Saturday, September 20, 2014

Ghibli At Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum

One of Tokyo's most unusual museums is located in Koganei Park, west of the central parts of the city. It is a large park with a lot of space for kids to run around and much to see and do. If you like Ghibli animation films, now is a great time to visit. Until December 14, 2014 they are holding a special exhibition celebrating Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli and its many talented artists. The famous studio, by the way, is also located in Koganei City near the park.

There is nothing on the official English website, and I do hope they will do more to help people who don't read Japanese to get to know the many architectural treasures and historical buildings in the park.

Access to the Open Air Museum (E)

Rocket News 24 has more:

With nearly 400 different pieces including full 3-D models, landscape paintings, and notes and other material about the anime buildings, the exhibition looks to be a great way for Ghibli fans to get a deeper view of what was happening behind the action. Explanations by Terunobu Fujimori, a famed architect and architectural historian, are also provided, helping to increase patrons’ understanding and enjoyment.

Perhaps the crown jewel of the exhibition is the three-meter-tall sculpture of the bathhouse Aburaya from Spirited Away, which you can see below.

Afterthoughts:

This park (East area) is a great place to explore architecture and wonderful buildings that can, to some extent, still be seen and experienced all over Japan, but... (and this is a huge but) one of the major issues in a country that experiences earthquakes, is sustainability.

The wood architecture here was not meant to create long-lasting structures, but to provide a means to simply rebuild when disaster struck.

Thus, Japan has any number of "old" temples and pagodas and other wooden buildings. Todaiji in Nara comes to mind, from the 7th century initially, but rebuilt in the 17th century. The great pagoda in Nara is from the 14th century, and if that is not enough numbers and years and history to make your mind go "wow" then what. And Todaiji initially had another two such wooden pagodas, imagine that.

So, what is sustainability? I think Japanese wooden structures ought to serve as a norm. If you can build something like Ise Shrine, and keep rebuilding it, then it qualifies.

The Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum has a more recent take on that.



Afterthoughts x2

Many of the buildings that have been carefully moved and restored at Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum have featured in Ghibli movies.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Asia: Demand For More Vegetables, Less "Gutter Oil"

Nothing like a healthy meal, with lots of fruit and veggies. Any time of the day.

It also makes economic sense. Not just because it will help cut your medical bills. Well, think about it. Well.

Nikkei Asian Review notes that all over Asia, there is a trend towards more healthy eating, and that means more fruit and vegetables.

How to provide it? That is another huge task.

Nikkei: Now blossoming across Southeast Asia: The vegetable business

BANGKOK/HANOI -- New vegetable enterprises are emerging in Southeast Asia as incomes rise and consumers increasingly insist on safe, quality produce.    

The Bolaven plateau in the southeast of Laos is gaining prominence as a cabbage-producing area. A 150-hectare field, situated about 1,000 meters above sea level, is being cultivated by 160 farms under contract with Pakxong Development Export-Import, the country's largest agricultural corporation. "Production of cabbages in Bolaven for export is helping farmers double or triple their incomes compared with 10 years ago," said the mayor of the village of Nonsoung, which administers the place.

(...)

Demand for vegetables is growing among Southeast Asia's roughly 600 million consumers. Per capita consumption rose to about 60kg a year in 2011, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. That amounted to a 20% increase over 10 years.

The article mentions several Japanese companies that are now growing vegetables in Thailand and Vietnam.

Lacue, an agricultural corporation based in Kawakami, Nagano Prefecture, is growing a brand of lettuce called Asagiri in Vietnam. The operation in Dalat, a high-altitude city in the central part of the country, is run through An Phu Lacue, a joint venture with a Vietnamese company.

Kawakami is one of Japan's largest producers of quality lettuce varieties. The company adopts the same cultivation methods in Vietnam, keeping chemicals to a minimum. 

The Asagiri brand costs 55,000 dong ($2.59) per kilogram, twice as much as ordinary varieties. But the crisp, sweet taste and the brand's reputation for quality are winning over locals in Ho Chi Minh City and other large municipalities. FamilyMart, the Japanese convenience store chain, also uses the brand in its sandwiches.

Meanwhile, Taiwan is rocked by a huge food oil scandal, showing that some in the meat industry will go to any length to sell lard (pig fat) and "gutter oil" (re-used cooking oil that nobody seems to know where it comes from) to make modern food products, for sale. My suggestion? Avoid anything made from food factories.

You couldn't make this up. The disgusting oils sold and re-sold for cheap production to over a thousand companies. MOS Burger, the Japanese company was also a victim. I'm hoping Japanese lard producers are not going to be found guilty of importing this stuff, but who is checking and testing their products? And who is to say, other cheap imports are not already here, from guys in huge cars with more cash than sense...?


Lard, by the way, is never safe. This is fat that is solid at room temperature, so imagine what it will do inside your body. It will - stay solid. That means, it will clog your arteries.

Lard, even in its pure form, is harmful. Now add toxic sewage plus whatever the criminals in Hong Kong and Taiwan sold to those companies...

Wonder why sensible people all over Asia are turning to vegetables, instead?

In some parts of Asia, this is known as the Mooncake food scandal. In autumn, it is a tradition to enjoy viewing the full moon while enjoying traditional sweets.

Well, unless you make it yourself, or really trust who supplies you with the goodies, no way to know what kind of (cheap) fat has been used. Disgusting? You said it.

A Kaoshiung-based supplier is accused of buying at least 240 tonnes of gutter oil – recycled from kitchen waste, by-products from leather processing plants and offal from slaughterhouses – from an unlicensed factory and then reselling it to importers and businesses in Hong Kong and Macau. Several samples have been taken, including mooncakes, almond strips, cookies and various kinds of bread – and unfortunately pineapple buns are affected. Some have been sold in Starbucks and 7-Eleven.

Image from bluebalu.com

Gutter oil scandal? It is a terrible story and has been reported widely here in Asia. It has exposed food oil as the weak link in the increasingly globalized food supply system.

NHK World (Japan) Probe continues into Taiwan edible oil scandal
http://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/english/news/20140913_23.html

Nikkei (Japan): Taiwan's 'gutter oil' scandal deepens in Hong Kong and Macau
http://asia.nikkei.com/Politics-Economy/Economy/Taiwan-s-gutter-oil-scandal-deepens-in-Hong-Kong-and-Macau

Taiwan News: Farmer hailed as 'hero' for exposing oil scandal
http://www.taiwannews.com.tw/etn/news_content.php?id=2571445

SBS (Australia): Taiwan executive detained as 'gutter oil' food safety scandal deepens
http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2014/09/13/taiwan-executive-detained-gutter-oil-food-safety-scandal-deepens

WSJ China Real Time Blog: After Tainted Oil Scandal, Taiwan Pledges to Clean Up Food Safety
http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2014/09/11/after-tainted-oil-scandal-taiwan-pledges-to-clean-up-food-safety/


Tuesday, September 09, 2014

TPP: Everyone Should Be Truly Worried, Now

What's the name of that children's game, where you get to hit one thing after another, and another one after the other pops up, and it is the same thing over and over?

Same thing with TPP, the trade pact that seems to have no benefits at all, yet the economists and free market liberals and people in charge (who will no doubt profit from it since they own the right stock and have all the connections for future cushy jobs, aka revolving door or amakudari, with variations). Round after round of negotiations with little or no result. I went to the Brunei Round last year, and here we are, more smoke screens on the foggy radar (forgive mixed images).

Ahem.

Met a friend today, he just got married. Has his own issues, but loves nature and farming and has recently moved to an organic scheme near Tokyo, and he is getting a lot of attention. Young and handsome and generally genki. And even he said he was worried about TPP. "How can we farm if all these cheap foods are imported?"

Same thing with others I met recently from both northern and southern Japan, where they have trouble attracting youth to help out. And they want to do better. Case in point - farmers I have met in Aizu Wakamatsu, Fukushima do really well exactly because they are able to invite people in their 20s and 30s to help out - and learn a lot.

WWOOF (thanks Tom!) is another way to be a part of this growing movement.

I also went to a meeting with Japan Organic Agriculture Movement (JOAA) and again, the anti-TPP message is solid and well thought-through, and the concerns are real. Do I have to mention that mainstream farmers and postal workers and teachers and just about everyone are up in arms?

Ahem, again.

Tomorrow I'm going to PARC in Tokyo to help out with an international telephone conference with anti-TPP groups in the US and Australia, like Public Citizens. Should be - interesting. Everyone from the Japanese anti-TPP movements should be there. Time to stop this madness.

Asahi: EDITORIAL: Japan, U.S. should consider consumers, not industries, in reaching TPP deal

The question is whether the two countries can rise to the challenge from the viewpoint of seeing the benefits the deal would bring to general consumers and the boon it would give to their national interests instead of trying to protect the bottom line of specific industries.

Jiji Press: Japan, U.S. in Final Phase of Auto Trade Talks

The two countries concluded their three-day working-level auto trade talks in Washington. After the talks, Takeo Mori, Japanese ambassador in charge of economic diplomacy, expressed Japan's intention to make further negotiations, saying that there still remain difficult issues. Japan's TPP affairs minister Akira Amari has said that he hopes to settle the pending issues between the two countries, such as elimination of tariffs on farm products, by early October through ministerial talks with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman.

Eliminating farm product tariffs, in exchange for what? Sorry, guys, auto tariffs are a non-issue. Car ownership is decreasing anyway, in both the US and Japan. More and more people are finding more important things that they value higher. Yet, we all have to eat!


Anyway, Japan responded to this ages ago by eliminating all of its auto tariffs. The US kept its tariffs, even though Japanese car makers set up car factories in the US and created American jobs there.

Remind me, did any American car maker do the same in Japan? No.

And even so, the US still complains about Japanese "barriers" that are in fact safety rules, attempts to keep pollution down, and other measures to make all cars less harmful. These rules, by the way, in no way are aimed at US car makers, even though that is how well-paid lobbyists from Detroit and Washington like to push their sorry case. Having observed global trade negotiations for a long time, I know it is all about trade-offs, and bluffing. Much like poker. Not a very honourable game, sirs & madams.

This fall, TPP will have to destroy efforts in Malaysia to produce generic medicines at reasonable prices to its population. It will have to crush the state-owned companies in Vietnam. Australia and New Zealand will no longer be able to block dispute panels, where multinational corporations can sue governments (Japan, by the way, does not allow such ISDS in its current free trade agreement with Australia).

For consumers and all of us trying to make an honest living on this beautiful planet, we wish trade negotiators would do more, not less, to protect human (and animal) health, and we think governments should do more to advocate policies (precautionary principle, polluter pays, 3Rs) that make sense in this era of economic downturn, known as "negative growth" when all of us are dealing with higher bills for everything from electricity and fuel - to food.

Climate change is also playing a huge role, but how do we communicate that message to the TPP negotiators? We want less trade in meat and cars, not more!!


JA Youth is all over Japan trying to engage young people to like farming.

PARC has been around for a very long time, since the Japanese struggle against the Vietnam War, and their AMPO magazine was one of the few publications that kept people abroad in the know about events in Japan, with people thinking outside of the box. Back Issues, headlines only, in a pdf file from their website.

The Pacific Asia Resource Center, also known as PARC, was established as a non-government organization in 1973. Even before its establishment, PARC made a name for itself with its English language publication, AMPO, which carried well-researched articles on Free Trade Zones, banana plantation in the Philippines, shrimp farming and peoples’ movements in Japan and Asia.

The anti-TPP movement is not a recent little blimp on the radar. Corporate media will try to project that image, but there is a history to the protests.

Newly appointed Agriculture Minister Koya Nishikawa, from Tochigi prefecture, used to be a staunch critic of the kind of secret-deal-negotiations that the TPP represents. I wonder if he has the spine to stand up to real resistance, when push comes to shove.

Born i 1942, he thinks the Japanese economy in 2014 will prosper...

...if there's a TPP agreement. But if a deadline is set for ending negotiations by such and such a date, we lose our bargaining chips. Our stance in the negotiations respects the resolutions passed by the farm, forestry and fisheries committees of both Diet houses (which oppose granting concessions on rice, wheat and other sensitive farm goods).

(Top images from 采の榊 Sai no sakaki, an effort to revive local forests and provide sasaki for shrines)








Sunday, September 07, 2014

Hatappi - Smarthphone Farming Game App

I think I have seen it all now. Someone next to me on the train played it, and I found out it's called Hatappi, a play on the word for farm field, "hatake" and "happy" (and maybe "app") by Tokyo-based LD Inc.

It looks like a load of fun but come on, is this what the word has come to? We are now too rich and lazy to actually do farm work, and instead enjoy the simulation on an electronic device hooked up to satellites and electricity and batteries and...

But ok, I get it. Not everyone has the opportunity to grow their own vegetables. It is a nice dream to have and I shouldn't rant about this. I really shouldn't. I mean, I want to, but...

I like how they call it a Satoyama Kurashi experience, and it is tied up with real farmers that actually can provide the produce to gamers. Also, gamers can sign up for visits to participating farms, and there are all kinds of great ideas. Yet... I mean... You know what I mean... An app for farming...?

(It reminds me of how the popular board game Monopoly was invented and introduced after the New York stock market crash in 1929, allowing everyone to pretend that they were rich enough to purchase property and bonds and whatnot...)

Top image from LD Inc.



On their Youtube Channel, they go to great lengths to introduce the very real farmers that participate in this crazy project.

In Japan, seasonal veggies are a big thing, filed under the label 旬 "shun" and many consumers love the idea to enjoy eating what is "in season." In this video, they go to visit a young carrot farmer in Miura, Kanagawa prefecture, Genki Morimori Yamamori Noen... He also does the famous local variety of Miura daikon, and cabbage.

Eating carrot sticks raw - I really can support that. I also like making carrot juice. Yamamori-san mixes a rare Okinawa carrot to make a special carrot juice, more golden yellow, packed with nutrients. Sweet! Genki morimori means filled with zest and gusto, and is also a pun on his family name, Yamamori. In this day and age, of course there is a website too, over at http://www.farm-yamamori.com/

Do enjoy this fun glimpse of real life in semi-rural Japan.






Saturday, September 06, 2014

Support Japan And Efforts To Protect Biological Diversity

Japanese farmers have completely rejected genetically modified organisms. There is no cultivation of GMOs in Japan for commercial purposes. Very few field trials are ongoing at research institutes, which we are keeping a close eye on. Meanwhile, reports from China indicate that GM rice will not be allowed, which is great news. South Korea also does not grow any GMOs commercially.

Activists and experts in Asia are not supporting GMOs. Here is Third World Network and their campaign for biosafety.

The Biosafety Information Centre is a website set up and managed by Third World Network.
The goals are to:
  • Increase knowledge on, and deepen understanding of, (w)holistic approaches for a comprehensive assessment of technologies and techniques that involve genetic engineering
  • Contribute to a wider public discussion and critical understanding of the scientific, ecological , social, economic and ethical dimensions of genetic engineering under the rubric of biosafety
  • Contribute to the enhancement of the biosafety capacity of policy makers and regulators in developing countries
  • Promote research (including the identification of gaps in knowledge) on biosafety
  • Promote research on, and implementation of, sustainable systems for agriculture, health and ecological integrity
  • Promote understanding of, and respect for, the rights, knowledge and practices of indigenous peoples and local communities


Meanwhile, back in the US of A:

Wall Street Journal: U.S. Corn Exports to China Dry Up Over GMO Concerns

China's tougher stance on imports of genetically modified corn is roiling U.S. agribusiness, largely halting trade in the biggest U.S. crop in its fastest growing market. By one industry estimate, exports are down by 85% compared with last year.

NPR has another story about the mess that GMO is causing in 2014: When China Spurns GMO Corn Imports, American Farmers Lose Billions

The crackdown began in November 2013. China began rejecting shiploads of corn when officials detected traces of the new gene. By February of this year, U.S. exports of corn to China had practically ceased.

The failure of GMO foods to catch on in virtually all parts of Asia by 2014 is a story that needs to be told to the world.

Sciencemag.com: China pulls plug on genetically modified rice and corn

China’s Ministry of Agriculture has decided not to renew biosafety certificates that allowed research groups to grow genetically modified (GM) rice and corn. The permits, to grow two varieties of GM rice and one transgenic corn strain, expired on 17 August. The reasoning behind the move is not clear, and it has raised questions about the future of related research in China.
The ministry, with much fanfare, had approved the GM rice certificates in August 2009. The permits enabled a group at Huazhong Agricultural University in Wuhan to produce two varieties of rice carrying a gene from the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) bacteria that provides pest resistance. At the same time, the ministry approved production of a corn strain developed by the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences' Biotechnology Research Institute in Beijing. Researchers had altered the corn so that kernels contain phytase, a livestock feed additive that boosts absorption of phosphorus, which enhances growth. All of the certificates were valid for 5 years.
 
Since the certificates were issued, however, public skepticism about the benefits of GM crops has grown in China. 

Some scientists conducting GM plant research have been attacked when giving public lectures.
Why the ministry allowed the certificates to lapse is in dispute. Some environmentalists say public worries about GM crops played a decisive role. "We believe that loopholes in assessing and monitoring [GM] research, as well as the public concern around safety issues are the most important reasons that the certifications have not been renewed," writes Wang Jing, a Greenpeace official based in Beijing, in an e-mail to ScienceInsider.
 
Others believe agricultural economics also influenced the decision. China has nearly reached self-sufficiency in producing rice using conventional varieties, so the ministry has decided there is no need to commercialize Bt rice in the near future, says Huang Jikun, director of the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy. He says that with commercialization off the table, there was no point in renewing the certifications. Huang says "rising public concerns [about the] safety of GM rice" likely also played a role.

Whatever the reason, the decision marks an abrupt change in fortunes for transgenic rice in China. Five years ago, "China was widely expected to soon put GM rice on the country’s dining tables," wrote Cao Cong, a China policy expert at University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom, in a post on The Conversation, an Australian website. The Bt rice project "is now to all intents and purposes dead and buried," he wrote...

Remember this?

Video from 2010, when the UN Convention of Biological Diversity held its meeting in Nagoya, Japan. Wow, that was a lot of fun!


Friday, September 05, 2014

Who Can Help Volvo Get Paid By North Korea?

This is such an epic story of the early 1970s, back when the Cold War was seriously on. Sweden was supporting Vietnam, and - hey, why not North Korea as well? There was a trade fair in Pyongyang and Volvo, Atlas Copco and Kockums participated (Atlas Copco for the minerals that now China are eying, but that is another story, Kockums from Malmö, for ship building, I suppose...)

Somehow, North Korea managed to manipulate the Swedish government and its foreign trade body to supply some 1,000 green Volvo 144 Sedans. With leather seats.

Oh, I remember those, they were considered large by usual Swedish standards back when I was a child in the 1970s. As I have noted earlier on Kurashi, we had a Renault 4 no more no less, until father caught on and got a Toyota Starlet in 1981. Volvo? That was for more affluent neighbors. The Volvo 144 Sedan was - luxury. And that is the very car Sweden decided to export to North Korea. And North Korea decided not to pay. Turns out, they are still around. Most serve as taxis. They are more or less indestructable. Compared to Cuba, North Korea may be lucky. Still, I'd like to know exactly why they thought they didn't need to pay.

North Korea will always have reasons for how they behave.

Newsweek: North Korea Owes Sweden €300m for 1,000 Volvos It Stole 40 Years Ago - And Is Still Using

Each fiscal year, the Swedish Export Credits Guarantee Board calculates interest on a single debt that accounts for more than half of all its political claims. It’s been a tradition since 1974, when the government agency was advised to insure Volvo, Atlas Copco, Kockum, and other Swedish companies’ exports to an entirely new buyer: Supreme Leader Kim Il-sung. For nearly half a century, the Board has been in charge of the Sisyphean task of coaxing €300m from a nation that thinks international law is an elaborate gambit designed by capitalist pig-dogs.

“We semi-annually advise when payments fall due,” Stefan Karlsson, the board’s head of risk advisory, tells Newsweek. “However, as is well known, North Korea does not fulfil their part of the agreement.” Sweden being Sweden and North Korea being North Korea, that’s about as hardball as it gets.

It was a very different world back then, before South Korea started to make the headlines. Who's competitive? In 2014, South Korea ranks 26th, and China was up by one notch to 28th. Well done. The World Economic Forum ranks Japan as the world's 6th most competitive economy, up 3 places from a year earlier. And maybe, Sweden will somehow reap amazing benefits from trade with North Korea, in the future...?

OK, but can we get back to the story abut the Volvo 144 Sedans in North Korea, please?

The story began shortly after the Korean armistice of 1953. As the line dividing north from south grew firmer, other borders became more porous, drawing the attention of many neutral European countries. The Iron Curtain rose on an entirely new part of the tumultuous era’s geopolitical zoo: a tiny, ebullient state marked by military posturing and dreams of self-reliance, running an impressive surplus and recording a mind-blowing economic growth of 25% in the face of US opposition.

Sweden was one of the first to seize on the opportunity. The Stockholm and Pyongyang ties in the early 1970s arose out of a rare convergence of leftist and industrialist interest: local socialist groups wanted Sweden to formally recognise the new communist state, and businessmen wanted to exploit the region’s nascent mining industry.

Top image from Finland's HBL.fi

Not like we did not know about this in Sweden, for a long time...

While many companies pressed on with payment negotiations in an effort to save face, Swedish media was having a blast unraveling one of the most bizarre trade debacles in recent memory. In an indignant spread featuring a photo of the supreme leader with the caption “Kim Il-sung – Broke Communist,” Åge Ramsby of the newspaper Expressen in 1976 went all out listing reports of other debts the Kim regime shirked, including a cool €5m to Swiss Rolex, from whom it had allegedly ordered 2,000 wristwatches with the engraving “donated by Kim Il-sung”.

“North Korea had expected to pay their foreign debts with deliveries of copper and zinc,” the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter wrote in 1976, referring to the reserves the imported mining equipment was supposed to unlock. “But the North Korean economists had been too optimistic in their calculations, and the international market price for these ores had also dropped ­catastrophically.”



Sunday, August 31, 2014

Eco Links For August, 2014

Last days of summer, with a hint of autumn in the air already? I went to the Farmers Market at United Nations University in Tokyo, and here are some photos of that happy event. Very nicely managed with white tents and wooden crates for the produce and preserves. I hear it is rather expensive to have a stall here (12,000 yen per day compared to, for example, Nippori Market at 5,000 yen per day) but many of the vendors come back weekend after weekend, so they must be doing well!

Asahi reports that this summer has been tough on veggie farming and that prices are going through the roof:

Vegetable prices are soaring due to the summer's heavy rains and a lack of sunshine across the nation, making for poorer growing and harvesting conditions than in usual years. These unusual weather phenomena are causing shortages of vegetables and showing up in higher prices in supermarkets across the nation. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, the retail prices of cucumbers and lettuce are double those of conventional years, and will continue to remain high for the next few weeks.

Many supermarkets now do special "time sale" events where for just an hour or so, they lower the prices, and then push them back up again.

From North America, Food Safety News reveals how a critic of the organic movement operates:

When The Cornucopia Institute, a farm policy research group, officially launched in April 2004, one of its primary issue areas was what it referred to as “The Corporate Attack on Organic Agriculture.” At the time, Cornucopia’s focus was on the father-and-son team of Dennis and Alex Avery at the ultra-conservative Hudson Institute’s campaign to discredit organics. Now, in 2011, after seven years of successfully exposing the genesis of Hudson’s ire, and greatly diminishing its effectiveness, a new generation of “Trojan horse” naysayers has emerged.

The latest attacks come from Mischa Popoff, a Canadian who purports to be an advocate for organics and is publicizing his self-published book entitled, "Is It Organic?" The author misses few opportunities to impugn the integrity of the organic label, or USDA oversight, while simultaneously defending biotechnology and the industrial agriculture system that organics seeks to replace.
“Addressing the potential damage from attacks by the Hudson Institute, and other right-wing think tanks such as the Hoover Institution, the Heartland Institute, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, was relatively easy,” said Mark A. Kastel, codirector at the Wisconsin-based Cornucopia Institute. “Every rebuttal that we published, or preemptive media advisory we issued, was put into context by including the corporate agribusiness funding base for the work of these entities.”

The Cornucopia Institute website has more.

August also saw a flurry of reports about the tough task to convince land owners in Japan to provide space for radioactive waste from the crippled Fukushima Nuclear Plant. I think it is sad but logical that the towns in the immediate vicinity get to store it; sad because it will further cause them trouble, but logical since it doesn't make sense to ship the waste all over the country. Also, these locations may be easier to guard and to make sure they are kept safe. Good luck with that, for 30 years. And then there is the real issue of where to put the long-term storage. Not in my backyard, please...



Fukushima formally accepts waste storage plan

August 30, 2014

The governor of Japan's Fukushima Prefecture has officially accepted a government proposal to build intermediate radioactive waste facilities in 2 of its towns.
The central government plans to build the facilities on 16-square-kilometer lots in the towns of Futaba and Okuma, near the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
 

On Saturday, Governor Yuhei Sato met in the city of Fukushima with the mayors of Futaba and Okuma as well as 6 other towns and villages near the plant.
After the meeting, the governor officially announced the decision to accept the facilities.
The governor said the prefecture scrutinized government plans and judged that the facilities are essential in removing nuclear substances and restoring the environment. He added that it was a difficult decision.

The mayors of Futaba and Okuma said they take the prefecture's decision seriously, suggesting that they will accept it and will allow the government to start negotiating land acquisitions with the owners.
They also confirmed that they will continue to urge the government to enact legislation that would stipulate that the stored waste will be transferred from the prefecture within 30 years. They will also call on the government to sign a pact that guarantees the safety of the facilities, and to draw up a blueprint for the community's future.

The central government plans to start having the soil transported in January.

http://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/english/news/20140830_17.html

Fukushima towns OK plan to construct storage facilities for nuke waste

August 27, 2014

Two Fukushima Prefecture municipalities have decided to accept the central government's rich package of subsidies to allow the construction of intermediate facilities to store radioactive debris from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant disaster.
“We succeeded in greatly deepening (local officials’) understanding (of our storage facility plan),” Nobuteru Ishihara, environment minister, told reporters on Aug. 26 after meeting with members of the town assemblies of Futaba and Okuma.
Ishihara said the central government will pay subsidies totaling 301 billion yen ($2.89 billion) to support local residents’ lives and revitalize local communities. Of that, 85 billion yen will go directly to the town governments of Futaba and Okuma, which host the stricken Fukushima plant. The remaining 216 billion yen in subsidies will be distributed through other programs.

http://ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/fukushima/AJ201408270040

Candidate town residents rally against radioactive waste disposal site plan

August 18, 2014



KAMI, Miyagi -- Residents of a candidate site for final disposal of radioactive waste emanating from the Fukushima nuclear disaster organized a rally here against a planned government survey for deciding where to build the controversial facility.

Some 1,000 people took part in the protest on July 17, which was organized by residents of the Miyagi Prefecture town of Kami -- one of the three candidate sites for construction of a final disposal facility.

Kazuhisa Mikata, mayor of the Tochigi Prefecture town of Shioya -- another candidate site for the final disposal facility -- participated in the rally to confirm the collaboration between the two towns in continuing to refuse the conducting of the surveys by the Environment Ministry.

Kami Mayor Hirobumi Inomata said, "Radioactive waste should be managed on the premises of Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s (Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant) in an integrated manner." Inomata emphasized the need to revise a special measures law governing disposal of such waste in each prefecture.

http://mainichi.jp/english/english/newsselect/news/20140818p2a00m0na005000c.html


For more sad news, go to Ten Thousand Things and read and weep for Henoko in Okinawa. Or better yet, join the protest movement:

The 8.23 rally was organized by the All-Okinawa Conference which formed at Naha, the prefecture's capital, in July. Representatives included numerous elected political officials, including mayors from all of Okinawa's municipalities and representatives from environmental, women's, peace, and human rights NGOs. Their conference statement described their collective vision for Okinawa:
We reject any future for Okinawa that would continue to be dominated by the bases. It is our duty to pass on to our children an Okinawan future full of hope and we have every right to build freely and with our own hands a truly Okinawan caring society. We call upon all the people of Okinawa to unite again on an “all Okinawa” basis to demand implementation of the 2013 Okinawan Kempakusho and cessation of the works being imposed by force upon Henoko.


Friday, August 29, 2014

Tesla Electric Car In Tokyo From September 4

And now for something completely different... I did my democratic duty over at the Swedish Embassy in Roppongi, and voted in the Swedish elections.

Then walked back towards Shibuya since the weather was ok, just a light drizzle, but after the heat we had (global warming/climate change/weird weather, anyone?) it is so nice to be able to spend some quality time outdoors again.

Then in Aoyama, I noticed a camera crew, and a small showroom, and a car.

The all-electric Tesla is in Tokyo, and events will start to take off from September 4. I think I may have been one of very few in Japan who got to sit in a Tesla, today!

Took some photos too. Yu Yamasaki, product specialist at Tesla, was more than helpful.

I don't own a car and don't intend to, and yet, if you really need mobility of this kind, the Tesla could very well be a good option. Rather this than some awful SUV. I don't think there is much of a future in private car ownership, but hey, I've been saying that for a long time.

I also think we must invest now and aim for better public transportation for all, and more car sharing, and less reliance on gasoline/diesel.

And, mark my words, I don't think any car, even an all-electric one, should be called Eco. These are still huge chunks of steel and heavy metals and plastics and acids (for the batteries) and not good for the environment as such.

Yes, great that they don't have an internal combustion engine and no gasoline tank, but for the planet, this is not the solution.

The Tesla is cool though because it is slightly larger than the Toyota Prius or the Honda Insight. Of course there are also other Japanese hybrid models, like the Lexus, but the real contender in this market is Nissan's Leaf. I see more and more charging stations too around Japan, so that should not be a problem. I'm 180 cm tall and the Tesla S was not uncomfortable.

The Tesla that they have finally come up with could become a hit in Japan, because it has right hand steering, or 右ハンド。 You read that right. What Detroit would never do for Japan for the past 70 years, Tesla has understood is a major factor.

Batteries by Panasonic.

It could also work well in the UK, as this video shows:




Thursday, August 28, 2014

Kasumigaura Lake, NHK World, And The Usual Rant From Kurashi

Wonderful, wonderful program from NHK World about a lake just 60 km north of Tokyo, probably not very well known to Tokyoites, but it has its charms. Lake Kasumigaura is actually an ancient lagoon but the current lake was created some 50 years ago when a dam helped set the borders of what was to be water, and what was to be land. However, that also changed the conditions of the area, a lot.

NHK World shows wonderful, wonderful lotus plantations, and fishing experiences in the old style Hobiki-sen boats... Just an hour or two from the nation's capital.

Wonderful, wonderful...

NHK World: Journeys in Japan

However, (Kurashi taking a deep breath...) NHK World fails to take any notice the huge environmental issues that this lake, Japan's second largest after Lake Biwa, continues to face.

Why gloss over the realities? Why NHK World producers, and foreigners participating in this game, cannot raise even the most simple questions about what ordinary people here in Japan on the ground are working hard to protect, and deal with, such as pollution or loss of biological diversity or wetland destruction issues that concern migratory birds, or - did I mention pollution.

Why indeed gloss over the issues, NHK World?

Start showing Japan not as some kind of gilded cage, but a place with real humans and real issues, and stories about the knowledge and experience to make a difference.

NHK recommends a link for further information about Hobiki-sen boats, so please visit the official prefecture website (NHK is also a sort of official government body): www.city.kasumigaura.ibaraki.jp/hobiki/english/index.html (E)

Kurashi says, that "official" site doesn't even begin to discuss the many issues concerning this lake and its people and history - or its future.

So who does?

Image: Local company, Oriental Motor doing its share of Corporate Social Responsibility, workers bringing their kids to pick up garbage on the shore of the lake.

More efforts to clean up the garbage around the lake, cue Eco Dane! ("It's Eco!")

No matter what, we need media to help get people out and about, and make thinking about our precious environment a priority. Get NHK World to focus on issues that Japanese people care about. Including, cleaning up, and stopping pollution. That's a lesson for Asia and the world.

Campaign supported by corporations and local people and everyone trying to combat global warming, for example by using green curtains (plants) in the wonderful, wonderful prefecture of Ibaraki.

Hoping that makes participants care more about what they consume and how they dispose of the garbage.

Ideally, we would have no plastic garbage thrown away.

Until that can be the reality, do encourage your work place or employer or family to take part. That's a lot of bags of garbage, but someone has to go out there and pick it up and make an event and encourage others.

Big event on September 30, 2014 more here (J).

Image: Ibaraki Green Curtain Contest (I like that they use ingen beans as a symbol)

Not like NHK World couldn't do a little research, and find out that so much is going on.

Japan for Sustainability (JFS) has a number of articles in English about the environmental problems in the area: Working with Local Citizens, Companies and the Government to Protect Watershed

Hiroshi Iijima, Administrative Director of the Nonprofit Organization Asaza Fund and Executive Director of the Citizens Association for Kasumigaura and Kitaura:

The basin area of Kasumigaura straddles Ibaraki, Tochigi and Chiba Prefectures, and at about 2,200 km2, makes up Japan's second-largest lake after Biwako in Shiga Prefecture. The Asaza Project aims to protect biodiversity across this massive area. For such a project that covers such a broad area, it is necessary to create a system that does not allow businesses to be completely autonomous, as this could lead to unrestricted expansion. Because the traditional idea of the nature conservation focuses on the small scale, it cannot be applied to the whole basin area.

Foster Care of Asaza

The local government has implemented a variety of measures to prevent the deterioration of water quality and the environment, which began in the 1970s; however, we have not seen any improvement in water quality. Since around 1990, people have been saying that the current system is limited and that the government needs to implement more comprehensive measures, but no one is certain of what needs to be done. I too was not certain, but I decided to walk along the lake. Kasumigaura is 250 km around, giving it the longest lakeside in Japan, and I have walked around it once in each of the four seasons.

While I was walking, I saw waterweed, called "floating heart (asaza in Japanese)." This encouraged me to change my thinking. Floating heart helps with the conservation of reeds. At that time, large amounts of reed were cut by the waves and large areas of reed were lost; however, large numbers of floating hearts weakened the strength of the waves. Thus, the Asaza Project was started. I realized that if we can use natural processes, we might be able to gradually restore this huge lake, instead of initiating large-scale bank protection projects. It was 1995.

Asaza pioneered the cooperation with local schools to monitor the status of the lake.

And there is so much more to report:

The Asaza Project has a great English website, do explore. And they need your help to realize these goals.

The Asaza Project is a long-term 100-year plan with the set goal of the return of specific species of wildlife every decade (front page). Each wildlife species represents a particular environmental element to be revived in the lake and basin with the measures needed for that purpose. The goals are as follows: great reed warblers in 10 years, cuckoos and whooper swans in 20 years, bean geese in 30 years, white storks in 40 years, cranes in 50 years, and Japanese crested ibises in 100 years. It is a plan to reverse the extinction of ibises that has taken place in Japan’s last 100 years of modernization. We want to represent, in the form of an image of countryside graced by flying ibises, what people tried to protect and to regain through their struggles against the Ashio Mine Pollution tragedy a century years ago and subsequent pollution problems such as Minamata disease.

The Kasumigaura Boat Trips are arranged by a very serious group of people. They care about the lake's future. They will educate people who apply to go on the sail boats about its environmental challenges - and they are enormous. Going on the famous Hobiki-sen is not just a regular tourist trip. Next date is November 9, 2014. Website here (J).

Top image: Hobiki-sen boats

Independent Web Journal (IWJ) is the site of people who are concerned about the radiation problem after the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant disaster in March, 2011. Too hot for NHK World to handle? Well, let's hope the levels in Kasumigaura Lake are not that high, and life can go on as usual.

In the Kasumigaura Lake area, there is a group that helps citizens understand radiation issues and provides monitoring. Link to more information and videos about that issue here (J).

Kasumigaura.net is a great website, with a calender of events. Here is September, 2014 (J).

The Forest NGO Mori no Kai has many events to highlight the forests and ecosystems of Ibaraki prefecture.

Remember how Kurashi also reported how local Ibaraki organic farmers are trying to revitalize the region, using humus from local forests? That was back in 2009 and 2010, when I was helping Japan Organic Agriculture Association with a project to highlight the links between forests regions upstream from the river basin regions and all the way down to the ocean:

Broad leaf trees contribute to making healthy humus and organic matter, with more than ten times as much Fulvic acid compared to conifers. In organic rice fields there are more phytoplankton and zooplankton. Also, the breeding levels of phototropic bacteria are higher, and Nitrogen (N2) is fixed.


Enjoy composting! Mix your kitchen garbage (vegetables and organic matter) with fallen leaves as a way to restore CO2 levels in the soil. We call it wakuwaku composting using waku boxes. It is fun for everyone! The Japanese word, wakuwaku, means to enjoy something and do it with enthusiasm. Elementary schools and junior high schools can let the children experience composting. This is an important educational experience to teach young students about organic farming, forestry and fishery projects, and promote a better understanding with a link to the daily food they eat.
Uozumi-san noted that a healthy mountain forest with a large biological diversity, and lots of fallen leaves that can be used for composting: “The forest is the mother of the earth.” Fields should have a large variety of crops. In Japan, projects are underway to help develop shellfish farming and oyster cultivation by planting broad leaves tree saplings in the forest regions upstream from the river basin region. This is based on the understanding that all things are connected: “The forest is the lover of the ocean.”
Conifer forests that are not thinned properly do not allow much sunlight to reach the ground. Thus, the undergrowth is not well developed, and the absorption of CO2 is bad. Use good quality compost to enrich the soil. Create warm beds for vegetables, using heat created by the fermentation and composting of leaves, straw, rice bran and other organic material.
Uozumi-san concluded: “Only good things will come from the clean water that flows in the stream, when only good things are put into the water…”

JOAA/CUJ:  

Organic Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery Project Based On Humus

Do join!





More videos from Toyota, with a grain of salty ocean water ;) supporting the Kasumigaura Lake and others through a festival in August and again in October in 2014, with a cool and very well produced website here.

Follow the money, indeed!

Poster: http://www.kasumigaura.com/pdf/aquasocalfes.pdf (PDF)








Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Protest Meetings Against Linear Shinkansen

The good people trying to stop the Maglev train line between Shinagawa and Nagoya are holding several large meetings this fall, starting on August 30 at Wako University in Tsurukawa (Odakyu Line).

The theme is to learn from the network that protested against environmental destruction near Mt. Takao in Tokyo, and the experiences from the lawsuit against the Ken-O Highway construction.

On September 13 a symposium will be held in Yamanashi, and on October 13 in Tokyo (with long-term Japan resident Arthur Binard, activist and poet from the US).

The Linear Citizens NET is a group with branches in all the affected prefectures (J).They are concerned about the environmental destruction, the threat to water resources, and other pollution concerns (such as the huge amounts of trucks that will be needed to remove gravel during the tunnel construction). Also, there is much doubt that there will be any financial gains at all for the people affected. Construction is expected to continue well into 2045 (or so) if the line is to be extended to Osaka, as planned. Nara and Kyoto are competing about which of the two cities should get a station.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Permaculture, A Story



I have been hearing good things about permaculture but I'm less inclined to agree that animal husbandry can be integrated in any such endeavor...

Ken sayz…

Personally for me permaculture is about just enough and finding contentment, not exerting energy to make money. I like that it’s focused on rebuilding the top soil and growing perennials and growing food and transforming yards into useful spaces, making everything have multiple functions.

To me permaculture is not just about making it in the current economy, it’s about planning for a future economy after unsustainable practices fail and leave us with nothing but the more sustainable ones, which is something that I think young adults today will see as they grow old.

Which made me come up this story, or parable, or fable, of our times:

Once upon a time... there was a city boy in his early thirties who moved to the hills to farm with his young wife. They started small and that all went well for a while. They wanted to farm in a sustainable way that was good for their own health and for Planet Earth. They talked long and late at night about organic farming and permaculture. They made love, a lot. Money, well, that was not talked about so much, at least not in the beginning. The wife started to take pottery lessons with a teacher nearby, and they raising honeybees and sold the honey in the wife’s pretty pots. After a few years, they had a couple of kids and the farm grew, and they bought a larger car to ship their vegetables and honey to the markets in a city nearby, and that all went well for a while.

The city boy didn’t like the high cost of gasoline, so they changed to a diesel car, and he tried to use used cooking oil instead. That all went well for a while, but it was a messy process, and the city boy started neglecting his fields in order to fine tune the engine and the mechanical system he built for purifying the fuel. The wife was busy with the toddlers and had less time to make pottery and care for the bees. Kids went to a local pre-school, and the wife wanted to get more serious about the veggies.

They decided to get a couple of goats to see if that could help clear the fields from weeds. That all went well for a while but the male goat and the female goat had one kid after the other, and there wasn’t enough room. Also, when the kids became adult goats, the inevitable happened – the male goats started having a go at the females, even though they were all related. That created offspring that were inbred, which had to be put down because they were unhealthy and didn’t grow up right. The city boy and his wife – and their children who were now about to enter first grade school - liked the goats, but this was getting complicated. Then the old goats died of natural causes, and needed to be replaced. But from where would they get new, healthy goats?

They decided to raise chicken instead, and ignore the weeds that grew in the fields. They got a couple of hens and a rooster, and the hens got eggs one after the other. That all went well for a while, and they could sell the eggs in the markets in the city nearby, but when they were away, some of the eggs hatched and suddenly they had lots of little yellow chicks, one after the other. And when they grew up, the rooster started having a go at the females, even though they were all related, just like the goats. And again, that created offspring that were inbred, which had to be put down because they were unhealthy and didn’t grow up right. The city boy and his wife – and their children – liked the chicken and the hens and the rooster, but this was getting complicated. All this slaughter was really getting too much. Then the rooster died of natural causes, and needed to be replaced. But from where would they get a new, healthy rooster?

The moral of this story: In any animal population, you need a certain population size in order to have a healthy gene pool. This in essence means you need a herd to raise even a few animals. If you can’t have a herd on your own farm, you need neighbors with animals of the same kind, but again, unless you are all working towards the same goal, inbreeding is always a risk. For larger animals like cattle or pigs the problem is even more difficult, as the diseases that result from the inbreeding are that much more serious, and there are all kinds of rules and laws that you need to follow.

And as each female animal will have a 50-50 chance of having male and female offspring, you will need to slaughter a lot of male calves and piglets or chicken. If you raise cattle, you can of course castrate one or two of the young bulls and use them as ox in your fields, instead of relying on a tractor and fossil fuels, but that still doesn’t take care of your male-female ratio problem. As for poultry, you only need one rooster for a cage full of hens, or the males will fight bloody battles over who gets to sit on the highest stick!

Thus...

I don’t believe animal husbandry can contribute much to permaculture. There are some organic farms that raise chicken, small-scale, which can produce manure and egg shells that are great for the soil in the vegetable fields. Goats can be helpful to some degree, but you would have to be prepared to slaughter a lot of kids unless you keep your adult animals separated. And how would you make sure that you have a large enough gene pool to avoid inbreeding? Having just one goat is not permaculture. 

I don’t believe purchasing animals should be regarded as part of permaculture, because it means you may end up depending on outside breeders with other, less sustainable goals for their animal husbandry than yours, such as the use of veterinary drugs and commercial feed.

Animal feed is a huge issue. Do you have enough feed on your own farm, or access to sustainably grown feed from neighbors? Or are you going to use commercial grade feed, which usually contains soybeans and other grains like maize? Will you need to transport the feed by car or truck, using gasoline or diesel, or used cooking oil from oil seed like canola, that is also usually imported? Is your feed imported from other countries? That is not compatible with permaculture either. Is it genetically modified? What kind of pesticides and herbicides were used?

These are hard choices to make, and as for the story above, I worry that the city boy and his wife would quickly forget about their initial inspiration, to farm in a way that makes a long-term contribution to healthy life and to the future for our precious Planet.