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Showing posts from November, 2005

Kotooshu promoted to ozeki

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The Japan Sumo Association approved the promotion of Bulgarian wrestler Kotooshu to ozeki on Wednesday, making him the first European to reach the sport's second-highest rank.

Kotooshu's promotion was finalized at a meeting of JSA executives and officials who worked on the rankings for the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament in January. The 22-year-old is the first ozeki since Asashoryu was promoted in July 2002 and the fifth foreign-born ozeki, according to Kyodo.

I wish him well, and can't help to look forward to the New Year basho.

Fossile of the day award

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This site, called the Fossile of the Day Award is a joint project by many NGOs trying to raise awareness about what different countries are doing during negotiations regarding climate change.

You can see a short intro video, then click to enter the main page. And you can find out what different countries, like the U.S., Canada, Saudi Arabia or Japan, have been up to behind the scenes... Great idea!

Enter here.

Climate change previous

Kyoto Protocol in the news

NHK has had extensive coverage today about the UN Kyoto Protocol meeting in Canada, explaining that delegates from 189 countries and regions are attending the meeting in session until December 9. It is the first conference of its kind since the Kyoto Protocol took effect in February this year. Delegates will discuss ways to implement the Kyoto Protocol, which requires industrialized countries to cut carbon-dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2012.

Also, Asahi Shimbun writes in an editorial that the signs coming from the Japanese government have not been very encouraging:

There are wide disagreements within the government over the future of the Kyoto Protocol. While the Environment Ministry is arguing for the establishment of similar targets to prune greenhouse emissions for the second term, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is lukewarm at best about the idea of new binding targets.

The government should swiftly build a consensus among policy-makers in line wi…

UN Kyoto Protocol meeting in Montréal

Starting today, Canada will host the first meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol in Montréal in conjunction with the eleventh session of the Conference of the Parties to the Climate Change Convention.

Official documents and daily updates here.

Official UN Webcast (with videos) page here.

Blog with updates through the lenses of activists traveling thousands of miles to witness this historic conference here.

BBC is covering this important meeting while Japanese media seems to have missed the opportunity to raise awareness about global warming, as Japan's CO2 emissions continue to increase.

Climate change previous

"Absurd" reactions in Korea

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The news that stem cell researcher Hwang Woo-suk lied to science magazine Nature and other international media, has caused a massive uproar in South Korea. But? Not in the way you would expect. Now the president has stepped into the debate to try to calm the public. Read more here.

"...supporters for Hwang quickly launched organized salvos at producers of the MBC program and the broadcasting network. Some even threatened to kill family members of the producers, posting their photos on the Internet. They argued the program was 'against national interests.' A group of protesters also staged a candlelight demonstration in front of MBC headquarters in Yoido, Seoul, Saturday. Among some 50 of them was disabled pop singer Kang Won-rae. The protesters said they will launch a signature-collection campaign against MBC. Fearing further public rancor, 11 out of 12 advertisers for the MBC program have decided to withdraw their advertisements."

I think MBC did the right thing to re…

Toxic leak reaches Harbin, China

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BBC reports that Chinese newspapers have grown more explicit in their criticism of the official response to the toxic leak which has hit the north-eastern city of Harbin.

Commentators in Beijing and further afield condemn the 'lies' told before the authorities revealed what had really happened, although a paper in Harbin itself tries to play down the crisis. A Beijing paper also worries about the country's environmental record. Read more here. There is also concern in Russian towns in the Far East according to Reuters.

Chronology:

13 Nov Explosion at petrochemical plant, Jilin city
21 Nov Water to Harbin city cut off; local government cites mains maintenance
22 Nov State media say water could have been contaminated after the blast
23 Nov Authorities admit very high levels of benzene have been found in the water
23 Nov Authorities say 100 tonnes of benzene emptied into the Songhua river


"...the Jilin corporation denied the pollution of river water three days ago. It said that …

Persimmon season

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This is the season when kaki, or persimmon, are ripe and ready on the trees in Japan, looking so lovely against the bright blue sky...


(Photo from Mikan Moblog)

Is your apartment earthquake-proof?

Mainichi Shimbun reports that worried residents are calling to ask about the safety of their apartment buildings, following an announcement by the Chiba Prefectural Government that a scandal-hit architectural office accused of falsifying earthquake resistance data worked on 194 buildings across 22 prefectures.

At the center of the investigation scandal is the Aneha Architect Design Office. Chiba Prefectural Government officials conducted an investigation into the 194 buildings, including 21 problem structures that the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport had already listed. Tokyo Association of Architectural Firms set up an inquiry section on Monday, and since then it has received about 60 inquiries, including those from people worried about new homes they are planning to move into.

Read more here and here.

The problem seems to be that the state-authorized building inspection agency eHomes failed to carry out proper checks in the process of building confirmation. This agency wa…

Declaration of Helsinki

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Update: Prof. Hwang Woo-suk has announced his decision to step down from all governmental and social positions which he concurrently holds, including his chairmanship of the World Stem Cell Bank.

Read more about Thursday's press conference in Seoul here.

BBC says the cloning pioneer is disgraced, as he admitted he had not told the truth to the medical journal Nature.

Not only did he lie, he also broke an international ethical code, the Declaration of Helsinki from 1964. It deals with issues related to biomedical research involving human subjects, particularly the following condition:

When obtaining informed consent for the research project the physician should be particularly cautious if the subject is in a dependent relationship with the physician or may consent under duress.

Stem cell scandal previous

Support for Dr. Hwang in Korea?

The Korean web site of news magazine show "PD notebook" has been bombarded with criticism after its program, aired on Tuesday, reported that Hwang Woo-suk (who is trained as a veterinarian) used traded ova.

The netizens challenged the reports, saying financial compensation should be given to donators. In a poll conducted by the nation`s major portal Naver.com, more than 70 percent netizens said that paying for egg donors is not ethically problematic.

Although I'm usually suspicious of Internet polls, which are never scientific, I also have no doubt that this issue will continue to be passionately debated in Korea. There are reports that the Korean government plans to issue a stamp with Dr. Hwang's picture, and so many Koreans seem to think he should get the Nobel prize.

Stem cell scandal previous

Stem cell lies

The scandal about Korean stem cell researcher Hwang Woo-suk got more serious, after a TV program on Tuesday that revealed that women were paid for donating their eggs.

In an editorial, the Chosung Ilbo writes:

What matters is that a document supplementing the Hwang team's stem-cell cloning research paper published in the journal Science in February last year states, "Eggs used for the research were donated voluntarily; none of the egg donors, their families and relatives received any benefit from the donation."

It appears Dr. Hwan lied to the scientific community.

There are serious risks to the women whose ova are "harvested", according to experts:


Getting a single egg out of an ovary would require a fairly simple surgery under sedation. But women naturally produce only one or two mature eggs a month, and fertility doctors try to get at least 10 ova from each surgery. So the doctors prescribe a battery of hormones that prompt that many eggs to ripen all at once (…

Changing to better paper in your office?

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Askul, a Tokyo-based company that supplies a lot of paper to Japanese officies, has announced its "Procurement Policy for Paper Products" as a guide for Askul-brand paper products, says Japan for Sustainability.

Askul will give priority to the following raw materials:
1) "Recycled pulp" produced through the effective use of waste paper and other waste wood
2) Pulp certified with forest certification for proper management
3) Pulp from a properly managed secondary forest or plantation forest.

The company has conducted traceability surveys on raw materials used in all seven series of Askul photocopy papers since 2004, and discussed the results with each paper manufacturer to promote "green procurement." The company says it will continue to promote green procurement by shifting to the raw materials designated in the procurement plan and complete this shift by the end of fiscal 2005.

This is perhaps a good step, but it still sounds too vague for me. It is great when…

Sony BMG in trouble

Thomas Hesse, President of Sony digital business division has been quoted as saying: "Most people, I think, don't even know what a rootkit is, so why should they care about it?"

This is in response to the revelation that Sony employed rootkits as part of a copy protection scheme for their CDs. A rootkit is a way to hide files, registry keys and system objects from other software such as scanners and security programs. All this is installed on my pc when I play a Sony CD. In other words, Sony has secretly been installing software on people's pc when their CDs are played. That is just stupid. What really makes me mad is the attitude of people like Thomas Hesse, who thinks I have no right - or no way - to know what they are doing.

Wikipedia has a great site with updates about the Sony controversy.

Sony has published a list of titles using this technology.

Ethics and "harvesting"of ova

I don't like genetic engineering. I just have a gut feeling that it is wrong to manipulate DNA for profit. The debate about genetically modified foods have been raging for 10 years, and is not ebbing. Worse yet, some companies want to genetically modify animals.

The debate about genetic manipulation of stemcells is even more complicated. Hwang Woo-suk, a pioneering genetic scientist at Seoul National University, has been dealt another accusation that he may have used eggs collected from one or more of his junior associates in his stem cell experiments. This type of research is extremely risky and many people all over the world have reacted against it. Read more about the scandal here and here:

"...up to 10 percent of women who undergo such ovarian stimulation to procure eggs, experience severe after-effects including infertility or death."

International Herald Tribune has some good insights too as to why all this is becoming very problematic.

Nature is keeping a close watch…

Meager APEC results

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President Roh Moo-hyun, center, in front row, poses for a photo along with 20 other leaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Busan (or Pusan, according to the old romanization system). The leaders are wearing Turumagi, a traditional Korean overcoat, of the pastel color they chose themselves, according to South Korean news agency Yonhap.

APEC has played a major role in trying to get Asian countries to adopt modern environmental technologies. Resolving problems such as global warming and ozone depletion, air and water pollution is especially critical for the APEC economies.

The APEC Virtual Center for Environmental Technology Exchange (APEC-VC) is a strong and growing force in the Asia-Pacific region working to address these issues. This project helps APEC economies, municipalities, corporations and environment-related institutions share, via the Internet, information on environmental technologies. Much like an "environmental technology exhibition," APEC-…

Rice harvest

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Today was so sunny and nice, but I was indoors most of the time. I was working so much recently, doing all kinds of proof-reading jobs. Would I be happier if I had a rice field and got to do the harvesting? How brief this era of computers, mobile phones and television is.

Oh, and here is a link in case you want to hear Taxi driver by Myrra:

I'm in a hurry to get where I'm going
I can't believe the things
that are slowing me down and keeping me

Have a nice weekend!

(Photo from this website.)

APEC: Protests in Korea

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The APEC meeting has begun with the usual celebrations. A surprise was that South Korea president Roh agreed to meet with Japan's prime minister Koizumi. There were some protests against Koizumi. Anyway, a lot of people are protesting on the streets. Will this be the Seattle of Asia...?

Actually, I'm often surprised how superficially media treats these big meetings. Have a look at this site where Japan's foreign ministry has already published the joint statement of the APEC meeting. From my point of view, they are producing a document that shows no concern for environmental protection, or consumer health. That is really seriously disappointing.

APEC meeting in Busan South Korea

Leaders from 21 countries around the Pacific Ocean will convene the first meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit today under a main theme of "Advancing Freer Trade" in the region, according to The Korea Times.

The first meeting of the two-day summit, known as the Retreat, will open at the Busan Exhibition and Convention Center (BEXCO), the organizers said Thursday. Then the leaders will meet with the APEC Business Advisory Council to hear their recommendations on key international issues such as ways of reviving the World Trade Organization (WTO)’s so-called Doha Round of trade negotiations.

Read more here.

The Busan Metropolitan Police Agency warned it will deal strictly with any disturbances. After anti-U.S., antiglobalization activists vowed to rally 100,000 people against the summit today, the agency designated special zones around the summit venues where rallies are banned, according to The Korea Herald. Civic activists said that the Busan APEC &…

China's top environmentalists

Competition in an online poll to elect China's top 5 environmentalists is heating up, according to China Daily.

Voters are currently faced with a shortlist of 20 nominees, but by the end of the month five will have been selected as China's Green Figures of 2005. The list of 20 candidates came out last week, based on 35,823 Internet votes, letters and phone calls to the organizing committee. The five winners will be announced at the opening ceremony of China's Environmental Cultural Festival at the end of this month.

Tian Guirong, a farmer-turned battery seller, is one of the nominees.

"When I read a 1998 report about pollution caused by the improper disposal of waste batteries, I was shocked," she told People's Daily.

"I asked myself how much land and water would be polluted by the 3 million batteries I sold every year?"

Tian, in her 50s, lives in Xinxiang, Central China's Henan Province. Since 1998, she has voluntarily collected waste batteries. At …

Stop war...

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The Anti-War Joint Action Committee held a rally against the Iraq war in Tokyo on November 6, 2005. The many protests have perhaps not be widely reported outside of Japan. I wonder why?

This time, 4600 workers gathered in Hibiya Outdoor Large Music Hall, and staged "National Workers Rally". As representative of Labor union, 22 workers from Korea and 14 workers from U.S. also participated.

Some famous protests in Japan's history include Shimabara rebellion (1637-38), Saigo Takamori's uprising against the Meiji emperor (1877), mass demonstrations against the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty (1960), as well as numerous anti-nuclear campaigns.

Don't destroy Yoyogi Park!

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Tokyo has few parks compared to other world cities. More trees, not more concrete, is what everyone wants. Well, perhaps not everyone? Terrie Loyd's article about the possibility of a plan to destroy Yoyogi Park raises some good points and even includes suggestions what you can do to protest:

"... it was with some shock that we read on Oct 29 in the Yomiuri Shimbun of a 1 trillion yen Tokyo government plan to possibly raze the park and build an Olympic stadium, should Tokyo win the right to host the 2016 Olympics. The plan, which was leaked by the Yomiuri and seemingly by no one else, appears to involve "redeveloping" 71.4 hectares of land that includes Yoyogi Park, and 35 hectares of the Outer Gardens of Meiji Shrine. In other words, pretty much every piece of greenery and most of the trees that form this oasis in Shibuya Ward."

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that Pat Schmitt, chairman of the IOC Sport and Environment Commission, said environmental issues are paramo…

Protests against APEC meeting in Korea

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Many Koreans are protesting against the APEC meeting in Pusan next week. Kang Ki-kap of the Democratic Labor Party stages a hunger strike for the 18th consecutive day against the move to ratify Korea's rice deals, at the main staircase of the National Assembly in Yoido, Seoul, Sunday.

"The right to live of some 3.5 million peasants are at peril because of the United States’ push to open the rice market," said the KPL, which combines dozens of local peasants’ councils, in a statement. "We demand the APEC forum, which serves to support the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Doha Development Agenda (DDA), be stopped immediately."

The South Korean government should take a lesson from the case of the Summit of Americas in Mar del Plata, Argentina last week that "failed to come to agreement due to strong protests from the South American people against the U.S. and U.S. President George Bush," the statement said. Otherwise the peasants will wage a "st…

South Korea-Sweden

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Sydkorea Sverige 2-2

7' Ahn Jung-Hwan
9' Johan Elmander
52' Kim Young-Chul
57' Markus Rosenberg

Nice game in Seoul, I could hear it on Swedish web radio live. The Korean supporters are wonderful!

A heated bra to save the world?

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BBC was first with this news: Triumph, a leading lingerie company has joined Japan's fight against high fuel use, unveiling a heated bra for winter. The fluffy creation contains special pads filled with an eco-friendly gel that can be easily heated in a microwave or with a hot water bottle. The design also includes a furry boa designed to double as a winter scarf.

Mainichi Shimbun says Triumph designed the bra for the government's "Warm Biz" campaign, which aims to combat global warming by reducing the excessive use of heaters during the colder parts of the year. While the "Warm Biz" bra, which comes together with a pair of thermal fabric shorts, will not be sold, Triumph said it will use the materials developed over the two months it took to make the undergarment in other products.

Japan's Environment Ministry has a good English website, but the news about Warm Biz is only in Japanese.

Nikko: colours in the autumn

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Now is the best time in Japan... Really! The weather is fine, and the autumn colours are wonderful. This photo is from Nikko, north of Tokyo. More photos from this webiste.

A few of my favourite things...

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This is a lovely song by Lee Sang-Eun, but what I really like is her album cover. Can you see that blue Renault 4? That's a French car that my father had when I was a kid, actually he had two of them, a blue one and a red one. So many memories, and so many nostalgic photos when I check this page! Official Renault history here.

I don't know a lot about either cars or computers, but I like good writing, so when a good writer is clever enough to compare his iBook to a Renault 4, it immediately catches my attention. OK?

In 1981, my father abandonded his second Renault 4, and opted for a Toyota Starlet instead. This page is dedicated to all Toyota models since 1932. More Toyota history here.

Chronology of avian flu in Japan

Bloomberg.com reports that authorities in Japan ordered the culling of 180,000 chickens at a poultry farm in Ibaraki prefecture, north of Tokyo, after avian flu antibodies were found in the birds. Reuters adds that tests showed that chickens had been exposed to the H5 strain of avian flu, although the virus itself was not detected. A total of 1.48 million chickens have been culled in Ibaraki prefecture between June -- when a bird flu outbreak was first detected there -- and mid-October.

Japan Offspring Fund has published a chronology of avian flu outbreaks in Japan.

Bird flu previous.

Childhood obesity in Japan

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Kyodo reports that the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has decided to tackle the growing problem of childhood obesity by promoting healthy diets for children. The ministry will designate 10 districts in five prefectures as model areas where it will work to reduce the number of overweight children together with schools, households and communities.

The areas will be required to develop their own programs to fight the problem, officials said. Nine percent of fourth-graders were diagnosed as obese in 2003, up from 5.9% in 1982, while 10.8% of seventh-graders were, up from 7.3%, according to an education ministry survey.

Meanwhile, McDonald's introduced an ad campaign with a super-skinny, in my view anorexic female model to attract Japanese customers to its greasy burgers. Faced with concerns over obesity and the negative portrayal of its products in the film SuperSize Me, McDonald’s has questioned whether even its famous Golden Arches have become a liability, according to The Time…

Inspections reveal kimchi problems in Korea

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The Korean Food and Drug Administration (KFDA) said Thursday that it had found parasite eggs in 16 of the 502 domestic-made kimchi products it examined recently.

According to The Korea Times, the announcement deepened the public fear over the safety of kimchi sold in markets, which first erupted when the regulator announced they discovered parasite eggs in a batch of Chinese imports last month.

"...authorities exaggerated its first report on the safety on Chinese-made kimchi and tried to downplay the concerns when parasite eggs turned up in Korean products. They have failed to deliver adequate information to consumers," said Park Kyung-sun from the civic group Green Consumer Network.

It is good that they do inspections, but another issue is Risk communication. This kimchi scare is a textbook example of how sensitive food safety issues are. KFDA should have started out testing domestic kimchi, made efforts to improve domestic standards, following up with applying the same strict…

Giant jellyfish (kurage)

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Giant jellyfish (kurage) is causing problems for the fishing industry off Japan's coasts. Millions of jellyfish have appeared this year, apparently due to overfishing and environmental problems along the coast of China, where they originate. China is not sufficiently taking care of its raw sewage, according to experts and this has led to an explosive growth in the jellyfish population this year. Some of them are up to 2 meters in diameter, destroying fishing nets. I'm doing a program about this for NHK this week, but it wasn't until I saw the photo that I understood how massive these creatures really are.

Public opinions about banned U.S. beef

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The government's food safety panel decided Wednesday to collect public opinions on a report drafted by its research group recommending an end to the two-year-old ban on U.S. and Canadian beef, government officials said.

According to Kyodo News, the Food Safety Commission will accept comments until November 29, 2005 before finalizing the report, the officials said. The commission will sponsor meetings in seven cities across the nation from November 14 to exchange opinions on the issue. The seven are Sapporo, Osaka, Sendai, Fukuoka, Hiroshima, Nagoya and Tokyo.

Painting by H. Bosch

BSE/food safety previous.

Jazz in Omiya

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Tomorrow is a national holiday, and I suddenly got a chance to go and hear some live jazz tonight, with a trio led by pianist Sachiko Yasui. Standard jazz numbers like "I Can't Give You Anything but Love". Nice! More here.








(Photo by Takahashi-sensei!)

Korean kimchi banned in China

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The Korea Times reports that China has slapped an import ban on South Korean-made kimchi and side dishes in retaliation against Seoul’s steps to strengthen quarantine against Chinese kimchi following the discovery of parasite eggs in them.

The products banned by Beijing included kimchi, red-pepper paste and seasoning for pulgogi, produced by 10 companies. The ban came a day after the Chinese authorities announced on Monday that parasite eggs were discovered in the South Korean food made from red peppers and cabbage.

In response, the Seoul government said on Tuesday that it will conduct investigations into the affected products to determine the truth of the allegations, while trying to hold a high-level consultative meeting to resolve the looming "kimchi trade war" before it gets out of hand. Read more here.

NHK notes that the South Korean Government has questioned the credibility of China's announcement that parasite eggs were discovered in food products imported from South…

Consumer activists protest against U.S. beef

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(Photo: Reuters)

Mainichi Shimbun and other media reports that activists from the Consumers Union of Japan protested against U.S. beef imports in Tokyo's Ginza shopping area. Japanese consumer groups said they would launch a campaign to boycott U.S. beef, banned from Japan for nearly two years on concerns about mad cow disease, if the government decides to resume imports.

BSE/food safety previous