Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Mozart once visited Japan!


Not really...

But I thought about that title, just to get a sense of what might have happened IF!

As you probably know, 2006 marks the anniversary of Mozart's birth, so there are an enormous amount of events to celebrate the Austrian genious. So be it. The photo shows my father, a music critic for a local Swedish newspaper, Skånska Dagbladet, enjoying his latest issue of Gramophone.

Here in Japan, there are indeed many concerts this year, as orchestras and performers (and their sponsors) are eager to get you to appreciate, say, his sonata for two pianos (KV 448). I also recommend this aria from the Zauberflaute. Or a violin concerto (KV 306) with Isaac Stern? Hmm, my favourite is the adagio from the clarinet concerto, completed just before his death (KV 622).

Enjoy - and thanks to all the Korean bloggers who are bringing classical music to me!

Japan did not inspect U.S. meatpacking plants

Japan did not keep its promise to send officials to check U.S. meatpacking plants before resuming U.S. beef imports in December, farm minister Shoichi Nakagawa admitted Monday. "It was not possible to check if conditions for resuming U.S. beef imports were being met until we actually resumed imports," Nakagawa said in response to questions in the Parliament.

The Japan Times also reports that Japanese officials visited 11 facilities, in California, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and Texas. But not all U.S. facilities processing Japan-bound beef are open to inspectors. Because Japan has few qualified officials to make the inspections, the checks mostly targeted documents.

Seems Japan is partly to blame for the latest beef scandal, but still I cannot understand why the U.S. officials didn't know that spine was not permitted in Japan. Does it mean the U.S. inspector (as well as the meat company) has no education about BSE and how mad cow disease is transmitted?

Monday, January 30, 2006

Happy New Year!


A Chinese woman touches a Chinese character "Fu" with the help of her husband at a park in Dalian, China. "Fu" is one of the most popular Chinese characters used in Chinese Lunar New Year, symbolising blessing, good fortune and good luck. Chinese Lunar New Year falls on January 29 this year.

(Photo: Newsphoto)

Dioxin in animal feed

South Korea has suspended pork imports from Belgium and the Netherlands after cancer-causing dioxin was found in Belgian animal feed products, according to Reuters.

Dioxins are toxic chemicals that originate in pesticides or industrial processes, leach into rivers and lakes and build up in the flesh of fish and animals.

Environmental pollution often causes human health problems. The proverb "we are all connected" is really true, isn't it. At different meetings, I have met people working for the animal feed industry, and they really need to consider their responsibility more seriously.

Read more here.

Japanese ODA helps China

Since Japan started providing financial aid to China in the mid 1970s, many projects have been supported also to improve the environment. Air pollution control measures and sewage plants are among the ODA projects.

Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) has provided a number of ODA loans for projects aimed at improving the environment in China, where a variety of problems, including air pollution and deteriorating water quality, have come to the surface in parallel with the rapidly growing economy. JBIC asked Kyoto University to conduct a study on the effectiveness of these projects, and verified the direct impact of the environmental projects in China for the first time. For example, the study found that sulphur dioxide (SO2) was reduced by 190,000 tonnes thanks to the Japanese ODA projects:

52 million people benefited from electric power supply (industrial development and rural electrification); 31,660,000 people from safe water supply and treatment of domestic and industrial wastewater; 2,670,000 people from flood control, erosion control and other disaster prevention facilities; and 520,000 people from support for cultivation and harvest of agricultural products.

Read more on the JBIC website.

In spite of the efforts, air pollution is widespread in China. Antiquated factories billow smoke, many residents still use coal to heat their houses, and a sharp increase in car ownership has bathed the motorways in exhaust fumes, according to China Daily. The article notes that an American study claims China's urban skies have darkened over the past 50 years, possibly due to haze resulting from a nine-fold increase in fossil fuel emissions.

Betel nuts in Taiwan


Found an interesting story about betel nut consumption in Taiwan, and felt it was my duty to share the link to a page with photos of the salesladies...

But, according to Taiwan's health officials, quoted by Bloomberg, chewing addictive betel nuts, the seed of the betel palm, increases the risk of mouth cancer:

Officials are encouraging farmers to plant alternatives to the $359 million annual crop, urging about 1.6 million users to quit. "We aren't very optimistic," said Wu Chien-yuan, a Health Department section chief in Taipei. "We'll focus on preventing people from starting." Betel, or areca, nuts increase the heart rate and induce a mild sense of excitement, said Hahn Liang-Jiunn, an oral and facial surgeon at Taipei's National Taiwan University Hospital. As many as 400 million people from East Africa to Indonesia chew the seeds and leaves regularly, the British Medical Journal reported in April 2002.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Global threats...

Globalisation has increased the danger of catastrophes spreading quickly across the world and causing more harm, a study prepared for the World Economic Forum warned, according to Reuters.

As an example, it cited a bird flu pandemic, which it said was currently the biggest threat facing the planet.

The study, released at the WEF's annual meeting in Davos, said travel, trade and interconnected markets meant that disasters in one part of the globe could set dominoes falling elsewhere.

Read the article here.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Japonesia Review

A new progressive English Magazine from Japan has been released in January 2006. Japonesia Review will be published twice a year by the People's Plan Study Group (PPSG). This magazine provides critical analysis of the Japanese situation and social movements conducted in this archipelago.

People's Plan Study Group (PPSG), established in 1998 is a network of approximately 500 activists and researchers searching both for visions of sustainable alternatives to our unsustainable world, and for practicable ways these can be implemented by people's action. According to their website:

Today we witness reemergence of a truly global-scale movement for social change, as represented by the World Social Forum with the bold motto, "Another world is possible." Identifying with this nascent global movement, PPSG has been engaged in clarifying how and by whom "another world" can be made possible. This involves critical evaluation of the 20th century experience of popular struggle for social change as well as of the ongoing people's practice to resist and build vis-a-vis the destructive dominant regime of global capitalism.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Lots of snow in Tokyo and Saitama



Listen to Shubert's Winterreise here (click the player to start the music)

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Japan will ban U.S. beef again!


Japanese consumer groups voiced anger and shoppers expressed concern Friday, as a cow backbone, which is among the parts designated as risk material for BSE, were found at Narita airport in a shipment of beef imported from the United States.

"What on earth did a mission dispatched to the United States late last year check?" said Hiroko Mizuhara, chief of the Consumer Union of Japan. "They were fooled by the United States. The problem cannot be limited to the meat processor in question. We want the government to check all authorized exporters thoroughly," she said.

Junichi Kowaka, who heads the Japan Offspring Fund, an entity for food and living, said, "I had thought something like this would happen eventually, but it has happened surprisingly fast.

"There are meat-processing facilities that have high safety standards in the United States, too. Japan should think of ways to choose such processors on its own rather than looking to the United States to choose them," said Kowaka, the author of a book on risky food products.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said he endorsed a proposal from farm minister Shoichi Nakagawa to halt U.S. beef imports completely due to the discovery, according to Kyodo.

(The photo is from Yomiuri Shimbun and I just love the caption: "Employees working at the Animal Health Division of the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry's Food Safety and Consumer Affairs Bureau on Friday night")

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Why is blogspot banned in China?

I have visitors reading this blog from almost all parts of the world. That makes me happy. However, I noticed I never get any visits from China. It appears China censors all blogs on blogger.com! So, while the Chinese continue to want to be seen as an advanced, modern country, the communist government officials are still trying to keep Chinese citizens in the dark ages. What are they afraid of?

Mad Cow disease in the U.S.

McDonald's in the United States has criticized the proposed rule on animal feed, according to the Associated Press. I find that remarkable. In a market economy, consumers are supposed to be able to feel safe and get the quality we want. The fact that global companies like McDonald's are sensitive to consumer pressure and thus demand stricter rules is encouraging.

The critics contended that the proposed rule "falls woefully short" of protecting consumers because it allows cattle to be fed restaurant waste and body tissue from dead cattle to which mad cow infection could have spread. Consumption of infected tissue is the primary way that mad cow disease is transmitted. The scientists wrote, "We do not feel that we can overstate the dangers ... from these diseases and the need to control and arrest them." McDonald’s stated that the risk of mad cow should be reduced to as close to zero as possible.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Solar power




The total capacity of solar power generation in Japan reached 1.13 million kilowatts in 2004, the highest in the world. Residential use accounts for 828,000 kilowatts, 73 percent of the total.

Japan's Ministry of the Environment has nominated Tokyo-based PV-Net as one of the 2005 model projects for CO2 Reduction. According to Japan for Sustainability, PV-Net is enthusiastically promoting new installation of solar power generators under the PV-Green project. Don't know what PV means? have a look at their photovoltic website!

Yes, we can see a lot of solar cell panels on the roof tops of Japanese homes. This is what it often looks like. The top picture is Sanyo's famous Solar Arch. Indeed, the weather here is great for solar power. So many sunny days, compared to Sweden...

Massive amounts of snow


Most of Japan, except the Tokyo area, has gotten massive amounts of snow this winter. NHK reports 100 deaths, mostly old people falling of the roofs of their houses while clearing snow. And that turns out to be an important thing to do. Many houses have collapsed, and a six-year-old boy is in a coma after being buried in snow that slid off a roof while he was playing outside.

(Photo: Yahoo Japan)

Monday, January 16, 2006

Wind power


We made a program about wind power in Japan this week for NHK World. We talked about "people's turbines" and how ordinary people in local communities are getting together to build wind power turbines. Especially in Hokkaido these projects have gotten some good feedback. We also interviewed people in Ibaraki prefecture, who are thinking about this as a way to reduce the emissions of green house gasses, as well as educate people about environmental effects.

Read more about how your office can purchase green power at Japan Natural Energy Co. Ltd..

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Lecture about food




I like doing lectures about food safety issues. Yesterday I had a chance to talk to students at Izumi High School here in Saitama. It is a nice, modern place that specializes in environment and agriculture. They have solar panels on the roof and a biotop garden, and the students were a lot of fun!! We made a Swedish dish, Janssons Frestelse, and then I talked about the differences in food culture, organic food, as well as animal welfare issues in Sweden.
Thank you, Takahashi-sensei!

Recipe:

Janssons Frestelse

Potatoes (2) 900g
Onions (2) 430g
Anchovies (50g x 2) 100g
Fresh cream 100-200ml
milk 100-200ml
nutmeg
salt
pepper

Cut the potatoes in small cubes. Chop the onions. Put a layer of potatoes, onions and anchovies in the tray. Add spices and some cream and milk. Put the next layer of potatoes, onions and anchovies in the tray, and repeat with a third layer. Bake in the oven at 200°C for about 1 hour, then add some milk, and bake another 10-15 minutes.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

State of the World 2006: China and India

The Earth lacks the energy, arable land and water to enable populous and fast-growing China and India to attain Western levels of resource consumption, the Worldwatch Institute said in a report on Wednesday.

The Worldwatch Institute said booming China and India, once sleepy backwaters in the world economy, are becoming not only economic powers, but "planetary powers that are shaping the global biosphere" and affecting world economic policies.

Read more here.

From the Foreword:

"The western model of growth that India and China wish to emulate is intrinsically toxic. It uses huge resources—energy and materials—and generates enormous waste. The industrialized world has mitigated the adverse impacts of wealth generation by investing huge amounts of money. But... it remains many steps behind the problems it creates. India and China have no choice but to reinvent the development trajectory."

Sunita Narain
Director, Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi, India

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

"Coal Pact" in Sydney


The United States, Japan, China, India, Australia and South Korea, and some of the world's biggest resource and power companies, will meet from today in Sydney for the first Asia Pacific Partnership for Clean Development and Climate.

No green groups or scientific organisations have been invited to the talks. Environmental economist Jack Pezzey told Reuters the meeting appeared to be a "closed shop" to new energy technology.

"The conference gives every impression of having been put together to favour particular energy and business industries in Australia and America," according to Pezzey, of the Australian National University in Canberra.

Read more here.

(Photo from Sydney Herald)

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Cloning of human stem cells was all fake

The final report from the panel at Seoul National University concludes that the two research papers by Dr. Hwang are both fabricated. Wow. There are no embryonic stem cells (ES). The 2004 and 2005 papers published in Science have no scientific basis. I found the SNU investigation which concludes:

Our judgment is thus that the scandalous case of Woo Suk Hwang and cloned ES cells will not have a large impact on the effort of the scientific community in Korea. Rather, we are certain that this learning experience will be a stepping stone for better execution and management of scientific research and contribute to scientific advancement in this country. The young scientists who courageously pointed out the fallacy and precipitated the initiation of this investigation are our hope for the future.

I first started blogging about this in November 2005, sensing something was not right. Now I have to say, well done SNU and everyone at Korean media, for getting to the bottom of this story. Well done.

BBC has the story with a video clip online.

Stem cell scandal previous

Monday, January 09, 2006

China's environmental woes

Reuters reports that China's environmental woes spilt visibly over its borders as a toxic slick flowed into Russia in December, but exports of pollution are becoming as common as sales of cheap T-shirts for the economic powerhouse:

...China should not take all the blame for pollution caused by a high level of manufacturing within its borders since many products are destined for Western markets, say environmentalists who hope consumer pressure could force firms to clean up.


Read China Adds Pollution to List of Exports.

International Herald Tribune also notes:

Environmental damage from pollution is costing China the equivalent of 7.7 percent of gross domestic product annually, according to an estimate in a study on Asia's infrastructure needs published last year by the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation.

Other sobering statistics in the report, called "Connecting Asia," include estimates of 6.4 million work years lost annually in China to air pollution, 178,000 premature deaths in major cities every year caused by the use of high-sulfur coal and the fact that 52 urban river stretches have been so contaminated that they are no longer suitable for irrigation. Those numbers do not necessarily incorporate the effects of deforestation, overgrazing, dust clouds, desertification and the strains of the great increase in internal migration and tourism.

Read Getting in Early as China Cleans Up.

I found the ADB report, which is actually called "Connecting East Asia". Read the Executive Summary here.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Hell valley in Nagano




Hahaha, these monkeys are having a great time in the hot springs at Hell valley in Nagano prefecture.

Actually, it is snowing so heavily in northern Japan tonight. At NHK, we reported record amounts of snow, above 3 meters and 70 cm in some places. Kyodo News agency reported that heavy snow has killed 63 people in Japan and injured 1,040 since December, citing its own tally as of late Saturday.

Wishing everyone a warm and safe night...

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Calligraphy contest


Participants display their works during the New Year's calligraphy contest at the Budokan Hall in Tokyo. Some 3,500 people participated in the annual calligraphy contest.

The calligraphies read:
New Discovery
Bright Future
Beauty of Nature
Healthy Child

I was glad to see that such topics were among the selections. It seems to me that Japan is embarking on a more ecological and sustainable path, with more awareness about environmental protection. For 2006, I wish this is not just a "trend" but a sincere effort to find solutions to many of the problems in modern Japan.

(Photo from The Mainichi)

Friday, January 06, 2006

Tokyo by night


My Swedish friend Andreas gets the credit for this photo, that he took as we walked from the Imperial palace gardens towards Ginza. Under the train tracks just south of the Yurakucho station, there are small restaurants that have somehow managed to survive since the late 1940s, when central Tokyo started to recover from the massive allied bomb attacks during WW2.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Asahi editorial: The spirit of the samurai


Asahi has a good editorial discussing some of the issues facing Japan and Asia in 2006. Required reading indeed!

I read about bushido when I was 23 or 24, not sure if I understood it well or not. Not sure such terms like "the spirit of the samurai" are useful at all. Although, compared to terms like "democracy" or "communism" I have to say "bushido" at least feels intensly personal, useful as a tool to guide the choices an individual has to make in life. All the time...

But without zen, I think there can be no real bushido.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Hatsumode at Kawasaki Daishi temple



Went to a hatsumode vid Kawasaki Daishi, a tempel in Kawasaki. It was really crowded but a nice experience. Read more about the temple and Kobo Daishi here.

The temple draws nearly 3 million worshipers during the first three days of a new year, ranking in the third place next to Meiji Jingu Shrine in Tokyo and Shinshoji near the Narita International Airport.

Happy New Year!