Thursday, November 30, 2006


Update: European Union lawmakers and governments struck a deal on Thursday over REACH, the wide-ranging draft law on toxic chemicals, putting it on track to enter force in the first part of 2007. Story here.

Reuters has details about the political wrangling about REACH, the proposal for a new chemicals legislation in the EU. I spent a large part of my lecture about environmental hormons in Seoul last week discussing the merits of REACH. As Chosun Ilbo notes, most Korean exports to the EU contain chemicals, and almost every export item will be affected by REACH. Korean Exporters Brace for Environmental Rules Abroad.

An attempt was initiated in 1998 by Japan to deal with reprotoxic chemicals. It is known as the Strategic Programs on Environmental Endocrine Disrupters (SPEED) program, but its original scope was significantly reduced faced with the chemical industry's criticism. Here is a website with MoE's information. This is a debate where a lot is at stake.

Reuters: Talks On EU Chemicals Reform Stalled Ahead of Vote

Talks between European Union lawmakers and EU governments over a far-reaching reform of the chemicals sector stalled on Monday just weeks before an important vote in the European Parliament.

The bill, known as REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals), was designed to make companies prove substances in everyday products such as cars, computers or paint are safe.

EU states, the parliament and the executive European Commission are negotiating changes to the bill before it goes before the full parliament for a second-reading vote, scheduled for mid-December.

As that deadline approaches, talks were suspended late on Monday after a German conservative member of parliament said he needed more time to consult with his party, according to sources familiar with the talks.

One source said the talks were interrupted, not over, and would resume later this week. "It has not broken down. It will be continued after (a) suspension," the source said.

According to REACH, the properties of roughly 30,000 chemicals produced or imported in the European Union would have to be registered with a central agency. Those of highest concern, such as carcinogens, would require testing and authorisation.


WWF Europe and WWF Japan have campaigns against toxic chemicals. For more data about the problem in Japan, do have a look at the People's Association on Countermeasure of Dioxin & Endocrine Disrupters website and subscribe to their newsletter.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Early Buddhism in Japan

Tonight, NHK was showing a beautiful documentary with anthropologist Nakazawa Shinichi, who describes early Buddhism in Nara. Nakazawa is an expert on Tibet and has a lot to say about the influences from China and Korea. You can see his very private talk about Japanese religions here. Shinto? Buddhist? What is "before religion and after religion"? You decide.

Mari, my favourite blog, talks about traditional Buddhist vegetarian food called Shojin Ryori.

Who wants GMO foods?

The FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission is holding its Task Force meeting in Makuhari, Chiba this week. On the agenda is foods from genetically modified animals. No such foods are approved yet, but there is research on GMO salmon that could be in supermarkets unless consumers step up the protests.

A "safety standard" approved by Codex could pave the way for more GMOs, irregardless of ethical concerns or the concerns of people caring about animal welfare.

Under WTO, an agreement by Codex makes it difficult for national governments to ban GMOs. Others hope that a strong Codex standard can help countries in the developing world, to oppose imports from the U.S. and Canada, where most GMOs are cultivated.

Good to see that there was a pretty big demonstration yesterday outside the meeting venue in Makuhari, where governments discuss this issue. Many Co-op members, Consumers Union of Japan, farmers' groups and Korean activists participated in the rain. I especially want to mention Seikatsu Club, the Co-op that is fighting for better foods and environmentally friendly products. Japanese website with information about how to become a member here. Do join.

In September last year, I participated in the Codex meeting. Videos here. Frankly I was utterly disgusted by the lack of concern for ethics and animal welfare. Such issues are called "Other Legitimate Factors" and I wish more people would get involved in this debate, to consider what is "legitimate" in terms of scientific development. Are GM Food Animals Coming? ICTSD provides a good background on the debate.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Bluefin tuna quotas cut

Kyodo reports that member states of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna reached a formal accord Sunday to cut the eastern Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean bluefin tuna quota for 2007.

Overfishing is a huge problem and cutting the quota from the current 32,000 tons to 29,500 tons is not enough.

In the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean, fish farms have become increasingly common. Large quantities of tuna from such fish farms are exported to Japan and sold at sushi restaurants and supermarkets. Bluefin tuna and southern bluefin tuna are highly popular in Japan for use in sushi and sashimi. Fatty parts of their meat, known as "toro," are especially sought after and fetch high prices.

Japan gets about half of its bluefin tuna from the Mediterranean, according to Japan's Fishery's Agency official, Hiroaki Hasegawa. He also said to NHK that it is inevitable that the agreement will lead to less bluefin imports into Japan but he cannot say how it will affect the prices.

Clearly prices will go up, is that so hard to predict?

NHK adds that an international fisheries meeting will discuss in December whether cuts in catches of 2 cheap types of tuna -- bigeye tuna and yellowfin tuna -- are necessary.

(Photo from Gourmet Walker - wow, that looks good but at 400 Yen per plate I think I will have to pass!)

Sunday, November 26, 2006

GMO Free Zones in Japan

There will be a lot of activities this week about food safety.

Consumers Union of Japan, Green Coop and the NO! GMO Campaign are among the groups that are spearheading the movement to stop genetic engineering in Japan. Many farmers are involved too, especially in Hokkaido, Iwate, Nagano, and Chiba prefectures, as GMO Free Zones are being established around Japan.

The FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Task Force is meeting in Makuhari, Chiba, to discuss safety guidelines for GMO animals. Activists are angry that consumer concerns are not taken into account by government officials, although, no GMO animals have been approved for food (yet).

Why doesn't the food industry understand that people do not want to eat GMOs?

Friday, November 24, 2006

Lots of protests in Korea

Here is a photo from the conference at the Korea National Assembly yesterday. I participated in the symposium about mad cow disease and heard about how Korea has been forced to open its market to U.S. beef after pressure from the U.S. government. Dr. Mike Hansen from the U.S. Consumers Union had a lot to say about the situation at U.S. meat plants. Virtually no safety testing is going on and unsafe feed appears to be the norm. And just today, there is news that bone fragments were found in in a package of meat during quarantine inspections. Thus, the Korean government said Friday it will not allow the first batch of beef shipped from the United States to be sold in Korea...

Actually the Korean beef protest issue is part of a bigger picture. The U.S. and South Korea are negotiating a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and the U.S. demanded that Seoul must allow U.S. beef before any further FTA negotiations could take place. Opposition parties and NGOs are furious at the Korean government. I don't want to get involved in the politics of it all, but the case against U.S. beef is strong, and at least Korea should have taken the precautionary measures that Japan was able to impose, before it re-opened its market earlier this year.

As I was there, 72,000 demonstrators took to the streets in 13 cities around South Korea. Unfortunately, lots of violent protests against the FTA as well. Chosun has more details: Korea Sees Worst Labor Protests in Years

Seoul in late November was great, I hope everyone who goes there has as much luck with the weather as I did.

I also met and interviewed the producer at the TV program MBC PD File, who relentlessly uncovered the scandal with Dr. Hwang and his fake stem cell research.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Endocrine Disrupters

Tomorrow I go to Seoul, Korea to talk at a conference about Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals, and what we can do to minimize exposure to them. In Japan EDCs are called "kankyou hormones" because they are man-made substances that trick the body's endocrine system, by acting like hormons. I like the name better since it is easier to remember than "Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals".

Since Theo Colborn's book Our Stolen Future was translated, there has been a lot of debate about this topic in Japan, also connected to the dioxin and PCB problem. It will be interesting to hear about the situation in Korea.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Tuna in Europe in danger

Overfishing of tuna is an international problem, and Japan's quota for tuna near Australia was recently cut. Regulations on fishing for bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean and eastern Atlantic Ocean was on the agenda at the special meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), convening in Dubrovnik, Croatia.

WWF has analyzed international trade data, followed fishing vessels and looked at tuna ranches and reached this unhappy conclusion: The estimated total catches in 2004 and in 2005 were at least 45,000 tons each.

That is 40 percent more than the quota.

The tuna ranching boom that triggered the exhaustion of stocks is supported in large part by the Japanese appetite for tons of low-priced fatty tuna at your local sushi shop.

Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is being done by European Union vessels, including France, as well as Libya and Turkey. Because of a lack of measures to manage resources, bluefin tuna stocks are now nearly exhausted in the western Mediterranean. So fishing fleets are converging in the eastern Mediterranean, now believed to be the only remaining breeding ground for bluefin tuna in that area. This is drastically speeding the population's decline.

Arata Izawa at WWF Japan has more details: 'Farmed' bluefin in fact threaten tuna stocks

You can watch NHK World's news segment about Preserving Tuna in English (Real Player).

Over-fishing previous

Okinawa elections results

Tonight, NHK is saying that Hirokazu Nakaima, 67 years old, who is backed by the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, is expected to win today's election and become governor of Okinawa prefecture.

Asahi had more details about a week ago in this editorial.


Okinawa elections previous

Friday, November 17, 2006

Love your country

Japan's politicians are debating a new education law that includes a provision to create an attitude to love one's country. People are also concerned about a new "Conspiracy Law". Lots of protests and nation-wide demonstrations. Here is a site with information about more protests. But let me just say for the record that I do love Sweden, and here is one reason why: ABBA performing Dancing Queen at the Royal Wedding in June, 1976.
Love your country, or else!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Asian Heroes: Fighting pollution in Japan

Phillip White at CNIC kindly sent me three great candidates for the Asian Heroes list.

Senji Yamaguchi
, a Nagasaki hibakusha. Do read his book "Burnt Yet Undaunted" which is effectively his memoirs. The forward of the book by Joseph Gerson is a powerful account of his efforts:

Jinzaburo Takagi was the founder of CNIC and was head and shoulders above anyone else in the anti-nuclear energy movement in terms of scientific knowledge, leadership skill and prolific publication.

He was a recipient of the 1997 Right Livelihood Award (shared with fellow French anti-plutonium activist Mycle Schneider). More about Takagi on the following page:

Jun Ui, the environmentalist, was part of a team of brave researchers who discovered and unraveled the Minamata disease (mercury poisoning) in Kyushu:

Here is his chapter about Minamata disease in the book Industrial pollution in Japan, published by the United Nations Press: Minamata Disease.


Asian Heroes: Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank

As I wrote before, Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank won the Nobel Peace Prize 2006 for their pioneering use of tiny loans — microcredit — to lift millions of people out of poverty. A true Asian hero.

Poor people, especially women, have been able to buy cows, a few chickens or the mobile phone they need, thanks to Grameen Bank.

YouTube has a video of the announcement by the Norwegian Nobel committee chairman. A great speech.

In this October 2002 article Grameen Bank II: Designed to Open New Possibilities, Muhammad Yunusa describes lessons learnt since starting 1976. The central assumption behind Grameen Bank, he writes, is

the firm belief that the poor people always pay back their loans. On some occasions they may take longer time to pay back than it was originally stipulated, but repay they will. There is no reason for a credit institution dedicated to provide financial services to the poor to get uptight because a borrower could not pay back the entire amount of a loan on a date fixed at the beginning of the disbursement of the loan. Many things can go wrong for a poor person during the loan period. After all, the circumstances are beyond the control of the poor people. We see no reason why the sky should fall on anybody's head because a borrower took longer time to pay back her loan. Since she is paying additional interest for the extra time, where is the problem? We always advocated that microcredit programs should not fall into the logical trap of the conventional banking and start looking at their borrowers as some kind of "time-bombs" who are ticking away and waiting to create big trouble on pre-fixed dates. Please rest assured that the poor people are not going to create any trouble. It is us, the designers of institutions and rules, who keep creating trouble for them. One can benefit enormously by having trust in them, admiring their struggle for and commitment to have decent lives for themselves. It is very easy to appreciate the architecture of GGS if one keeps in mind this central assumption behind the system.

Thanks Mari Toyama at the Musashino YWCA in Mitaka for the suggestion.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Time 60 Years of Asian Heroes

Time Magazine has ambitiously tried to identify Asian Heroes of the post WW2 era, and there are many names on the list that I can only nod, smile and agree with. It is good to see that many Japanese men and women are being recognized, including architect Kenzo Tange, conductor Seiji Ozawa, designer Hanae Mori and - Momofuku Ando (inventor of instant noodles!).

I was also particularly happy that they mentioned spiritual leaders, such as the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh:

In 1965, after yet another Buddhist self-immolation, Nhat Hanh wrote to the American civil-rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. that "the monks who burned themselves did not aim at the death of the oppressors, but only at a change in their policy. Their enemies are not man. They are intolerance, fanaticism, dictatorship, cupidity, hatred and discrimination, which lie within the heart of man." Nhat Hanh led King, and, by extension, American public sentiment, to oppose the fighting in Vietnam. During the late 1960s, while living in the U.S. in exile, Nhat Hanh became one of the icons of the antiwar movement. His essays were published in such leading periodicals as the New York Review of Books, and his poems were sung, like songs of protest, to guitar accompaniment at college campuses. It's no exaggeration to say that Nhat Hanh helped force Washington's eventual withdrawal from Vietnam.

Nhat Hanh, now 80 years old and living in a monastery in France, has played an important role in the transmission of an Asian spiritual tradition to the modern, largely secular West.

Have a look at their list, and feel free to add a few names in my comment section. I would not be surprised if you do better than Time Magazine.

Bonus: You will notice that Queen's lead singer Freddie Mercury is listed as well. That's great, because Queen is incredibly popular in Japan, so it gives me a reason to post a YouTube video here on my blog (I try to do that every weekend). Here is Queen at their May 1985 performance at Yoyogi National Stadium in Tokyo (yup, that's one of the great buildings designed by Kenzo Tange). Why is Freddie Mercury listed by Time as an Asian Hero? He was born on Zanzibar to Indian parents, and received his musical education in India. His real name was Farrokh Bulsara. Enjoy (click on the image):

Here is more good stuff from their 1975 tour to Japan: Queen in Japan

Life Style Forum in Shinjuku

This weekend I plan to go to the Life Style Forum with what promises to be interesting speakers and great events. LSF started in 2000 as a gathering of NGOs and individuals concerned with changing the social structure of mass production, mass consumption, and finding solutions to the global warming problem. The theme this year is "Gross National Happiness" and Bhutan.

This year, the event is at Tokyo's Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, Centennial Pavilion (walk from Shinjuku station southern entrance, or Shinjukugyoen-mae station, or Shinjukusanchome station) with lots of fun for kids too:

- Music performances
- Lecture forum
- NGO/NPO and company exhibitions
- Ecology market
- Life style cafe
- Kids corner
- Natural observation meeting
- Movie show
- The story of Peter Rabbit and Global Warming
- Yoga classroom

More about Gross National Happiness (in Japanese) at the Sloth website. Sloth Club is the NGO that promotes Slow Life in Japan. Quite a task!

PBS (in English) has more about Gross National Happiness, and there is a program about Bhutan from 2002 you can watch on the PBS Frontline website. Did you know that in 1999, Bhutan was the last country in the world to legalize television?!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

NHK World TV Monitors

I just found this notice on NHK's website, and thought I'd share it with you:

NHK World is looking for NHK World TV Monitors

- Regular viewing of NHK World TV living
- Residency outside Japan
- Regular monitor reports in either English or Japanese by e-mail

Contents of monitor reports
Impressions, comments and suggestions regarding at least one of the NHK World TV news & programs listed below in 300 to 400 words (if in English).

The programs: "WHAT'S ON JAPAN", "News Today 30 Minutes", "News Today Asia", "Weekend Japanology", "JAPAN BIZ CAST", "TOKYO EYE", "J-MELO", "Insight & Foresight", and "Maverick Minds of Japan"
For further details on those programs, see:
NHK World TV

Frankly, I am very curious, do you ever watch NHK World TV? Did you even know it existed? How about Radio Japan...? Comments, please!

Okinawa elections

The November 19 Okinawa election campaign to select a new governor started today. The campaign will be a duel between Keiko Itokazu, who is supported by the Democratic Party of Japan, the Japanese Communist Party, the Social Democratic Party and others, and Hirokazu Nakaima, backed by the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito.

A key issue is what to do with the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.

Relocating the controversial Futenma air station was the focal issue in two previous gubernatorial elections, notes the Asahi:

Keiichi Inamine, the incumbent governor, won election eight years ago for endorsing the move within the prefecture on the condition that the new airfield be used for 15 years only.

However, the initial plan to construct the base offshore of Henoko sank under protest from local residents and their supporters. Tokyo and Washington then came up with an alternative plan to build the base on land at Henoko point.

But this time, Inamine refused to go along, insisting he "could not accept a plan that had once been scrapped." Now he is retiring without having achieved a resolution of the thorny issue.

Keiko Itokazu, 59, says she will demand the base be moved outside of Japan. Kumagai Shinichiro has written about her in the Japan Focus story Can the Unified Lines of Battle in Okinawa Be Extended?, an article that appeared in Shukan Kinyobi, July 2, 2004. Kumagai Shinichiro is the editor of the journal Shizen to Ningen (Nature and Humanity). Great journalism that should be quoted more often in the international press, if foreign journalists had the good sense to read Japanese. Global Security provides the U.S. military perspective.

(Map from the Japan Calling website)

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Protect Article 9: "Stop becoming a country that wages wars"

Kyodo has this photo from a demonstration with groups opposed to revising Japan's Constitution, and its war-renouncing Article 9, in Tokyo, on November 3, the 60th anniversary of the Constitution's 1946 promulgation. The banner says "Lets stop becoming a country that makes war".

The Japan Times notes that discussions about revising the war-renouncing Article 9, which limits the military to self-defense, have been brewing for years, but the recent nuclear threat from North Korea has brought the debate to a head:

The anniversary also comes at a time when Japan has seen its first postwar-born prime minister take office, a conservative hawk who declared amending the Constitution a priority in his effort to end the "postwar regime" of guilt.

"It's been 60 years, and during this time there has been a change of hands between two generations," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Thursday on the eve of the anniversary. "Over this long period of time, the Constitution's basic values of peace, democracy and human rights have taken firm root among the Japanese people."

Abe, who has stayed relatively low-key on the issue since becoming prime minister in late September, said last week that having Japanese people write their own Constitution will open up a new era.

He said clearly for the first time in an interview with the Financial Times last week that he aims to achieve the revision during his term in office, which could last six years if he succeeds in being re-elected president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

In the interview, Abe specifically cited Article 9, which renounces Japan's right to wage war or maintain armed forces, as a "typical example" of provisions that no longer suit the current times.

"This article needs to be revised from the viewpoint of Japan's defense, and also to comply with international expectations that Japan make international contributions" to peacekeeping and other missions, he was quoted as saying.

More photos from recent anti-nuclear demonstrations and peace events in Japan at the mkimpo website, Peace Forum and World Peace Now.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Doors: LA Woman

Great video with a lot of ambience from Los Angeles in the 1970s and maybe 1980s. Interesting to see that the Japanese community in LA played such a big role at the city's festivals and that The Doors payed attention.

Little Tokyo in LA had 30,000 Japanese-American residents at its peak. Little Tokyo extended east and south of the present location, and covered approximately one square mile. The area was a magnet for immigrating Japanese until the racist U.S. Exclusion Act of 1924 halted any further immigration. Nisei Week is a good website too (Nisei or 二世 lit. means second generation). More about the internment of 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans during WW2, based on "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership".

Densho is a nonprofit organization started in 1996, to document oral histories from Japanese Americans at that time. All very relevant today, as we have to make decisions about how to deal with people of faiths and backgrounds that are different from our own, as artist Roger Shimomura has pointed out:

In 1958, Roger dated a Swedish American girl named Jan Johnson. Jan lived in West Seattle, an area known to be hostile to people of color.

One evening, while Roger was driving Jan home, she told him to drop her off one block from her house. When Roger asked why, she told him that when she informed her parents that she was going out to dinner with Roger Shimomura, her father said he did not want her dating "Oriental people." If she did, and he caught her, he said he would shoot "the Jap" with his gun like he had done in World War II. While she argued with her parents, her father got out his shotgun, loaded it, and placed it next to the front door.

As Jan got out of Roger's car a block from her home, her last words were, "You think I'm kidding?"

I had my first sushi in Palo Alto back in 1987, read Jobs in Japan, and decided to buy the ticket. That was before the boom of all things Asian. China and Vietnam were still rigidly communist. Halryu? Both Koreas were dictatorships, and before the fall of the Berlin Wall, who would have guessed we would all be living in such happy times thanks to the market-based WTO-led globalized economy!!

Bonus: The Doors The End live at the 1970 Isle of Wight festival (8:03 version)

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Asahi: Natural energy

Subsidies are a great way to help consumers who want to change into more sustainable forms of energy supply, such as sun power. How is Japan doing? Asahi has the latest news in an editorial today about Natural Energy:

For many years, Japan prided itself as being the world's top generator of solar power. But at the end of last year, it lost the title to Germany. In Japan, the purchase price of solar energy is only one-third of Germany's. In addition, government subsidies to households using solar energy, which kept declining year by year, were completely abolished in March. Even though Japanese companies are supplying nearly half of the global demand for solar panels, they lost the support needed to expand the domestic market.

Business Week: Another Dawn For Solar Power: "Tech breakthroughs and high energy prices are rekindling the industry"

Lots of sun power news at Treehugger. Enjoy.

Japan has quietly been a leader in the field of solar energy for 20 years or so, and there has never been a better time for promoting it than now. But: While Japan's government cuts funding, from January 1, 2007, California's new state law will provide $3.2 billion in funding for a million solar roofs over the next ten years: For the solar industry as a whole to continue to expand, it's time to start marketing solar power as an accessible, aesthetically pleasing, and cost-effective product to the average consumer, according to California Senator Kevin Murray.

And San Diego Solar Power Conference just finished its 2006 expo. A carbon neutral event, no less!