Monday, July 31, 2006

Ghibli: Tales from Earthsea

Once Man and Dragon were one.
Man chose Land and Sea,
Dragon chose Wind and Fire.

There is a new Ghibli anime released in Japan this week, called Tales from Earthsea (Gedo Senki). The director is Goro Miyazaki, and this is his first feature film. His father Hayao Miyazaki, founder of Ghibli Studio, got an Oscar for Spirited Away (released 2001).

Listen to the beautiful soundtrack here or a TV version here. The Tales from Earthsea Single featuring the theme song by Aoi Teshima -- who is also the voice of Therru -- was released June 5th in Japan. It is now #1 on CD Charts in Japan!

Trailers can be found here.

The story is based on Ursula K. Le Guin's novels.

From the synopsis:

Ged was on a journey, searching for the source causing evil disturbances to the world. Ged — once an impetuous and arrogant goatherd boy — is now a mature man, called by others as "Lord Archmage", the greatest of wizards. During his travels, he meets Arren, Prince of Enlad. The youth was being pursued by a "shadow". The disastrous force destroying the world's balance and driving people mad was nearing Arren as well...

Tokyo Volunteer Action Center

"Summer is the season for volunteering in Japan," says Akiko Kawamura, one of four English-speaking staff at TVAC, Tokyo’s remarkable volunteer networking center located in Iidabashi, notes Metropolis:

"Teachers often assign a volunteer activity as summer vacation homework for their students," explains Kawamura, grabbing a pamphlet from stacks of volunteer-program brochures. "It's a chance for them to do some 'service learning,' to find out about their community, who lives there, what kinds of needs there are and what they can do."

Along with 40 city and village volunteer centers throughout Tokyo, TVAC manages a network of more than 1,000 volunteer activities. One can choose to help the elderly, handicapped, children, hospitals, or many different kinds of NPOs (nonprofit organizations) including international charities and environmental groups.

The website of Tokyo Volunteer Action Center is only in Japanese, but Tokyo Nihongo Volunteer Network has an English page about its language services.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Angkor Wat at the UN

If you happen to be in New York this summer, you can see the exhibition of unique photographs of the ancient temples of Angkor Wat, at the UN Visitor's Lobby.

The Faces of Angkor. Photographs of Angkor Wat by Baku Saito (Japan) and National Geographic photographer Chris Rainier (Canada). Sponsored by UNESCO, the Permanent Missions of the Kingdom of Cambodia and Japan to the UN. Until Aug. 18. (Baku Saito's photos will also be shown in Tokyo at the Daimaru Museum Oct. 19-24.)

The Unesco World Heritage Centre official website has the list of all World Heritage sites, as well as photos and videos. A great way to spend some quality time...

Friday, July 28, 2006

YouTube suddenly popular in Japan

Japan's TV channels are angry about the piracy of its programs on the free YouTube Web site. Viewing figures for the site have taken off in Japan in recent months. An estimated 200,000 Japanese visited the free site in December 2005, but that figure had soared to more than 4 million by May.

NHK and Japan's five major commerical TV stations have expressed concern about their programming being posted on the Web for free. "We are asking YouTube to delete illegally reproduced videos that have been uploaded onto the site without the copyright owner's permission," NHK spokeswoman Naoko Sakamoto said.

Mainichi reports that one of Japan's top promoters of showbiz talent, Johnny's Jimusho, the office of Johnny Kitagawa, said it is mulling legal action to make sure its performer's rights are not infringed upon. A spokesman for the agency said it was determined to "root out" YouTube and similarly predatory web sites.


YouTube is a lot of fun, great for bringing people together, and with a little patience and clever key words you get to see some really funny videos. Try "Japan", "Tokyo", "Kyoto" or other Japanese words or names and see what you find.

And, if you type SMAP in your search you will get to see Japan's most popular boy-band (not so young anymore, though) in a number of music videos, ads and TV shows. And, oh yes, in case you didn't know, SMAP are Johnny's Jimusho's main cash cow. Enjoy them for free as long as it lasts! Go, YouTube, go, I'm a fan.

Bonus: Sekai ni hitotsu dake no hana, special version by SMAP.

Toxic Japan II: Antibiotics in rivers

Kyodo reports that rivers in Japan are contaminated with ingredients of antibiotics and medicines for humans and animals that flowed into them via sewage systems. This is raising concern that drug-resistant strains of bacteria might be produced:

A team of researchers from the state-run Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology and the governmental Public Works Research Institute made the findings in a nationwide check of 19 key rivers across the country in 2004 and 2005.

The team took water samples at river mouths to measure concentrations of ingredients of 11 antibiotics and 14 non-antibiotic medical drugs, all of which are widely used in Japan.

Ingredients of antibiotics, particularly of anti-inflammation sulfa drugs, were detected in all the rivers checked.

Toxic Japan previous

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Doubts about US beef

Shodanren, Japan's nationwide network of 44 consumers' groups has expressed doubts about the government's decision to resume US beef imports, according to NHK:

A representative of the National Liaison Committee of Consumer's Organizations, Toshiko Kanda, said it is too early to resume beef imports as the Japanese government has yet to fully explain to the public the findings of its inspection of US meat processing facilities.

Ms Kanda said that it will be difficult to regain Japanese consumers' trust in US beef.

She said that consumers cannot dispel concern that measures taken by the US side are not sufficient, and that the same problem that led to the re-imposition of the import ban may reoccur.

A June 22, 2006 statement from Shodanren concerning US beef imports can be found here, with Shodanren's concerns about the validity of the inspections, as well as risk communication and a demand for openness with regards to the information given to Japanese consumers.

For the record, older Shodanren statements and demands regarding beef safety and BSE can be found here, here, here, and here (in Japanese).

In 2003, a coalition of Japanese NGOs created Food Safety Citizens' Watch with a newsletter that also has updates about the BSE problem (in English).

BSE/Food Safety previous

(Photo: NHK)

Japan restarting beef imports today

Japan formally decided today to restart beef imports from the United States. Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Jiro Kawasaki said to Kyodo that Japan will put a total stop to importing products if it finds the same error as the one detected in January, which led Tokyo to reimpose the embargo.

"We'd like consumers to feel secure. We will also strengthen our monitoring by opening all incoming beef packets for the time being," Kawasaki said.

Let's hope noone sneezes when they do that...


I didn't like the book Dogs and Demons: Tales from the Dark Side of Modern Japan (discussed here and here) so I'm not quite sure what to think about a new video called The Concrete Revolution, a documentary about the tremendous changes in Beijing as bulldozers demolish entire neigh- bourhoods and destroy much more than just buildings:

Chinese filmmaker Xiaolu Guo has paid particular attention to those bulldozers. More importantly, she has meditated upon what the tremendous upswing in construction -- and inevitable destruction -- has wrought, and what it may mean for the future of Beijing, and China itself, especially in the run-up to the 2008 Olympics.

She interviews the construction workers who mainly "parrot the party line, speaking positively (and briefly) about the beneficial effects of the construction projects, as managers in red helmets circle warily nearby. One construction worker finally speaks his mind, breaking down in tears as he thinks of his wife and family, left behind but not benefiting from his sacrifices because he has not been paid yet."

Dogs and Demons is being published by China Critic Press (中信出版社) and Hong Kong's Shuyi Press (書藝出版社) in 2006. The title is 犬与鬼 in Chinese.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Trouble for NHK

Some 30 percent of Japan's households have not paid their NHK fees due to a series of recent scandals at NHK, according to The Japan Times: NHK short-wave radio programs to be pared:

NHK said Tuesday it plans to cut its radio programs in Italian, German, Swedish and Malay and shift its emphasis to television programs for its international services. The cut, the first-ever reduction to the number of languages the public broadcaster uses in its programs, will take effect in October 2007. The move comes with a decline in demand for short-wave radio programming as the popularity of TV and the Internet grows, according to NHK.

More than 100 million yen will be saved as a result of the reductions and those funds will be used to increase programs in English.

And why does NHK force NHK World to save money?

In one case, NHK's chief producer for sports coverage embezzled 17.62 million yen over a five-year period by billing the public broadcaster for 242 fictitious trips since 2001.

Then, in July 2004 it was disclosed that a former NHK chief producer in the entertainment field had embezzled tens of millions of yen in programming budgets. The Tokyo District Court sentenced him to five years in prison in March 2006.

It is sad to see a trusted institution collapse due to sloppy management where producers got away with frauds for too long. I still believe NHK makes the best documentaries in Japan, but a lot more needs to be done to reach the level of BBC or other global channels. Anyway, better quality English TV programs about Japan for overseas viewers is ultimately a very good idea. It would also be a good idea to improve the internet services, including podcasting, and there is no reason at all to cut its radio programs in Italian, German, Swedish and Malay, with an increasing number of listeners tuning into NHK Online.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Front page news

Tokyo has (at least) two free magazines, with ads for BMWs and Volvos, moving companies, cheap (?) mobile services and hairsalons, that cater to expats. Oh, and lets not forget the ads for Escort Clubs! The movie listings are good too. Anyway, to the point: In July both Metropolis and Weekender have chosen eco-friendly lifestyles and sustainable development as their front page feature.

Metropolis interviews Peter David Pederson, billed as the "pioneer behind Japan's sustainable lifestiles craze". He is one of the many who introduced LOHAS (Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability) in Japan, by starting E-Square Inc. in 2000. Remi Kanazawa, director of LOHAS-World is also quoted in the article: "In the United States, the word LOHAS is used in business-speak. In Japan, it's more popular among consumers."

What I really don't like is this:

E-Square long ago acquired a limited trademark on “LOHAS” for conferences and events, which it allows others to use freely, Pedersen says. It was expected that, like in the United States, commercial use of the name would remain free and open to help promote the ideal. But in December, Mitsui & Co. and Todo Press, owner of LOHAS magazine (at that time still called Sotokoto), snatched a lion’s share of the trademark rights in Japan, announcing others in their respective sectors would have to pay for its use. Public outcry forced the firms to back down in May. But by then the damage had been done. Others in the private sector remain skittish about using the LOHAS brand for fear its owners may have another change of heart.

Weekender interviews Damion Mannings (Tokyo volunteer and a member of People for Social Change) who shares his experiences from Cambodia and India and Chris Martin, Coldplay singer and Oxfam campaigner in Ghana and Haiti.

I also liked J.M. Roberts analysis of Japan as "The Asian Leader" in terms of ODA in Asia: Did you know that between 2000 and 2004, Japan pledged assistance in excess of $3 billion to developing countries, with $10 billion over the next three years going to less developed countries? As J.M Roberts points out, lets hope some of that money goes to health-related millenium goals, such as reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, and efforts to combat HIV/AIDS.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Minamata wins Japan Eco City Contest 2006

Minamata City in Kumamoto Prefecture and Shinshiro City in Aichi Prefecture were awarded Top Eco-Cities in Japan's 5th Eco-City Contest this year. Japan for Sustainability notes that no municipality was awarded the grand title of "Environmental Capital of Japan".

Read more about Citizens Environment Forum, one of the NGOs behind the contest.

In the contest, the participating municipalities are evaluated based on interviews and their responses to 90 questions in 15 categories, including:

(1) establishment and utilization of an environmental management system
(2) citizen empowerment
(3) energy policy
(4) promotion of environment-friendly industries

The average score of the top 10 eco-cities rose to 505 points from 459 points in fiscal 2004. The network says the contest has contributed to improving local governments' environmental policies and realizing eco-cities.

More details and results here (in Japanese). A great idea that could be introduced in other countries as well!

Minamata, of course, is the Japanese town that became famous for a mercury poisoning scandal in the 1950s and 1960s, an event that remains very vivid here, with thousands of victims and huge damage on the regional ecosystem. The city has a Minamata Disease Museum that opened in 1993 to make more people aware of the issues surrounding Minamata disease.

Minamata previous

(Image from this Minamoto City pamphlet about its rivers and environmental protection efforts.)

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Reading music

Reading music is a nice skill, it helps to find all the details of operas or symphonies, and it is fun if you have a guitar or a piano at home. I found a page that has sheet music to many popular songs. 8Notes is another great page, with sheet music for sale and some free stuff as well, including classical music.

Listen to Coldplay The Scientist.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

China to invest US$175 billion in environmental protection

China plans to invest 1.4 trillion yuan (US$175 billion) in environmental protection between 2006 and 2010. That is more than 1.5 percent of the national GDP, according to the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC).

The money will be spent on water pollution control, improving the air quality in cities, disposing solid waste, harnessing soil erosion and improving the rural environment, said He Bingguang, deputy head of the NDRC's environment department.

That is good for the environment and good for the people. It is also an enormous challenge, and an opportunity for both local and international companies. For example, Japan is investing a lot in China, thus contributing to its sustainable development. Read more here, and bookmark China Economic Net's special news page about environmental issues here.

I wrote about Japan-China environmental cooperation here and here.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Japanese street fashion in - Finland!

"It took 10 minutes to dress up for tonight. Nearly all of these clothes are from London. London and Tokyo are the best cities for shopping. Clothes are my obsession."
- Aino (17) quoted on the Hel-looks website with hundreds of photos from Finland. Madness and a lot of fun, some inspired by manga and anime.

Reetta: "I bought this dress in Osaka, Japan. It cost about 150 euros. The shoes and our parasols are from Japan, too."
Elina: "I made this dress myself. I found the patterns in a gothic lolita paper. It took two days to finish the dress."

Blogs banned in India

I have previously complained that China has banned Blogspot, and now India is doing the same. Geocities and Typepad, as well as other Indian blog sites are also banned, presumably to stop religious fanatics. The Indian government, however, has yet to issue an official statement on the subject, according to Boing Boing.

Religious fanatics have been around for thousands of years, so I don't see how this will have any effect at all.

Heavy rains

At least 129 people are confirmed or reported dead in North and South Korea in flooding and landslides over the last few days, according to Reuters: Heavy Rains Hit Two Koreas

The death toll from the rainstorms and flooding triggered by the tropical storm Bilis across China was 204 on Tuesday, according to China Daily: Death toll from Bilis hits 204 nationwide

The same low pressure is now over central Japan, and it is still raining here in Saitama today. Mudslides have led to evacuations in many prefectures, including Nagano and Fukui, according to the Mainichi: 1 dead, 13 missing after heavy rain triggers landslides in 5 prefectures

Tsuyu, or the rainy season, is explained like this by the experts: The cold air mass which originates from either Siberia or the Sea of Okhotsk in the north and warm North Pacific anticyclone in the south meet, forming the summer seasonal rain front usually between the middle of June and the middle of July.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Götheborg arrives in China

Finally, the 18th Century ship Götheborg has arrived in Guangzhou (Canton) China. 70 crew members have managed to sail the replica all the way from Sweden to China. Great PR for my tiny country.

I wrote about the scandal when the crew was prohibited from discussing political issues such as
the lack of democracy in China but now, even Their Royal Highnesses King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia of Sweden came aboard the ship, so...

Enjoy the video.

Shanghai Daily wrote about the few Chinese crew members, who had a hard time with both languages barriers and the terrible food, but still appear to have enjoyed the experience:
Voyage of Discovery (pdf).

Monday, July 17, 2006

Easing Japan's tread mill

Suvendrini Kakuchi over at Asia Times writes about two new books with insights about the low birtrate in Japan: Easing Japan's tread mill

Akiko Matsutani: Shrinking Population Economics
Manabu Akagawa: What's wrong with Fewer Kids


"My research shows that Japan has to accept a low fertility rate, which will lessen its economic status but, at the same time, allow people to create a balance in their lives and be happier than now," said professor Akiko Matsutani, a population expert at the National Graduate Institute of Policy Studies (...)

Matsutani predicts that Japan would have to import 20 million migrants to take on low-paying factory jobs that support the profits of some companies such as the automobile giants so that they can maintain their leadership.

"Japan cannot be an economic leader anymore," he said. "Rather, to survive in the global economy, Japan will have to import skilled foreigners in the way the United States does. That would result in a system where the average Japanese will have jobs demanding less work."

Ehh, Japanese people working less? You mean, taking long holidays, fixing the roof over at the besso, going fishing, and - taking it easy?? Maybe even joining that NGO that tries to save the local river, or spending quality time with the kids? That will be the day!

How about joining the Japanese NGO The Sloth Club where "slow is beautiful" since 1999. The website even has a Sloth Forum - but it is under construction! Since 1999! Well done!!

(Photo of a rice field offering from Ken-ichi Shiota's delightful website with kids at festivals all over Japan - Two-toed sloth from Galeri Savci, an excellent Czech page about "mammalia"!)

G8 Meeting split on environmental protection

Reuters reports from St. Petersburg: Greens Slam G8 Over Climate Change, Nuclear Boost

Environmental advocacy groups accused the Group of Eight industrial nations on Sunday of failing to take seriously the problems of climate change and the dangers of nuclear energy.

At a summit in St. Petersburg, the leaders of the G8 approved a statement that acknowledged divisions among the world's top economies on promoting nuclear energy and tackling climate change.

But the statement said those who favour nuclear energy -- six of the eight G8 members -- see it as key to providing energy security amid booming global demand and as a clean form of power that can help slow dangerous global warming.

The G8 members are the United States, Russia, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan.

Click here for the official Russian government G8 page.

Civil G8 is the website of NGOs including human rights groups, trade unions, and environmental organizations, who are asking, "Are the waves of public opinion breaking against the cliff of officialdom?" I'm checking their Civil G8 media page every day for updates.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

36 C in Tokyo Today

Temperatures reached 36 C (96.8 F) today in central Tokyo at noon. That very hot. That is a lot hotter than in Okinawa prefecture in southern Japan, where it was only 30 C (86 F) today...

The reason is called the "heat island" phenomena. Many highrise buildings have been constructed along Tokyo Bay, blocking winds and trapping the heat. Also, cars and air conditioners, and few forests or parks with trees - "Lungs of the Earth" - are blamed.

Experts are taking this seriously, since the consequences are severe for the citizens:

In 2005, the JMA started publishing the annual report on the analysis and simulation results about the summertime heat island phenomenon in Kanto region, Japan. On 31st March 2006, the report for the summer 2005 was issued through the JMA website. It was revealed from the model simulation that the most important factor that contributes to the formation of the heat island in the daytime is the land use change, featuring the shrinkage of green space and the growth of artificial ground cover, and the factor contributing to the formation in the nighttime is the increase of architectural structures (urban canopy).

Read the Japan Meteorological Agency report here: Heat Island Phenomenon in Tokyo

Read more on the Tokyo Climate Center website.

Counter-measures suggested by Japan's Environment Ministry (pdf) include:
1) Reduction of Anthropogenic Heat Emission
2) Improvement of Urban Surface
3) Improvement of Urban Structure
4) Improvement of Life Style

And don't forget to drink lots of water...

(Click on the weather map from JMA for a larger image)

Boys will always be boys...

A great photo from Manilla, the Philippines, where Typhoon Bilis caused huge floods this week. I just thought the kids look so strong and happy!

Friday, July 14, 2006

Swedish cartoon about North Korean missile

OK, this Swedish cartoon by the famous artist Hans Lindstrom is not politically correct, but neither is North Korea, so I chose to share it with you, because I think it is very funny. Palm trees? OMG...

(Hat tip: Dasai)

Updates on the Korean missile crisis

Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe has denied he openly advocated a pre-emptive strike on North Korea if Pyongyang appeared poised to attack: The Japan Times has the details. Apparently Abe was describing a scenario in which several missiles had already been fired at Japan. This is not what South Korean president Roh thought Abe said, and I wonder why the two countries don't talk to each other directly instead of creating so much confusion.

Michael Breen (author of "The Koreans") writes in The Korea Times about the current crisis on the Korean Peninsula Why Did Roh Head-Butt Japan?:

Japan may be a rival team, but we're playing the same beautiful game of free market democracy. But North Korea hates the game and, most of all, South Koreans.

So what is this presidential - to use a current image - headbutt to the chest all about?

It suggests that South Korea's leaders and the international community think differently about the significance of the North Korean missile thing than their allies. Here in South Korea, we are playing a different match than the rest of the world is playing.

An American living in Korea has a blog called The Marmot's Hole where there is a good debate about these events. Do check it out. I wish I had thought of such a crazy name for my blog!

Update: Asahi Shinbun: Missile tests stir up debate on first-strike option

Update 2: BBC: UN votes for N Korean sanctions

Korean missile crisis previous

Thursday, July 13, 2006

30.000 parts

CNN is pointing out that absurd US car safety rules forced Toyota to do a massive recall that actually makes their cars more unsafe: Toyota's totally bizarre recall.

The Japan Times is wondering if too many recalls can hurt a car company's image. Expert Aritsune Tokudaiji seems to think so:

"There are many cases where it is difficult to decide whether to issue a recall," Matsumoto said. "If you fail to promptly recall defective vehicles, it makes people think you are trying to conceal the defects.

"But if there are too many . . . recalls, it may lead people to suspect that the quality of cars is deteriorating."

Automotive journalist Tokudaiji said the public should be aware that a car has about 30,000 parts that require a great deal of technology. This makes recalls inevitable.

"While Toyota's case has served as a reminder to automakers, drivers should also understand that recalls are issued" to prevent accidents, he said.

From the consumer's point of view, I think "better safe than sorry" is always the guiding princple. No car company should hide defects. Remember Ralph Nader's book Unsafe at Any Speed about the General Motor Corvair? Companies that don't take safety seriously have a lot more to lose. Keep those recalls coming, but then get it right.

Banning street smoking

A junior high school student suffering from asthma started a signature collection drive in Shizuoka prefecture, hoping to have the local assembly pass a street smoking bill, according to The Mainichi:

After the municipal assembly accepted the student's request in December 2005, the municipal government proposed the bill to the assembly.

"I want to thank the many people who obliged with my request," the student said. "I plan to watch how this ordinance will help decrease passive smoking."

Well done!!

Smoking on the street has been banned in many parts of central Tokyo since 2002. And a recent tax increase from July 1 should also have the effect that some people decide to quit. From July 1, smokers in Japan pay 10 to 30 yen more for a pack of 20 cigarettes, with the price of Mild Seven, the most popular brand in the country, rising to 300 yen from the current 270 yen. Still, that is about 1/3 of what a smoker in Europe would pay for his or her "cancer sticks". No wonder I have to pay a lot for the national health care insurance here in Japan.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


I have a neighbour who plays the shamisen early each morning. It is not too noisy, but he (or she) is not very good. Not that I'm an expert at shamisen riffs...

Here is a nice video of Gackt on shamisen. More amazing shamisen at YouTube here (with taiko drums) and here (Yoshida Brothers).

(Painting from Otsue no to)

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


I had a visitor from Fiji, whose delightful blog I just really want to introduce to you all: Pacific-Islander. Is the full moon as beautiful there as it is here...?

Top News Asia from IGES

"Top News" from Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES) is a compilation of important environmental news topics selected by environmental experts from the Asia-Pacific region as well as by international organisations and research institutes. The 2005 edition brings together more news items than ever before, with three organisations and twenty-one countries submitting 118 articles.

2005 was a year of several major natural disasters and instances of serious environmental damage such as the severe earthquake that hit northern Pakistan, the intense rainfall in southern India and the pollution of the Songhua River in north-eastern China.

The adaptation to climate change due to global warming has become an urgent concern in the region and appropriate measures are required for this vulnerable area. The progress of cooperative international efforts in the areas of global warming, bio-safety and destruction of the ozone layer was also covered. Regarding the efforts to tackle the problem of global warming, the development of a domestic system for the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) was reported in China, Indonesia and the Philippines following the effectuation of the Kyoto Protocol.

Full text: 2005 Top News on the Environment in Asia

Japan (pdf) by Yohei Harashima, Takushoku University
1. Asbestos Problem
4. Kyoto Protocol Target Attainment Plan
5. The Inclusion of Shiretoko on the World Heritage List

China (pdf) by Chang Miao, Tsinghua University
1. Build a Resource-Saving and Environmentally-Friendly Society: the Direction of Making the 11th Five-Year Plan
2. The Year of Environmental Impact Assessment in China
3. The Formal Implementation of the Newly Revised Law of the People's Republic of China on the Prevention and Control of Environmental Pollution by Solid Wastes
4. China's Reply to the Kyoto Protocol and the Future Development of the CDM Projects
5. China Becomes a Contracting Party to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety
6. Petrochemical Company Blamed for Songhua River Pollution

China (pdf) by Sang-il Hwang, Korea Environment Institute
1. The First Nuclear Waste Dumpsite in the Republic of Korea (ROK)
2. VOC Content Standard in Paint for the First Time in the Republic of Korea
3. A Voluntary Agreement on the Reduction of Greenhouse Gas and Integrated Air Pollution Substances
4. The Ministry of Environment Initiates the Collection of Used Cell Phones

Monday, July 10, 2006

Typhoon Ewiniar approaching

Flying in to Japan or Korea today? Expect delays and trouble due to typhoon Ewiniar. Bookmark the Japan Meteorological Agency website for reference with good maps. Click on the maps for details and updates in English. Their Satellite Imagery is ok too, even though it is in black/white. For good quality colour images, try the European Space Agency website or Visible Earth from NASA.

Friday, July 07, 2006

The World's Children's Prize for the Rights of the Child 2006

The World's Children's Prize for the Rights of the Child 2006 was awarded to Jetsun Pema, who is helping the Tibetan refugee children in India:

Her tireless work has saved lives and given tens of thousands of Tibetan refugee children a home, a family, education and hope for the future. Pema always puts the children’s interests first and has built up Tibetan Children’s Villages (TCV) into the exiled Tibetans’ largest children’s rights and educational organisation. Every year, nearly 15,000 refugee children get help through TCV. In the Tibetan children’s villages the children grow up in a loving Tibetan home with traditional Buddhist values like non-violence and respect for all life.

Read more on the WCPRC website (in English) or Tibet House website (in Japanese).

Tonight, Swedish writer and Green Party politician Per Garthon, an expert on Tibet and China, will hold a talk in Tokyo. He is invited by Ecolo Japan, the Green Policy Network for Sustainable Society.

(Photo from the WCPRC website)

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Engrish: Hot snuck!

I do love Engrish (or Weird English). Last Saturday, I did a lecture at the YWCA in Yokohama (near Motomachi) where I found this charming sign...

Missiles for sale

Two excellent articles in Asia Times provide much-needed background and analysis regarding the North Korean missile business.

Hisane Masaki: N Korea's missiles met by Japanese sanctions

In 2004, Japan revised the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Law to allow the government to halt trade and block cash remittances to North Korea - or to any other country, without a UN resolution. Japan also enacted a law that year that authorizes the government to ban the docking of North Korean ships, or ships that have visited North Korea, at Japanese ports. The Mangyongbyon-92 ferry had been widely considered to be among the most likely targets.

Pyongyang has often warned that economic sanctions would be tantamount to a "declaration of war". To be sure, North Korea would suffer if Japan went that far. But the impact of the Japanese punishment would be limited unless other nations, especially China and South Korea, join in the sanctions.

Bertil Lintner: The long reach of North Korea's missiles

According to US-based North Korea expert Joseph Bermudez, countries that have bought missile parts and technology from North Korea include Iran, Egypt, Pakistan, Libya, Syria, the United Arab Emirates and Vietnam. In recent years, however, North Korea has lost two important customers: Pakistan, which has become a US ally, and Libya, whose Muammar Gaddafi has pledged to give up his country's weapons-of-mass-destruction program.

Assisted by Soviet experts and technicians, North Korea began producing surface-to-air missiles more than 40 years ago. But the first ones were quite rudimentary, and it was not until North Korea signed a military agreement with China in 1971 that the industry took off. Gradually, however, the North Koreans themselves became capable of developing and fine-tuning their growing arsenal of missiles - together with some rather unexpected, non-communist partners.

The first was Egypt. North Korea helped that country in the war with Israel in October 1973 by providing some pilots. In return for that assistance, Egypt transferred a small number of its Soviet-supplied FROG-7B and rockets and launchers to North Korea, which had already started a ballistic-missile program.

A must read in order to understand how serious this crisis really is. As North Korea has virtually no other products that anyone outside of the country may want to purchase, its missiles-for-sale program is not just about defense. Scary.

A last laugh at the World Cup

Hilarious? For more photos of what Peter Crouch can do, please have a look here.

And Japanese bloggers are having fun at their national team's miserable result in Germany here. Here is one example:

This Pepsi commercial is from 2002, but hey, it is still very funny...

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Unique North Korean photos

See more unique photos from North Korea at the Russian website

North Korean fireworks

North Korea has test-fired seven missiles today. The first one landed in the Sea of Japan, according to NHK. It was launched at 0332 Japan Time and crashed into the sea 600-700 km from the Japanese mainland. Officials are saying six of the missiles were not the controversial Taepodong-2, while one could possibly be the long-distance robot, although it "failed in flight".

The Pyongyang leaders must be getting more and more desperate: Time for the neighbours to get together for a serious discussion about how to create peace in East Asia. China, that for some strange reason still stubbornly supports North Korea, has a key role to get the communist generals to stop the fireworks. I do wonder what South Korea will do: President Roh has also been extending aid to Pyongyang. Expect Japan to impose strict sanctions and limit all exchange with North Korea.

NHK World has details and updates in English and other languages (click on the link on the right side here on my blog).

BBC has more here.

(New map from NHK updated at 1757)

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Anger at blacked-out BSE report

Consumers Union of Japan is angry because the official report from the December 13-24 2005 inspections of U.S. meat plants by the Japanese government was finally released in June 2006 after a motion in the Japanese Parliament - but most of the text was blacked out with ink and the findings were not fully disclosed to the public.

Almost every page of the 105 page long report had text that was blacked out, except for a few pages in the beginning. CUJ are especially concerned by the analysis by Public Citizen on BSE noncompliance records. The U.S. consumer group received such documents after filing a Freedom of Information Act request to the USDA, and found that there had been 829 cases of BSE noncompliance in the U.S., including inadequate HACCP plans for BSE, improper removal or handling of specified risk materials, and improper age determination.

It seems likely that the official Japanese report noted such failures and errors, and it is outrageous that the facts are kept hidden from the Japanese public.

Public Citizen BSE Noncompliance Record Analysis - a great report if you want to know more about mad cow disease and food safety!

BSE/Food safety previous

Photo from Japan Resources, the quarterly newsletter in English published by CUJ, which is not available on the Internet, but you can subscribe to the printed edition via the Consumers Union of Japan website.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Earth Garden July 8-9

Earth Garden, an annual festival will be held in Yoyogi, Tokyo on July 8-9. For updates please check the Earth Garden website. The theme this year is "Peaceful Summer - Asian Summer Festival". Should be a fun weekend with music, organic foods and lots of NGOs. They are looking for volunteers, so do contact them if you have time. For more photos, have a look at last year's Earth Garden blog.

WTO: No easy task

"The gap is as wide as the Grand Canyon," warned Japan's Agriculture Minister Shoichi Nakagawa, according to BBC: Trade talks in 'crisis situation'.

Japan's farmers are busy right now in the hot weather and the rain. I don't envy them, and I always try to buy locally produced foods as much as possible. As the WTO negotiations seem to be failing in Geneva, the politics of food could become a national affair again, after many years of "globalization". However, it will be no easy task as Japan's self-sufficiency rates are low, and farmers are getting older:

Read The Japan Times editorial: Revitalizing Japanese agriculture:

The fiscal 2005 white paper on agriculture, made public last month, covers the first year of the implementation of the nation's basic plan for food, agriculture and agricultural communities that was adopted in March 2005. The plan is based on the 1999 basic law, which spells out four fundamental goals: securing a stable supply of food, bringing into full play the various functions of land used for agriculture, ensuring the sustainable growth of agriculture, and promoting the advancement of agricultural communities. To revitalize itself, the nation's agricultural sector first must step up efforts to gain public trust and support by promoting a stable food supply, food safety, and the ability to meet diversified consumer demand.

There is a lot of debate in Japan about the World Trade Organization, and Kyodo's rather brief summary about the failed WTO talks Japan's farm minister disappointed by failed WTO talks is ambivalent, as everyone is unsure what will happen if WTO does indeed collapse:

Without the outline for an accord, it will be impossible to achieve the WTO's goal of bringing the ongoing Doha Round of multilateral market-opening negotiations to a successful conclusion by the year-end, as agreed earlier. The negotiations are deadlocked due to a standoff between the United States, the European Union and the emerging economies of Brazil and India over whether to make a compromise in three major areas -- cuts in domestic farm subsidies as well as reductions in tariffs for agricultural and industrial items. The European Union and Japan oppose sharp tariff cuts on agricultural items, while Brazil and India are reluctant to accept drastic reductions in tariffs for industrial goods.

(Photo from Reuters, showing Japanese farmers demonstrating during the WTO Ministerial meeting in Hong Kong December 2005)