Friday, July 25, 2014

Miyazawa Kenji - An Introduction

Do visit the Japan Organic Agriculture Association event on Friday, July 25, 2014 to learn more about Miyazawa Kenji.

Poet, writer, vegetarian, and more. From Iwate prefecture. And he is well known in Japan and around the world for his essays on wilderness, and the universe, how hard it is to be human, and the wonders of nature.

Night of the Milky Way Railway and Other Stories

This collection of timeless children's classics by Japan's most beloved modern-age writer features Ginga tetsudo no yoru (tr. Night of the Milky Way Railway), Miyazawa's most celebrated work. It is a story about Giovanni, a schoolboy, and his friend Campanella, and their voyage across the Milky Way aboard a night train. One evening while stargazing, Giovanni hears a voice: "Milky Way Station!" The next moment he is on a train speeding through the galaxy with Campanella. Outside their windows the boys can see a shimmering, phosphorescent river of stars. On the train they meet shipwrecked passengers of the Titanic and a bird catcher, and listen to stories and see sights that fill them with wonder. Gradually, as the train makes stops, the other travelers on it disappear. Giovanni, however, has a ticket that allows him to stay on the train as long as he likes. Finally, at Heaven, Campanella disappears, too, leaving Giovanni all alone. Then Giovanni suddenly wakes up to discover he had fallen asleep beneath the stars. As he makes his way back into town, he learns that Campanella drowned in a river that evening while attempting to save the life of a friend. Vivid in its telling and ripe with symbolism, the story resonates with both Christian and Buddhist themes.
Also included in this anthology are the highly popular, light-hearted tales Matasaburo of the Wind and The Restaurant of Many Orders.
Miyazawa's writings have been published many times over in Japan as multi-volume collected works. Matasaburo of the Wind has been made into a movie three times, while Night of the Milky Way Railway has been adapted for the stage, made into an animated film, and published in several English translations.

To attend the lecture, you need to apply to JOAA:

   舘野 廣幸さん
     栃木県下都賀郡 有機稲作・きのこ栽培農家

■日 時:2014年7月25日(金) 午後6:30~8:30

■会 場:文京区湯島第二会館
    (文京区本郷3-10-18 TEL 03-3814-9245)

■主 催:日本有機農業研究会
■申し込み・問い合わせ先 日本有機農業研究会事務局
            TEL 03-3818-3078 / FAX 03-3818-3417
            E-mail : mail

Homage to the Life and Poetry of Miyazawa Kenji

Japan Focus: Roger Pulvers

A Walk Along the Shores of Shura

The city of Hanamaki has finally recognized the importance of this stretch of river and beautified it with walkways, lookouts and a host of flowers, many of which appear in Kenji’s works.  On this particular Sunday the 21st, a light rain was falling.  I walked along the river, on the narrow path that cuts through the cosmos and sunflowers—I even wrote a poem about the path called “Light Years”—and truly felt that this was the place Kenji called “the shores of Shura.”  (Shura is one of the realms of existence, the one just below “Humans,” where pandemonium reigns…a kind of Buddhist Purgatory.)

That afternoon I went to the Miyazawa home that I visited in 1969, when I first met Miyazawa Seiroku, Kenji’s younger brother.  From there we walked to the stone monument of Kenji’s most famous poem, “Strong in the Rain,” where the annual Kenjisai, or Kenji Festival, is held.  This was the second time that I was attending this festival, the first being in 1970.

Top image: In 1910, Miyazawa Kenji drew this image of the Halley comet. From friends.

A new book published in the spring of 2014 is creating a stir of interest in Miyazawa Kenji and his writings. I hope we will see translations asap. Very timely. Do explore.

宮沢賢治: おれはひとりの修羅なのだ

NHK World, I really like how Peter Barakan goes deep into this topic, do start at 1.00 or so.

And, thanks to Youtube, here is the 1985 movie

Night on the Galactic Railroad
Ginga-tetsudo no yoru (1985)
Directors: Gisaburo Sugii, Arlen Tarlofsky

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Food Safety Violations, Sankei Shimbun Analysis

So, how bad are food imports? Sankei Shimbun notes that in 2013, Japanese food inspectors officially caught some 278 violations in the imports from China, compared to 174 from the US, 93 from Thailand, 45 from Korea and 29 from France.

But if you look more closely at the data, Japan inspected a lot more food from China.

Thus the rate of violation found by Japanese government food safety inspectors was only .25% in the case of Chinese imports. The bigger problem would be foods imported from the US at .8%, Thailand at .78%, Korea at .58% and France at .34%.

China, the bastion of food safety?

Well, they rank just above France, representing the European Union, with its draconian food safety laws, that the US is trying to crush in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations, that seem similar to what the US is trying to do in the TPP negotiations here in the Pacific... Here is what BEUC, the European consumers organization has to say:

BEUC Food Safety Publications: Food and the TTIP (pdf)

BEUC: Food in TTIP

What is at stake for EU consumers? Food is one of the vital sectors which will be majorly affected by a TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) agreement between the EU and the US.

A new BEUC position paper on Food and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is available as of today, wherein we have identified three main areas of concern.

1. Decontamination treatments
The US authorises slaughterhouses to use decontamination treatments on carcasses, on a massive scale. Chemicals like chlorine and peroxyacids are used to wash meat at the end of the production line. Such treatments are not allowed in the EU due to insufficient evidence as to their efficacy and the potential risk to consumers’ safety. TTIP should not be used as a vehicle to allow these treatments within the EU.

2. "Farm-to-fork approach

In the EU, food safety is guaranteed by the ‘farm to fork’ approach, meaning that food safety must be ensured throughout the production chain. This approach minimises the risk of human contamination with poisonous bacteria carried by farmed animals, either via consumption or transmission from the production environment. As such, it has greater public health benefits than ‘end-of-line’ pathogen reduction treatments focussed only on the food pathway. BEUC is aiming to prevent any potential negative impacts TTIP could have on consumers’ wellbeing.

3. Growth promoters and antibiotic resistance
The growing problem of antibiotic resistance knows no border and causes many deaths on both sides of the Atlantic every year (25,000 in the EU). BEUC is calling for a ban on the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics on animals bred for food and we oppose the lifting of bans on the import of meat treated with hormones or growth promoters because of TTIP.

Aside from the aforementioned concerns, TTIP does present some opportunities for both blocs to step up cooperation in the food sector. Although currently not part of the negotiating trade agenda of the EU or US, we see positive potential for consumers for example in:

- Food traceability
Recent scandals involving supposed beef products tainted with horsemeat in the EU as well as poultry and tomatoes in the US show a need for both partners to advance their practices. TTIP is an opportunity to put more effective food traceability systems in place.

- Food alert systems
Under TTIP, trade barriers will open so a broader range of foodstuffs will circulate in a wider market. Therefore, sharing food safety information effectively and quickly in emergencies is also an area where we see potential for cooperation between the EU and US.

Forget about China.

The US is the world's dirtiest food exporter.

Not saying Chinese foods are safe, or not, just noting that if an importing country like Japan makes THE effort, imports can be managed through a) investments in food safety measures and education at the production plants, b) global standards like FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius, c) investments in food safety monitoring and inspection at points of import, like Japan does.

Meanwhile, I will stick to a meat-free diet.

Graph from Sankei, from MSN. Data from Japan's Ministry of Health (2013)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Chinese Food Scandal, Japan Reacts

Again, a food scandal involving unsanitary practices at a major meat processing company. It happens everywhere, not only in China, but this time, the ramifications are huge for the cheap meat/fast food retailers like McDonald's, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Starbucks and even FamilyMart in Japan and others around the world.

First, it was thought that the Husi company in Shanghai only supplied local Chinese outlets with hamburgers and chicken products.

Quickly, on Tuesday we learnt that here in Japan, McDonald's and FamilyMart (Sankei, J) use the same supplier.

So much for consumer choice in the 21th century. Economists tell us we will get more and more at lower prices, while what consumers get is just more of the same, and the only way we know how it is produced is when whistle-blowers reveal the outrageous conditions. Plus, we get all that fun and bright advertising, of course. Which we pay for, indirectly, but still.

This case started to unravel as a clever and courageous camera team got inside the dirty factory. Way to go.

Food Safety News: Chinese TV Report Prompts McDonald’s and KFC to Drop U.S.-Owned Supplier

China’s Dragon TV has thrust a Chicago-area meat supplier into the arms of its crisis communications team with public apologies and promises for quick corrective action. But Aurora, [Illinois]-based OSI Group could not act fast enough to stop McDonald’s and Yum! Brands Inc.’s KFC from cutting business ties with its Shanghai Husi Food Co. Ltd.
Late Sunday, the Shanghai Municipal Food and Drug Administration shut Shanghai Husi down.
Dragon TV’s aired report purportedly shows workers at Shanghai Husi picking up meat from the factory floor as well as mixing meat beyond its expiration date with fresh meat. Workers were also recorded as saying that customers would not buy the company’s products if they knew what was going on.
Both McDonald’s and KFC used Shanghai Husi as a meat supplier.

As far as I am concerned, after years of working on food safety issues, the cause of this is not the young manager who makes a wrong call, although he should know better. The pressure comes from the owner of the factory, who knows he is but a cog in a wheel of a larger concern that is listed on Wall Street like any other producer, be it cars or tanks or wind shield wipers... And the consensus among those who share the same profit-only mind set is what makes them order people to:

The report showed an e-mail from management, which allegedly asked employees to extend the expiry date of 10 tonnes of frozen beef. The meat, reportedly already green and odorous, was reprocessed, refrozen and repackaged with a new expiry date, the report alleged.
The report featured footage showing staff picking up food from the floor and throwing it into processing machines.
Discarded Chicken McNuggets, a McDonald's staple, could be seen being reprocessed until they passed inspection. The report indicated that clients did not know about the practices.

Even your chicken or meatballs at Ikea may have been tainted (meatballs often contain all kinds of meat, not just "beef products" that can contain all kinds of meat and other stuff - like "edible offal" from cows, do search for that, if you have the guts, pun intended...):

Swedish retailer Ikea also said it had bought chicken meat for its mainland branches from the factory between September 2012 and August last year, adding that it was "highly concerned about the ingredient quality issue".

Source: South China Morning Post

And how they lie to cover up?

According to Bloomberg, "The meat was sold to locations in China and Japan, Heidi Barker, a U.S. spokeswoman for McDonald’s, said in an e-mail. The facility had only supplied the Shanghai market, not all of China, she said. In Japan, McNuggets was the sole affected item"

Not true, as FamilyMart has later tonight announced that they also had to recall meat products that came from the Husi factory in Shanghai. More details from Bloomberg:

This is the second time in less than two years that McDonald’s and Yum have been hit by a food safety issue involving Chinese suppliers. In December 2012, Shanghai authorities said that tests conducted from 2010 to 2011 by a third-party agency found high levels of antibiotics in eight batches of chicken supplied to Yum by Liuhe Group Co. The company also supplied McDonald’s in China at the time. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Desperate Days For The US Meat Industry?

No wonder the US meat industry is so desperate to push Japan and other importing countries to further "liberalize" meat markets. US meat consumption is rapidly decreasing, so producers want to increase their exports. Simple, but their tactics may be about to backfire.

What the US pork and beef people face is a complete collapse back home. Not much talked about, but here are the facts:

The USDA’s latest figures show that Americans are continuing to turn away from meat. Meat consumption reached a high of 201.5 pounds per capita in 2004 but has dropped steadily since then, reaching 181.5 pounds in 2012, the latest year for which figures are available. The last time meat intake was at this level was 1983. These figures show that the average American is consuming 20 pounds less meat each year, compared to a decade ago.

From Dr. Barnard's blog: Meat-Eating Falls to Lowest Level in 3 Decades

(Hat tip to Pandabonium!)

No wonder the US Pork Council, the Dairy Foods Association, National Cattlemen's Beef Association and lots of others (including meat producers in Australia and other countries) complain so loudly that Japan tries to avoid cheap imports of unhealthy foods...

The American Meat Institute is a massive organization with a lot of weight (pun intended) in Washington DC. Read more on their website:

Five meat and poultry organizations thanked President Barack Obama for the Administration's efforts in the ongoing TPP negotiations...

As Dr. Barnard notes:

Skipping meat has many advantages. People who avoid meat are thinner than meat-eaters. In a 2009 study published by the American Diabetes Association, meat-eaters had an average body mass index (BMI) of 28.8, well above 25.0, the upper limit for a healthful weight. But people who avoided animal products had an average BMI of 23.6. Avoiding meat also cuts the risk of diabetes, cancer, and heart disease and improves blood pressure.


Friday, July 18, 2014

Support And Enjoy Aizu Wakamatsu In Nippori, Tokyo

Do you like farmers markets? If you are in Tokyo, do explore Nippori for the monthly Marche events, and get a chance to buy fresh vegetables and lots of food from all over Japan, from Hokkaido to Kagoshima and Okinawa: The people who grow it, know it.

Nippori Yume Donya (J)

This weekend the focus is on Aizu Wakamatsu in Fukushima, as the local farmers and the city office decided to support a great summer dance event, with all kinds of surprises.

Do wear a yukata if you are so inclined. Saturday evening should be a lot of fun! I'm also told a television team will be covering the event, so if you do get caught in front of a camera, there is your chance to be on national TV!

East exit from JR Nippori station, you'll see the green tents once you are out of the station.

I like how we can create events, and go beyond the usual structures. We need good people who make an effort. In Japan, the JA people are great, they do a lot of good, but we need more than that to provide services that reach out to consumers, in new ways. We need teikei. We need people like Nippori Yume Donya that can cut, cut, cut through rules and make their events be happy, happy, happy. We create events because we like to meet people we trust.

Nippori Yume Donya (J) and Nippori Marche got the Food Action Award in 2012.

I like how this market has kept its focus on special products. The Japanese term is 特産品問屋 in other words, this market does not sell just anything, but carefully selects and screens its vendors.

Arakawa-ku is also very particular about health standards, ok, that is something I do agree with, but sometime the rules are too much. For example, the Pakistani vendor can sell his curry with nan, but not with rice. What kind of sense does that make? Having said that, it is great that the city and the people responsible for the event have avoided any kinds of claims. You have no idea how much this can bear down on events like this in Japan.

Most of the veggies on sale are non-pesticide (無農薬). Many other foods are local and unique in the sense that the product can only be made in that particular place.

Do explore.

Joan says:

I like to think of it as a day full of sunshine and vegetables and fun. A handful of folks joined me at the Nippori Farmers Market on Sunday for some good food and conversation. Not a one of us walked away empty-handed, and at least two of us carted home spaghetti squash. (I like to think my trips to the assorted farmers markets around town help prepare me for our various hiking expeditions.)

Some of the yummy delights on hand!
The only disappointment of the day was the absence of Onaya-san and her scrumptious manju, but that was more than made up for by the presence of a group of farmers from Ibaraki. My word, but their produce was beautiful - mizuna, shungiku (edible chrysanthemum greens), negi (long onions), daikon, kuri (chestnuts), and some very cute squash - and they were good fun. Thankfully, I snagged their last bag of kaki (persimmons) and a very nice bunch of red radishes. Our salad doth overflow. I hope to visit them some time in the next year to enjoy their company and help out a bit as I can. I suspect it will be a blast.

Thanks to those who made it out with me to the market and for a stroll about Yanaka afterwards. It was a perfect day!

Shisaku: Urban Harvest Tokyo

Eliminating the economic inefficiency sounds excellent. Possibly increasing the size of homes sounds great. However, the actual costs to society imposed by these little fields seem trivial as compared to the benefits being enjoyed by all.

Go to a local market... Isn't it great to be able to talk to the people who make your food, and voice any concern you may have?

Economic inefficiency? Try explaining that to the young people who are eager to start farming in Japan.

More about Nippori Marche on Joan's blog, Japan Farmers Markets, Nippori Farmer's Market: A Little Market Only by Some Standard

The Nippori Farmer's Market is what I would call “off-the-grid.” It's not part of the larger Marche Japon gig or the all-organic Earth Day Markets series, but rather is the brainchild of the owner of a nearby mansion (condominium) owner who wanted to “do something nice” with the plaza space in front of the high rises. 

Based on my first visit I'd say this effort is a successful one. The Nippori Farmer's Market is small – about 30 to 40 vendors – but very pleasant with a remarkably good selection of items. Fresh vegetables, rice, cheese, seedlings, baked goods, fruit, and prepared foods to be eaten on the spot as well as those for snacking were all on hand. (I recommend without reservation Tatsuko Onaya's homemade manju and Ringo no Hana's steaming bowls of hearty tonjirou. We sat down for much-needed breaks at their respective tents to enjoy our food and take in the atmosphere of the market.) Vendors from Hokkaido, Niigata, Gunma, Aomori, and Aizu Wakamatu sported everything from potatoes to fish to apple vinegar to cabbage to nanohana to dried natto and bath salts.

Photos from Joan's blog Japan Farmers Markets

Update: In spite of rain, the events went ahead today as planned! What a crew.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Love Earth Thanks Event In Yoyogi, Tokyo, Saturday July 12

This should be a lot of fun.

Moving on from the success of the Earth Day events...

Globe-straddling eco event Earth Day has found a particularly receptive audience in Japan, where the two-day gathering in Yoyogi Park consistently draws over 100,000 people each year. It's an opportunity for charities, NPOs and eco-conscious businesses to flaunt their wares and draw new recruits, but many people just go to enjoy the art, vibes and free music. If you're one of the capital's long-suffering vegetarians, too, you owe it to yourself to pay a visit to the Earth Day Kitchen zone for a good selection of herbivorous eats. Time Out we also get Love Thanks Earth in Tokyo!

Or is it Love Earth Thanks?

This is a gathering that has already held festivals in Fukuoka, Kyoto and Wakayama this year.

And it just gets better and better.

So, what to expect? Lots of music, healthy food, and inspiration from NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) like Vegetarian Society of Japan.

NPOs (Non-Political Organizations) is another term often used, while some of us joke that we really are "non-governable organizations..."

Yoyogi is in the very center of cool Tokyo, near Harajuku and Shibuya stations.

Just south of the huge park.

Have a great weekend!

And for more details about where you can purchase fresh food directly from farmers, try Joan's blog, Japan Farmers Markets with regular updates.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Super Typhoon "Neoguri"

Very big typhoon hitting Okinawa and southern Japan, moving slowly north east to central parts of the country.

Half a million people already advised to move to emergency shelters, with waves up to 52 meters off Kyushu.

Do take care and stay home as this is a really unusually big one.

Things can of course change but that's the latest.

Japan Meteorological Agency has a website for typhoons (E). Not sure why they call them "cyclones" though. Any thoughts? Click on the maps to enlarge.

Amazing photos from the International Space Station by Reid Wiseman, who is also on Twitter. On Twitter? Orbiting Earth, 400 km above us? OK, OK, that's so cool.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Okamoto Kiichi: Children's Country

Kodomo no Kuni was a children's magazine that was very popular in the 1920s and 1930s in Japan, with many wonderful illustrations. The English website of The International Children's Library has thousands of illustrations that are a real delight. They also feature the popular children's songs of the day, which were published in the magazine. Click to listen!

I particularly like the style of Okamoto Kiichi (1880-1930). In a way, my own room as a kid growing up in Sweden in the early 1970s didn't look much different, with toy trains and boats and airplanes, plus lots of books!!

Also interesting to note that the editors and illustrators were inspired by - among others - Swedish illustrators and painters like Elsa Beskow and Carl Larsson.

Search for illustrations here

From the Kodomo no Kuni website:

The 1920s was an era of urbanization and technological revolution. The role of art in society was also transformed with the growing importance of such genres as architecture and commercial art. However, Kodomo no kuni maintained its devotion to the nourishment of the minds and hearts of children in the newly modernized Japan. The pages of Kodomo no kuni brought to children pictures not only illustrating poetry and stories but also vividly recording the colorful daily life and fantasies of childhood.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Eco Links For June, 2014

Energy issues continue to be of major importance in Japan as no nuclear reactors are online and we seem to do OK without them, even as summer gets hotter... Freak rains and even hail storms in June...

Get enough water to avoid fatigue and - do take it easy.

Japan's Sharp Corporation returned to the top as the World's largest shipper of solar PV modules, according to IEEJ (June 27, 2014) PDF.

PV-Tech notes that the ratio of domestically produced modules sold in Japan remains high at 71% of the total shipments surveyed.

Japanese solar shipments rising, along with involvement of foreign players

Shipments of solar cells and modules have increased by over 100% in Japan on a year-on-year basis, including an increasing presence by foreign companies, according to a survey conducted by the Japan Photovoltaic Energy Association (JPEA).
The latest figures, which cover 2013 and the first quarter of 2014, show that both module and cell shipments increased vastly - around two-fold in the case of modules.
Within the domestic market alone, module shipments were up 205% on a year-on-year comparison basis and stood at 8,625MW; cell delivery was up 135%, standing at 2,978MW, JPEA found.
Traditionally, the Japanese domestic market for all goods, including solar cells and modules tends to favour high-quality products with Japanese branding. However, due in part to limited capacity at Japanese manufacturing facilities, the market share held by foreign companies is steadily increasing, a conclusion which the latest JPEA figures would appear to back up.

Source EE Times

And if you really want to consider what it all means, here is a blogger providing data (J) that shows Japan is indeed doing fine without its nuclear reactors. Yes, it costs to import gas and coal, but that is more due to the Yen (and Abenomics).

With gasoline now reaching into the 160-170 Yen/liter range, Japanese drivers are still paying less than say, drivers in Sweden or Norway. Compare gasoline prices here (June 23, 2014)!

Interesting graph here about the efficiency of PV research cells, showing Sharp doing rather well. Other serious players include Boeing Spectrolab and Fraunhofer. Sanyo, Sumitomo and Mitsubishi also on the way up. Expect a lot more from these companies as they continue their research and development.

And if I had all the money in the world, what would I do with it? JR thinks we should all be hoping to ride their new luxury train, designed for those with no worries in the world:

Luxury Launches:

If you’re one of the many who dreamt of riding in a Ferrari but didn’t think they could any time soon, your thoughts might just change with this news. In the spring of 2017, Japan is getting a new luxury train. And Ferrari designer Ken Okuyama is the one lending aesthetic vision to it. Now before you say what??? We’re talking large glass-paneled windows and high ceilings. And yes, in the same breath as “train”!