Friday, September 30, 2005

Environmental reports and CSR in Japan

In Japan, over 700 companies publish either "environmental reports" or "social/environmental reports" that cover social issues as well. According to a survey by the Ministry of the Environment, companies publishing such reports account for 40 percent of listed companies and almost 20 percent of unlisted companies with more than 500 employees.

Mr. Toru Chikushi, Senior Researcher of Planning and Research Division in General Press Corporation's Sustainability Communication Department, says, "Replacing the term 'sustainability' with 'CSR' helped specify the scope of corporate responsibility..."

Mr. Chikushi points out the weakness of environmental reports in Japan, saying, "Japanese companies are not good at expressing their ideas. There are few reports that express the passion of those who are trying to send a message." He adds, "We would like them to elucidate the goals they are working towards, the challenges that they are still facing, and their determination to tackle these challenges. Communicating only the company's strengths and the challenges that have been successfully met is no different from mere boasting. Readers might develop a negative image of a company that issues such a report."

Read more at Japan for Sustainability
.

Seoul: Urban Sustainability


Chonggye Stream restoration in Seoul Posted by Picasa

The Chonggyechon stream, which had been covered by pavement and an overpass road for almost 60 years, flows again in downtown Seoul. The stream’s restoration work is complete and it opens to the public today with a festival. It is a remarkable project that many other cities should also consider and learn from.

The Korea Times continues:

"The stream along with nearby cultural and historical attractions is expected to delight Seoul citizens and draw people from other regions and countries who have been waiting to visit the area since the restoration project was launched in July 2003."

Read more on the official hompage.

Coinciding with the opening of the Stream, Seoul has invited mayors from around the world to discuss environmentally-friendly city planning and urban sustainability:

"While recent urban development in cities across the world renewed hopes for a more prosperous future, urban problems, such as environmental degradation and social segregation within cities, have become challenging issues," Seoul Mayor Lee Myung-bak said.

"The Seoul World Mayors Forum will put its emphasis on urban sustainability and revitalization, bringing together a number of scholars and government officials from around the world to make sustainable development a reality," he said.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

China: This is so wrong

The Daily Yomiuri reports that a software company in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, has developed "Anti-Japan War Online," an online computer game set in the 1937-45 Sino-Japanese War:

"Players assume the role of farmers or workers who overcome hardships to become soldiers of the Chinese Communist Party's Eighth Route Army, one of the party's main military forces during the Chinese Civil War and Japan-China War. Players rescue guerrillas and elderly citizens surrounded by Imperial Japanese Army soldiers. Under the leadership of the China Youth Union, organized by the party's young members, the company will spend 50 million yuan (700 million yen) to develop the game, which is scheduled to be completed by the year's end."

Read more here

So I became curious to find out a little more about this "China Youth Union". It turns out that it is an official body with an important role in China's communist society. According to this official website of the city of Beijing, the proper name is "All-China Youth Federation" and it was founded in May 1949. Then I could find their official English website here. It is a federation comprising all the youth organizations in China. Of the organizational members of the All-China Youth Federation, the Communist Youth League of China is the core, being a mass organization composed of China’s "advanced" youth. Founded in May 1922, it has 68.71 million members.

"Advanced"? In my opinion, it is so wrong to encourage children to hate and kill, even if it is just a video game. The fact that China is a communist society, where dissent and free speech are not tolerated, makes it even worse.

"We aim to nurture a national spirit in young people," said Hao Xianghong, 36, the union's Network Film and Television Center's vice minister. As China aims to be a global player, it will find that such ideology is not going to be in China's best interest.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

"Health panic" in Korea

Koreans eat a lot of kimchi, a delishious cabbage dish, that has become very popular in Japan as well. Even in my supermarket, they sell different types of kimchi, but I prefer to buy homemade stuff from a lady who sells it from her little cart in front of the train station. Now it turns out that imports from China are not as safe as they should be. A Korean politician, Rep. Ko Kyung-hwa has released a report on high lead content in Chinese kimchi. The investigation was carried out by the Korean Research Institute of Public Health and Environment.

The Korea Times talks about a "health panic" and explains:

The analysis of 10 varieties of Chinese kimchi being sold over the Internet showed an average lead content of 0.302 parts per million (ppm), about three times the average amount found in locally made products. One sample contained 0.57 ppm of lead, as much as five times the acceptable level of the toxic metal, which is known to cause severe developmental problems in children.

At a FAO/WHO Codex meeting I attended in Korea in September, 2004, it was decided to make an international food safety standard for kimchi. Such standards are needed when cross-border trade in a particular food starts to become common.

Update: Click here for developments.

This is a website with a nice movie that promotes traditional Korean foods.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Sumo developments

I was in Ryogoku, the place of the main sumo stadium in Tokyo, on Friday, and I was surprised how few souvenirs were for sale there. I would have liked to pick up something nice for friends, but really, the area seriously lacks in development. With the Edo museum next door, you would imagine that savvy business entrepreneurs would flock to try to sell sumo posters (with the cool caligraphy), calenders and so on, but there was almost nothing except strange cakes, tacky beer mugs and a few "wood-block print" style items.

Anyway, sumo is really great to watch! Mongolian Asashoryu won again, after a great come-back this weekend, and finally beating Bulgarian Kotooshu, who is 204 cm tall and had a slim (pun obviously intended) chance at becoming the first European champion this time.

Please check Mari's blog for details and links to photos of foreign sumo wrestlers, who she claims have made sumo "hot" in Japan right now. Go figure!

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Korean wave in Saitama


Korean wave in Saitama Posted by Picasa

24,000 Japanese fans of Korean stars came to a big event on Saturday in Saitama Stadium, near where I live. Jang Dong-geon, Lee Byoung-heon, Kim Seung-woo and Kwon Sang-woo are so popular in Japan right now. While politicians argue, ordinary people are just trying to enjoy their lives and find some happiness. That is "people's power" isn't it!

More photos at Naver, the Korean news portal.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

A better way


A better way Posted by Picasa

Japanese cattle breeder Shunichi Igarashi feeds his cattle at his farm in Higashi Matsuyama, north of Tokyo, on September 13, 2005. Things are a lot harder for the second-generation wrangler and other Japanese cattlemen since mad cow disease struck their business, driving hordes of Japan's famously fickle consumers away from beef. To bring those customers back, Igarashi banded together with other farmers two years ago to sell their beef made from cattle fattened on a diet of non-genetically modified (GMO) corn and soybeans. They call it "Yumeni-gyu", literally beef that tastes like a dream. Photo: Reuters, Text Mainichi.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Yomiuri Shinbun: Pigs with DNA from spinach...


Yomiuri Shinbun Posted by Picasa

Yomiuri Shinbun, Japan's largest newspaper, had a long article on Sunday Sept. 18, 2005 about the Codex Task Force meeting. Natsuko Kumasawa from Japan Offspring Fund/IACFO was quoted twice and our website was mentioned. The article also noted controvercial research on animals, including GMO salmon, and pigs with DNA from spinach.

Ethics and biotech animals

In a heated debate at the FAO/WHO Codex meeting this morning, delegates had difficulties agreeing on the work on a guideline for genetically modified animals. There was a good document, but it had no explicit reference to ethical considerations. From the non-governmental organisations, we raised the point that ethics should be mentioned, and that we felt the wording was not sufficiently clear on this important matter. While some countries, including EU, India and Norway, agreed that ethics should be mentioned, other disagreed. IACFO, Greenpeace International and 49 Parallell also supported this, and added that environmental factors should be mentioned as well.

I am really deeply disappointed by this.

FAO and WHO both commented that ethics is indeed important. FAO suggested that we could organize a workshop to discuss the topic the day before the next session 2006.

The countries that do not want to mention ethics are arguing that this work will deal only with the scientific risk assessment of GMO foods, and that ethics are not a part of the risk assessment process.

In the FAO/WHO Expert consultation from 2003, ethics was indeed discussed at lenght. That expert consultation concluded, among other things, that

Ethics is rooted both in the world religions and in secular philosophies, while a sense of morality and moral value is common for everbody. Ethics comprises both a positive dimension relating to our conceptions of the good life/society, and a negative dimension relating to our judgements of what is morally wrong. For instance, owing to religion-based food practices relating to eating pork, the utilization of genetic material from pigs could present problems.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Japan's aging society

Twenty percent of Japanese, or 25.56 million people, were aged 65 or older as of Thursday, up 0.5 point from a year earlier, government statistics showed Sunday.

The ratio of those 65 or older in the overall population stood at 4.9% in 1950 and rose gradually to 10.3% in 1985. During the 20 years since then, it went up rapidly to reach the 20% line this year for the first time, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

Monday was a national holiday in Japan, dedicated to "Respect for the Elderly.

Codex meeting begins

The Codex Task Force for Foods Derived from Modern Biotechnology started with a free discussion as 263 delegates from 53 countries have gathered here in Makuhari, Chiba for the meeting. The chairman wanted everyone to express their views on what they think needs to be addressed. For example, India mentioned that the Task Force should think about how the UN Millenium Goals of poverty reduction could be achieved. EU said "we need to be ambitious" and Kenya wanted to focus on staple foods that are important for developing coutries.

It is interesting to note that while some countries want to include ethics and environmental concerns, others want to focus on food safety as well as trade-related concerns.

FAO made an interesting intervention, noting that consumers in many parts of the world are still questioning the safety of GMO foods. GMOs have attracted intensive deabte and FAO shares some of the concerns. WHO's intervention noted that safety issues should be the basis of the work of this Task Force over the next four years.

Monday, September 19, 2005


Swedish berries tea in Korea Posted by Picasa

Sunday, September 18, 2005


Koizumi at the UN summit Posted by Picasa

If you have been paying attention to the United Nation lately, you know that there is a big debate about UN reform. As the world organization celebrates its 60th anniversary with a big summit in New York, world leaders made urgent appeals to save the UN. Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi wants Japan to get a permanent seat on the UN security council. That turns out to be tricky. As a result, Japan is threatening to reduce its financial support to the UN. Did you know that Japan is the second largest finacial contributer to the UN system, after the US?

Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson (pdf) banged the gavel signifying approval of a modest document, which commits governments to achieving UN goals to combat poverty and creates a commission to help move countries from war to peace, came alongside important developments in other areas. However, Japan is arguing that reform of the security council is the key to any succesful reform of UN. I suppose we can look forward to an interesting debate in the next few months...

BBC Analysis of the UN World Summit

I find it amusing how BBC is turning artist Bob Geldof into some kind of quasi-official court-jester...

In characteristically robust style, the Irish musician and anti-poverty campaigner Bob Geldof described the situation as "bloody outrageous".

"The whole point of this summit was supposed to be to review progress - or lack of it - on the Millennium Development Goals," he told the BBC News website, "and for it then to focus on reform - it's a scandal."

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Protests against GMO in Japan


Protests against GMO in Japan Posted by Picasa

Japanese consumers and farmers have joined hands to stop Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO). Seikatsu Club, a co-op with 259,000 members, have organized many protests and collected signatures to halt GMO farming in Japan. Earlier this year, the governor of Hokkaido met with activists and was presented with 190,000 signatures calling for Hokkaido to become a GMO-free zone. Many other regions in Japan are also declaring such zones. Activists in Japan are working closely with similar campaigns in Europe.

The Seikatsu Club, working with other co-operative groups has formed a“Stop GM Rice Co-operative Network,”and as of 2005, no GMO crops are grown commercially in Japan. In this statement, their reasons for opposing GMOs are outlined. A detailed report about GMO research activities can be found here.

GMO crops & foods previous

Friday, September 16, 2005

Codex meeting about biotechnology

From Monday I will be busy with a UN meeting called the Codex Alimentarius Task Force, about biotechnology. The meeting will be held near Tokyo, and Japan Offspring Fund has permission to do live broadcast over the internet, using Internet Radio. At these meetings, governments negotiate about important food safety issues, so we are glad that the public will be able to listen.

Some topics on the agenda are Genetically Modified animals and how to deal with contamination issues. We are also making a special Codex blog about the meeting.

GMO crops & foods previous

Thursday, September 15, 2005

North Korea and the U.S. in "heated" talks

According to The Korea Times North Korea's demand for a light-water reactor is a "nonstarter." The quote is attributed to Christopher Hill, top U.S. envoy to the six-party talks in Beijing this week on Pyongyang’s nuclear programs.

NHK says Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda has commented that providing a light-water reactor is a matter of international controversy as it means allowing the North to enrich uranium, which could lead to the manufacture of nuclear bombs. Mr Hosoda said North Korea's argument that it should be exempt from strict inspections because its use of nuclear material is for peaceful purposes is unacceptable, and that nations that make such claims should not be allowed even peaceful usage of nuclear material.

Japan's major news agency Kyodo adds that Japan indicated there is room for discussion on the issue of future North Korean civilian nuclear activity: "Basically, the premise is that (North Korea) abandons all nuclear programs and regains trust, and the important thing is that a commitment toward this is presented," chief Japanese delegate Kenichiro Sasae told reporters Thursday morning.

China Daily reports that the Republic of Korea (ROK)'s chief delegate Song Min-Soon told reporters that the DPRK could have the right to peaceful use of nuclear power after completing dismantlement of their nuclear weapons and nuclear programmes.

Who is truly wishing for peace & love, these days...!!

Nuclear talks previous

Blogger is getting slower and slower

Blogger, the system I use for this blog, is getting slower and slower. They have changed the design and included a lot of functions that I don't need. Linking up with Google and Microsoft is a bad idea. I suspect it will be downhill from now on. At least, they should give users the option of including such "services" or not.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Protecting Niigata rice


Niigata rice Posted by Picasa

This summer, a group of Niigata mayors have passed resolutions to halt field trial of Genetically Modified (GM) rice. CBIC, a Japanese NGO, explains: "Rice is the staple food for people in Japan. Consumers and farmers together with local communities have been and are working very seriously to put a stop to GM rice open-air field trials."

Another group called GMR-Watch Center is a citizens' organization working for the prevention of research and development, industrial production, and commercial sale of genetically modified rice (GMR) that they say has serious adverse effects on the Japanese diet and local agriculture.

In 2001, 580,000 signatures and citizen's protest stopped the development and commercialization of anti-herbicide GM rice developed through collaboration of Aichi prefecture and Monsanto. This triggered withdrawal of private businesses from GM rice and crops development.

In 2003, 400,000 signatures and citizen's protest stopped GM rice development by Iwate prefecture. Protesting movements were initiated in Hokkaido, Kagawa, Ibaraki prefectures where field trials of GM rice took place. As a result, almost all prefectural GM crop developments were terminated in Japan.

Well done!

GMO crops & foods previous

Skype sold to eBay

Skype, the free Internet telephone service, has been sold to eBay. I'm so upset about that news, actually. I remember when Hotmail was an independent company, and it was great. Then it got sold, and now it is crap, just full of advertising and stupid announcements. Another example is Babel Fish, a translation service. Recently, when I use it, I get the most idiotic ads from Yahoo, who thinks I want to play "Chicken Invader" and other infantile games. Stop wasting my time!

I think this "dumbing-down" of the Internet is incredibly annoying. I understand that some large companies want to make a huge profit, but do they really have to treat the users as teenagers?

Skype has 600,000 users in Japan. Since its launch in August 2003, Skype has been downloaded more than 163 million times in 225 countries and territories. Fifty-four million people are registered to use Skype’s free services, with over 3 million simultaneous users on the network at any one time. It remains to see if Skype will survive. Sigh...

How to visit North Korea


Posted by Picasa

I'm quoting this from Yonhap, the Korean news agency...

Elderly tourists became more emotional when they arrived at a historic bridge, "Seonjukgyo."

"This is exactly where I played with friends in my childhood," Cho Jung-rae said, showing a grimy, glazed photo taken decades ago at the same place. "I am so excited. I can't put my feelings into words."

The 63-year-old was visiting here for the first time since he left his hometown at the outbreak of the 1950-53 Korean War.

The eyes of another grey-haired man next him welled with tears.

"I never thought I could come here again before I died," 76-year-old Kaesong native Yang Soon-young said. "I wish I could see my family here just once. They may still live around here."

While the bus journeys between attractions offered a rare opportunity to catch a glimpse of the lifestyle of northerners, the scene in front of the attractions showed how North Korea is eager for foreign currency.

Wherever the South Koreans went, well-dressed young beauties with high-heeled shoes set up camp to sell a variety of local products, from snake wine to mushrooms. Bargaining was rarely allowed, and only American dollars were accepted.

When asked jokingly if there was Viagra, one of the saleswomen picked up ginseng and said, "This is the very Viagra."

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Project X

NHK has a show every Tuesday night called Project X. The point is to highlight unique Japanese inventions and technological developments, like Shinkansen, Tokyo Tower, cancer research, Toto's washlet toilets, or even stuff that noone abroad would care about, like "Japanese wine". The sponsors, major corporations, get to show off their feats in a subtle and unobtrusive way. The NHK website has a library with some information and photos from each of the 178 shows so far.

The format is quite funny, with a lot of old black/white TV footage. The photos of the pioneers become even more poignant, as the original heros appear in the studio, for the interview part, significantly older and greyer.

And the music is increadibly suggestive, adding to the self-congratulatory tone. Well, this is obviously very nostaligic for many Japanese. Worth watching!

Monday, September 12, 2005

Voting in Japan


Japanese election Posted by Picasa

NHK quoted Prime Minister Koizumi after the victory: "The result exceeds my expectation. It means that there are many people who support postal privatization. My appeal for postal reform was criticized as absurd in parliament. But the Japanese people judged it as right. I appreciate it. The people have defeated the opponents. It's evidence of their support."

Election results

The following website is offering good coverage of Japan's election results:

Mainichi

The Japan Times offers an interesting insight into the nature of Japanese politics:

Japanese politics is often a family affair, with the offspring of Diet members winning seats originally held by their fathers, and in some cases, grandfathers. In Sunday's Lower House election, 158 candidates, or 14 percent of all those running, are the offspring of present or former Diet members.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Japan Inc: Dankai sedai

Interesting article in Japan Inc:

They are called the "dankai sedai" -- those Japanese born in '47, 48' and '49. "Dankai" means "clod" and here refers to the clustering of births in these three years. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) gives their numbers as between 2.2 and 2.3 million for each year, for a total of approximately 6.8 million.


Japan Inc notes that the dankai are seen as saviors by many companies that have long suffered from sluggish consumer spending. The reason: the large retirement allowance the dankai sedai will receive.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

JFS: Declining sustainability

The environmental NGO Japan for Sustainability (JFS) has chosen 20 indicators for sustainability based on an analysis of over 200 data sets in several categories. This is the first ever numerical evaluation of national sustainability for Japan.

Results show a score of 33.5 points for 2005 in relation to a hypothetical perfect score of 100 projected for 2050. JFS concludes that Japan’s score for 1990 was 41.3 points, meaning sustainability in Japan has declined about 19% since 1990.

For example, their analysis shows that there is a greater awareness about "Nature" today, but it still needs to be acted on. As for "Well-being", they say overall high figures are tainted by a high suicide rate. The worst decline, obviously, is "Economy", with the score dramatically lowered also by the massive national debt that threatens future generations.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Gisela in Pyongyang


Gisela in Pyongyang Posted by Picasa

I do love clever blogs! Today I found one, entirely dedicated to the metro of Pyongyang. There is even music and songs and of course, photos of trains, including the one above, of East German Gisela cars, built at Hennigsdorf near Berlin between 1978 and 1982. Nostalgic? You bet!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Why is LOHAS so popular in Japan?

LOHAS is emerging as a popular concept in Japan. It combines many ideas that seem attractive to Japanese people. LOHAS means "Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability". Wow, that is a mouthful, isn't it. There are magazines, books, radio programs, blogs and many seminars about LOHAS in Japan these days. Some famous musicians, like Sakamoto Ryuichi, are also promoting LOHAS.

Tonight, TV channel 12 did a documentary about LOHAS. Great job!


Asbestos in Asia

I'm recording a program for NHK today about asbestos. This summer, media has been reporting a lot about this problematic material. Known to cause cancer, why did it take so long for Japan to react?

On June 29, machinery maker Kubota Corp. acknowledged, in response to inquiries from Mainichi Shimbun, that 79 of its workers had died after contact with asbestos. Soon many other companies reported previously undisclosed fatalities.

"We should have banned asbestos sooner," Health, Labour, & Welfare Minister Hidehisa Otsuji told a parliamentary committee on August 3. Vice Environment Minister Hiroshi Takano, who also attended the committee meeting, said, "We are currently collecting information on asbestos-related problems via the prefectural governments." One estimate for the total death toll says it could reach 100,000 cases over the next 40 years.

NHK September 6 Radio Japan Focus (English version) The Health Dangers of Asbestos in Asia:

Health problems due to asbestos use are now making headlines in Japan but construction workers continue to use the substance in developing nations of Asia and elsewhere with probable health consequences for the future.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Typhoon Nabi


Tropical Cyclone Nabi Posted by Picasa

Kyodo reports that the Tokyo Metropolitan area was hit by heavy rain late Sunday evening, with more than 500 houses flooded in Tokyo, Saitama and Kanagawa prefectures. Power supplies were temporarily cut off in some 7,000 households in Tokyo, while several expressways were closed around the metropolitan area, according to the authorities. The heavy rain of up to over 100 millimeters was brought about after the atmosphere became unstable due to Typhoon Nabi (...)

Update Wednesday: The death toll from Typhoon Nabi rose to 17 Wednesday, and 8 people are still missing in Kyushu, southwestern Japan. NHK is showing images by the hour of the devastation. Mainichi Shimbun has published photos here.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Hayama sunset


Hayama sunset Posted by Picasa

Found a blog with lots of beautiful photos from Hayama and Kamakura, just south of Tokyo. Enjoy!

Friday, September 02, 2005

If a disaster happens in Tokyo

Major convenience stores in Tokyo and the governments of Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba prefectures agreed Wednesday to help people in emergencies by providing drinking water and other amenities when earthquakes and other disasters strike.

12,670 stores will offer drinking water, lavatory facilities and information from emergency radio or TV broadcasts to people unable to get home when disaster strikes, according to officials at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government's Disaster Prevention Bureau.

According to a government disaster prevention estimate released in February 2005, some 6.5 million people in Tokyo and neighboring prefectures will be stranded if a giant temblor originating directly beneath the capital damages its massive transportation network.

A similar agreement was signed among convenience store chains and Yoshinoya with seven other prefectural governments, including Osaka and Kyoto, and three cities.

Gas stations in Tokyo and neighboring prefectures also have a cooperation agreement to provide water, lavatories and emergency information for people on foot.

After seeing the terrible disaster in New Orleans in the past few days, it feels even more important to be prepared for the worst.