Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Election campaign begins

Koike and Daruma doll Posted by Picasa

The election campaign has begun. The photo shows environmental minister Yuriko Koike, painting an eye of a papier mache Daruma doll. It is a fun tradition for good luck. If she wins a seat in the parliament, she can paint the other eye as well.

Why not send her an email about your concerns for the environment?!

If you want to know more about the election coming up on September 11, please check Asahi's editorial or BBC's excellent coverage here.

What is in your sausage...?

An old joke says:

There are two things people like, but they don't want to know how they are made. One of them is how to make laws in the parliament. The other is how to make sausages.

Over at Food Safety Citizens' Watch, a coalition of independent consumer experts, the concern about BSE in Japan is high. They note that a recent international meeting of the global animal health group OIE produced some very controversial guidelines, that could seriously hamper government attempts to make meat safer. Here is a quote from the FSCW newsletter:

The new OIE rules will allow trade of boneless beef and so-called "deboned skeletal muscle meat". This is a type of red meat that can be used in sausages and hamburgers. It is also called mechanically deboned meat, as the meat is removed from the bone with high pressure, but it has been shown to also include nerve tissue, spinal cord and bone marrow. Some food companies actually have policies stating that they do not use deboned meat, but such policies are not binding, and cannot be controlled. In addition, the new OIE rules will allow trade of blood products from cattle of all ages.

According to the World Trade Organisation, countries have to abide by standards agreed by such obscure groups, like the OIE. I have a problem with that!

In the UK, the Consumers Association Which has been active in the BSE debate since the big outbreak in the 1990s. Read more on their excellent food safety website. Their monthly BSE reports feature regular updates of science news, relevant general news and official figures.

BSE/food safety previous

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Rainforest reporting

Today Kyodo reports, without any kind of comment, that Oji Paper Co and trading house Marubeni Corp said Monday they will plant trees in China through a company they have jointly established there in a bid to keep stable resources for paper.

The companies set up Huizhou Nanyou Forest Development Co in alliance with China's Guangdong Petro-Trade Development Corp The new company will at first plant trees on an area of 33,000 hectares in Huizhou in Guangdong Province by 2008.

Wow? This is not news, it is just regurgitating press releases from the companies. Where is the analysis that would reveal that Japan is a major destroyer of forests, all over Asia and South America, just so offices can have "whiter than white" paper by the copy machines? Activists at Rainforest Action Network has defined Japanese companies as "the worst enemies of forests in the the World". Even the government is concerned, and has pumped tax payers' money into projects to promote sustainable forest management in developing countries.

Kyodo really needs to upgrade its environmental reporting to the level of, say, Reuters.

About forest and paper previous.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Bird flu threat

Bird flu now poses a bigger and more worrying threat to people than SARS, medical experts in southern China, the region where Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome first surfaced, according to Reuters:

The main reason, they said, was that humans had learned how to effectively control the spread of SARS, but had not done the same for bird flu, which can be spread by wild birds.

Bird flu has killed 62 people in Asia since 2003 and forced the slaughter of millions of fowl.

The World Health Organisation has warned that bird flu has the potential to trigger a global pandemic if the virus mutates and becomes easily transmittable between humans.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Shingon buddhist waterfall prayers

Shingon waterfall prayers Posted by Picasa

This photo was published by Mainichi and captures a great moment. Such waterfall prayers are a tradition in Japan, having been recorded since ancient times. These girls probably don't know how sexy they look, but anyway, it is all about spirit, isn't it.

Quote of the day:

Japanese women clad in pure white robes endure a waterfall during a Shingon Buddhist ritual in an exercise of the mind and soul at Inunakisan mountain in Izumisano, western Japan, August 21, 2005. Founded some 1300 years ago, the steep mountain sets the scene for exercises taught by Shipporyuji temple monks for those who come to pray, purify, and wish.

Soy beans, J-wave and volcanos!

Sofa foods Posted by Picasa

I did go to Sofa Deli & Cafe in Kamiyacho, central Tokyo today with my Swedish friend Peo. It was soo good! They have great vegetarian food and even some "soy ham" made from non-GMO soy. Good idea!

I asked if the soy was from Hokkaido, because I think it is better to buy local foods if possible. Unfortunately, they think Hokkaido soy beans are too expensive! But many farmers and consumers are starting Soy Trust Movement to promote locally grown Japanese soy. Since 1998, they have been really successful to increase self-sufficiency for domestic soybeans through the cooperation of consumers and producers.

Peo's environmental program is broadcast on J-Wave every Sunday morning. Please listen tomorrow, when Peo and Yuri will report from Miyakejima, the island south of Tokyo that was severely affected by a volcano...

GMO crops and foods previous

Tokyo Vegetarian Week

Tokyo Vegetarian Week Posted by Picasa

From Sunday August 28, Tokyo Vegetarian Week will start. There are many acitivities. Tomorrow I will be at the UN House in Shibuya. See you there!

I just got an email about Sofa Deli, a place many vegetarians really love. Shall I go there for lunch today?

Meat imports to Japan are a big issue, as consumer groups such as Food Safety Citizens' Watch, Japan Offspring Fund and also the government have expressed strong concerns about mad cow disease. Consumer organisations welcomed the government's Food Safety Commission decision this week, that more study on the risk of imported U.S. beef being infected with mad cow disease is needed before reopening the Japanese market.

According to an AP article, the

Food Safety Commission special panel on mad cow disease -- bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE -- met and examined so-called worst-case scenarios on the chances of importing unsafe American beef, panel spokesman Eisaku Kikuchi said.

Opinion on the panel varied widely over the wisdom of lifting the import ban on U.S. beef, Kikuchi said. The panelists, however, decided they needed to look further into the risks. "It's anybody's guess when that will be," Kikuchi said when asked when the ban might be lifted.

Thanks Mari for details about Yoshinoya's troubles and the other links. Always a pleasure to read your blog!

BSE/Food safety previous

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Royksopp: Only this moment

Royksopp Poor Leno Posted by Picasa

Grattis Johan pa fodelsedagen!! Speciell present idag:

Royksopp is a Norwegian duo that makes wonderful songs. Watch their video for Only this moment here (Korean blog) or here (Astralwerks).

This is a bit of Royksopp philosophy:
“We had to change our hairstyles though, we had to have bigger hair,” says Torbjørn, thus confirming in one instant that their surreal humor remains intact. “At one point we even had proper beards, some of it still remains.” Adds Svein. “You see, it’s part of the process you go through: the longer the hair and the beard, the more Beaujolais you drink. It’s stage three of the seven stages of song writing.” Stage seven, the attainment of songwriting enlightenment, is still unclear should you ask.

Royksopp means "Smoke mushrooms" and they look like this!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Telegram from Hiroshima

This desperate account is realy worth reading, from a website for the Swiss medical doctor Marcel Junod, who worked for the Red Cross in 1945:

The [U.S.] Allied High Command decreed a black-out on the events and the zone was forbidden to foreigners. Swamped by the need to register and bring urgent assistance to the prisoners of war­ a priority protection task ­ Marcel Junod obtained permission to send to Hiroshima, on the 29th of August, a Swiss businessman resident in Japan, asking him to report on the situation. The following day, August 30th, he received a cable telling him of the extent of the catastrophe:


Dr. Junod was able to send medical supplies to Hiroshima. This exhibit at the Peace Museum shows some supplies that he was able to send.

Peace Museum website

Hiroshima Peace Museum Posted by Picasa

Kyodo notes that the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum marked its 50th anniversary Wednesday, having shown since its launch Aug 24, 1955, the realities of the devastation of the 1945 U.S. atomic bombing of the city. The museum, designed by renowned Japanese architect Kenzo Tange, stores about 19,000 atomic-bomb artifacts and materials and has attracted more than 52 million visitors from all over Japan as well as from abroad.

Do have a look at their website, and if possible, visit Hiroshima.

Earthquake survival

3M Mask Posted by Picasa

Over at Japan Offspring Fund we have continued the investigation of nuclear safety. Experts consider that a so-called Tokai megaseism occurs once in 150 years. The last big Tokai earthquake in the Shizuoka region occurred 151 years ago. Thus, a major disaster is already overdue. When the Hamaoka nuclear reactors collapse due to the Tokai megaseism, there will be a catastrophe.

Update: Read more about how you can prepare to protect lives and avoid the effects of nuclear radiation.

Make sure to have face masks ready, at home and in your office, as they will be very difficult to buy once the disaster has happened. Using DS3 level face masks, almost no radioactivity can enter the lungs. An ordinary cotton face mask is not sufficient to prevent radioactive particles to enter the lungs. Soaking such masks in water makes them a lot more effective, but not to the extent that they would be 100% safe. The best ordinary masks have passed a DS2 level in the national official approval rating system. Such masks cut out more than 95% of dust particles the size of 0.1 microns.

Emergency goods for earthquake and nuclear safety

The following items should be stocked as emergency goods:

Seaweed (tororo kelp): decreases the intake of radioactive iodine which causes thyroid cancer – eat large quantities
Duct tape and aluminum foil: use to seal windows and doors to avoid radioactive particles to enter

Face masks
Shoe covers
Polyester gloves
Head protection (including hair cover)
Band aid
Plastic bags
Garbage bags

General emergency goods

Water and food
Emergency medical supplies
Sport shoes
Bank cards
Postal savings book

Monday, August 22, 2005

GMO-free Japan

GMO-free Posted by Picasa

So many Japanese foods are labelled as "GMO-free" these days. Almost all tofu and other soybean foods are clearly labelled (in Japanese only) as 遺伝子組み替え大豆なし.

The Japanese consumer organizations, food producers, farmers and shops have been very successful to keep GMOs out of the ordinary foods, although the legislation actually allows for up to 5% to be GMO, even if it is labelled as GMO-free. That should be changed! The foods in the photo collage are different types of tofu, a healthy traditional soybean curd. The demonstration was an event recently to protest against GMO rice (GMO rice is not allowed in Japan). Itadakimasu!

Changing Japan: Seiyu and Wal-Mart

Seiyu Posted by Picasa

The food store near my home is part of Seiyu, a chain that was bought up by Wal-Mart a few years ago. Acording to an interesting report on The Japan Today, a global coalition of unions is launching an unprecedented campaign to organize workers around the world at Wal-Mart, seeking to bring a new level of globalization to the labor movement. According to a statement from UFCW, Wal-Mart "pays poverty wages, ships jobs to countries where sweatshops are prevalent and, in the U.S., shifts enormous health care costs onto taxpayers."

Because of its size, Wal-Mart is able to drive down wages and benefits, which "has become the new global economic model" followed by many other firms, says the U.S. union. In fact, Wal-Mart employees have been able to form unions in Germany, Japan, Brazil and other countries, but never in the U.S.

Wal-Mart's Japanese affiliate, Seiyu, reports disappointing results in Japan. Seiyu has lost money every year since Wal-Mart first acquired a stake in 2002. "In the Japanese consumer mind, they're seen as selling cheap stuff at cheap prices -- and that can be a problem," says David Marra, a principal at management consultancy A.T. Kearney Inc. in Tokyo, according to an analysis by Business Week.

When I first lived in Tokyo, I did most of my shopping at small "mom-and-pop" shops but these days, large stores like Seiyu seem more common. They are anonymous and soul-less, with no character at all. So what was the point of all that reform?

The New York Times described the changes in Japanese towns:

Deregulation has been accepted without any criticism in Japan as a great measure for reviving the economy," said Shoji Muranuki, leader of a citizens' group that won concessions from a retail chain seeking to open in the neighborhood. "But how can we say that deregulation is helping the economy when so many local shopkeepers and merchants are hurting because of it?"

Groups like Mr. Muranuki's and business associations that sat by quietly as the effects of deregulation spread are now increasingly vocal about drawing the line somewhere. Breaking up a telephone monopoly like the Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation is one thing, they say, but destroying the livelihoods of local shopkeepers is going too far.

Changing Japan previous

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Grattis Jens! (my nephew's birthday) Posted by Picasa

Antibiotic resistance in Hong Kong

"In Hong Kong, antibiotic resistance is so bad that even if penicillin works for you, you will have use take higher doses or you have to use other antibiotics," said Raymond Mak, a pharmacist at the Queen Mary Hospital in Hong Kong. "Streptococcus pneumoniae is not only resistant to penicillin, its resistance to quinolones is becoming worse," he told Reuters in this very interesting report.

Quinolones are a new class of important antibiotics.

The spread of a pig-borne disease in southwest China and the high death toll have thrown the spotlight on the widespread and indiscriminate use of antibiotics in Asia, according to the report. Streptococcus suis, which has rarely spread to humans in the past and should have been relatively easy to control if treated early with antibiotics, has infected 214 people in Sichuan province, China, in recent weeks, killing 39 -- a mortality rate of nearly 20 percent. This pig disease comes amid reports of a bird flu virus hitting parts of China, Russia, Mongolia and Kazakhstan. More than 50 people across Asia, most in Vietnam, have died. It led to the killing of some 140 million birds.

We have found that in Japan, bacterias are also becoming resistant to quinolones, which could have very serious consequneces if you get sick. In the United States (pdf), fluoroquinolones have recently been banned for poultry. This is a really good development that other countries, including Japan, quickly should follow.

Radioactive leak due to earthquake

FUKUSHIMA — Tuesday's magnitude 7.2 quake caused radioactive water to leak within three reactors in Fukushima Prefecture but the radioactivity level was low and the incident did not affect the environment outside the facilities, Tokyo Electric Power Co said Wednesday, according to Kyodo.

Water in pools to store spent nuclear fuel at the reactors was shaken by the quake and entered air ducts about 10 centimeters above the surface, causing a total of 24.5 liters of water to leak onto the floors of the reactor buildings from joints in the ducts.

However, on Aug. 16, TEPCO was reported by Reuters as saying its nuclear power plants in northern Japan were unaffected by the quake.

There is no press release yet on TEPCO's website. It is not acceptable that two days after a big earthquake, Asia's biggest power company still has no information to the public. This is a very serious issue that we have been working on at Japan Offspring Fund, related to the Hamaoka nuclear reactors southwest of Tokyo.

Are you ready when the big earthquake strikes?

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Holy cow!

Holy cow! Posted by Picasa

I really like cows. Just like most people who live in big cities, I never see cows. Unlike most people, I do not eat cows. Especially in Japan, where most meat is imported, I think eating cows is a particularly bad idea.

Today, NHK and other media report that the US Agriculture Department says American meat processors failed in at least 1,000 cases to properly remove cow brains and spinal cords and comply with other rules to prevent the spread of BSE, or mad cow disease.

The USDA said it released documents to the American Meat Institute and the consumer group Public Citizen. The documents were released in response to Freedom of Information Act requests, and are not made public yet. Public Citizen says the documents shows instances where US meat plants did not distinguish between older and younger animals, banned materials were not removed and tools not properly cleaned.

The problem is, Japan and the United States have reached a basic agreement to resume US beef imports of cattle 20 months or under. But the latest announcement "has shown a sloppy side of the US beef management system", says NHK. I couldn't agree more, but then again, I really like cows.

BSE/Food safety previous

60 years since the end of WWII

Budokan ceremony Posted by Picasa

This photo is from a large ceremony on Monday at Budokan in Tokyo, a government-sponsored memorial service marking the end of World War II. Am I the only one who thinks it looks like something from the Star Wars movies? Anyway, following a moment of silence, Emperor Akihito voiced strong hope that Japan will never again wage war, saying, "Looking back on history, I ardently hope that the horrors of war will never be repeated."

Read more here where a lot of people are also making comments - I also found a site that reviews a photobook about Prime Minister Koizumi who offered an apology Monday for Japan's wartime military aggression and vowed the country would never wage war again, instead striving to maintain the path of a peace-cherishing nation. Remarkably, he did not visit Yasukuni shrine.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Blogs most popular in Japan

Blogs topped the list of the most popular items selected by consumers in Japan during the first half of 2005, according to Mainichi.

Advertising company Dentsu Inc. asked 1,000 people from 15 to 69 years of age around Japan to choose their favorite things by citing some 150 products. Blogs topped the popularity list and "Star Wars Episode III, Revenge of the Sith" ranked second, followed by flat-screen television sets.

Noxious haze in Malaysia, and the link to my office paper

Malaysia declared a state of emergency in two coastal cities on Thursday as smoke drifting from forest fires in Indonesia blanketed Malaysia in a noxious haze, according to International Herald Tribune today.

In the nation's worst environmental crisis since 1997, when a similar haze enveloped large areas of the region, the smoky haze this year has raised serious health concerns and worries over its economic impact. Schools have been shut as the haze has spread to cover much of the populous central state of Selangor, he said, including the capital, Kuala Lumpur.

"Selangor has been quite badly affected," said the spokesman, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak officially. "There's been an increase in respiratory complaints in a lot of areas."

IHT mentions that droughts and unlawful burning of rain forests by farmers and illegal loggers in Sumatra pose a regional environmental challenge.

This is not just a regional issue. What worries me is that paper I use at the office might be coming from these forests. Why does Japan not have proper policies about paper? Whatever happened to the "paperless office"...? Using huge amounts of pulp from rainforests in Indonesia and other parts of the world will continue to create huge problems globally. By the way, what kind of paper is IHT printed on?

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Prayers at Trinity Site

Prayers at Trinity Site Posted by Picasa

I'm quoting the following from The Japan Times:

Antinuclear activists from Japan and the U.S. carried the Hiroshima Peace Flame on foot from San Francisco, which they left on July 16, in an appeal for peace and the abolition of nuclear weapons.

"We traveled a long way, but this is only the first step toward achieving a peaceful world," said a 75-year-old monk who came from Nagasaki Prefecture.

"The journey was hard in high temperatures, but what made me happy the most was that American people walked together with us."

The prayers were held at Trinity Site, New Mexico, where the first atomic bomb was tested on July 16, 1945, in preparations for the attacks against Hiroshima and Nagasaki the same year.

I think it is so beautiful that monks from Japan go to the U.S. to pray and meditate for peace.

Read more on The Buddhist Channel and The Alamogordo News (the local newspaper in New Mexico).

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The Mainichi 10 August, 1945

The Mainichi 10 Aug 1945 Posted by Picasa

The website of The Mainichi Shimbun has recently been publishing copies of their front pages as they were printed 60 years ago. It is a reminder of the horrors of war, but also of the propaganda and ignorance. This is the front page that carries an article about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima:

"The new-type bombs dropped by enemy planes on Hiroshima on Aug. 6 are, after all, not so powerful as to cause great anxiety, declared Lieut.-Colonel Akatsuka on his arrival in Osaka on Aug. 8 after inspecting the stricken area in Hiroshima."

Did he visit Hiroshima with his eyes closed?

This is a Photo special with vivid images from Nagasaki, the second city to be devastated by an atomic bomb.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Atom, save the Japan Post!!

Atom, save the Japan Post!! Posted by Picasa

Tetsuka Ozamu's Atom (ram) would know exactly how to save Japan Post!! (Thanks Mari for finding - and posting - that great b/w link!)

Noise pollution and a solution

SAITAMA -- A man who tried to snatch a microphone from a Diet politician because he thought the legislator's speech was noisy has been arrested, police said. A 48-year-old teacher at Kaisei High School from Saitama was drunk at the time. "I thought sounds from his microphone were noisy," he was quoted as saying, according to Mainichi Shinbun.

Ohh, that touched a raw nerve, somewhere near my ear... I do love silence!!

Changing Japan: Privatization of Japan Post

Post box Posted by Picasa

Today's vote was a huge failure for Junichiro Koizumi's government. The issue of privatization of Japan Post was rejected by the Upper House of the Parliament. Koizumi has said he considers a rejection of the proposed legislation a no-confidence vote, so he would call a new election.

For consumers in Japan, a lot has already changed. I can pay my bills in convenience stores (much faster than the local post office...) but there is also the much larger issue. Japundit has researched the issue and explains it rather well:

This program will go a long way to resolving long-standing complaints from both inside and outside the country about the government’s direct involvement in the banking and insurance industries, which distorts one of the world’s largest economies. In the process, it also will hobble the Construction Ministry’s source of funding for pork barrel projects, another bone of contention both in Japan and abroad.

According to Mainichi Shimbun, a nationwide election could give the Democratic Party, the largest opposition bloc, a good chance to form a government.

Democratic Party leader Katsuya Okada said Sunday his party was ready for an all-out battle for control of the Lower House: "We would welcome a dissolution of the Lower House ... The Democratic Party would aim to win a majority (even without a coalition partner)," Okada said on an NHK news program.

The election on September 11 could also have huge conseqenses for Japan globally, for example to improve relations with China and South Korea, and to withdraw the country's Self-Defense Force troups from Iraq.

"Recess" in nuclear talks

Kyodo is reporting that negotiators in Beijing are taking "recess" to go home and check with their governments regarding the nuclear talks. Seems like the talks reached a deadlock after DPRK and the US failed to agree on details about how the Korean peninsula should become nuclear free. After 13 days of difficult negotiations, let's hope they are serious about finding a solution soon.

60 years after the end of WW2, the US in particular has a special obligation to make every effort to heal some of the lingering wounds in East Asia. Hey, these countries are still technically at war with each other. Do ordinary Americans know that? Does anyone care? I do wish I could understand the karma of this.

Nuclear talks previous

Saturday, August 06, 2005

60 years ago in Hiroshima

Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Dome Posted by Picasa

60 years ago, on August 6, 1945, the city of Hiroshima was devastated by the atomic bomb. I was there last year in August, it is a place to visit if you have an opportunity, at least once in your life. Such terrible weapons should indeed be abolished.

According to NHK, fifty-five thousand people attended a ceremony held at the city's Peace Memorial Park on Saturday morning. Tonight NHK is broadcasting a beautiful program live from Hiroshima, with music and interviews, as well as footage from the annual lantern floating festival.

Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba read out the annual Peace Declaration. He called on the public to inherit the commitment of the hibakusha atom-bomb survivors to abolish nuclear weapons and achieve world peace. He called on people to awaken to their individual responsibility and commit themselves to take action for peace.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said that leading the international community, the Japanese government will do all it can to abolish nuclear weapons so that the tragedy of Hiroshima can never happen again.

BBC has made a video available from today's events in Hiroshima. Click here for a speech by Prime Minister Koizumi.

Is it safe to eat Chinese pork?

Japan does not import pork from China's southwestern Sichuan Province of Sichuan, where a fatal swine disease is spreading, officials at the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said Friday, according to Kyodo News.

The Japanese government officials also said all Chinese pork imports into Japan are treated with heat, thus brushing aside concerns that the disease will spread in the country. It seems they are not considering this a threat at all.

Today, Xinhua reports that 141 people are hospitalized in China and 15 of them are in "critical condition". The disease, swine streptococosis II, is often lethal to humans. The death toll of the pig-borne endemic in the Sichuan Province reached 34 as of Saturday, according to the Chinese Ministry of Health.

Update: On August 8, China Daily reported that four officials have been fired for deception and failing to do their jobs properly during the fight against the spread of streptococcus suis from pigs to people. It is also reported that at least 200 people have contracted the disease, and that there were still 101 people in hospital, 10 in a serious condition.