Friday, March 31, 2006

China: Water pollution due to corruption

China is to spend more than US$1 billion to clean up a river where a toxic spill last year cut off water for millions, state media said on Thursday, as auditors revealed that past funds for clean-up campaigns had been misused.

Reuters is reporting quite a lot about corruption scandals related to water issues, revealing that:

...some 2.4 billion yuan (US$299 million) were allocated for water treatment, the National Audit Office said in a report on its Web site (www.audit.gov.cn).

...of that, 1.6 billion yuan was embezzled to fund other projects, set up businesses, build offices or buy cars.

...pollution is so severe that the Ministry of Water Resources estimates 40 percent of water in the country's 1,300 or so major rivers is fit only for industrial or agricultural use.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Cecilia Bartoli and Chung Myung-whun


Japan and South Korea have a great classical music scene, with many world stars performing here regularly. Unfortunately, ticket prices are often exuberant. This week, we had Italian mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli performing Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's "Oiseaux, si tout les ans" and many other wonderful melodies, to a piano accompaniment by Maestro Chung Myung-whun.

Ticket prices at Tokyo Opera City: S:35,000 yen A:31,000 yen B:25,000 yen C:19,000 yen D:14,000 yen E:9,000 yen

Nice, but please also make tickets available in a price range for ordinary people.

(Photo from the Korea Times)

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

MyImpact: Lena Lindahl in Japan

"How can I help Japan - a country I have come to love - to move towards a sustainable future?" – That is what Lena Lindahl asked herself before she started an environmental newsletter in 1997. After years of working for the environment through NGO's and politicians in Japan, Lena thought that she can have the largest impact, when she shows Japanese people what her home country, Sweden, is doing to achieve a role-model function in terms of sustainable development. Apart from writing, Lena organizes more and more exchange trips between the two countries, always including some time to enjoy nature. People need to experience nature first hand, and not only hear and read about what they should take care of and how, she explains.

Enjoy reading part of the discussion about Lena Lindahl’s active life and thoughts on how to improve the situation in Japan here. You can also read more on the website of the Swiss book project called MyImpact. More articles and interviewpartners in Japan here.

Korean football team on Asiana


Asiana Airline celebrates the Korean team! Passengers Seoul - Hong Kong get to fly in this Boeing until the end of the Germany World Cup.

(Photo: Naver)

Japanese in demand in St. Petersburg, Russia

Russia continues to develop in its own way, always a center of impressive culture and mystery for everyone else... The St. Petersburg Times has the story of how foreign languages, including Japanese, are increasingly in demand:

As St. Petersburg continues to attract foreign companies, so foreign-language speakers are increasingly in demand. Recruiters point out that now “fluent English” is often a must not only for administrative positions, such as interpreters, translators, secretaries, personal assistants or office managers but, also for different technical specialists, engineers and accountants.

The majority of job descriptions now include foreign language requirements that split Russian society into two parts: people who have a command of foreign languages and those who don’t.

“Now a candidate’s linguistic competence indicates the level of their development in general, their education and professional competence,” said Irina Yakovleva, head of careers at Stockholm School of Economics. According to the recruiters the language clearly most in demand is English, followed by German, then Finnish, French, Italian, Spanish, Sweden, Turkish, Serbian, Chinese, and Japanese.

3000 people die from asthma in Japan annually

Japan Offspring Fund is critical of Japan Medical Association, for its sloppy advice to people with asthma and allergy:

The exhaust air from many vacuum cleaners can be dirty and cause respiratory problems, including asthma and allergies. Some types of filters, such as water filters, are not effective at all, and in our tests they actually made the air dirty. Japan Medical Association has recommended two such vacuum cleaners on their website. This is a serious problem, since it may lead many medical doctors to recommend bad vacuum cleaners to patients that suffer from asthma and allergies. Japan Medical Association should correct the information.

Annually in Japan , around 3000 people die from asthma attacks. Since dirty exhaust air from vacuum cleaners is one of the known causes of asthma, this is an area where it is possible to avoid many deaths and suffering.

Until around 10 years ago, the number of deaths due to asthma attacks was around 5000-7000 annually. It is said that due to new drugs, such as steroids administered with inhalators, it has decreased to around 3000. There is much advice on the Internet for people suffering from asthma, but only a minority of doctors who give advice are emphasize removing the real cause of the suffering.

More informations about the health effects connected with vacuum cleaners here

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

BSE talks in Tokyo


Officials from Japan's agriculture ministry, health ministry and foreign ministry are discussing beef safety with US experts in Tokyo.

At the first meeting today, Japanese officials asked the US why the problem occurred and what it plans to do to prevent similar trouble from happening again. NHK reports that Japan's agriculture minister Shoichi Nakagawa stressed that he expects a convincing explanation from the US government before going to the next discussion:

Mr Nakagawa said, "Why did the US government and meat processors fail to abide by the agreement? We need to ask those questions frankly to the US side before discussing a possible resumption of imports."


BSE/Food safety previous

Monday, March 27, 2006

300 million Chinese lack access to clean water

China is heading for a water pollution crisis as a booming economy raises industrial discharges and the number of incidents of toxic chemicals being spilled into rivers rises, a top environmental regulator has said, according to an AP article I found on China Daily:

More than 300 million people in rural China already lack access to water considered clean enough to drink, said Pan Yue, deputy minister of the State Environmental Protection Administration.

China has recorded 70 pollution incidents in rivers since a chemical plant accident in November poisoned the Songhua River in the northeast and forced a major city to temporarily shut down its drinking water system, Pan said.


More details in this article, that quotes Zhou Shengxian, director of the State Environmental Protection Administration who said that more than half of China's 21,000 chemical companies are near the Yangtze and Yellow rivers, which provide drinking water for tens of millions of people, and accidents could lead to "disastrous consequences."

The fact that this problem is acknowledged officially is very interesting, and seems to indicate that the Chinese government is getting seriously concerned about the issue...

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Hong Kong pod casting


OK, so I'm updating this as I go along. I wrote a few days ago that I thought NHK was first in Asia with pod casting. Actually, it seems Hong Kong was first! Orz...

For an example of one of the first Hong Kong-based podcasters, visit Dragon Radio.

The website of South China Morning Post pod casts is here.

To hear the SCMP's first podcast - a podcast about podcasting - aired on April 19, 2005 click here.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Japanese court shuts down nuclear reactor

Asahi and Mainichi have today's big story that a court ordered the shutdown of Japan's second-largest nuclear reactor in response to a lawsuit by local residents who feared it could leak dangerous radiation during an earthquake:

The Kanazawa District Court in northwestern Japan ordered the shutdown of the newly operating Number 2 Shika reactor, court official Akihiko Yasuno said.

In ruling, judge Kenichi Ido said that the reactor, operated by Hokuriku Electric Power Co., could expose local residents to radioactivity should a powerful earthquake occur, Yasuno said. He gave no other details.


Residents who filed the lawsuit claim they would be in danger because the reactor is near an earthquake faultline. A government committee has said a quake with a magnitude of 7.6 could strike the region, Kyodo News agency reported. The reactor was built based on outdated earthquake guidelines drawn up 20 years ago, according to Kyodo.

"I feel as good as the beautiful weather today. The quake-resistance of nuclear reactors must become a topic of national debate," Tetsuya Tanaka, one of the plaintiffs, said to NHK.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

2006 Environmental Performance Index

Only six nations, led by New Zealand and followed by Sweden and four other northern Europen countries, have achieved 85 percent success in meeting environmental goals ranging from clean drinking water and low ozone levels to sustainable fisheries and low greenhouse-gas emissions.

The study is called the 2006 Environmental Performance Index. It was produced by Yale University and Columbia University's Center for International Earth Science Information network. Overall country rankings can be found here (pdf). Well done, Japan, at number 14!

Carbon dioxide emissions from nations with rapid economic expansion, like China and India, are more than double the world average (731 tons and 621 tons, respectively). The United States, at 171 tons per $1 million of gross domestic product, ranks well behind some other nations such as France (56), Japan (57), Germany (80) and Britain (118).

The best performers if we only look at Asian countries are Malaysia (1), Japan (2), Taiwan (3), South Korea (4), and Philippines (5).

Lee vs Spears: The Swedish connection


Swedish songwriters Bloodshy & Avant, together with Henrik Jonback, who wrote a hit song for Britney Spears are angry because Korean singer Lee Hyo-lee's new song "Get ya" was significantly influenced by their own work and it seems there are parts that are just plain plagiarism. The artist herself denies anything other than temporary precedence of one work over the other, saying, “It’s just that Britney Spears did this funky style of music before me,” and insisted “Get Ya” was different in vocals, rhythm and tune.

I know you are all dying to compare, so in the name of public service I give you the link to both songs, click to listen to Lee vs Spears!

Swedish songwriters, just like bands (do I need to mention ABBA, Ace of Base, Roxette...) are really doing well in this part of Asia.

BoA, the great Korean singer who is incredibly popular in Japan, recently went straight to the top in the Japanese Singles' Chart with the song "Quincy", written by Swedish song writers Samuel Waermö, Marcus Dernulf, Jan Lysdahl and Harry Sommerdahl.

Fredrik Hult, Ola Larsson och Jonas Engstrand wrote a song for Japanese band News, produced by Johnny's Entertainment. The song is also OST for the movie "One Piece". The OTHER song on their single is written by Swedish Stefan Åberg and it is called "Cinderella Boy". The huge hit "Seishun Amigo" released by Shuji to Akira was written by Hult/Larsson/Engstrand sold an amazing 1.5 million singles and 1.8 million ringtones for mobile phons in Japan. Fredrik Hult and Ola Larsson had another big hit in Japan a few years ago with "Hakka Candy", recorded by the Japanese band Kinki Kids.

(Photo and quotes from Chosun Ilbo and The Swedish Music Publishers Association)

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

U.S. beef measures "fall short"

"Japan distrusts U.S. beef. To overcome consumer distrust, the U.S. needs to put in checks and checks and more checks to minimize the risk of human error," said Kiyotoshi Kaneko, professor of physiology at Tokyo Medical University. "The new measures fall short."

Kaneko, who was on the Food Safety Commission's prion panel, which set the conditions for resuming U.S. beef imports, was skeptical about U.S. safety measures.

"Increasing paperwork is not enough," Kaneko said.

"The U.S. made a promise to comply with the conditions. It broke that promise, and needs to realize it is now working from a position of low credibility."

Read the rest of today's story here and the U.S. report is available here, and a transcript of the U.S. Embassy press conference (a good read!) is here.

As I see it, the U.S. should approach this issue with great care. Exports to Japan are not the same as selling beef in the U.S. (for one thing, prices that Japanese consumers pay are much higher) and beef is not eaten in the same way as in other countries. The fact that the U.S. doesn't test its herds properly for BSE is not lost on Japanese consumers either. If Japan wants to lift the import ban, it will, but I'm not impressed by the arguments or explanations that the U.S. side are putting forward. The solution? "Safety first".

Monday, March 20, 2006

Anti-war protests in Tokyo


About 2,000 people rallied Saturday in a downtown Tokyo park to mark the third anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and demand that Japanese and other coalition troops pull out, a protest organizer said to AP, in a story I found over at the Mainichi Shinbun:

The rally is one of several planned around the world to condemn the occupation of Iraq, and follows a similar protest of about 500 people who marched through the streets of Sydney, Australia.

About 2,000 demonstrators turned out in Tokyo, carrying signs saying "Stop the Occupation" as they listened to a series of anti-war speeches, said Takeshiko Tsukushi, a member of World Peace Now who helped plan the rally.


The demonstrations continued on Sunday.

The World Peace Now poster is great, with a drawing of three military tanks moving in the direction of a shrine gate that looks just like the one at Yasukuni in Tokyo... The slogans are "Lets finish the war in Iraq" and "Lets finish the era of war", directed to both Mr. Bush and Mr. Koizumi.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

NHK first in Asia with podcasting?

Today, NHK World has started a podcasting service for its radio news. If you have the equipment, click on the NHK RSS Podcasting button on the NHK Online website. Here is a direct link to the NHK Podcasting list. And this is a blog that is introducing radio and tv podcasting (to Japanese readers).

I think that means NHK is the first news channel in Asia to venture into podcasting. Correct me if I'm wrong.

Meanwhile, NHK says it will strengthen cooperation with other Asian broadcasters in providing information that could reduce damage from natural disasters in the area.

The head of NHK's International Planning and Broadcasting Department, Toshiyuki Sato, was addressing the second-day session on Thursday of the Asian Conference on Disaster Reduction in Seoul, South Korea.

He said that NHK has hosted seminars for other Asian broadcasters on the need for disaster preparedness. He also said NHK has presented the broadcasters free of charge with programs about earthquakes and tsunamis.

More than 200 people from 25 Asian countries are participating in the three-day conference sponsored by Japan, South Korea and the United Nations.

Who decides the price for health care?

The Japan Times has a interesting article, Who is paying the price for health care? about the slow reform of the health care system in Japan. If you live in Japan, you have to pay a monthly health insurance, and the benefits are quite good, in case you need medical care. However, the decisions made by Chuikyo, the Central Social Insurance Medical Council, about the actual costs for a hospital visit, or a treatment, can be almost impossible to understand. Critics say the Japan Medical Association and the drug industry have enormous influence over the Chuikyo. Excerpt:

Chuikyo has made efforts to become more open. This was partly reflected in the committee appointment last spring of Hisashi Katsumura, a high school teacher from Kyoto who is free of medical-industry ties.

Katsumura, who lost his newborn daughter due to malpractice 16 years ago, has campaigned for the mandatory disclosure of billing records by doctors. Previously, it was difficult for patients to receive detailed records of treatment expenses, and therefore submit them as evidence in malpractice suits.

It would appear that Katsumura scored a small victory on Feb. 15 when Chuikyo decided that hospitals must give patients receipts with rough breakdowns of the services provided, following a six-month grace period beginning in April. At the same time, the panel requested hospitals to "strive to give 'detailed expenditures' when patients request them."

This wasn't enough for Katsumura, however. He had fought the JMA representative, who claimed that such requirements would mean more costs, in the form of new printers, for hospitals.

"Supermarkets or convenience stores give you receipts showing exactly what you've paid for," he said in an interview last week. "I've never heard of convenience stores that say that they can't afford to buy a cash register. . . . The promise made by Chuikyo to give priority to patients views has been broken."


Wow, I had no idea it was this bad:

Katsumura, on the other hand, believes that no matter how open the committee is, the receipt issue is crucial. "The complete disclosure of the bills to the public would be good enough to empower patients," he said. "As it is, they have no way of knowing for sure what medical procedures have been performed on them."

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

100 Sexiest Women in Asia


Playboy Japan has put Chinese actress Ziyi on its cover, as it lists Asia's 100 sexiest women. A collector's item!

Heinz baby food contaminated with GMO rice in China


Greenpeace said on Tuesday illegal Chinese GMO rice had been found in baby food made in China by U.S. food giant Heinz Co. In statements released in Beijing and Hong Kong, Greenpeace urged Heinz to recall the baby cereal containing insect-resistant genetically modified rice.

"We were completely shocked," said Steven Ma from Greenpeace in China. "Babies should be the last if we ever wanted to test unapproved GMO crops on human."

No official at Heinz in China or Hong Kong was immediately available to comment, according to Reuters. The rice, known as Bt rice, contains a bacterial gene toxic to a particular group of pests. Angus Lam from Greenpeace in China told Reuters it was the same variety of Bt rice found last year in markets in the southern city of Guangzhou and Wuan in the central province of Hubei.

This appears to be serious, as even the English website of China Daily has the story. They report that China's Agriculture Ministry said it was looking into the claim. In a statement carried by the official Xinhua News Agency, the ministry said it hasn't approved any genetically modified rice for human consumption.

(Photo from Greenpeace China)

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Warship Island, Nagasaki


Mari has introduced a fantastic site with photos from Warship Island, in the ocean by Nagasaki. Coal was mined here from the 1870s, but now all that remains are ruins. The English website is here but actually, check out the Japanese site here, it is beautiful... As Mari says, "this is the movie set of Matrix".

Music, videos, and more photos here... Oh, and if you want facts, Cabinet Magazine has all the details:

The island "was producing about 150,000 tons of coal annually and its population had soared to over 3,000 when, in 1916, Mitsubishi built a reinforced concrete apartment block on the island to alleviate the lack of housing space and to prevent typhoon damage. This was Japan's first concrete building of any significant size. America's first large-scale concrete structure—the Ingalls Office Building, in Cincinnati—had been built only 14 years earlier."

Swedish directors Carl Michael von Hausswolff and Thomas Nordanstad made a documentary about the island in 2002, called Hashima, Japan. Have a look, please.

This mine and the entire island was closed in the mid 1970s. What will happen to the concrete buildings as trees and plants try to take over? I have a feeling this is what a large part of our world might look like, in the future.

Banned U.S. beef in Hong Kong

Hong Kong has not received any response from U.S. agricultural authorities regarding the discovery of beef products from a U.S. plant containing banned bones, according to Kyodo.

Hong Kong's Food and Environmental Hygiene Department banned beef imports from Swift Beef Co., a processing plant in Colorado, after bones were found in a shipment on Friday. "Beef imports from only one company were suspended," a department spokesman clarified Monday. "We are contacting the relevant U.S. authorities for more information concerning the beef imports in question."

The same thing happened in Japan in January, and the U.S. claimed it was an isolated event. The nerve cells near the bones and spinal material are considered high risk material that can cause BSE, or mad cow disease. Consumers were outraged and Japan immediately banned U.S. beef again. This is getting interesting!

Update: Yonhap reports that South Korea may delay the resumption of American beef imports following the recent confirmation of a case of mad cow disease in the United States, a government official said Tuesday.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Korean TV reveals link between snack food and atopy


A report in a Korean TV documentary program that cookies, biscuits and snacks are a likely cause of skin disorders among children, is causing an uproar among consumers in South Korea.

"Pursuit 60 Minutes (Chujok Yuksipbun)," a documentary program on KBS 2, reported on March 8 and again tonight, that Korean products such as cookies, biscuits, snacks and chips have ingredients which are linked to the development of atopy dermatitis. Atopy is a skin condition caused by food allergens and environmental pollution.

The program is vividly showing babies suffering from atopy, who cannot sleep at night. A whistle-blower, Mr. Ahn Byoung-su, who previously worked for the snack industry, is revealing all the secrets of how snack companies are hiding the facts from consumers.

Seven Korean snack companies were approaced, but refused to participate in the program. The Asian food industry is indeed fond of MSG, produced by Ajinomoto, known in the US and Europe to cause "Chinese restaurant syndrome" or headaches in adults. Synthetic food colours and preservatives are not safe for young children. Of course babies and young children should not eat ANY foods containing such additives.

(Photo: KBS)

Update: On April 3, Chosun Ilbo reported that Korean sweet makers are trying to regain consumer confidence after allegations that food additives they use can cause atopic dermatitis and other compaints. Crown Confectionary and Haitai Confectionary and Foods has said they decided to stop using the seven additives in question. Lotte Confectionary also decided to stop using artificial additives in all products it make and in particular replace the seven additives in question with natural ingredients. Let's wait and see if they actually do it before praising them...

Friday, March 10, 2006

Update on the destruction of hanok houses in Seoul


In Seoul, David Kilburn, owner of a traditional hanok house in the district of Kahoi-dong, is fighting against government policies and land speculators that have converged to threaten the district that has the feel of Seoul of 100 years ago. Recently, this battle became personal, as he was pushed by an architect/site manager, and hurt his back so bad he had to enter hospital.

Kilburn, a tea merchant and former journalist, says he isn’t by nature a social activist but as his Swedish neighbor rebuilt and expanded his hanok, there was damage to Kilburn’s home:

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

By providing low interest loans for people who want to rebuild their hanok, the government is encouraging the destruction of the traditional houses, he argued. "The owners of one house were given a government grant of 30 million won and an interest-free long term loan of 20 million won for 'hanok repair and redecoration,’" Kilburn said. "They used this money to demolish a fine hanok and erect a modern two-story building which has also been licensed to operate as a wine bar."

MBC, the Korean TV channel known for its great investigative reporting, did a program last year about David and his hanok battle, that is really worth watching, even if you don't understand Korean!

(Photo from the Korea Times)

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

GMO contamination and biosafety issues

As multinational corporations try to make a quick profit from genetically modified organisms, concern about GMO contamination has become a very real issue. Read more here.

Efforts at the UN is focused at the Biosafety Protocol, with government officials and NGOs (as well as well-paid corporate lobbyists) gathering for a big meeting in Brazil next week.

The Citizen's biotech information center CBIC describes the problem of GM soy ontamination in tofu products in Japan, with the Results of a tofu GMO survey.

Greenpeace has excellent information here and here.

The Gaijin Diet Book!



More cartoons inspired by ordinary, daily life in Japan by Gwen Muranaka here.

(Gaijin = Foreigner)

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Demonstration against Australian logging in Tasmania


There are demonstrations today and yesterday in many cities around the world, protesting against Australian logging company Gunns. Rainforest Action Network explains:

GUNNS clear-cuts and then firebombs the equivalent of 44 football fields per day of some of the most unique and ancient old-growth forests on Earth. These include the giant Eucalyptus (the world’s tallest hardwood tree) and areas with documented World Heritage value. GUNNS engages in some of the world’s worst logging practices and turns over 90% of the forests it destroys into woodchips that largely become disposable paper products.

In December 2004 Australia’s biggest logging company GUNNS Ltd effectively declared war on the environment movement by suing 20 people and organizations for actions to protect the old growth forests of Tasmania. The targets of the massive law suit included two members of parliament (Senator Bob Brown, and local Tasmanian MP Peg Putt), one of Australia’s major environment groups (The Wilderness Society), a doctors’ environment group, a local community group, and a range of ordinary individuals including a dentist, a film-maker, grandmother, a doctor, and a couple of students.


Gunns is not a well known company, in spite of its size. However, Gunns' largest customers are Japanese paper companies Nippon, Oji, and Daio. I participated in the Tokyo demonstration outside the Australian Embassy. I have met Peg once in Brussels, I was really upset to see her name on the list above. Please help if you have a moment, you can protest online on the Trees not Gunns website.

Update: Mitsubishi Paper Mills has decided to stop buying woodchips derived from Tasmanian old-growth forests. Good!

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Red carpet, green cars at the Oscars


Mainichi tells us that Oscar nominees Joaquin Phoenix, George Clooney, Jake Gyllenhaal and Frances McDormand are among those expected to step out of green vehicles and onto the red carpet at the Academy Awards ceremony this Sunday in Los Angeles:

In all, 25 celebrities are participating in the fourth annual "Red Carpet, Green Cars" event sponsored by Toyota Motor Corp. and the environmental organization Global Green USA.

McDormand, Phoenix, Gyllenhaal, Clooney and Jennifer Aniston are all expected to arrive at the Oscars in Toyota or Lexus hybrids, including the Toyota Prius, Lexus RX crossover and a hybrid version of the Toyota Camry, which goes on sale in May.

Event spokeswoman Kathy Kniss said the program began with just four participants in 2002, but interest in fuel-efficient vehicles has grown exponentially since then. The cars are not actually colored green, but are considered environmentally friendly because of their fuel efficiency.


In my opinion, that is one of the best NGO ideas in a very long time. What a clever tactic to make many people aware of the alternatives that are now available. Well done!

Read more here.

(Photo from Global Green)

Saturday, March 04, 2006

NHK: Anti-AIDS message


Kohei Yamada, a young Japanese volunteer working in Malawi, has composed a song about HIV/AIDS that has become a hit song in that country. With 15% of the population infected with HIV, he says he wanted to do something to stop the HIV pandemic. One of the most effective way is music and music videos. You can see an interview with Yamada on NHK's Feature program here or directly download it here (Real Player).

Japan has provided more than US$10 billion for Africa through bilateral ODA since 1993. In 2005, Japan decided to double its ODA to Africa in the next 3 years.

Read more about Japan's ODA to Africa here with a summary here (Embassy of Japan in the UK).

The changing role of NGOs in Korea



Civic groups are generally seen as the biggest contributors to the development of the Korean society, according to a poll cited here. I also spotted this quote in an interesting article today on the changing role of non-governmental organizations:

After parting themselves from the country’s labor movement during the 1990s, most of Korea’s major civic groups have devoted themselves to comprehensive social issues such as economic disparity, environmental problems, corruption and gender equality.

However, the advancement in communication, such as the Internet and wireless telephony, created an environment that allows people easier ways to express their ideas and combine efforts to advocate their rights. As a result, a large number of civic organizations have emerged in recent years, continuing to expand their arguments to a wider range of issues closely related to the everyday lives of individuals.

``The growth in telecommunications and Internet penetration, as well as the lively activist culture at the levels of regional communities or individuals, has quickly changed the landscape in civic activism,’’ said Lee Dong-hyun, a member from the Citizens’ Coalition for Democratic Media, one of the new breed of civic organizations focusing on media reform.

Read more here.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Washington Post on IKEA in China


Washington Post explains how Swedish furniture store IKEA and manager Ian Duffy is making inroads in China:

By stocking Ikea's Chinese shops increasingly with China-made products, Duffy pushed prices on some items as low as 70 percent below prices in Ikea outlets elsewhere. An armchair from Ikea's popular Ektorp range retails for $112 in China, 67 percent less than one sold in the United States.

The gamble seems to have worked. Ikea -- whose name in Chinese, "Yi Jia," means "comfortable home," -- is anything but comfortable on weekends, as thousands of Chinese crowd in to look and to outfit their homes and apartments. Weekend throngs at Ikea's three stores in China -- in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou -- are so big, with more than 20,000 visitors each on any weekend day, that employees use bullhorns for crowd control.

Next month, Ikea will open a 452,100-square-foot store in Beijing, second in size only to its flagship store in Stockholm. At the store, which Ikea furnished with extra-wide aisles to handle the expected crowds, the Swedish company expects to sell enough furniture every year to fill about 5,000 40-foot containers -- double what it sells in other stores.


Read the rest of the article here.

What Washington Post unfortunately ignores is that IKEA is rather unique among foreign retailers in China, according to China Review, the magazine published by the Great Britain-China Center:

IKEA has imported its labour and environmental standards to China in their entirety. The company’s “one size fits all” model rests on a belief that its universal values of environmental and social responsibility must be just that: universal. To achieve this, however, it admits it has forfeited the speedier commercial growth that others, such as Carrefour, B&Q and Wal-Mart enjoy in China. Nonetheless, it is living proof that a company can make money in China (albeit less of it, and more slowly) whilst remaining true to its global ethical standards.

Jazz at Satin Doll


Went to a great jazz performance last night at Satin Doll, a classic jazz venue in Roppongi since 1974. Widely regarded as Japan's best jazz flute player, Shinpei Inoue (left) and sax player Chieko Tsutsumi performed both standards and originals.

Listen to several tracks with Shinpei Inoue here.

Thanks Takahashi-sensei!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Smoking banned at Japan's Health Ministry

Japan's Health Ministry will prohibit all smoking in its offices beginning in April amid growing concerns over second-hand smoke, an official said Tuesday, apparently becoming the first ministry to institute a complete ban.

The ministry will remove a smoking room on its first floor and also ban smoking at its four restaurants, ministry official Daizen Kakiyama said. The decision follows government recommendations issued in 2003 on preventing second-hand smoke, Kakiyama said.

Read the rest of the story here.

Meanwhile, Tokyo's most stupid museum, the Tobacco and Salt Museum in Shibuya, will be closed for renovation until mid May. It is blatantly promoting the tobacco industry behind a thin veil of culture and refinement. I think it should be turned into a NGO center with information about the health risks associated with smoking, or it should - in my humble opinion - be closed for ever. Note that the museum is run by Japan Tobacco (JT) the world's second largest cigarette company. The JT Social and Environmental Report 2005 is interesting, and in their opinion, tobacco "is an item of taste", not as health experts would argue, an addictive posion.

A nice example of how to run an exhibition is Hollywood's Smoke, Lies and Videotape, made possible by funds from the U.S. Tobacco Tax Health Protection Act of 1988. There is a lot more information on how the film industry have managed to get tobacco into 80% of U.S. movies since 1999 here. Any comments from smokers or non-smokers...?