like to hope that we can all agree to elect leaders with a greater sense of responsibility.

Which seems to be the case in Greece, recently.

The Automatic Earth blog: The Greek Issue Just Got Personal

It was already present over the past two weeks, for example in Yanis Varoufakis’ meetings with Eurogroup head Jeroen Dijsselbloem and German FinMin Schäuble, awkwardly obvious in facial expressions and body language. A touch of personal discomfort. A touch of a threat that required chest-thumping and hubris to be brushed off. ‘You better do what we say or else’. Back then, perhaps it was still experienced from a political, deal-making, perspective. But in the course of yesterday it became clear something has changed.
It has become personal, you could feel it in the air, and that raises the danger level considerably. It’s not personal from the Greek side; Alexis Tsipras and Varoufakis merely act according to – their interpretation of – the mandate handed them by their voters. It’s the other side(s) that have started making it personal. They see themselves, their positions, as being under attack. And they blame Greece’s new Syriza government for that. Which may seem logical at first blush, but that doesn’t make it true. The people sitting on the other side from Varoufakis have dug themselves into these positions.
Which, as they rightfully fear, are now threatened. Not because Syriza means to do so, but because they come to the table with that mandate, to put an end to what has caused Greece to sink as deep as it has. There’s nothing personal about that, it’s democracy at work, it’s politics. Still, it’s perceived as personal, because it makes the ‘old’ leadership uncomfortable. They haven’t seen it coming, they were convinced, all the way, that they would prevail. They mostly still are, but in a now much more nervous fashion.

Japan also has this huge issue of debt, and nobody likes to talk about it. We are told that since it is mostly held within the country, we are not to worry. Southern Europe, however, thought the EU was "within" as well, but that is now being tested. How does the more economically favoured North respond when a crisis like this emerges in the South? Again, the challenge is a democratic one. Greece voted for a very reasonable bunch of people, this time. How about next election?

The hopes we all had back in 2009 or so when LDP got booted out, came to naught. Japan wasn't ready for a transition. Then the March 11, 2011 disaster struck, and - LDP got back into government. But we are all Greeks now. We are stuck with huge debt, and three nuclear reactors in core meltdown which will take billions of Yen to deal with, and a crisis in Okinawa over the US bases there, and "the old leadership uncomfortable."

February 10, 2015: Outside the gate of the US Marine Corp’s Camp Schwab at Henoko in northern Okinawa a sign announced that this was the 220th day of the sit-in there. Next to it stood an elderly man holding a flag bearing the words, DO NOT DISCRIMINATE AGAINST OKINAWANS. He told me he had not been given it by any organisation, but had had it made with his own money.  “This is it”, he said to me urgently.  “This is the issue!”

His flag symbolises the sea change which the Okinawan anti-base movement has undergone in the last fifteen years or so, a change in thinking that has led to a major political realignment, which in turn has affected the shape of the increasingly desperate political confrontation taking place there now.

Japan Focus: Okinawa: State of Emergency

And, as far as I am concerned, that goes for both Hatoyama, and Abe.

If we cannot elect better leaders, to take us out of the great mess we are in, well, then what...?


Sunday, February 08, 2015

NHK Organic Farming Drama!

Starting on January 31, NHK is airing a Saturday evening drama series about organic farming. I am as surprised as anyone, but yes, the key word is indeed pesticide-free veggie-growing. Who would have thought?

Filmed in the lovely mountains of Yamanashi prefecture, it is a story about a small rural village with some 50 souls left, who are wondering how to survive. Farming is easy here, with fertile soil and great weather, but nobody has any ideas how to save the village from disappearing from the map. Miho, the youngest, leaves town to try to get a job in Tokyo, but fails. Meanwhile her grandfather passes away. Her father also appears, after a long stint away, but how will they manage?

A consultant, Takigawa Yu appears with lots of ideas. But who is he? His flamboyant manners and fast talking create initial suspicions, but he actually has good ideas for the village. For example, bring in kids and their grandparents on field days, to enjoy learning about vegetables, and getting a taste. He also encourages the village to set up a local produce store with a charming cafe, with great results... at first.

Not sure how the story will unravel, but it looks good so far!

And did I mention that the focus is on organic farming...?

NHK official page here (J)
Fan blog about Japanese dramas: Genkai Shuuraku KK (ENG)

Mikan, Ponkan, Dekopon, You Name It...

I must have mentioned it before - this is a season I really love, as all the different varieties of citrus, oranges, or mandarins are ready for harvest. Those lucky enough to have a tree or three in their garden are out picking them, while the rest of us can explore the wide range of options in the supermarket. Last photo - my neighbor left a few at the top of his tree, wish I had a ladder!

Other popular varieties include iyokan, yuzu and natsumikan. List of Japanese citrus here

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Icicles in Chichibu, Saitama

Like ice? Yes! Worth the trip? Oh absolutely. I was not disappointed by the beautiful icicles, the Misotsuchi-no-tsurara in what felt like Oku-Musashi, western Chichibu in Saitama. Marvelous and almost surreal. 

There is a cafe too with a warm wood stove, serving hot foods and hot coffee (I had the tiramisu and there were other cakes as well). 

Had to take the bus back to Seibu Chichibu station, and there are not that many buses, so I missed the evening illumination which is probably even more gorgeous. Only in February. 

More images over at Japan Travels: The Icicles of Misotsuchi

Saturday, January 31, 2015

TPP Protests, Ag and Pharma and More

Kyodo reports that

Japan mulls concession on rice in TPP negotiations

TOKYO, Jan. 30, Kyodo
Japan has offered to import more rice from the United States in response to strident calls from Washington to make a concession toward concluding Pacific Rim free trade talks, negotiation sources said Friday.
During bilateral talks, Japan has proposed a plan to increase annual rice imports from the United States by some 50,000 tons as part of its quota for an emergency stockpile under the envisioned Trans-Pacific Partnership initiative, the sources said.
Japan has sought to protect its key farm products -- rice, wheat, beef and pork, dairy and sugar -- as exceptions to the tariff-abolishing TPP. As rice, the staple part of the Japanese diet, is especially regarded as off-limits, agricultural lobbyists and lawmakers with close ties to farmers could react sharply against Tokyo's plan.

Protesters Interrupt U.S. Trade Rep at TPP Hearing

Democracy Now!
January 28, 2015

(10:52-long video included in link; trade section begins around minute 9:00)

The top U.S. trade official has told lawmakers the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal could be wrapped up within months and urged Congress to give the White House fast-track authority to approve the deal. Protesters with the group Flush the Trans-Pacific Partnership repeatedly interrupted U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman’s testimony before Congress. The protesters — Dr. Margaret Flowers, Kevin Zeese and retired steelworker Richard Ochs — were all arrested after being removed from the hearing.

Michael Froman: "At USTR, we’re advancing those goals by knocking down barriers to U.S. exports and leveling the playing field for American workers and businesses of all sizes. As we work to open markets around the world, we’re"—

Dr. Margaret Flowers: "Mr. Froman, you are not telling the American people the truth. We know that the Trans-Pacific Partnership has been negotiated in secret for five years, when you’re trying to rush it through Congress with fast track because it’s secret and you know that things in there are going to hurt the American people. They’re going to offshore our jobs and lower our wages, in fact. Our job is to protect our communities."

Sen. Orrin Hatch: "Let’s have order. All right, remove this person from the room, and if anybody else—if anybody else does this, we’re going to be—you’re going to be removed."

Dr. Margaret Flowers: "They’re not going to allow us to protect our communities from corporations that want to poison us. They’re not going to allow us to protect our workers from poor working conditions. You are not going to get fast track. The American people are against it. They’re against the TPP. No secret trade deal!"

Kevin Zeese: "We’re saying stop fast track, today."

Richard Ochs: "No TPP! No"—

Kevin Zeese: "We don’t want supersized NAFTA. We don’t want—we don’t want [inaudible]."

Sen. Orrin Hatch: "Remove these people."

Kevin Zeese: "We don’t want to undermine [inaudible]. We believe in democracy, not secrecy. We want transparency!"

Richard Ochs: "No TPP! No TPP! No TPP!"

Anti-trade deal protesters hijack Senate TPP hearing

By Staff Writers
January 27, 2015

Protesters opposed to a major, multi-national trade deal being negotiated in secret by a dozen countries – including the United States – hijacked a US Senate hearing early Tuesday to speak out against the proposal.

Capitol Police removed no fewer than three demonstrators Tuesday morning during testimony delivered before the Senate Committee on Finance by US Trade Representative Michael Froman concerning the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP.

Froman had just begun making his opening statements when a protester in the Senate gallery got out of her seat and interrupted the ambassador.

“You are not telling the American people the truth,” said the woman.

“We know that the TPP has been negotiated in secret for five years. You’re trying to rush it through Congress and fast track it because its secret and you know that the things in there are going to hurt the American people,” she said.

As the woman was escorted out of the room, other demonstrators began displaying signs, including lawyer and activist Kevin Zeese.

“We believe in Democracy, not secrecy,” Zeese said as he unfurled a large white banner inscribed with anti-TPP slogans.


Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), the Committee’s chairman, attempted to rein the hearing in while acknowledging the ambivalence concerning the TPP — a 12-nation proposal that would encode new trade rules for intellectual property and market access and eliminate long-existing tariffs while, according to opponents like intellectual Joe Stiglitz, "restrict access to knowledge."
In addition to IP restrictions, critics have also taken issue with the lack of transparency concerning meetings between potential TPP partners, including the US and several nations in the Asia-Pacific region. Draft documents have previously been published by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks in an effort to disclose as much of the agreement as possible before it is adopted, but opponents of the proposal in the US have expressed concern that Congress could “fast track” the deal to expedite authorization by presenting it to the House and Senate with no amendments attached.

READ MORE: TPP Uncovered: WikiLeaks releases draft of highly-secretive multi-national trade deal

“I understand that some people have strong feelings about the subject were talking about today. That’s fine,” Hatch told the protesters. “The First Amendment guarantees your right to express your views, but we have to allow civil discussion to occur in the context of this hearing.”

Ambassador Froman soon after continued his testimony, but was almost immediately interrupted by another protester who said the “big business corporate secret deals are costing American jobs.”

Protesters then held up signs, including one reading “Fast Track: Constitutional Train Wreck,” before Froman attempted once again to continue his testimony.

According to a written statement prepared by Froman ahead of Tuesday’s hearing, the Office of the US Trade Representative is narrowing in on finalizing TPP negotiations, expected to be completed by the end of 2015.

“At the TPP Leaders meeting in November convened by President Obama, all 12 countries took note of the progress that has been made on TPP, and agreed that the end of the negotiation is now coming into focus. And the TPP countries reaffirmed their commitment to concluding a comprehensive, high-standard agreement, and to work toward finalizing the TPP agreement as soon as possible,” Froman said.

"We are not done yet but I feel confident that we are making good progress and we can close out a positive package soon," said the ambassador, adding that his office’s agenda “is committed to supporting more good jobs, promoting growth and strengthening America’s middle class.”

Along with the US, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Canada, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, and Japan have expressed interest in signing the TPP.

Don't Trade Away Our Health


JAN. 30, 2015

A secretive group met behind closed doors in New York this week. What they decided may lead to higher drug prices for you and hundreds of millions around the world.

Representatives from the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim countries convened to decide the future of their trade relations in the so-called Trans-Pacific Partnership (T.P.P.). Powerful companies appear to have been given influence over the proceedings, even as full access is withheld from many government officials from the partnership countries.

Among the topics negotiators have considered are some of the most contentious T.P.P. provisions — those relating to intellectual property rights. And we’re not talking just about music downloads and pirated DVDs. These rules could help big pharmaceutical companies maintain or increase their monopoly profits on brand-name drugs.

The secrecy of the T.P.P. negotiations makes them maddeningly opaque and hard to discuss. But we can get a pretty good idea of what’s happening, based on documents obtained by WikiLeaks from past meetings (they began in 2010), what we know of American influence in other trade agreements, and what others and myself have gleaned from talking to negotiators.

Trade agreements are negotiated by the office of the United States Trade Representative, supposedly on behalf of the American people. Historically, though, the trade representative’s office has aligned itself with corporate interests. If big pharmaceutical companies hold sway — as the leaked documents indicate they do — the T.P.P. could block cheaper generic drugs from the market. Big Pharma’s profits would rise, at the expense of the health of patients and the budgets of consumers and governments.

There are two ways the office of the trade representative can use the T.P.P. to maintain or raise drug prices and profits.

The first is to restrict competition from generics. It’s axiomatic that more competition means lower prices. When companies have to fight for customers, they end up cutting their prices. When a patent expires, any company can enter the market with a generic version of a drug. The differences in prices between brand-name and generic drugs are mind- and budget-blowing. Just the availability of generics drives prices down: In generics-friendly India, for example, Gilead Sciences, which makes an effective hepatitis-C drug, recently announced that it would sell the drug for a little more than 1 percent of the $84,000 it charges here.

That’s why, since the United States opened up its domestic market to generics in 1984, they have grown from 19 percent of prescriptions to 86 percent, by some accounts saving the United States government, consumers and employers more than $100 billion a year. Drug companies stand to gain handsomely if the T.P.P. limits the sale of generics.

The second strategy is to undermine government regulation of drug prices. More competition is not the only way to keep down the prices of essential goods and services. Governments can also directly restrain prices through law, or effectively restrain them by denying reimbursement to patients for “overpriced” drugs — thus encouraging companies to bring down their prices to approved levels. These regulatory approaches are especially important in markets where competition is limited, as it is in the drug market. If the United States Trade Representative gets its way, the T.P.P. will limit the ability of partner countries to restrict prices. And the pharmaceutical companies surely hope the “standard” they help set in this agreement will become global — for example, by becoming the starting point for United States negotiations with the European Union over the same issues.

Americans might shrug at the prospect of soaring drug prices around the world. After all, the United States already allows drug companies to charge what they want. But that doesn’t mean we might not want to change things someday. Here again, the T.P.P. has us cornered: Trade agreements, and in particular individual provisions within them, are typically far more difficult to alter or repeal than domestic laws.

We can’t be sure which of these features have made it through this week’s negotiations. What’s clear is that the overall thrust of the intellectual property section of the T.P.P. is for less competition and higher drug prices. The effects will go beyond the 12 T.P.P. countries. Barriers to generics in the Pacific will put pressure on producers of such drugs in other countries, like India, as well.

Of course, pharmaceutical companies claim they need to charge high prices to fund their research and development. This just isn’t so. For one thing, drug companies spend more on marketing and advertising than on new ideas. Overly restrictive intellectual property rights actually slow new discoveries, by making it more difficult for scientists to build on the research of others and by choking off the exchange of ideas that is critical to innovation. As it is, most of the important innovations come out of our universities and research centers, like the National Institutes of Health, funded by government and foundations.

The efforts to raise drug prices in the T.P.P. take us in the wrong direction. The whole world may come to pay a price in the form of worse health and unnecessary deaths.

Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate in economics, a professor at Columbia and a former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, is the author of “The Price of Inequality.”

Protesters Arrested at Fast-Track Trade Hearing

Protesters Arrested at Fast-Track Trade Hearing

Roll Call
By Hannah Hess
January 27, 2015

Capitol Police arrested three sign-carrying, slogan-shouting demonstrators who disrupted a Tuesday morning Senate Finance Committee hearing on the president’s trade policy agenda.

The protesters wore shirts reading “No Fast Track” and greeted U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman with signs stating, “Froman lies” — a response to his statement to the committee that trade promotion authority “is Congress’s best tool to ensure that there is ample time for public scrutiny and debate on U.S. trade agreements.”

Organizers claimed fast-track legislation limits the amount of time Congress has to consider agreements and suspends its ability to make amendments to the texts.


Roll Call

By Hannah Hess

January 27, 2015

Capitol Police arrested three sign-carrying, slogan-shouting demonstrators who disrupted a Tuesday morning Senate Finance Committee hearing on the president’s trade policy agenda.

The protesters wore shirts reading “No Fast Track” and greeted U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman with signs stating, “Froman lies” — a response to his statement to the committee that trade promotion authority “is Congress’s best tool to ensure that there is ample time for public scrutiny and debate on U.S. trade agreements.”

Organizers claimed fast-track legislation limits the amount of time Congress has to consider agreements and suspends its ability to make amendments to the texts.


Senate Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatch of Utah engaged one protester in a brief back and forth, telling him he was “not representing your people well.”

Details on charges against the three protesters were not immediately available, according to Capitol Police spokeswoman Lt. Kimberly Schneider.

Kate Ackley contributed to this report.

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

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 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!