Monday, October 31, 2005

Heart Sutra



Today is the anniversary of my grandfather's birthday.

In Japan, Buddhist sutras are read daily at temples and at a family altar on anniversaries related to life and death. By a lucky coinsidence, a link appeared to the Heart sutra (Flash), in Japanese called Hannya Haramita Shingyo, so I invite everyone to listen.

The central passage is "shiki soku ze ku ku soku ze shiki" which translates as "emptiness is form and form is emptiness". I love how this sutra connects ancient India, Nepal, Tibet, China, Korea, and Japan - and recently, America and Europe as well. Read more here and here.

The photo is from the gate at Sogenji, my Rinzai zen temple in Okayama prefecture.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Japan's constitution

There is a debate in Japan about the country's constitution. Most attention is on the wording about the military and Article 9. The new draft that has recently been approved by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party also eatures five types of individual rights not stated in the current Constitution pertaining to government information, intellectual property, the environment, personal data protection and dignified treatment for disabled people and crime victims.

Wikipedia has an interesting background to the background about Article 9, citing the spirit of the 1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact renouncing war.

Read more about the debate about Japan's new constitution here.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

U.S. beef ban leading to trade war

Kyodo reports that the Japanese Embassy has criticized a U.S. Senate bill calling for retaliatory tariffs over Japan's 22-month-old import ban on U.S. beef, and issued an explanation of what Japan was doing to end the impasse.

"We are disappointed," the embassy said in a statement distributed to news organizations soon after 21 senators introduced the bill to impose punitive tariffs worth $3.14 billion annually on Japanese products by the end of the year if Japan fails to end the import restriction. In a press conference, Japanese Ambassador to the United States Ryozo Kato said, "It's not a productive move."

U.S. beef is also banned in Korea, and has been banned for over 10 years in Europe.

In Tokyo today consumer organizations are arranging a demonstration with street performances to protest against U.S. beef imports. I'm trying to find photos.

BSE/food safety previous

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Project X: Judo in Olympics



Tonight, NHK's program series called "Project X" deals with Judo as an Olympic sport. I love the images from Tokyo Olympics in 1964. I work right next to the Olympic Stadium, designed by architecht Kenzo Tange, and it is a truly great monument.

Ian Buruma has described the open weight Judo contest in the 1964 Olympics. The Japanese expected their Judo champion, Kaminaga Akio to win against his huge Dutch opponent, Anton Geesink. Such a victory would have signaled the "superiority of Japanese culture, of the Japanese spirit". But, Geesink won. The Japanese around the mat actually cried... "Once again, Japanese manhood had put to the test against superior Western manhood, and once again it was found wanting". But the humiliation subsided when Geesink showed the proper respect by bowing the traditional bow. "Geesink... would be treated as a hero in Japan forever after... One quality has stood out to serve Japan better than any other: the grace to make the best of defeat".

Actually, Japan won the three other gold medals in judo that year. The NHK program ends with a look at Kaminaga-san's career since 1964, as an ordinary salariman in an ordinary company. Another Japanese, Haruki Uemura, finally won the open weight title in the Montreal Olympics 1976. Great photos from 1964 here.

Cyanide in Tokyo Bay

Kyodo reports that the Japan Coast Guard sent to prosecutors on Monday a case in which JFE Steel Corp, a unit of JFE Holdings Inc, and four employees of the company allegedly released highly polluted wastewater from a steel mill into Tokyo Bay, the coast guard said.

Japan's second-largest steel manufacturer is suspected of discharging wastewater containing highly toxic cyanide compounds or hydrogen ion exceeding regulatory standards at Chiba port, in the eastern part of Tokyo Bay, from a mill operated by its East Japan Works in Chiba.

This has been big in the news, and JFE, which was established from the merger of NKK and Kawasaki Steel in April 2003, needs to be reminded of what they said as a corportate message for 2005:

Last year we set a goal of “zero accidents” in each work place. Unfortunately, we were unable to eradicate serious accidents in spite of active safety programs. We will continue to emphasize the improvements, investments and education that are necessary to increase the safety of our facilities and operations. However, as individuals we must also take it upon ourselves to actively promote safety if we are to achieve our shared goal. Let us renew our commitment this year to getting the basic activities right, creating clean and pleasant work places and achieving our “zero accidents” goal.

The 2004 environmental report for JFE can be found here.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Flavour of tea...



Great song here from the soundtrack of a movie called Cha no aji (Flavour of tea). Enjoy!

Sunday, October 23, 2005

75% of Japan not prepared for earthquakes


Today, NHK reports that 3/4 of the prefectures in Japan have made no budget allocations for assisting rural communities, in case of a major earthquake. The NHK survey is quite alarming. There are no plans to help isolated towns in case of power outages, no mobile phones, and no storage of food or medical supplies...

This weekend marks one year since the huge Niigata earthquake. Read more here. And here is Niigata prefecture's own page with information. For photos, please refer to this page.

Exactly one year ago, I did my first NHK live radio broadcast... And what a day to begin. The entire Shibuya NHK building was shaking, and it was clear that this was a big one.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

One with the bow


One of the finest books about Japan written by a foreigner is Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel. In his book Mr. Herrigel describes his experiences with kyudo in the 1930's. It is a beautifully written account that has been translated into many languages, giving people worldwide their first glimpse of this elegant art.

Now, NHK has produced a TV program called One with the bow that has won several prestegious awards this year in the U.S.

Englishman Liam O'Brien takes a Japanese bow back to Kumamoto Prefecture in southwest Japan to ask the man who made it, master bowyer Shigemasa Matsunaga, if the bow is in peak condition. Preparing to go for the eighth-rank trials that would make him a kyudo master, O'Brien also seeks to confirm his own fitness for the coming ordeal from this dedicated craftsman who has made 20,000 bows, but not one of which has fully satisfied him. In O'Brien, though, he sees an archer worthy of the very best bow he can make.

Read more about NHK's programs here.

For a lecture on "Evil-Destroying Yumi" please read on here. A quote:

Know yourself. Know your mind first and then you can practice kyudo. If your mind is right you will hit the target naturally. It is the same in your whole life, not only in kyudo. If you are always wondering about the target or the result, nothing good can be accomplished. If you always look at yourself first - your own feet, your own basis, then things will naturally go right. The word "do" in kyudo means "way". This concept of "do" is difficult to talk about. To practice the way of kyudo is very difficult, although people think it is easy. This is also true for the way of flowers, tea and so on. The practice of "do" has no concept of a goal. The kind of kyudo I would like you to understand is not based on becoming better and better. This discipline is a means of cleaning or polishing your own mind through self-reflection.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Asian films in Tokyo

As the Tokyo International Film Festival opens tomorrow, there will be a lot of Asian films. This is the first time since the original TIFF in 1985 that Asian films will open and close the event, according to the Daily Yomiuri that also notes that both the opener and the closer involve Japan's immediate neighbors in Asia. As the host country, Japan brings films in the competition section, special screenings and the Japanese Eyes section. One special screening piece, Until the Lights Come Back, is this year's major Christmas story set in Tokyo, telling the tale of what happens when a blackout hits the capital on Christmas Day...

Read more here (truly awful website, BTW). Asian Films is a good website if you want to read more about films from this part of the world. This website is specifically about Korean Films and here you can read about recent award-winning Japanese Films.

Some of the films shown at the Tokyo International Film Festival Oct. 22-30, 2005:

TAIWAN

The Wayward Cloud
The Moon also Rises
Falling…in Love
Blue Cha-Cha
Taiwan Black Movies
Chocolate Rap
Fishing Luck
The Shoe Fairy
Scars on Memory
Fire Ball
The Last Rice Farmers

KOREAN

As You Please
A Sketch of a Rainy Day
Trio

NEW PANORAMA

Slit Eyes
Monday Morning Glory
Goalposts & Lipsticks
Of Love & Eggs
Joni's Promise
Virgin
Aishite Imasu 1941
One Moment More
Citizen Dog
Midnight, My Love
Be with Me
Chandramukhi
AV
A Side B Side Seaside
All about Love
Everlasting Regret
House of Fury
Mongolian Ping Pong
Curse of Lola
Focus:This Moment
Love is a Crazy Thing
Divergencs

Frankfurt bookfair



The Frankfurt bookfair is an annual fair where about 12,000 publishers from all over the world are attending. This year, South Korea is displaying over 6,000 books on Korea published in Korea and abroad. Also displayed is the "Jikji Simche Yojeol" - the world's oldest text printed with metal type, with its printing in 1377 predating by 38 years Gutenberg's 42-line Bible. A collection of Buddhist treatises and teachings, the book is included in UNESCO's "Memory of the World" register.

The article describes how the original book is in the possession of France at the National Library of France in Paris, having been shipped out of Korea by a French national in the last years of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Hmm? Why doesn't Korea try to get it back?

Read more here

I have to admit that I still haven't read any Korean novels, and frankly, I don't even know the name of a single Korean writer. Any good advice?

Korean literature previous.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Listening to classical music


I'm listening to classical music these days, having found several sites on the Internet that make music available. Free music on the net? Isn't that a threat to the recording industry? I would argue NOT!

When I get a chance to listen to a lot of music, I also go to the record shops more, as I want that special CD in my collection. The copyright issue should not be a problem here. If it exposes more people to great music, the artists can only win.

Make sure to watch NHK on Sunday evenings at 21:00, always great concerts to end the week.

Here is a favourite link to SR Klassiskt, Classical music from Swedish Radio. Around the clock and worldwide. A selection of 500 years of outstanding hits as well as the lesser known.

Swedish radio P2

Monday, October 17, 2005

Tokyo Motor Show turning "green"?

Surprised? I wouldn't be posting anything about Tokyo Motor Show, unless this Reuters story with the title Clean, Quirky Cars to Dominate Tokyo Motor Show had caught my attention. Eco-friendly cars? Green products? "Biodegradable fibres and plastics"? The theme for this year's show is 'Driving Tomorrow!' from Tokyo. With oil prices soaring, it seems Japanese car makers are once again at the front line to give consumers what they didn't yet know they wanted.

JAMA, the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, explains what happened after the oil crisis of 1973:

Between 1975 and 1985, the competition between small passenger cars and popularly-priced mini vehicles was the driving force behind new product development and market expansion. Small passenger car sales took the lead in the aftermath of the oil crisis, because new models were developed that complied with the government's strict exhaust emissions regulations and were also very competitively priced.

The JAMA website also has a special section on the environment, that describes how the Japanese car industry managed to comply with the strictest emissions regulations in the world:

...the government's 1978 Emissions Control Standard stipulated a reduction of NOx emissions to 0.25 g/km. Coming so soon after the implementation of a whole string of other new regulations, the 1978 standard presented an enormous challenge to manufacturers. With massive research and development efforts, they were finally able to comply with government regulations by introducing platinum-based catalytic converters and lean-burn engines.

Sustainable Sweden tours

Sustainable development is a popular environmental catchphrase, but it’s not always clear what sustainability looks like beyond demonstration projects such as recycling centers or the occasional “green” building. Now North Americans are starting to look at Sweden for both models and methods of sustainability, according to this article in The Environmental Magazine.

Japanese tours have been arranged annually as well, and here is what one Japanese participants wrote:

One of the most impressive examples was ”Green Zone” in Umeå, a sustainable architectural platform for providing services to car drivers with a full cooperation by major global enterprises. While having intensive activities by day, fun time” awaits you in the evening. Outdoors-loving Swedes appreciate that mother nature is always a stone’s throw away. Even in today’s rushed world, they mind a balanced existence and a pleasant lifestyle. With wonderful local food and songs, the group and Esam consultants had a memorable night at Åkullsjön farm, taking advantage of endless dusk in early Scandinavian summer. If you are a strong advocator of the sustainable development concept, this tour, during which you can regain courage and conviction, is certainly the one you should not miss

Read more at Sustainable Sweden. Click here for details about the Japanese tours.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Sweden ready for World Cup 2006

Sweden has qualified for the football World Cup in Germany next year. The one player I'd like to highlight is Henke Larsson. He is the only player in the Swedish national team who played in the great World Cup of 1994, when Sweden came third. He scored one of the "Golden Goals" against Romania, 5-4, and his 3-0 goal against Bulgaria in the bronze match is classic.

Henke has actually scored in four World Cups! In the Korea/Japan World Cup in 2002, he scored both in the matches against Nigeria and Senegal. Loking forward to seeing him again... Dagens Nyheter has a great photo of Henke's goal against Iceland.

In 2002, Henke had dreadlocks and looked like this!

But actually, the hero of the last qualifying game, against Iceland, was Zlatan Ibrahimovic. I have to tell you one thing! He went to my junior high school in Malmö, Rosengårdsskolan, so of course I'm happy.

Wow, Sweden will play against South Korea on November 12, I'm hoping I can see that game somehow. If you have any idea, let me know, ok?

WHO: Only a matter of time before bird flu virus mutates


Japanese experts in Indonesia Posted by Picasa

In September, the head of the World Health Organisation, Dr Lee Jong-Wook, warned that more would have to be done to prevent the spread of bird flu. He said it is only a matter of time before the virus mutates, enabling it to spread between humans.

According to WHO, the Ministry of Health in Indonesia has confirmed another human case of H5N1 avian influenza. The patient, a 21-year-old man from Lampung, Sumatra, developed symptoms on 20 September and was hospitalized on 24 September. He remains hospitalized in a stable condition.

Initial investigation has revealed that the man had direct exposure to diseased and dying chickens in his household shortly before the onset of illness. The man is the fifth laboratory-confirmed case of H5N1 infection in Indonesia. Three out of the five cases were fatal.

Japanese experts have concluded an investigation in Indonesia led by Dr Kiyosu Taniguchi, who heads the Intelligence and Policy Planning Office of Japan’s Infectious Disease Surveillance Centre. He says to NHK:

"Influenza is normally prevalent in temperate regions in the winter, and in tropical regions in the rainy season. There are more cases of bird flu in these periods, although we’re not sure why. When both human influenza and bird flu are present, there is a greater likelihood of them producing a new strain of influenza inside the human body, which means due care must be taken in the winter and during the rainy seasons."

The photo is from Alert Net, that is doing a great job investigating this possibly very serious outbreak.

Update: Today, the European Commission confirmed that the H5N1 virus from China and Russia has been found in Turkey and Romania. You can find press conference statements here (Oct. 13). More details on BBC here.

Bird flu previous.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Saving hanok houses in Seoul


Hanok Village in Seoul Posted by Picasa

Hanok houses are traditional Korean homes, made from wood, paper and other natural materials. They are often introduced on Korean websites and in guidebooks in glowing terms, describing their beauty, silence and harmony as quintessentially Korean.

So I was really interested in an article today that describes a 62-year-old Englishman and his Korean wife, who are leading a struggle to save Seoul's last district of traditional homes:

David Kilburn and his wife Jade, owners of a traditional "hanok" in the district of Kahoi-dong, say government policies and land speculators have converged to threaten the district that has the feel of Seoul of 100 years ago.

Kilburn, a tea merchant and former journalist, says he isn't by nature a social activist but was pushed into it as his neighbor rebuilt and expanded his hanok, causing damage to Kilburn's home and encroaching on his property.

"The more we investigated the situation to save our own home, the more we realized that the whole district is in danger because of government policies and land speculators," he said.

Read the whole story about their fascinating battle here.

For more information about Kilburn's campaign to save the traditional houses, visit his Web site.

Climate Policy 2005 and Beyond

"Climate Policy 2005 and Beyond: Japanese-German Impulses" will be held on 1 November 2005 in Tokyo as part of the events taking place during the Germany year in Japan 2005/2006. This conference, commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) is co-organised by the Wuppertal Insititute for Climate, Environment and Energy (WI) and the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES).

The conference will be held at United Nations University (between Shibuya and Omotesando).

Read more here.

IGES, established by an initiative of the Japanese Government in 1998, is a research institute that conducts pragmatic and innovative strategic policy research to support sustainable development in the Asia-Pacific region-a region experiencing rapid population growth and expanding economic activity.

The mission of IGES is to promote the transformation of 20th Century society, characterised by mass production and mass consumption, to a new societal framework founded on sustainability.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Kagoshima shochu in Waseda


Kagoshima shochu Posted by Picasa

After work tonight, I had some nice shochu at a wonderful izakaya in Waseda, Tokyo. I reccomend the Kagoshima shochu... Feeling very goood!

Read more about the shochu boom in Japan right now on the Kagoshima city website and on Sake World website!

Drumbeats

C.W. Nicole writes beautifully about Japan's nature. Here is an excerpt from a recent article in the Japan Times, about a special journey to Port Radium on Great Bear Lake, Canada:

I was 23 then and had married a Japanese girl just before leaving for Great Bear Lake. I knew that Japan would be important in my life.

One evening, I was sitting on a hill above the white-painted buildings of the mine, the natural harbor of Port Radium lying below me. Looking down through clear crystal waters I could see the shadowy forms of submerged rocks and the shape of a sunken barge. The sun reflected in a golden glare off the wide expanse of water beyond the harbor, and further away still were the gentle hues of more distant hills -- golden, blue, green, purple. There were thousands of ripe, red, wild raspberries growing all around. A solitary gull was hanging in the flame of the setting sun, and a raven flew over the buildings, its cry echoing from rocky cliffs. The thought came to me -- wouldn't it be a fine thing to have a monument here, in memory and tribute to all those who suffered from atomic bombs -- the Dene, the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki . . . everybody!

Read the rest here

Monday, October 10, 2005

Chronology of bird flu outbreak

Reuters has made a chronology of key dates as the bird flu spreads accross Asia and now seems to have reached Europe. Read more here.

I'm doing a program about this topic for NHK World Network, so I'll try to get the latest updates.

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

Bird flu previous.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Bird flu fears


Photo: Vo Van Su Posted by Picasa

The dreaded H5N1 bird flu virus is in the news almost every day. In an interview, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan points out how serious the situation is. Only a few countries have the necessary medicines and vaccines needed in case a pandemic breaks out.

Experts say the H5N1 strain is mutating steadily and fear it will eventually acquire the changes it needs to spread easily amongst humans. If it does, it will sweep around the world in months and could kill millions of people.

"We need to make sure that we do not allow intellectual property to get in the way of access of the poor to medicines by allowing for emergency production of vaccines in developing countries," Annan said.

Read the article here.

The photo is from VN Express, a Vietnamese newspaper.

Nobel Peace Prize to IAEA


Photo: Dean Calma/IAEA  Posted by Picasa

BBC reports that the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to the UN International Atomic Energy Agency, and its Director General Mohamed ElBaradei. He is quoted as saying: "The award sends a very strong message: 'Keep doing what you are doing'."

"We continue to believe that in all of our activities, we have to be impartial, objective and work with integrity. Overall my colleagues and I will go to sleep tonight with a good feeling of satisfaction that finally our effort has been fully recognised," Mr ElBaradei added.

He said the IAEA's aim was "to make sure we have a world free from nuclear weapons ... where terrorists do not get access to nuclear weapons".

However, Mr. Terumi Tanaka, Head of Japanese atomic bomb survivors' association Hidankyo, says "It [the IAEA] is not an organisation that has conducted peace activities - it is very disappointing."

No Japanese news agency has posted this news yet...

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Consumers are concerned about BSE


With Mike Hansen, Consumers Union Posted by Picasa

Reuters and other news bureaus have several stories today about mad cow (BSE) and the new proposed feed rules in the US. I recently met Mike Hansen from Consumers Union in the US, and he is very concerned about the lack of controls in the US cattle industry.

"We shouldn’t wait for a major outbreak of mad cow disease to take preventive action. There is no question that we should not be feeding the remains of any mammals to food animals, and by not closing this dangerous loophole, we are exposing the American public to unnecessary risk," says Michael Hansen, Ph.D., a biologist with Consumers Union.

"The United Kingdom took many halfway steps in their efforts to eliminate mad cow disease and failed to stop it. Only when the UK stopped feeding all mammal material to any food animal, did they succeed in getting the number of mad cow cases down to less than ten a year," adds Hansen.

The United States has identified two cases of mad cow disease, one in a cow imported from Canada, and the second in a cow that lived its whole life in Texas. Five cases have been identified in Canada. The US reopened its border to Canadian beef and live animals under 30 months of age in July 2005.

"Thirty months is not a magic safe number," says Michael Hansen. "In Japan, two of the twenty cases of mad cow disease that they have identified were under 30 months. We have such a small surveillance program in the United States—only 1 percent of cows are tested at slaughter, and the USDA is talking about cutting that back tenfold—that an infected animal could easily slip through and get into the food or feed chain. Once there, one infected animal could infect thousands of others."

Press release from Consumers Union here.

Read more here, here and here.

BSE/food safety previous

Animal feed in the news again

Today NHK reports that The United States plans to ban the use of brains and spinal cords from cattle aged 30 months or older in feed for all animals to prevent mad cow disease, or BSE. The US Food and Drug Administration announced the proposal on Tuesday banning the use of the so-called high risk parts in feed for pets and all farm animals including pigs and chicken.

Japan's Food Safety Commission has pointed out that the United States may not be able to eradicate BSE due to its insufficient regulation on feed for farm animals. Japan banned US beef imports soon after the first case of BSE was confirmed in the United States in December 2003. NHK's correspondent in Washington says the new ban is apparently aimed at encouraging Japan to resume US beef imports by the end of this year.

Animal feed is a dirty business, and most people choose not to care about it. Time to clean up this business. I noticed that Queen Isetan, a big supermarket chain here in the Tokyo area, is labelling some of their product such as eggs as "fed Particular Material". That is Engrish, but I applaud their efforts.

BSE/food safety previous

"Phishing" attack

What a silly way to try to steal money! Swedish newspapers report that it was a "clumsy" or "sloppy" attempt, and that the Koreans who apparently sent this had failed to hide their identity...

STOCKHOLM, Sweden -- Swedish bank Nordea AB temporarily shut down its Internet banking service after some of its customers received fraudulent e-mails asking them to give their account information, a spokesman said Tuesday.

The so-called "phishing" attack happened around 10 p.m. (2000GMT) Monday and the service was shut down shortly after, Nordea spokesman Boo Ehlin said.

The e-mails tried to trick Nordea customers into filling in their account information and other personal details on a site that looked similar to the bank's official Web pages, he said. It was not immediately clear if anyone fell for it.

Police tracked the e-mails to South Korea, Ehlin said, adding that the Internet service reopened Tuesday morning. (AP)

Who is in charge of the Internet?

On September 28, 2005, the European Union introduced a proposal for a change in who is in charge of the Internet. The EU position calls for the creation of an international body to oversee Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). The EU also proposed the creation of a multinational entity to oversee and discuss imporant issues related to Internet policy. Under the EU proposal a multilateral entity would be formed from representatives of governments, the private sector, and civil society organizations (NGOs). Click here for a vivid report.

Actually, the chairman of the upcoming UN summit in Tunis that will discuss the issue is Mr. Yoshio Utsumi, secretary-general of International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the UN agency that leads the discussions about this issue.

For details, read the ITU background report (pdf).

Currently, the private American body ICANN, based in California, can make almost all the decisions regarding the Internet, without any way for other countries or others to influence it. This is very regretable and a serious issue. The US is happy with the status quo and seems reluctant to let others have a role. Any thoughts?

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Crown Princess Victoria in Beijing


Crown Princess Victoria in Beijing Posted by Picasa

Swedish Crown Princess Victoria has visited Beijing. This photo is from an event to commemorate Chinese-Swedish friendship. Read more about the Swedish royal family on their (rather dull) official homepage.

Great photo of her from the Hong Kong harbour here.

And lots of photos from her China trip here!