Monday, February 27, 2006

Banning shark fin cutting

The Seychelles Fishing Authority (SFA) has banned the cutting off of sharks' fins by foreign fishermen to curb a flourishing global trade that is threatening the survival of the sea predator and marine ecosystems, according to Reuters:

The United Nations estimates that 100 million sharks are killed every year world-wide, mostly for their fins which are a delicacy in East Asia where a bowl of shark fin soup can command high prices.

"Shark finning is the wasteful and cruel practice of slicing off the highly valuable fins, often from living sharks, and dumping the rest of the creatures back into the sea to face a slow and certain death," SFA said in a statement.

"Shark finning ... threatens ... the stability of marine ecosystems, sustainable traditional fisheries, food security, dive and eco-tourism," SFA said.

Science News has more details about the problem, noting that throughout the seas, sharks fill an important ecological niche. As top predators, they keep in balance the numbers of animals lower on the food chain. Yet populations of the seemingly fierce sharks are remarkably fragile.

In June, 2005, Hong Kong Disneyland decided to not serve shark fin soup. They said: "After careful consideration, and a thorough review process, we were not able to identify an environmentally sustainable fishing source, leaving us no alternative except to remove sharks' fin soup from our wedding banquet menu."

Says Brian Darvell, former chairman of the Hong Kong Conservation Society, "Disney has done the right thing, and a lot of people are now happy." Read more about sharks here.

(Photo from Aroma Cookery)

Sweden- Finland 3-2

Sweden just won against Finland in the thriller Olympics ice hockey final. That felt great, but my heart was beating so fast!! That means Sweden got 7 gold medals, our best winter Olympics ever. Congratulations!

1. Germany 11 12 6
2. United States 9 9 7
3. Austria 9 7 7
4. Russia 8 6 8
5. Canada 7 10 7
6. Sweden 7 2 5
7. South Korea 6 3 2
8. Switzerland 5 4 5
9. Italy 5 0 6
10. France 3 2 4

Sunday, February 26, 2006

More Olympic golds all around

South Korea dominated the last day of short-track speed skating events at the Turin Winter Olympics on Saturday by winning two golds and one bronze medal in three disciplines. South Korean athletes picked up a total of six golds, three silvers and one bronze in the eight short track events. China has 2 gold medals and Japan one.

Sweden also has six gold medals, our best Winter Olympics ever. Tonight the Swedish icehockey team meets Finland in the thriller final, so we could win one more gold...

Medals Table Sat Feb 25

Gold Silver Bronze

1. Germany 11 12 6
2. United States 9 9 7
3. Austria 9 7 6
4. Russia 8 5 8
5. Canada 7 10 7
6. South Korea 6 3 2
7. Sweden 6 2 5
8. Switzerland 5 4 5
9. Italy 4 0 6
10. France 3 2 4

The Yonhap photos show Ahn Hyun-soo and Jin Sun-yu, two of South Korea's fantastic speed skaters, who took one gold medal each on Saturday night. Both of them took a total of three golds in Turin. "I'd like to say thanks to all my teammates and coaches who taught, assisted and cheered me all the way," the 17-year-old Jin Sun-yu said. "I'm so happy to become the first Korean to win three gold medals. I now want to do nothing else but take rest for the time being."

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Bird flu update

NHK reports that Japanese researchers have succeeded in producing a chemically composed version of the anti-bird flu drug Tamiflu, which is now made from plants. Many countries are stockpiling Tamiflu to cope with any outbreak of the killer bird flu. It has been difficult to produce the drug in large quantities in a short period as it is made from the nuts of a plant called star anise, which originates in China. Read more about Tamiflu on the Protein Spotlight website.

What do Peking duck and the French aperitif pastis have in common? A scent: that of badian – otherwise known as star anis. And if star anis has been of growing interest recently it is less for its spicy perfume than for its antiviral virtues… Indeed, a molecule known as shikimic acid is found in the Chinese star anis and it is from this that the popular drug Tamiflu is designed. Now that the dread of an outbreak of the Avian flu carried by the H5N1 strain is hovering over us, badian has an aftertaste of Tamiflu.

Already, Korean scientists have announced plans to produce a generic version of Tamiflu, according to Chosun Ilbo.

I think it is so interesting that many of the World's most important drugs actually come from plants, and have been used in traditional medicine for a long time.

Meanwhile, as France has confirmed an outbreak of bird flu in a turkey farm, BBC reports that Japan has banned imports of chicken from France. It is the first time a European Union farm has been infected, while eight EU countries - Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Slovakia and Slovenia - have so far confirmed cases of the lethal H5N1 strain in wild birds.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Finally, a gold medal for Japan

Finally, Japan got a gold medal as figure skater Shizuka Arakawa performed flawlessly in the Turin Winter Olympics. Arakawa, 24, became the first Japanese Olympic gold medalist in figure skating and just the second with any medal; Midori Ito, one of Arakawa's idols, won silver behind Kristi Yamaguchi in 1992. Ito led the cheers of the flag-waving Japanese in the crowd. Actually, it is the first Asian Olympics gold medal ever in figure skating.

Arakawa used music from Puccini's opera "Turandot" for her free skate program, and Japan's Prime Minister Koizumi in his congratulatory phone call to Arakawa, said that was a good choice, as he is also a opera fan.

Born in on December 29, 1981 in Tokyo, Shizuka surprised the skating world by winning the 2004 World Championship in Dortmund, Germany, becoming the third Japanese woman to claim the title after Midori Ito (1989) and Yuka Sato (1994). Dividing her time between Simsbury and Japan, Shizuka had another successful season in 2004-05, winning the NHK Trophy (Japan’s stop on the Grand Prix tour). You can see the Turin event video here.

Meanwhile, Sweden has so far won 5 gold medals, our best Winter Olympics ever (wow, do I feel patriotic or what). Congratulations, everyone: Hurra, hurra!

Questions Over Corporate Voluntarism

The Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate program is challenged in an interesting article, that I found here.

This initiative was proposed by governments including the two biggest carbon emitters (China and the United States), the highest per capita carbon user (Australia), along with the Republic of Korea, India and Japan, to solve global warming problems.


Even the conservative Economist newspaper characterized it all as "more hot air," adding it is hard to imagine big energy companies, or anyone else, taking climate change action without financial incentives or regulations.

The bigger picture is that the APPCDC program is not just about climate change. It is a very high profile shot at establishing a "partnership" culture between governments and businesses. But, there is scant evidence that large-scale partnerships of this kind can succeed in the longer term.

In many cases, various forms of public-private couplings, including joint infrastructure projects or part privatization schemes, have been characterized by their lack of proper stakeholder engagement and opaque structure.

There has not been a lot of debate about this proposal in Japan, as NGOs are probably highly attached to the Kyoto Protocol, and not ready to accept the fact that Japan has joined hands with the U.S. in this dubious deal.

The U.S. environmental magazine Grist wondered: "Is this new partnership a Pepsi to Kyoto's Coke or more of a ... Caffeine-Free Diet Coke?" and quotes a number of experts, such as Greenpeace USA research director Kert Davies, who observed:

The only thing that the U.S. has to sell the developing world is nuclear reactors and this unsubstantiated promise of clean coal. When it comes to developing fuel-efficient cars, solar panels, wind turbines, geothermal, and other renewables technologies, we are badly losing the race to Japan and Europe. We have a comparatively small stake in selling those technologies abroad.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Banned beef "tip of the iceberg"

NHK reports that the head of a U.S. union of government food inspectors says that a shipment of banned beef parts to Japan last month is only the tip of the iceberg:

The U.S. Agriculture Department released a report last week that said the faulty shipment was an isolated case. But the chairman of the National Joint Council of Food Inspection Locals, Charles Painter, told NHK that it was only by chance that risky cattle parts which could cause mad cow disease were detected.

Charles Painter/Food inspection chief:
"And this is just the tip of the iceberg. This is not the first offense; it's just the first time they got caught, in that period after the ban. After the ban was removed. That inspector does not open the box. That inspector does not look inside the boxes. We need more authority. The policy needs to change and we need more authority to be able to inspect, to look, to do -- things of that nature."

Last year, Mr Painter prompted the Agriculture Department to disclose that there had been more than one thousand cases in one year in which US meat processors failed to remove high-risk cattle parts.

Consumers Union, the U.S. consumer organization, is very critical of beef safety in the U.S. Read their analysis here and here (pdf).

Turning off the heat

The Environment Ministry has turned off the heating in its buildings in Kasumigaseki, Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, for a week from Tuesday because the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions, both nationally and from its own buildings, has not been progressing as the government expected.

Vice Minister Shigeru Sumitani said at a press conference Monday: "We have our backs to the wall, so we're making a big effort. We'd like this measure to send a strong message [to other ministries and agencies]."

Read the rest of the article here.

OK, wait a minute, actually it is around 15 degrees in Tokyo this week, so this is not as brave as it seems. The end of February is a lovely time in Japan!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Addicted to oil

Reuters has a follow up on U.S. president Bush's state of the union speech, where he said the U.S. is addicted to oil. Well, it is not just the U.S., of course, but also Europe and Japan. Quote:

Bush said he envisioned a future in which a plug-in hybrid car could drive 40 miles (64 km) on a lithium-ion battery, then stop at a filling station for ethanol, a fuel usually made from corn. "We're close to having this vision realised in America," Bush said. The trip could be conducted without consuming a drop of oil, he said. Bush in his State of the Union address last month said the United States must break an addiction to Middle East oil. He has called for improving alternative-fuel technology to reduce US oil imports from the region by 75 percent by 2025. He has promoted alternative fuels such as ethanol, and research into producing fuel from wood chips or grasses.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Cheers! For environmentally friendly beer

Sapporo beer has rolled out an advertising campaign with a focus on food safety. The commercials discuss traceability of ingredients and other strategies to regain consumer confidence. I think the ads are great, and the experts are making it very clear that as consumers decide to ask more questions about the origins of food, the producers will have to make more efforts too. Watch the ads here (in Japanese).

From the Sapporo website I learned the following:

In the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, China, we have been successful in producing quality aroma hops without using agricultural chemicals, attracting interest from around the world. Our Japanese-Chinese joint venture in China, Xinjiang Fubei Sapporo Hop Co. Ltd., achieved 100% traceability of the sources of hops it purchases, ensuring that no agricultural chemicals or other unsuitable techniques or materials are employed.

Asahi beer is another huge Japanese brewery, that has increasingly initiated CSR projects (CSR = Corporate Social Responsibility). This CSR chart (pdf) has a lot of details about their efforts to reduce CO2 emissions, reduce waste materials and so on. It also has an excellent timeline of the company's environmental "efforts and social efforts".

(Photo from this website, with more fun photos!)

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Food safety concerns in South Korea

Korean housewives have become more sensitive to food safety due to a series of contaminated imported food, including Chinese kimchi, according to a supermarket employee interviewed by the Korean Times. The article also discusses beef and infant milk formula, products that have frequently been in the news after a number of scandals. Indeed a good piece of reporting, if you want to know what is going on in this part of Asia.

Silly Swedish-style ice bar in Tokyo

Just what we needed, a Swedish ice bar here smack in the middle of Tokyo... I'm being sarcastic of course. Can't imagine anything sillier. The bar made of ice blocks is in a stylish district of Tokyo's Nishi-Azabu. This is the first Icebar opening outside of Europe, but the fourth in the world, joining London, Milan and the original in Stockholm.

According to AFP, the operator shipped ice blocks to Tokyo directly from Sweden's Torne River, the same method used for the Stockholm bar, and keeps the room at a freezing minus five degrees Celsius. And AFP raises a very good point:

While Tokyo is famously trendy, it is also the land of the Kyoto Protocol and the eco-friendly "cool biz" plan last summer when businesspeople were urged to dress casually to save on air conditioning costs. So is it environmentally friendly to ship ice blocks thousands of kilometers from Sweden every six months and keep frozen year-round a room that fits a maximum of 50 people?

The answer is, obviously: NO!!!

Read more here.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Traceability for food safety

MAFF, Japan's agriculture and fisheries ministry, is testing a system at a Tokyo supermarket that allows customers to trace the origins of the meat or fish on the store's shelves, reports NHK.

The food-tracing system developed by the ministry labels certain meat and fish products, including farmed fish, with identification codes. The codes carry information such as where the food came from, the feed used, and the distribution route of the product to the store. Customers can view the information by placing the package under a scanner set up in the store.

(Photo: NHK)

Funny Capitalism

You have two cows. You sell one and buy a bull. Your herd multiplies, and the economy grows. You sell the herd and retire on the income. You respect the cow and treat it well, and never give it genetically manipulated feed, as it is such a wonderful animal!

You have two cows. You re-design them so they are one-tenth the size of an ordinary cow and produce twenty times the milk. You then create irritating cow cartoon images called Cowkimon and market them worldwide at a fantastic profit.

You have two cows. You worship them.

You have two cows. You have 300 people milking them. You claim full employment, high bovine productivity, and arrest the newsman who reported the numbers.

You have two cows. Both are mad.

You have two cows. You go on strike because you want three cows.

You have two cows, but you don't know where they are. You break for lunch.

You have two cows. You count them and learn you have five cows. You count them again and learn you have 42 cows. You count them again and learn you have 12 cows. You stop counting cows and open another bottle of vodka.

You have two cows. You sell one, and force the other to produce the milk of four cows. You are surprised when the cow drops dead.

(OK, I admit, I added the bit about respecting the cow and treating it well, which is such a Swedish way!)


Photo from a meeting recently at my favourite Okinawan shochu pub in Waseda with our very informal group "Eco-Collegues". From left: Lena, Satoko, Peo and Martin. Read more on the OneWorld website (Japanese).

China: Concern over heavy metals in fish

More than 40 per cent of fish species in East China's Jiangsu Province were found to be contaminated with heavy metals, according to a survey released by Jiangsu Environment Monitoring Centre (JEMC) this week.

The investigation covered the province's major four freshwater lakes and offshore areas, reported the Nanjing-based Contemporary Post. Cadmium, lead, mercury, chromium and zinc were the five kinds of heavy metals found in 41 per cent of species in the sample survey.

According to China Daily, Jiangsu is one of the major fishery production provinces in the country, which has 600,000 hectares of freshwater fishery areas and 240,000 hectares of offshore fishery.

(Photo from the Wal-Mart fish market in Shandong, China, found here!)

"Serious ethical violations" in Korean cloning scandal

Science writes that Korea's National Bioethics Committee has released a report, revealing that Dr. Hwang's team received at least 2221 oocytes from 119 women between November 2002 and December 2005. That is 160 more than Seoul National University reported last month, but in their published papers, Hwang and his colleagues reported using only 427 oocytes.

Citing "serious ethical violations," the panel also found that Hwang's team failed to fully explain the potential risks associated with oocyte donation and that the Institutional Review Boards at Hanyang University's medical center and Seoul National University provided insufficient oversight.

The panel says that a significant number of women who donated through MizMedi Hospital developed ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, a side effect of the drugs given to oocyte donors. Fifteen out of the 79 MizMedi donors were treated for the syndrome, which can cause nausea in mild cases and liver and kidney damage in severe cases. The committee said two donors were hospitalized. The report also said that some women who suffered from health effects went on to donate again despite the risks.

Read the entire article here.

Cloning scandal previous

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Thanks for visiting my blog!

57% of my visitors are from Japan. どもありがとうございます。

Obesity concerns in Japan

24 percent of Japanese aged 15 and older are believed to be overweight, compared to about 65 percent of adults in the United States.

Read more here.

Obesity is a known risk factor for several disorders, such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, respiratory problems (asthma) and musculoskeletal diseases (arthritis). It has several causes, too, including excessive calorie consumption, lack of physical activity, genetic predisposition and disorders of the endocrine system of glands that produces the hormones necessary for normal bodily functions, like metabolism and growth. OECD is noting that this is indeed becoming a "growing problem", according to the OECD Observer.

I'm a little unsure about the OECD statistics from 1999, when obesity rates in Denmark, Sweden and Norway, as well as France, Italy, the Netherlands and Switzerland remained in the 10% area, and 3% in Korea and Japan in 2001, compared to a high of 31% in the United States. Pretty confusing? It seems different countries measure obesity in different ways. For example, WHO notes that more than 1 billion adults are overweight - and at least 300 million of them are clinically obese. WHO says current obesity levels range from below 5% in China, Japan and certain African nations, to over 75% in urban Samoa. But even in relatively low prevalence countries like China, rates are almost 20% in some cities. Read WHO's information here.

Keep the Internet free

The US State Department set up a task force on Tuesday to fight Internet censorship by foreign governments, NHK reports.

The team starts amid calls for help from US Internet firms that are being criticized for having collaborated with the Chinese government in censoring Internet content when doing business in China. The firms say they cannot resist Chinese censorship on their own. The firms include the search engines Yahoo and Google, which deleted political content in compliance with Chinese government censorship guidelines.

Good news, in my opinion, that should benefit a lot of young Chinese Internet users, such as those at an Interet Cafe in the NHK photo!

Sloppy global food standards

NHK reports that Japan's agriculture minister Shoichi Nakagawa says Japan plans to oppose plans to revise guidelines on international beef trade, which would lead to the relaxing of restrictions to prevent mad cow disease, or BSE:

The World Organization for Animal Health has drawn up a draft revision that will be submitted to its general meeting in May. The draft says beef that does not contain bone should be authorized for trade, regardless of the age of the cattle or whether it was tested for BSE.

I my view, such global food safety standards should always allow countries to set their own strict rules. If the global standard is sloppy, then the World Trade Organization would immediately rule that the national legislation is a "trade barrier". I'm glad to see that Japan is noticing this, and putting consumer concerns before the interests of exporting countries.

Read more about the OIE's global BSE standard debate.

BSE/food safety previous

Monday, February 13, 2006

Maid cafes promoting environmental protection!

40 Maids at special maid cafes in Akihabara, the electronics district in Tokyo, are participating in a campaign to promote environmental awareness. The focus is on combatting global warming and reduce CO2 emissions. Participating customers can get a "my maid bag" signed by their favourite waitress. Clever idea!

Read more here (in Japanese).

(Photo: Mainichi)

Maathai promotes Japan's "Mottainai" campaign

Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai took part in a tree-planting ceremony with Environment Minister Yuriko Koike on Monday, after visiting the minister and discussing environmental preservation.

During Maathai's morning visit, Koike thanked Maathai for promoting Japan's Mottainai campaign, which urges people to conserve resources.

"Mottainai" is a Japanese word that refers to the concept of "Don't waste" or "What a waste".

(Photo: Mainichi)

Read more here.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Snow, snow, snow...

Apparently, skiing and snowboarding conditions this year are close to perfection, with record snowfall making everyone happy. According to Metropolis, some of the best places are Gunma, Nagano and Niigata prefectures, all within 2-3 hours from Tokyo.

(Photo from the wonderful site Snow Japan)

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Charity concert: Free The Children Japan

Child labour is rampant in many parts of Asia, made worse by foreign multinational corporations that buy their goods at minimum prices through shady middlemen, thus avoiding responsibilities that they would legally be bound to follow in Japan, Europe, or the U.S.

Tonight a charity concert will be held in Tokyo on behalf of Free The Children Japan to support the children in underprivileged communities in Mumbai, India. Moreover, the funds raised from this concert will be also used for the support of children who were victims of the tsunami that struck Sri Lanka on December 26th, 2004.

■Date:February 9th (Thu.), 2006 Doors open at 18:30 / Show starts at 19:00
■Place:Canadian Embassy B2 Theatre (Aoyama-Itchome Station, 3 minutes walking from the exit 4)
■Artists:You will have the pleasure of enjoying the performances of Maya Fraser, Stacy Powell, Miyuki Onitake, Raj Ramayya from The Beautiful Losers, Geila & The Voissalot Choir, Steve Bartel, Jamie Anderegg, Aoki Shinichi, Hectopascal+(FTCJ Yokkaichi)as well as many other surprises!

Free The Children Japan(FTCJ) is an international organization dedicated to ending the exploitation of children.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Sapporo Snow Festival: Horyuji

Mainichi carried this beatiful photo of an illuminated snow sculpture of the Golden Pavilion of Horyuji temple at Odori Park, the venue of the 57th Sapporo Snow Festival, on the eve of the opening of the winter festival in Sapporo on Feb. 5. More than 300 snow and ice sculptures are displayed to attract visitors to the festival held February 6-12.

The festival is famous, but I had no idea that Japan's Ground Self-Defence force soldiers are helping to create the snow and ice sculptures for the festival.

Horyuji, situated in Ikaruga in Nara, is the world's oldest surviving wooden structures dating from the 7th century. It was originally built by Baekje architects during the Asuka period to fulfill Emperor Yomei's deathbed wish to build a temple and an image of Buddha for the recovery from his illness. Read more about Horyuji on the wonderful website of Sacred Destinations.

Chosun Ilbo reported in December 2005 that Kongo Gumi, the oldest company in the world, which was founded in 578 in Japan by a group of people from the ancient Korean kingdom of Baekje, would go into liquidation. Kongo Gumi dates its foundation from the year when carpenter Shigemitsu Kongo built Shitennoji in Osaka, and Kongo Gumi is also famous for building the Horyuji Temple in Nara. Details like this makes history learning so fascinating!

Monday, February 06, 2006

Aomori apples

The bulk of Japan's agricultural imports in 2004 came from the United States and was worth 1,447,444 million yen. This was followed by the EU with 656,290 million yen and China with 565,044 million yen. But, as Asahi Shimbun points out, Japan also exports food, mainly to Taiwan, the U.S. and Hong Kong. Read more here.

The most popular item seems to be Aomori apples! Actually they were even mentioned in today's budget debate in the Lower House, as an example that Japan no longer should just "protect" its agricultural sector, but increasingly think of ways to promote its high-quality foods abroad.

(Photo from this charming Aomori Prefecture website)

Xinchang mother: "Give back the land, I want descendants!"

XINCHANG - Mrs Song never had much interest in politics but when factory pollution began poisoning well water and killing crops, the young mother got angry.

After an industrial park housing several chemical plants went up on the outskirts of her town in China's wealthy, coastal province of Zhejiang the water became undrinkable.

Then crops began producing vegetables that were unfit to eat. Residents say rates of cancer sky-rocketed and Song says her 5-year-old son is prone to frequent lung infections.

"We're just regular people and don't understand other issues. But this affected us personally, our lives," said Song.

She asked that her real name not be used for fear of trouble with authorities, and spoke with a group of other residents in a nearby town to avoid the attention of local officials.

After authorities had turned a deaf ear to years of petitions to stop the chemical factories, residents of Huashui took action, blockading the road to the factory complex to halt production.

"Give back the land, I want health! Give back the land, I want descendants! Give back the land, I want food to eat! Give back the land, I want an environment!" the protesters shouted.

When two elderly women were killed as police struggled to disperse the crowd, the blockade turned into a riot involving up to 30,000 people and requiring thousands of police to quell it.

Please read the rest of Reuter's great feature report here.

I had no idea where Xinchang was, but quickly found it using Google. The stories appearing from the Chinese heartland are truly worth taking note of. Environmental disasters that affect millions of people should not be ignored in a globalized World. orz...

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Eco-fair in Tokyo

If you missed the annual Eco-fair in Tokyo in December, you can get a glimpse by watching the feature program on NHK World. Yuko Nomura shows energy-saving housing, a car with an engine that stops if you apply the brakes, and other products for the home or the office. With over 110,000 visitors, the fair was the second most popular trade show in December, according to JETRO.

There is more to read here and the official website of the Eco-fair is here, complete with a silly mascot!

The photo shows kids participating in fun and thought-provoking events at the Eco-fair 2004.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

"Inadequate documentation" at 75% of U.S. slaughterhouses

The U.S. Agriculture Department's inspector general has ordered his staff to do more to ensure that high-risk parts are removed from U.S. beef exports, according to NHK. In a report released on Thursday, the inspector general's office lists 22 items to be improved, including checks at all slaughterhouses and meat-processing plants. Based on two years of inspections, the office maintains that it could not find any cases of banned parts entering the food supply.

However, the report says that at nine out of 12 slaughterhouses, inadequate documentation made it impossible to determine whether guidelines for detecting high-risk materials were followed.

AP also reports that the U.S. Agriculture Department cited slaughterhouses or processing plants more than 1,000 times in 2004 and 2005 for violating the rules.

In December, Japan ended a two-year ban and allowed U.S. beef imports without high-risk parts from cattle up to age 20 months. But Japan suspended imports two weeks ago, after a US beef shipment was found to contain spinal cords.

I really wonder how Japan's politicians will deal with this issue, that has dragged on for too long, but also helped expose the U.S. meat business for what it really is.

BSE/Mad Cow Disease previous

Coming-of-Age in Akita

Participants in Coming-of-Age ceremonies in Akita prefecture, northern Japan, braved snow to celebrate becoming an adult. The number of Japanese who turn 20 years old in 2006 has fallen by 70,000 from the year before to 1.43 million, the second lowest figure on record. Japan is really concerned about its dropping birth-rate, just like many other developed countries. I like the way young Japanese wear gorgeous kimonos at such celebrations.

(Photo: Mainichi)

Is a Chinese bank in Macao laundering money for North Korea?

Asia can be confusing. Now it has emerged that a bank in Macao, a former Portugese colony, currently part of China, is helping North Korea with some very dirty business.

According to the U.S. government, the bank is a primary conduit for money earned by North Korea from counterfeit currency and drug smuggling. The BBC has more here and here about the accusations, which the bank has called a "ridiculous joke".

I can't find anything on Chinese websites about this. Isn't that curious? Here is the official website of the Macao SAR of the People's Republic of China. SAR means "Special Administrative Region". That is the same status as Hong Kong, meaning it is indeed a part of communist China, right? Well, I'm just asking. So, are the gentlemen running the show in Beijing (while busily imprisoning dissidents) all happily ignoring these charges, or not? If the U.S. has no evidence, it would look very silly indeed.

(Photo from the Delta Asia Bank)

Thursday, February 02, 2006

NHK: Kids' ISO 14000

NHK World Network did a wonderful radio program about childrens' efforts regarding ISO 14000, the environmental certification program. Lena Lindahl reports about how kids can participate. Visiting Professor Takaya Kawabe at the United Nations University in Tokyo explains how to make children aware of household energy and water consumption, and how to reduce it.

"This is a way of environmental management", he explains. All family members can participate, a good way to bring home the environmental message. 120,000 families have participated in the project since 2000. As a result, 40,000 tonnes of CO2 are said to have been reduced! Schools in Australia and South Korea are also using this project, and from this year, New York City will implement this project in some schools as well.

Listen to the program here, by clicking on "Tuesday".

Read more about Kids' ISO 14000 here and here.

Bra jobbat Lena!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Peace Boat activities

Eight Peace Boat Centers in Japan are open to volunteers who wish to assist with preparations for upcoming voyages and contribute to the Japan-based programmes. If you are living in Japan and would like to get involved in Peace Boat activities please contact them.

Peace Boat`s 53rd Voyage for Peace, departing April 5 2006, will travel through Asia and the Indian Ocean before cruising to The Mediterranean and Europe through the Suez Canal, and returning to Tokyo on July 16th via Jamaica, El Salvador and Alaska.

Join a Peace Boat voyage and experience life onboard as a participant. As a non-profit organization, your participation in their voyages contributes to the development of Peace Boat activities for the promotion of peace, global justice and sustainable development.

Peace Boat's work is carried out in partnership with individual or institutional partners. Specialists in the field of peace, human rights, the environment and sustainable development, as well as individuals working at the heart of the issues Peace Boat addresses are invited onboard as guest educators. In port, Peace Boat organises its activities in partnership with a wide range of institutions, including NGOs, civil society groups, student groups and volunteer organisations.

Read more here